Laurie A. Schreiner and Jerry Pattengale’s Four Vectors for Navigating the Sophomore Year (from Visible Solutions for Invisible Students: Helping Sophomores Succeed):
- Achieving Competence
- Developing Autonomy
- Establishing Identity
- Developing Purpose
Sophomore students must establish a new standard of competence in the intellectual manual skill, and interpersonal realms that exceed those adequate for high school and even the first year of college. Difficulty in the gateway or entry-level courses for the major, difficulties on the athletic field or in performance arena (e.g., art and music), difficulty in interpersonal relationships (e.g., dating, roommates, peer acceptance)—all of these can precipitate a crisis of confidence that may come to a head in the sophomore year.
In terms of the emotional independence component of autonomy, the sophomore is no longer expected to be as reliant on parental support and approval. Yet, the sophomore is perhaps most in need of that support as he or she faces a crisis of confidence in terms of changing standards of competence. Furthermore, the sophomore may still be dependent on parental support financially and is, therefore, not functionally independent. Finally, the sophomore may not yet have achieved an adequate sense of interdependence and support within the campus community to supplant the loss of parental and former peer-group dependence.
How successful the sophomore is in establishing a new sense of competency and achieving a healthy interdependence within the campus community significantly determines progress in the third vector, that of establishing an identity. Achieving competence and autonomy and interdependence ultimately impacts on identity formation, self-esteem, and self-concept for these young adults.
In Erickson’s (1968) concept of identity formation, young adults attempt to answer the question, “Who am I” Young adulthood is marked by an “identity crisis” as the individual struggles with this question. The individual forms an identity by trying on various roles, before subsequently committing himself or herself to a particular role.
Parks (1986) contends that the college years provide the best opportunity to reshape one’s identity because the college experience allows for:
- Experimentation with varied roles
- Exposure to credible, alternative goals and beliefs exhibited in teachers and peers
- Experience of choice and having to make decisions for oneself
- Meaningful achievement
- Freedom from excessive anxiety
- Time for reflection and introspection
Parks contends that as a result of their college experiences college students may enter and leave college with essentially the same expressed set of values, but with different identities from when they were first-year students.
Achieving competence, developing autonomy, and establishing identity culminate in Chickering’s fourth vector germane to the sophomore year—that of developing purpose. Developing purpose is a search for direction and commitment. As such, it encompasses not only the choice of a vocation, but also life goals, lifestyle choices, and recreational interests (Lemons & Richmond, 1987). But, as Chickering (1969) notes, “Many young adults are all dressed up and don’t know where to go; they have energy but no destination”. In the tradition of film character Jim Start, they are “rebels without a cause”, or in many cases, without a clue. As a result, many students entering the sophomore year experience a crisis of meaning and purpose.