Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
These first few weeks of the spring semester, members of the class of 2017 have been busy preparing their Sophomore Plans. Though we often tout the Sophomore Plan as the definitive guide to the last two years at Swarthmore, many upperclassmen and alumni lightheartedly look back at the stress they experienced while creating their plans. The Daily Gazette compiled some alumni reflections on the Sophomore Plan process with excerpts from the plan and updates on what they are doing now, five years, later. This article was inspired by a social media post by Abigail Henderson ‘15.
Sara Blanco ‘12
When I saw people discussing their sophomore papers on Facebook recently and laughing at their younger selves, I wanted to see how mine measured up. I graduated in 2012, so it’s been about five years since I wrote my proposal for how I would complete my college degree. My first thought upon opening it was, wow, seven pages? Really? I mean, it starts off fine, albeit not terribly interestingly:
A wonderful English teacher in eighth grade encouraged me to write and since then, I have wanted to be a writer. There is something satisfying about piecing together words and getting something—plot, emotion, action, an image—across to a reader. A challenging, fun, and successful three-year experience on the staff of my high school’s literary-art magazine pointed me towards publishing. I hope to combine these interests with my fascination with language and literature.
At first, I thought I should take Introduction to Economics simply because I believe everyone should have at least a little working knowledge of economic theory. However, I soon wanted to know more about how economics, as a discipline, analyzes human behavior. Unexpectedly, but wonderfully, this interest may be useful in pursuing a career in the publishing industry.
I believe that the Honors Program is the best way for me to pursue these disciplines. Ideally, I would like to complete an Honors Major in English, with a concentration in creative writing, and an Honors Minor in Economics. I look forward to participating in more seminars, as I find myself more comfortable sharing my ideas in smaller settings, and I want to have real conversations about significant things.
It was my concern for scheduling and making sure I had all my plans in writing that got me into trouble. Here’s a sample of what I mean:
I believe that I have accounted for all of these uncertainties below. These are listed in order of preference, with the plan I would ideally like at the top of the list. (From best to worst: A1, A2, A3, A4/ B1, B2, B3, B4.)
The remaining six and a half pages detail all the possible plans that I might like, depending on several variables, including whether I would successfully arrange a semester abroad, what seminars I might get into, and whether I got into the creative writing workshops I wanted to be in. Six. And a half. Pages. With some things bolded and some things marked with an asterisk, and a key to decipher what those notations meant.
After all that panicked planning, though, I ultimately trashed the entire thing. During my semester abroad at the University of Edinburgh, I took one of the very best English Lit courses I’ve ever taken. It was a seminar focused on theory—in fact, all we read was theory, with just a few fictional works sneaking in that were actually theory in narrative form (like A Room of One’s Own and Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote). This lead to a critical epiphany: I love literary theory and I’m not very interested in or good at close reading. Unfortunately, most of the discipline focuses on the latter. I thought about finishing my Honors major deeply focused on the part of the field I cared least for, and decided it would be far better to drop Honors in order to gain flexibility in my schedule to pursue topics I was more interested in. I wish there’d been a way to explore the parts of English Lit I loved most within the Honors system, but I couldn’t find that at the time. Hopefully there’s more variety in the department now.
So I joined the relieved legions who dropped Honors. Unfortunately, that meant that I basically had to drop my initial minor in Economics. I arrived on campus my senior fall a course major in English Lit, with a smattering of experience in various other departments. As I looked through the course catalog to figure out what to do, I made probably the best and most important decision in my undergrad career: I decided to go all in for a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. By ridiculously loading up on GSST classes my entire senior year and making a last-minute appeal to the coordinator, I did it. I completed a minor in the field that I should have majored in all along.
Now I’m working at a small women’s empowerment nonprofit in DC that trains young women to run for office. I’m in the midst of applying to graduate programs in Public Policy. One of the schools specifically requires a background in microeconomics, which I happen to have from my aborted Econ minor plan, but other than that, the decisions I made later in college have been way more important and yielded much more useful results than what I thought I wanted while writing my sophomore paper. I also learned to more easily adapt and be less worried about every teeny, tiny possibility.
I still think writing the paper is a useful exercise. But I think it’s a starting point, not the final plan. Figuring out what to do with your education and life is definitely always a work in progress.
Hannah Alex Younger ‘12
Excerpts from Younger’s Sophomore Plan:
I’m not sure when I decided that I would study English. I do know that I was very young and that it probably had to do with the fact that my father told me that journalist was a significantly better career option than ballerina, artist, teacher, or princess. He ruins dreams. However, in the intervening years this passion has survived endless numbers of fads and passing interests, from building trebuchets to researching the defenestration of Prague. Writing and reading have always been there for me.
Also ironically, given the expressed contempt for the position (see above), my parents gave me my first camera when I was four. This was probably dumb, as what a four year old thinks will make a good picture is very far from what actually makes a good picture, but they kept doing it anyway. I was given my first big-girl camera, an OM-1 bought on eBay, in seventh grade and never looked back. Thankfully, I also stopped taking pictures of trashcans and feet.
After graduation, I would like to go into publishing (Specifically magazines. Okay, specifically women’s magazines.) and this plan of study not only makes me exceedingly happy, but also prepares me for that industry from all sides.
I knew that I wanted to do English, Art, and honors from the very beginning, so I didn’t stress much about the paper. Now, I work for Saks Fifth Avenue in their photo studio. and am applying to MFA programs in photography in order to be an art professor. Basically, I did a program the summer between sophomore and junior years that made me refocus on the art side rather than English.
Holly Kinnamont ’12
Excerpts from Kinnamont’s Sophomore Plan:
Throughout my time at Swarthmore, I’ve encountered a host of different subjects, ranging from Physics of Musical Sound to Patterns of Eastern Religion! All have been enriching, and every class I’ve taken so far has been indisputably remarkable to my growth as a student. However, the time has come, it seems, to narrow my focus. I am certain that delving into my chosen fields will further my growth as a student, but I’ve had a hard time choosing just one department! Therefore, I have decided to double major in Film and Media Studies and English Literature. Both, I think, are incredibly rich in their field of study, and I enormously enjoy the classes that I’ve taken in both departments! I’m sure that I’ll continue to do so.
… a big reason why I’m so interested in Film and Media Studies [is that] I get the chance to bring my own passions and experiences to my subjects, but in turn, I gain the experiences and mindsets of those who also study Film and Media Studies.
I don’t think that satisfying the requirements for either major will be particularly hard for me, even though I know I have a bit of a way to go in satisfying both majors. I’m so interested and excited about the courses I’m taking now and courses that I plan on taking in the future that I don’t think it would ever be a problem—I don’t think I’ll ever have to work to find an English Literature or Film and Media Studies course to take. In the future, I hope to explore a career that hopefully involves both majors, perhaps as a professor or in publishing. In English Literature, I’m hoping to explore areas like Romantic literature, though exposure to Renaissance poetry and modern literature has been quite eye-opening. In Film and Media Studies, I’m particularly interested in new media, and I’d love to explore career options related to TV, video games, or technology and how it relates to society. Essentially, I’d like to share my enthusiasm for English Literature and Film and Media Studies through my future career!
I ended up sticking with both majors (course, not Honors) and graduated in 2012. At the time, I was daydreaming about being in school forever and getting my PhD in film and becoming a professor. I was really focusing just on the classes themselves, and hadn’t yet realized what real careers could come from the things I studied. I don’t even think I was thinking past that. After I graduated from Swarthmore, I worked at a history museum and got my master’s in education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Currently, I’m working in a school library in Washington, D.C.
If you are an alumni and have Sophomore Plan stories to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org!