Draft to Deadline: The Sophomore Experience

2017 is not the first class to be in this position.

Sophomore year is the awkward transitional phase of the Princeton experience. When you arrive on campus in September – propped above the new freshmen – you feel empowered by your first-year revelations: how to divide your time among classes, where to find accurate reviews about said classes, and how to get to said classes in under ten minutes. At the same time, however, you have not yet earned the title of “upperclassman,” which brings with it the junior papers and senior theses you were admitted to write. It is both freeing and confusing to be sandwiched between these two extremes.

It’s also unbelievable (at least for me) that sophomore year can actually come to an end. I entered the 2014-15 school year with expectations — a draft, if you will, of how to balance prerequisites with broader passions. Now we’re approaching the deadline. And besides using a research analogy in the preceding sentence, I found that research was a huge part of sophomore life. It turns out that the awkward phase is the perfect phase to get comfortable with your own research expectations, before you begin to apply them more intensely.

Some of the most striking examples occurred very recently. Major declaration? Yeah, that just happened – after a solid week of clarifying what exactly you want to do with what you’ve learned so far. Certificates?  You registered for them, so you’ve come to know your interests with laser-like precision. Academic advisers?  You suddenly have a new one with new insights for your particular specialization. And let’s not forget course selection: Refreshing the registrar’s page and monitoring the (lack of) seats in required courses, you demanded control over the times and topics on your junior schedule.

With so much going on, sophomore spring is all about connecting the past with the future. And since research is the culmination of the Princeton experience, all of these choices mean something to your independent work. For junior and senior research, you now have a department to call home. For research-based courses, you have a clearer understanding of what you want from your remaining two years. And for conversations with family and friends, you can eliminate “probably” from the answer to “What are you majoring in?”

This kind of definitiveness means, for all intents and purposes, the awkward phase is over (notwithstanding the whole “final exam” thing). If it already seems nostalgic, that’s because it kind of is – You’ve gotten to know yourself so well in these past few weeks. Returning to my research analogy, you arrived at the underclassman deadline with personal understanding and a reinvigorated sense of purpose. What could be more fundamental to your future independent work? Keep in mind that’s not a rhetorical question: the whole point of sophomore year was preparing yourself to answer it. In September, when another freshman class props up the Class of 2017, “upperclassman” status will be a fact, not a future-oriented word surrounded by comforting quotation marks.

And that means it’s really time to get to work.

— Melissa Parnagian, Social Sciences Correspondent