Academic Advising Resources


 The Sophomore Transition: Considerations for Effective Academic Advising

Authored by: Shelley R. Williams and Norris F. Manning


Colleges and universities allocate a wealth of resources to help students make successful transitions from high school to college.  Within the last twenty years, transition advocates have shined a light onto the sophomore experience to elevate awareness of the challenges second-year students face and encourage creation of support programs for this critical year.  The federal “completion agenda” has resulted in a shift in public policy with institutions of higher education, which are becoming increasingly focused on student attrition beyond the first year (Kelly & Schneider, 2012). The role of academic services, including academic advisors, is central to this effort.

To combat sophomore attrition, institutions must develop effective programmatic interventions. It is imperative academic advisors be knowledgeable of the transitional paradigm, the nature and scope of development of sophomore students, and the challenges experienced by this population. Gordon & Steele (1992) emphasized that academic professionals be competent in the practice of student development theory and career advising to assist high-need populations. It is essential for advisors to utilize an individualistic approach to advising that facilitates self- and career-exploration, while encouraging student engagement in the academic community. Barefoot (2008) stated “the diversity of students, coupled with many pathways of college attendance, require that we go beyond assuming that all students within a certain stage of transition need the same type of assistance” (p. 92).

Environmental Considerations

Psychosocial and environmental factors influencing student transitions are central to academic advising and program development. Orientation programs, freshman seminars, and learning communities are common programs developed that support students’ transition into college and foster student success. After the first year, when freshman programming ends, sophomores can be forgotten and feel invisible (Gahagan & Hunter, 2006; Sanchez-Leguelinel, 2008; Tobolowsky, 2008). Yet, sophomore students value a sense of belonging, effectiveness of academic services, opportunities for intellectual growth, and approachable faculty (Sanchez-Leguelinel, 2008).

Schreiner, Miller, Pullins, and Seppelt (2012) described the sophomore year as a tumultuous time when students enroll in general education courses avoided in the first year, are under increased pressure to declare a major, and can have little interaction with faculty (p. 112). Sophomores who emerge from an enriched freshman experience must assimilate into the larger academic community. The pressure to select a major or navigate a competitive admissions process can also cause great difficulty, requiring an intrusive and a holistic approach to advising (Gordon & Steele, 1992).  Likewise, gender dominance within an academic discipline as well as diversity in staffing and faculty can serve to either facilitate or hinder engagement of students in the academic environment.

Sophomore Transitional Challenges

Hunter et al. (2010) defined the sophomore year as a time for turning inward and exploring how one fits into college life and the world at large. Schreiner et al. (2012) noted interpersonal challenges sophomores encounter such as “lack of institutional support for networking” and the inability to self-select peers outside of formal programming (p. 114). Hunter et al. (2010) emphasized the importance of “prolonged indecisiveness, poor academic course selection, low levels of academic and co-curricular engagement, and increased time to degree completion” (Chapter 1, para. 1), often prevalent in the sophomore year.

Hodge, Baxter Magolda, and Haynes (2009) described new students to college as reliant on external sources for knowing, but are of the need to construct their own perspectives (p. 20).  In an effort to understand the experience of college sophomores, Molly Schaller (2005) characterized the sophomore year as “focused exploration” where students are getting to know themselves as they explore relationships and their future (p. 19). Academic advisors can be more effective in understanding the intricacies of students’ exploration during this time of transition by looking closer at students’ reasons, coping mechanisms, and support system (Schlossberg, 1984).

 In accordance, Baxter Magolda (2007) maintained students who extract themselves from what they acquire from authorities “to define their own purposes, values, feelings, and meanings, involves far more than information and skill acquisition” (p.69). It is imperative that advisors evaluate how students’ reflections of their academic experiences relate to their confidence with their choices. Gordon (1992) explained that academic advisors “can make the difference between a successful student and one who becomes discouraged and leaves” (p. 12).

Implications for Academic Advising

Schreiner et al. (2012) noted implications for practice that include the shaping of a cognitive connection between the curriculum and students’ futures as well as helping students develop a sense of purpose and meaning (p. 127). To help sophomore students develop a community, Schreiner et al. (2012) recommended that practitioners “foster a sense of membership and belonging, forge ability for students to contribute and have a voice, and model positive interactions” (p. 128). These implications should be considered as possible student learning outcomes for academic advising.

Hodge et al. (2009) recommended that practitioners guide students as they develop an internal belief system and discover new knowledge. Even with limited staff development resources, self-exploration and career exploration can be fostered to improve the retention and persistence of native, transfer, and first-generation sophomore students. The following programmatic intervention was created at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIU-Edwardsville) to foster student reflection and relationship building, and was built on a strong foundation of faculty and professional academic support.

Business Transitions Program

In 2004, SIU-Edwardsville developed a required supplemental orientation program for all students entering the School of Business.  This required, two-hour, non-credit orientation program was established, along with a sophomore year application process, for entrance into any business program.  At this orientation, students met other entering business majors, learned about business school expectations and requirements, met the Dean, and experienced an interactive exercise using the Business Code of Professionalism. Over time it became apparent that this earlier model lacked deeper interactions with faculty members, career development activities, self-reflection, and preparing students to participate in a more professional environment.  The School of Business faculty reimagined the orientation experience and transformed it a model of two transitions courses titled the Business Transitions Program (BTP). 

