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Freshmen 101: Our Penn State Newbies Reflect On Their First Semester

Every Penn Stater fondly remembers their first semester as a Nittany Lion. Although there isn’t anything quite like the magic of Nittany Valley, every student’s first semester can be a difficult time away from home. Or, you can make it the best thing imaginable. Of the 8,461 Nittany Lions who just finished their first semester of college, our three freshman staffers share what they learned in the past 15 weeks.

Megan Fleming

Fifteen weeks ago, I arrived in Happy Valley a small, but mighty bundle of nervous energy. I came here with every possible preconceived notion about how awesome I was going to make my four years of college, and quickly panicked when I realized I had no idea how to go about actually doing that.

Here I was in this great place with all these awesome opportunities and I felt like I needed to take advantage of all of them right away. I went through formal sorority recruitment, and went to every involvement fair and club expo Penn State has to offer. I left each event feeling more and more hopelessly confused about what things to do or clubs to join. I didn’t join a sorority, or any of the clubs that still email me on a weekly basis, but I’m glad I tried. As Doug will tell you later, getting involved is so important not only for the social aspect, but to make this big campus feel a lot smaller. If it weren’t for joining Onward State, I wouldn’t have done nearly as many awesome things, or met as many awesome people as I have.

But if there’s one thing I didn’t do enough this semester, it’s putting myself out there and getting to know more people. I didn’t make a lot of friends this semester, but I know the ones I did make are a lot more than your typical first semester friend.

My biggest adjustment wasn’t finding things to do, making friends, or starting classes — it was learning to lead two separate lives. No, not the Hannah Montana-type double life. But having two places to call home and no one in either place fully understanding what it’s like for you when you’re not there. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just something that’s going to take some getting used to. And living out of a suitcase in my own room at home felt weird, but I don’t think that will ever feel normal.

Somewhere along the way I got into a routine. I started taking shortcuts to my classes, and before I knew it, all my pre-college jitters had disappeared. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment Happy Valley felt like home, but it most certainly does now.

Over Thanksgiving break, my mom asked me if I felt different since starting school, and I do — but I can’t pinpoint why. I feel a lot older and wiser than I did a mere 15 weeks ago, but along the way I had a handful of meltdowns, bouts of homesickness, and moments of complete despair.

I’m still in shock the last 15 weeks flew by as quickly as they did, and I can’t wait for my next seven semesters here.

Doug Leeson

My first semester in college was nowhere near as daunting as it was made out to be. Maybe it was the GenEd courses, maybe it was getting involved in a bunch of welcoming groups, or maybe it was my fun-ass roommates, but everything went rather smoothly.

If I had to pick something I struggled with and will have to change, it’s definitely time management. All too often have I found myself binge-writing essays and articles at very peculiar hours of the night, and that’s probably not the best idea.

I had lunch yesterday with one of my friends before he went home for Winter Break and we talked about our first semesters at Penn State. We started off the year with the same meal plan, and while I was never strapped for cash when it was time to eat, he ran out of meal points a few weeks before the semester ended. We quickly determined the reason was that while I had never gotten a meal at the HUB, he took a trip to Chick-fil-A or Jamba Juice whenever he could. Trust me, fellow freshmen, (most) dining commons aren’t that bad.

The best advice I can give on how to reduce stress in college is to get involved. That point has been beaten to death, but it’s the truth. I’ve found my niche at Onward State, while others got involved in THON, Greek life, or Penn State’s seemingly millions of clubs. Having that social safety net can be a welcome distraction from your projects that are due next week.

In all honesty, college is off to a great start. There have been some stressful moments, but some indescribably awesome ones as well. One of my favorite adages is “college is what you make of it,” and that’s really all there is to it.

Dana Lipshutz

Although, technically this was not my “first” semester at Penn State (I was here in the summer — it was amazing, try it), I still have some awesome lessons I learned over the past couple of months.

First of all, yes, East Halls is far from most everything that seems important. The fact that I can get to Beaver Stadium in under two minutes, as well as the library being only right down the road, is extremely convenient. There are places that are close to East and there are places that are far from East. It’s all relative.

Something that I watched others around me struggle with was being unhappy or whining about a situation that they were in. Be it friends, roommates, classes, or Greek life, there is so much here to do at Penn State — more so than most any college. DO SOMETHING! If there is a situation that is bothering you, make it change! This isn’t high school. There are so many more opportunities to take a hold of. With 40,000 people here and an infinite amount of clubs and organizations, find something that is going to make you happy and stick with it.

As Doug so eloquently pointed out, I too feel strongly enough about it to add my thoughts. Time management will be one of the hardest parts of college. Every night can be a Saturday night if you make it one, but keep things in check. Sometimes you need a Saturday night on a Wednesday, and some days, you just need to skip that one homework because the nap you are about to take is way more important. That’s okay, just as long as you are keeping yourself on track most of the time. College is meant to be fun, so have fun, but make sure fun doesn’t always beat school work. Sorry to be such a downer, finals got me in that kind of mood.

P.S. Find a bathroom on campus that no one knows about. Keep it a secret. It’ll come in handy at the most unexpected times.


Are you a freshman? Do you remember your freshman year? Tell us about it in the comments!

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