Advice Column

Dad’s Sage Advice for Sophomores

keep-calm-and-sophomore-onMy annual advice for new college students is really focused at freshmen, but you sophomores need advice, too. In fact, if my own personal experience is any measure, sophomores need it more.

You’re Experienced, but You’re Not an Expert.

Returning to college this fall will feel familiar. You know the locations of your classrooms, you have established friendships, you even know which dining hall lines have the best food. Despite all this experience, you’re not a collegiate expert yet. It’s very easy to get distracted and make costly mistakes. One bad semester can create years of work rebuilding a reputation and a GPA. Don’t get cocky, maintain the edge you had during your freshman year.

Set a Good Example.

Remember your first day of class as a freshman? Well, that’s happening to somebody else now, and guess what: they’re looking at you to see what to do! Set a good example for the new guys–be respectful of the campus and others, don’t lord your new status over the new guys, and be the kind of upperclassman you wanted to see when you were new.

Help a Freshman.

Remember that nice sophomore girl who showed you the way to the classroom in the cryptically numbered building? Or the nice guy who helped you pick up your stuff when they piled into a heap in the bookstore line? Or maybe the helpful clerk at the bursar’s office who waited patiently while you filled out the correct form this time? Be that person, pay it forward.

The Coursework Gets Harder–This Is the Weed-out Year.

Freshman year, at least for me, was more like a repeat of my senior year in high school than a first year in college. It’s intended to ease the new student into college-level work, as well as encourage the new student she can achieve at the next level. It doesn’t mean the work isn’t demanding, but freshmen work at a basic level. That was then, this is now. Sophomore courses are intended to remind the student that this is college. It’s serious. Nothing to be afraid of, you can do it, but recognize you’re now working at the next level.

Build and Maintain a Network of Friends.

As I’ve said before—college, well, life for that matter, is a team sport. Up until now, anyone could be academically successful by locking themselves in their room, doing their homework, and passing tests. That won’t work any more. Your success in academia and in life depends on both your skills and your network. Figure out how you can help others, and never pass up an opportunity to expand your circle of friends.

Commit to Your Faith.

Now you’re living off campus, things that used to be very easy–like practicing your faith, working out, grocery shopping–will require planning and effort. As an adult now, make a commitment to your faith: with time and with heart. That commitment should include being involved in your parish and including both pastor and peers in your network.

Don’t Hesitate to Bail–There’s Always Summer School.

You have three or four more years, including summer terms, to sort out your degree plan. It’s good to have a plan (you do have a plan, right?), but a degree plan is not a suicide pact. If the prof is a screwball, or if the course isn’t what you thought it was, if the class is full of smelly people—whatever–don’t hesitate drop the class. You can always take it in summer term—from the graduate teaching assistant. You know, the cute one.

Don’t Worry, You Can Do It.

Your sophomore year will be a great year, full of challenge and maybe even a little fear. You will do great–know why? Because you made it into college in the first place, and you made it through your freshman year. Don’t worry, kiddo, you can do it!


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.