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Freshman 101: On-Campus Life

Onward State has decided to reach out to incoming freshmen to enhance their experience at Penn State. We will be writing a series of posts which will provide advice to freshmen from students who were in their shoes not too long ago.  Whether you embrace or ignore the advice, just know that every freshman will have a unique and [hopefully] wonderful experience at Penn State.  We envy you.  This will be one of the best years of your life. Live it up.

University Park: a campus so large, it has its own zip code! Coming into a campus so big and so full of life can be intimidating for a freshman, but that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to the confines of East Halls.


On a campus designed to accommodate more than 40,000 students, there is no shortage of places to focus and study. However, the number of your fellow classmates seeking to the same thing can make finding a study environment that isn’t too crowded or noisy a tricky endeavor.

The most widely used study space on campus is, unsurprisingly, Pattee and Paterno Libraries. The two libraries offer a plethora of areas to study, like the near-silent stacks if you need some alone time, or group study rooms to cram with friends. However, be careful if you’re going to the library for late night cramming–not all of the individual libraries within Pattee and Paterno stay open past midnight.

Most freshmen in East Halls usually take to Findlay’s study rooms for cramming, but from personal experience, even the “quiet room” can get pretty chatty. But Fisher Commons–near Sproul, Tener and Brumbaugh Halls–is a great alternative. The building is accessible to all students and offers an additional computer lab and multiple study rooms that tend to be a bit quieter than Findlay’s. For those outside of East, West’s Waring Commons provides a typically quiet environment in both its study lounge and computer lab.

Various academic buildings can also be used as study locations including the Business Building and Hammond, which offers a computer lab on the third floor of the building. And there are a variety of smaller, more out-of-the-way, and most importantly, less frequented libraries, like the Earth and Mineral Sciences library in Deike Building or the Engineering Library in Hammond, if you’re on those sides of campus and need somewhere to go.


There is no shortage of options when it comes to eating on campus–each residence area offers a dining commons full of diverse options, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Waring Commons in West Halls primarily features the traditional “all-you-care-to-eat” style dining commons, but don’t let this deter you from what really draws people to West: freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. They’re so good, they even have their own Facebook page. And they’re only the centerpoint of the best cafeteria eats on campus.

Redifer Commons in South Halls is host to South Food District. Offering an wide array of choices, it would be quite the challenge to find a craving that couldn’t be quenched here. Redifer also has a buffet-style commons that, unlike other dining areas, stays open late night for “fourth meal.”

While Warnock Commons in North Halls may not provide as many options as some other areas, it is host to rigaTony’s, an Italian eatery offering a daily selection of pizzas, pastas, salad, antipasti and entrees, and has a food court on the other side that offers world cuisine, from Indian to Greek.

This fall brings a drastic change to Pollock Commons. As the remodel comes to an end, the new Pollock Commons will feature a model similar to Waring Commons: multiple specialized “stations” as opposed to a buffet line and salad / dessert bar make up. In an effort to accomodate the closing of Simmons Dining Hall, the new Pollock will incorporate healthier options. Only time will tell if it will acquire Simmons’s popularity as well. You freshmen will never get to experience it, but the healthy eating option had become a favorite of Penn State students, but it closes this fall to accommodate more housing.

Last but not least, East Halls does offer some worthy options. Fresh Express offers great made-to-order wraps, salads and stir fry and Roxy’s stands out with its paninis, burgers and chicken sandwiches, but the literal and figurative center of the East Halls dining experience is The Big O. Open all day, The Big Onion is host to fresh pizzas (including student favorite Buffalo Chicken), made-to-order wraps and sandwiches and many other options. Big screen TVs, which frequently broadcast both professional and college sports games, aid to the social environment, especially for wing and nacho nights, held at 8 pm every Monday/Wednesdays and Tuesdays/Thursdays, respectively).

You can check out daily menus for all dining halls here at Penn State Food Pro.


No matter what your interests are, there are many outlets for socializing and hanging out on campus.

For the athletically-inclined student population, Penn State has a large Intramural Sports program. The IM sports program allows students to assemble their own teams for league-style competition amongst their peers. Offered sports vary by season, but include everything from flag football to softball to soccer to golf to tennis.

Each weekend in the HUB, the Student Programming Association runs LateNight Penn State as an alternative to drinking for Penn State students. From 9 pm to midnight on Thursdays and 9 pm to 2 am Fridays and Saturdays, SPA offers various activities, including performances, discounted food, games and crafts, and a free weekly movie, fresh out of the theaters. For those who prefer to spend their late nights downtown but still want to see the movie of the week, SPA runs showings on Sunday evening as well.

For low key hang out spots between classes or during other free time, residence area quads are great spaces for laying out, doing homework or spending time with friends, especially on days when the weather is nice. On any given nice afternoon, the East quad looks more like a beach than a residence area, with students tossing frisbees and footballs, tanning on the grass, or playing volleyball.

Aside from quads, many students spend time on Old Main lawn, the HUB lawn (when it isn’t under construction) and the duck pond near Willard. These spots are both picturesque and close to many academic buildings–the perfect spots for a quick break between classes.

With such a large campus, there is no excuse to limit yourself to the confines of your dorm. Campus is your playground, explore it! While you’re at it, let us know your favorite spots!

Check out the other Freshman 101 posts we’ve published recently!

Freshman 101: Helpful Links for PSU Students
Freshman 101: Tips for Partying at Penn State
Freshman 101: Gym Memberships

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About the Author

Ali Fogarty

Ali Fogarty is a senior from the suburbs of Philadelphia majoring in Public Relations and Political Science who's passionate about Netflix and everything bagels.

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