Program components

In this first of two required transitions courses, students meet for an eight-hour face-to-face orientation to the School of Business and the services provided by the Career Development Center. During this session the following learning modules are delivered:  Learning Goals, Transitioning into the School of Business, Thinking about Ethics, Mentoring Lunch with Faculty, Global and Cultural Awareness, Introduction to the Career Development Center Services, Group Interpretation of a Personality Instrument, and a Mock Networking Session with a local etiquette professional.  Lecture, discussion, and group work all are used as delivery methods. 

After this eight-hour face-to-face orientation, students are responsible for completing the following required tasks:  (a) a professional resume, which is reviewed by a Career Development Center staff member and posted on the Cougar Jobline; (b) a career and interest inventory culminating with a written interpretation;  (c) review of two articles in the Financial Times (subscription provided free to students); (d) and attendance at two on-campus events to develop their interpersonal skills and focus on community involvement.  Students must also write and submit five reflection papers about their experiences in completing these course requirements. 

Program assessment

While the BTP model has only existed for one year, qualitative analysis of the reflection papers is currently used in assessing the impact of the course curriculum. Future assessment in three years will include course completion rates, academic performance, and student persistence. A current review of the individual orientation reflection papers found students overwhelmingly express, in their own words, the positive value of the session. For example, one student stated the program, “opened my eyes to so many different aspects of life”. Even though the idea of eight hours was daunting, they felt more comfortable with their choice of academic program and better understood the academic expectations of their respective program.  Another student remarked, “Prior to the orientation, I have to admit, I hadn’t really thought in great detail about my future”. Students were enthusiastic about their lunch with a faculty mentor. They were excited to meet the peers with whom they would be studying and building networks as exemplified by one student who wrote, “It was fun … to meet a ton of peers that are going through the same process as me.” Entering transfer students specifically indicated they felt more welcome at the university and their fears of being at a large university were alleviated. 

In the reflection papers from the remaining course requirements, students expressed appreciation for being required to develop their resume, having it critiqued, and for posting the resume to the Cougar Jobline.  Although about half of each semester’s students were intimidated by this particular assignment, they ultimately found the assignment satisfying and appreciated completing it so early in their academic career. Students found value in reading business related periodicals (e.g., Financial Times) to supplement their classroom learning.  Many students found attending a campus event only somewhat valuable.  Ultimately, they were able to see some value in the activity as applied to their interpersonal skills and networking opportunities as described by a student who stated “it definitely provided me with the tools needed in order to prepare myself for the professional and competitive business world”.


Overall, the BTP model for delivering sophomore orientation increases students’ understanding of department expectations, positively reinforces choice of major and career field, and supplements classroom education.  The Business Transitions Program propels students to continue developing the skills needed for the next stage in their academic career and fosters the development of students’ reflection skills needed for making personal and professional decisions. Ultimately, because students feel a sense of belonging within the institution, there is a higher likelihood that they will be retained and feel more satisfied with their college experience. Although formal, credit-bearing programs may be not be possible at all institutions, programmatic interventions specific to sophomores can foster exploration, reflection, and engagement.


Shelley R. Williams
Coordinator, Student Services& Transitions
School of Business, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Norris Manning
Academic Advisor
School of Business, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville



Barefoot, B. O. (2008). Collegiate transitions: The other side of the story. New Directions for Higher Education, (144), 89-92.

Baxter Magolda, M.B. (2007) Self-Authorship: The foundation for twenty-first-century education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 109, 69-83.

Gahagan, J., & Hunter, M. S. (2006). The second-year experience: Turning attention to the academy's middle children. About Campus, 11(3), 17-22.

Gordon, V.N. (1992). Handbook of academic advising. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Gordon, V.N. & Steele, G.E. (1992). Advising major-changers: Students in transition. NACADA Journal, 12(1), 22-27.

Hodge, D.C., Baxter Magolda, M.B. & Haynes, C.A. (2009). Engaged learning: Enabling self-authorship and effective practice. Liberal Education, 94(4), 16-23.

Hunter, M. S., Tobolowsky, B. F., Gardner, J. N., Evenbeck, S. E., Pattengale, J. A., Schaller, M., Schreiner, L. A. (2010). Helping sophomores succeed: Understanding and improving the second year experience. San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass. Kindle Edition.

Kelley, A.P. & Schneider, M. (2012). Getting to graduation: The completion agenda in higher education. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Sanchez-Leguelinel, C. (2008). Supporting "slumping" sophomores: Programmatic peer initiatives designed to enhance retention in the crucial second year of college. College Student Journal, 42(2), 637-646.

Schaller, M. A. (2005). Wandering and wondering: Traversing the uneven terrain of the second college year. About Campus, 10(3), 17-24.

Schreiner, L.A., Miller, S.S., Pullins, T.L., & Seppelt,T.L. (2012). Beyond Sophomore Survival. In L.A. Schreiner, M.C. Louis, & D.D. Nelson (Eds.), Thriving in transitions: A research-based approach to college student success (pp. 111-136). Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Schlossberg, N.K. (1984). Counseling adults in transition: Linking practice with theory (1st ed.). New York: Springer.

Tobolowsky, B.F. (2008). Sophomore in transition: The forgotten year. New Directions for Higher Education, 144, 59-67.

Cite this resource using APA style as:

Williams S.R. & Manning, N.F. (2014). The sophomore transition: Considerations for effective academic advising. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse Resources web site.



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