Congratulations! You have finished your freshman year and hopefully had an awesome summer vacation! Hopefully your summer plans included time for fun, relaxation, exploration, and even some learning. One of your most valuable learning opportunities from freshman year and summer doesn’t even require any special books or materials. That’s right: you can learn a lot from your own experience during the academic year you’ve just finished. So freshman year wasn’t perfect? That’s normal. For most students, it’s a time of transition: new school, new teachers, new workload; new activities, opportunities, and friends. Here’s an approach to taking challenges from your freshman year and turning them into lessons for a great sophomore year:
Challenge: An overly difficult classSolution: Re-evaluate your placement and/or get help
Was there a specific subject or class that gave you a lot of trouble this year? If you take some time to think about why, you’ll probably find that you can come up with some reasons. Was the class too difficult because you weren’t fully prepared? This can easily happen in math and language classes. Many students are eager to take the highest-level classes they possibly can, but this can backfire if you haven’t had the prerequisites in middle school. It’s great to be ambitious, but your own learning will ultimately be much more enjoyable and effective if you find the right classes. (When I entered high school, I was determined to take geometry my freshman year, when really I should have taken Algebra 1. I never learned algebra well, which set me back in both math and science.) If you think you are in the wrong track in a subject, talk to your teachers and change course sooner rather than later. If you think you’re on the right track but something just wasn’t clicking, arrange for extra help like tutoring so that you can catch up.
Challenge: Time management and procrastinationSolution: Resolve to plan ahead and get help with this if you need it
Maybe you didn’t have trouble with any single subject, but felt generally overwhelmed. Take some time to think about why. One major source of stress is waiting until the last minute to do long-term assignments like English papers, History research papers, or lab reports. Most of us procrastinate in one way or another, but the good news is that you can change this behavior! For sophomore year, you can resolve to save yourself a lot of stress by planning ahead and starting projects earlier. This will make your work better in at least two ways: first, you’ll have more time to revise through multiple drafts, and second, you’ll be amazed at the way your subconscious keeps working on the project even when you’re not actively trying to “work.” Getting started on a project or paper is often the toughest part. Just do it—sooner rather than later! Your stress will go down and your creativity will go up.
If you struggle with time management on long-term projects, talk to your teacher. He or she can help you set some intermediate deadlines to keep you on track. There is no shame in asking for this help. After all, you are in school to learn!
Challenge: Too many commitments, not enough timeSolution: Be selective; choose quality over quantity
If freshman year had you feeling overwhelmed because you had too many commitments and not enough time to sleep, relax, or be with friends and family, think about how you would like sophomore year to be different. Yes, it is important that you pursue the activities you care about, whether that’s sports, music, volunteering, or anything else. And yes, these things are important for your eventual college applications. But if you are doing too much, talk to your parents about being more selective in your commitments and prioritizing quality over quantity. Sometimes less is really more!
One final suggestion
Finally, as you enter sophomore year, think about getting to know your teachers better and letting them get to know you. Not only will this eventually help them write you strong letters of recommendation for college, but it’s a way for you to take some control over your own education. What is your favorite class or subject? Talk to that teacher about the topics that excited you the most or that raised questions for you. Maybe that teacher can recommend a new book for you to read or another way to pursue your interest. Remember, your teachers do this work because they enjoy working with young people and sharing the excitement of learning. I guarantee they will welcome your interest!