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

More than 8,000 Penn Staters are eight days away from achieving coveted third semester standing, which renders them free of their freshman status. With two semesters in Happy Valley under their belts, some of our freshmen staffers share what they learned over the last year.

Doug Leeson

When Megan, Dana, and I wrote the first iteration of this story four months ago, I claimed the following:

“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.”

What I’ve learned in the semester since is that time isn’t the problem, attitude is. I’ve done some decent work after 3 a.m. and I’ve accepted and embraced my rotten sleep schedule. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping from 3 to 9 a.m. and then power napping during the day, as long as you can still manage to be productive when need be.

I also wrote about getting involved last time, and that’s still true. If my days were just going to class then going home to do homework, I’d be understandably miserable. Instead, I go to class, do homework, and then usually do some cool Onward State-related activity, whether it’s an interview or writing or some other function. I couldn’t imagine college without being part of any organization.

What I’ve learned most recently is that it is a must to spend your meal points before you find yourself in a mad dash to get rid of them, like I am right now. (Also: Let me know if the comments if you want to get lunch sometime!)

Caitlyn Edgell

My freshman year in college was quite an experience. At first, I had a really hard time adjusting to being away from my family. Seeing them on football weekends made my transition much easier. Also, I have a few friends at PSU that I went to high school with, and although people think they don’t want to see anyone from high school, it’s so refreshing to see a familiar face.

My biggest recommendation for freshmen is to get involved. I know it sounds cliche, but on such a big campus, it really helps to have some people you know. It makes campus seem a lot smaller and more welcoming. I’m fortunate enough to be very close with my roommates, and that has helped to make my experience truly incredible.

As far as classes, college is definitely structured differently than high school. I love that my professors can hand me a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, and I know everything that will be expected from me over the next 15 weeks. Using time management is essential, and I highly recommend working ahead. Also, making time to see professors and seek advice, even if you think you don’t need it, can be very helpful and be a grade booster.

It’s crazy how fast this year went by. When my parents dropped me off at the end of August, I didn’t think I would have nearly the experience I’ve had. It hasn’t been easy, and this last year has been one filled with its ups and downs, but I’ve loved my time at Penn State. I can’t wait to see what the next three years bring.

Dana Lipshutz

I have learned a lot of important things since coming to college. Like the shortest route to my classes and how to correctly spin a hammer to hit the nail in Stump. But there are a few lessons that standout. Here is my list:
  1. Never trust Penn State weather except when it is cold. It doesn’t matter if every weather source in the world says that it will be sunny without a cloud in the sky in State College, it will somehow rain. However, if the temperature says it’ll be -20 degrees. It will probably be -20 degrees and feel like -30.
  2. Create good friendships. Your college friends are different than your high school friends. While your high school friends may know all of your embarrassing moments, your college friends are the ones you need to trust to get you home safe when you are blacked out on College Ave. in the wee hours of the morning.
  3. You’re going to have to put in work. College is a place where you will have the easiest classes of your life as well as the hardest ones. For the harder classes, if you put in the work, time, and effort, you will see the results and it will be worth it. I can guarantee that much.
  4. Join SOMETHING! I joined Onward State because I love taking photos and I love how sarcastic the writers are. And because of that, I have met some of the greatest people that have ever come through Penn State AND I’ve gotten to have some of the greatest experiences. There are so many clubs and organizations, and it’s so easy to find something you’re interested in and you’ll find other people who are interested in the same thing.

Carolyn Popescu

I watched my two older sisters jump on the college experience bandwagon, so I suppose I was a bit less nervous than most freshmen. If you combined my sisters’ time in college while I was imprisoned to the six-hour middle/high school phase, it would be approximately eight years. I had eight years to take notes.

Through my sisters, I would hear all about their fantastic stories, experiences, and memories. Naturally, I would also hear A LOT about their college catastrophes, mistakes, flunks, traumas, and stresses. This is where I silently learned what I thought was everything I needed to know about college. Or so I thought.

If a lot of new college students feel like scared little birds being thrust out of their comfortable nests, I definitely felt more like an impatient and proud toucan ready to fly and flaunt her wings, finally escaping her suburban confinement. Though I was ahead of the game in terms of knowing my surroundings and basic Penn State facts, I didn’t immediately hit the ground running like I was so sure I would.

East Halls ended up feeling like a maze, and after days of looking like an exasperated tourist hoisting a map up into the air, I finally took a picture of it to observe on my phone like a pirate’s map, trying to hunt down my next class like buried treasure. I was still unsure if Greek life appealed to me. I hardly knew what the THON committees and organizations were, and the involvement fair felt like a wild circus of flashing, colorful posters, free candy, and questions being thrown in my face. I left the fair with nothing but a few fliers and a free pencil, feeling a bit defeated and disenchanted. Where were all my new best friends? Why didn’t the perfect clubs for me immediately catch my eye? Why isn’t this as effortlessly easy and fun as I thought it’d be?

What I learned as a freshman and what nobody tells you is that college is the time of your life: ON ONE CONDITION! You suck up your nerves and get out there and do everything you possibly can. What I learned as a freshman is that this year, you can never be too involved. Many of the clubs I checked out didn’t stick with me, but the ones that mattered did. And just those handful lead me to amazing people and memories that I am amped to continue next year.

I strongly believe that in a sea of 40,000+ plus students and hundreds of clubs, the excuses “There just isn’t anything here for me,” and “My type of people aren’t here,” is total crap. Seriously! That is illogical, preposterous, and absurd crap. The moment you finally start to feel comfortable here is after leaving your comfort zone.

Lexi Shimkonis

I wanted absolutely nothing to do with Penn State a year ago, even though I had just enrolled for the upcoming school year. I openly hated this school when I moved in, but I knew the education I would receive here would make it worth it.

It took all of two weeks for me to realize that my “smart” decision was one of the greatest choices I would make in my life thus far. Somewhere on the run between Old Main lawn and Beaver Stadium on the night that Joe Paterno got his wins back, I fell head over heels in love with Penn State.

College is not all fun and games though, and I quickly learned that you actually do have to study for your exams! And not just a quick read-over of your notes the night before, I’m talking Friday, Saturday, and Sunday spent intensely reading and reviewing and practicing and memorizing. I also learned (the hard way) you can spend hours upon hours studying for an exam and still fail, and that sometimes you just have to grin and bear your F and ultimately everything will be okay.

If I could go back to the beginning of freshman year and tell myself just one thing, however, it would be that the way that you get to do cool things and meet awesome people is by joining some kind of club. I knew I didn’t want to go Greek and I was pretty iffy about getting involved with THON, so my first semester I did a whole lot of nothing. I’m happy to have found a place at Onward State because when I came this semester, my plan was to start joining clubs during my third semester and that would have made the entirety of my freshman year seem like a bust.

You can open up a world of opportunities and friendships as long as you do something. So don’t worry when it’s only the second week of classes and you’re eating dinner alone and talking on the phone to your mom (I totally never did this…), because with time you will find your place at Penn State.

Eventually, your undergrad life will go from “Wow, I can’t believe I’m in college!” to just another day in the greatest university in the world, which is something that I take for granted all too often. There’s nothing wrong with being homesick or spending a Saturday night studying, but it would be almost a waste to come to a place of so many opportunities and not take advantage of at least some of them.

And never forget: You can sleep when you’re dead.

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About the Author


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