Columns, Opinions

Okin ’19: Reconsidering the sophomore slump

staff columnist
Sunday, February 12, 2017

Before entering my second year at Brown, upperclassmen warned me about the “sophomore slump.” According to their precautionary tales, this is a period ridden by paradox: You appreciate not being a newbie, but miss when everything was novel; friendships grow deeper, yet seem boringly familiar; classes may become more interesting, but are simultaneously too hard. To some extent, I am sure every member of the class of 2019 has discovered at least a partial truth to the slump.

In literature, the “midpoint” refers to the moment that differentiates the first act from the second. At this instant, the central character encounters something — be it a tragic disaster, life changing opportunity or unbelievable secret — that promises to transform the rest of the novel. Essentially, it is when we hold our breath, anticipating the story’s biggest change. While it is not the climax, the course of action the protagonist responds with in this moment undeniably sets up that peak of the novel. Interestingly, some critics sometimes refer to the midpoint by another name: “the moment of commitment.”

During our sophomore year, we are confronted with the questions that will shape the second act of our time at Brown. The other night, I sat with a friend while she rattled off all the decisions she would have to make by the end of the semester: whether to study abroad, what to declare for her concentration, where to live on campus in the next two years. It was then that I recognized the true significance of sophomore year as not only a literal halfway point of our Brown careers, but also as that figurative literary midpoint. Rather than in a declining slump, we find ourselves building momentum to the pivotal instances of action of our college lives.

In order to reach these moments of commitment, us second-year protagonists must undergo some deep reflection. What do we want from an abroad experience? Why should we concentrate in this field and not that one? Without this internal questioning, we cannot pursue the essential reactions that propel the next half of our stories here. Arguably, these serious considerations of ourselves are equally — if not more — valuable than the actual choices we make based on them. In these reflections, we push ourselves to understand what we love and hate, strive for and are challenged by, can handle on our own and need help undertaking. More than anything, we unearth the passions that could remain our focal points long past our time on College Hill.

Thus, I want to propose a reconsideration of sophomore year. Instead of a tumble, a collapse, a sinking, what if we shifted the agency of “slump?” Perhaps instead of being pushed down, we are making the active decision to relax and observe our surroundings. We watch the curious freshmen, reminding us of the adjustment period it took to reach where we are now, nearing the middle of our time in college. We watch the upperclassmen, closer than us to entering the real world and thus scrambling just a little bit more to figure out who they want to be. In this way, maybe our “slump” refers more to our snug position in the Brown bubble, fully enveloped and comfortably floating, than anything else.

As shopping period passes — and with it, the ability to justify not doing our readings — I urge my fellow sophomores to consider the importance of the decisions we make this semester. Moreover, appreciate the answers about ourselves we reach via our necessary internal questioning — these nuggets of self-understanding form the basis of our lives as upperclassmen and afterwards.

Rebecca Okin ’19 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to


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