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A SoCo instructor speaks to a crowd

Sophomore College—A Unique Teaching Opportunity

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One very special teaching experience at Stanford often slides under the radar because it takes place outside of the regular calendar. Sophomore College is Stanford’s block schedule offering: three weeks in September when rising sophomores take a single class. Each class has 12-14 students; SoCo offers approximately 18-22 classes each September and about 200-250 students participate.

What Faculty Say About Teaching in SoCo: "It's a Joy"

Some SoCo faculty say SoCo is their favorite class to teach.

  • Taking only one class “brings an intensity and a focus….it’s magnificent, you can have a meeting, a movie night, do all these wonderful things”
  • The intensive nature means that faculty can “watch in real time as students have revelations and change their perspectives.”
  • “Giving a new perspective, that’s what I think SoCo can do.”
  • “you get to know the students really well in a way you don’t in a normal class...and the most important thing is helping them think longer term.”
  • Students live and eat together, so “there’s such a family feeling when the class gets going.”

A Different Kind of Class

Browsing some of the articles written about SoCo in the past may help illuminate the program. The block schedule enables faculty to teach in new modes that may be difficult during the academic year, such as:

  • Practicums—take students into the lab, into the archives, into the field
  • Co-Teaching, often interdisciplinary—we welcome faculty teaching with a colleague
  • Field trips—take students on a full-day site visit without managing schedule conflicts
  • Immersion—learn and live a language
  • Local partnerships—for instance, one class has students work and learn at the SF Zoo with a co-instructor from zoo staff
  • Travel—take students off-campus for 1 to 3 weeks (new travel seminars may require cost-sharing)

Program funding supports these innovations, and each class has two upperclass assistants (SCAs). SoCo is also a good way to raise student awareness of lesser known topics, as the program is well-known among frosh and a quarter of the class applies to at least one SoCo course.

Sustained Student Engagement and Community

The structure of SoCo means that student engagement with the class is very high. For instance:

  • Students are so enthusiastic about your class that they choose to apply and give up a chunk of their summer, hoping to build mentoring relationships with you.
  • Students are focused on your class, not distracted by a multitude of commitments—(almost) no schedule conflicts.
  • Students live and eat with their classmates, creating a community that enriches their interaction in your classroom.

Faculty Eligibility

Stanford Academic Council Faculty are eligible to propose a Sophomore College Seminar, contingent upon the approval of their department chair. Sophomore College (SoCo) is taught as overload and earns supplemental compensation.

Intrigued? Next Steps

Begin by having a conversation with the Sophomore College faculty director Lisa Surwillo and/or associate director Dayo Mitchell (email both). The SoCo faculty roster is typically finalized late in autumn quarter for the next September. At any point in the year, we are happy to discuss possibilities for the next 1 to 3 years. Many SoCo classes repeat from year to year, but we generally add 3-5 new courses each year. Questions to consider:

  • what class topic are you envisioning and why?
  • what might SoCo let you do that is difficult during the academic year?
  • what do you hope the students will get out of the class?
  • what types of students are you envisioning taking the course?

Alternatively, begin by reviewing the list of SoCo courses and instructors. A colleague you know may already be participating and can tell you more about the experience of teaching in SoCo. Past courses:

Faculty Time Commitment

SoCo occupies the last three weeks of the summer, ending the Friday before autumn quarter begins. Faculty are expected to teach a two-hour class Monday through Friday for the first two weeks of the program and then to continue to work with students for a third week, and most faculty also organize at least 2 or 3 events, such as field trips or guest speakers. Here's what that might look like in practice.

Beyond those basics, SoCo supports a wide variation in formats to meet the needs of the class. The students are enrolled only in one course, so faculty members can expect a greater time commitment than is possible during a regular quarter. Students earn 2 units for the course.

In the winter and spring before SoCo, faculty will need submit course descriptions and details (early January), to review applications from potential Sophomore College Assistants (March) and from student applicants (April), and to attend one program orientation meeting (April). Book orders are due in early March and faculty generally draft a preliminary syllabus by late May, when each professor holds a Spring Class Meeting to meet students and discuss summer reading assignments.

Future Sophomore College Dates (based on future academic calendar dates)

  • SoCo 2024: Tuesday 3 September through Friday 20 September (begins day after Labor Day)
  • SoCo 2025: Tuesday 2 September through Friday 19 September (begins day after Labor Day)
  • SoCo 2026: Monday 31 August through Friday 18 September (begins week before Labor Day)
  • SoCo 2027: Monday 30 August through Friday 17 September (begins week before Labor Day)

    Sophomore College occupies the last three weeks before the academic year begins.

Resources Provided

The Sophomore College program provides funding and manages the infrastructure to enable these unique classes.

  • Funding allows faculty to hire a student as a Course Development Assistant (CDA) in advance of the class, to help support logistics and course development (this is not a teaching role).
  • Funding supports local field trips, special course materials, local guest speakers, meals with students, and similar enhancements. (No alcohol is permitted at any SoCo meal or event.)
  • Faculty choose two Sophomore College Assistants (SCAs), older undergraduates who live in program housing with the students, help students engage with the course material, provide organizational support for trips, and are critical to the SoCo experience. SCAs are not Teaching Assistants and cannot grade student work, but act as peer learning mentors. SoCo recruits SCA applications and trains SCAs. 
  • SoCo organizes the residential component of the program, providing on-campus housing and dining for all students and student staff.
  • SoCo handles all aspects of course administration including setting up the course record, overseeing the application system, ordering books, arranging classrooms, providing rooms for movie nights, etc.
  • SoCo promotes the program to students and oversees the student application process. Participants in each class are chosen by faculty.
  • SoCo ensures that this opportunity is open to all students so that classes have a mix of participants. Students pay an all-inclusive program fee, which is heavily subsidized and covers tuition, room, board, textbooks, and any course-required travel; that fee is further reduced based on need.