Nineteen Suggestions for College Sophomores

Develop your character in terms of self-knowledge, integrity, leadership, compassion, and judgment. Who you are becoming is as important as what skills you are developing.
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After publishing articles in Huffington entitled "Suggestions for Seniors Graduating College" and "Fourteen Suggestions for Incoming College Freshmen" as well as "What to Do with a B.A. in English?" and "Why Study the Arts and the Humanities?" I have been asked if I had any suggestions for the years at college and in particular for the sophomore year.

Speaking to Cornell audiences about my suggestions for seniors and talking to my own students, I began to realize that students need to focus on planning at a much earlier stage than their senior year. Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly proactive about providing resources to help your planning. For example, the Cornell College of Arts and Sciences now has an Assistant Dean & Director of Career Services. So drawing upon my 46 years as a professor since arriving in 1968 at Cornell, and realizing that others will have additional suggestions, here I go with nineteen suggestions for sophomores who more often than not are nineteen years old. I would foreground my first three suggestions but after that there is no order.

1) Sophomore year is a time to think about the future--whether it be employment or further education or a combination of both. With the future in mind, you should choose your college major, your summer employment and internships, your community service, and at least some of your extra-curricula activities. Think about preparing yourself for graduate school--medical, law, masters or Ph.D.--and find out what the requirements are. Many MBA programs prefer some years of work before graduate school.

Develop your character in terms of self-knowledge, integrity, leadership, compassion, and judgment. Who you are becoming is as important as what skills you are developing.

2) Do not think of your career plans or even your choice of major in terms of future earnings but in terms of future satisfaction. Joy in work and joy in personal life are what give life meaning.

3) If you are in the wrong program, think about changing it because after the sophomore year you will have invested even more time and energy in a program. If you are in the wrong college, think about transferring. After your sophomore year, such changes become more difficult.

4) Be sure to choose an advisor who is interested in you and meet with your advisor regularly. Do not limit yourself to email communication. If you advisor doesn't keep his or her office hours, get another one. I recommend that if possible you choose an advisor who has been your teacher because those who have taught you will know you better than an assigned advisor.

5) If you have more than one passion, think about double majoring.

6) If possible, take at least one course a term to expand your interests. Try a basic course in creative writing or photography or acting. Remember that a course in music or art appreciation is not only an investment in a degree but in life. If you are an English major, take an economics course. If an engineer, take an English or history course. And so on.

7) Sophomores should, if at all possible, finish fulfilling all non-major requirements in order to be able to pursue your major and take other upper-level courses.

8) Make an effort to know your professors, in part to cultivate potential references but also to take advantage of being around interesting minds. If a professor invites a class to go together to a theatrical or musical performance or to get together for a class dinner, don't miss that opportunity.

9) Be sure you understand graduation requirements and major requirements, and be aware that your advisor may not be an expert so it is best to see these requirements in writing.

10) Take classes from the best professors, who may also be the most demanding and not the easiest graders.

11) Look for professors who are interested in students as people and want to know about your progress in college and future plans.

12) As much as possible balance smaller classes with larger ones.
Realize that sometimes you learn more from a professor who knows his field and mostly lectures than in a discussion size class where a half-prepared professor begins each class session with "What do we all think about this?"

13) Stay physically fit. Choose your friends wisely and avoid those who overindulge in alcohol and rely on illegal substances. Be very careful who and what you text and what you put on social media because these messages can come to back to haunt you.

Learn from your fellow students; spend time with students who are committed to the act of learning. Informal communities of inquiry will supplement your formal course instruction.

14) Use the campus cultural resources: theatre, music, arts, and museums.

15) Participate in activities on campus: debating, religious groups, college newspaper, sports even if intramural rather than varsity, musical and acting groups, etc. Also be a part of the larger community as a volunteer by tutoring underserved communities, helping the elderly, reading to the blind, etc.

16) Develop leadership skills in organizations; belong to groups in which your initiative matters.

17) Think about whether studying abroad is for you. The first term of your sophomore year is the best time for plan for this, but it may not be too late to think about it very early in the second term. I believe that study abroad for a term or a year is a terrific experience because you will live in another culture and learn new perspectives.

18) No matter what your major take courses that emphasize communication skills, notably expository writing and speaking. Whatever you do you will need to be articulate and write precise, lucid, and well-organized prose.

19) Finally, time is your most precious commodity. Use your time effectively and keep track of how you are using time.

Author of In Defense of Reading: Teaching Literature in the Twenty-First Century and numerous articles on higher education as well as the well-received 2012 book Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times (Excelsior Editions of SUNY Press, recently released in a new paperback edition). Daniel R. Schwarz is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. He can be reached at and followed on twitter at and

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