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Many Freshmen Become First-Year Sophomores

By Kelley Rivoire

Ninety-three of the 145 eligible freshmen chose to declare sophomore standing this year, said Julie B. Norman, associate dean of Academic Resources and Programming.

In the years previous to 2003, about 15-18 students declared sophomore standing each year. Last year, the first year in which second semester freshmen were on grades, 121 freshmen accepted sophomore standing.

The only current difference between the grading systems for second semester freshmen and for sophomores is that a failed class will not appear on the transcript of a second semester freshman, whereas it will appear on the transcript for a sophomore. Prior to last year, second semester freshmen were still on Pass/No Record.

Sophomore standing enables first-year students who have sufficient credit and who took a communications intensive class first semester to choose a major, receive an advisor in that major, and not have a credit limit.

Freshmen avoid credit limit

For many freshman, accepting sophomore standing is a way to avoid the 57-unit credit limit imposed on freshmen in the spring semester.

Aron P. Walker ’07 said he took sophomore standing in Course XII because he “wanted to break the credit limit.” This was the “only incentive as far as I could tell,” he said.

Timothy G. Abbott ’07, who is taking 102 units this semester, declared sophomore standing because he “had to get out of the credit limit.”

For MIT, option is about advising

Although many students accept sophomore standing with the sole intention of taking more classes, Norman said, “we market sophomore standing for one reason only: that is, you can declare a major and have an advisor in that major.”

Some first-year students chose to remain freshmen. Hana L. Adaniya ’07 did not accept sophomore standing, saying, “I didn’t have a department I really wanted to major in.”

For many, though, this is only incidental. Joey Y. Zhou ’07 said he “came here with a good intention to do Course VI,” and declared sophomore standing primarily because he “wanted to take more classes.”

Freshman advisor and professor of Earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences J. Brian Evans recommends that his eligible advisees accept sophomore standing if either they want to have an advisor in their own department or if there is “some impediment to taking classes they want to take caused by a being a freshman.”

This might include higher preference for a class based on being a student in the department or needing a few more units to take an additional class.

2006 early sophomores fare well

Because many students use sophomore standing to avoid the credit limit, these early sophomores might have been expected to suffer academically. For the Class of 2006, however, this was not the case.

Norman said last spring’s early sophomores took an average of 58.8 units, with 54 and 60 units predominating. While this average is about six units more than that of true sophomores, only one of last year’s early sophomores was classified as having academic difficulty.

Though last year’s early sophomores declared their majors a semester earlier than usual, there was no increase in the percentage who changed their majors.

Typically, 7 percent of students change their major between the time of declaration and the end of the fall semester of their second year. For members of the Class of 2006 who accepted sophomore standing, only 5.8 percent had changed their major by the end of last term.

Norman said students accepting sophomore standing are generally well prepared to choose a major; “they are making their decision based on comparable information, just a little earlier.”

Exploratory subjects declared

Unlike previous years, members of the Class of 2007 who accepted sophomore standing were eligible to declare an exploratory subject. An exploratory subject, designated by the add date, allows a student to decide by registration day of the following term whether to keep the grade in that class or change the class to listener status.

Of the 313 students who declared exploratory subjects this term, 287 were members of the Class of 2006 and 26 were members of the Class of 2007, said assistant registrar Iria J. Romano.

Abbott declared an exploratory subject, while Walker and Zhou did not. Zhou said the exploratory subject was not helpful since he is only taking classes that are necessary for his major or for general institute requirements.

Problems with more sophomores

With many more freshmen declaring sophomore standing, some problems have arisen.

Problems such as designating class year separately from the registrar’s classification for Undergraduate Association elections and class mailing lists have been corrected since last year, “really on the fly,” said Norman.

In addition, some students and advisors have been ill-prepared for the changes. Sophomore advisors, on the other hand, do not receive the same training and attention that freshmen advisors do, and may not be aware of all the changes. Norman said that this could be a problem, though she works only with first year advisors.

Some students have been confused about the ramifications of sophomore standing and exploratory subjects. Norman said that several of last year’s early sophomores have asked to take an exploratory subject this term, and one student from the Class of 2006 wanted to have last year’s sophomore standing rescinded in order to take an exploratory subject. In both cases, the requests were denied in accordance with policy.