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Your Guide To Freshman Year At Penn State

I let Penn State’s incoming freshman class ask me anything, and what a pleasant surprise it was when only, like, half of the questions were my friends trolling me.

Due to the volume of valid inquiries you youngbloods had about life at Penn State, this is going to be a full-blown guide to freshman year.

Social Life

Q: What’s the most important thing I should be doing during Welcome Week?

A: Leave your door and your expectations wide open. Talk to everyone. Every freshman is in the same boat right now, and this is the best time to make friends. Just don’t get discouraged if you don’t particularly love the people you meet right off the bat. People will probably be all over Instagram and Snapchat talking about their “new best friends forever” or whatever, but it’s usually because everyone feels pressure to make best friends immediately. Be friendly to everyone, but remember you’re not going to love everyone and that’s fine. You’re not weird or crazy for not feeling some primal connection to a person you met 48 hours ago at some frat. Get out there as much as you can but take every interaction with a grain of salt.

Q: Is it hard to get involved in clubs because there are so many other people that are in competition?

A: Not at all, and this is something I urge you to do as soon as you can. One of my biggest regrets of my underclassmen years is ignoring clubs. Find what interests you and get involved as soon as possible. You’ll find some of your best friends and feel a sense of belonging, which can be really hard at such a big school. Most clubs aren’t really about competition anyways, just a ton of people doing what they love and bonding over it. While the club fair is helpful, you should Google “___ club Penn State Twitter” to find out more specific information about meetings and stuff. And if you end up going to a meeting for a club you hate, there’s no pressure — you don’t ever have to go back.

Q: Are football season tickets worth it?

A: Yes.

Q: Will I be pressured into partying?

A: If you’re even asking this question, I suspect you’re already anticipating that. I won’t lie, you’ll probably feel some pressure to party, but don’t ever feel like you have to succumb. Penn State has a drinking scene just like any other huge state school, but there are so many other things to do. There are tens of thousands of people on this campus and you’re about to be part of a record-sized freshman class. For every asshole trying to get you to bong a warm natty, there are five people making fun of that asshole. Don’t let the people you don’t particularly have fun with discourage you. You don’t have to stick to a group just because they’re the first people you met. If anyone is pressuring you to do anything you don’t want to, just join a club that interests you, talk to people in your classes, go to university-run events, do whatever works for you and stop forcing yourself to be friends with these people.

Q: Do people usually eat in the dining halls? That sounds silly, but I don’t want people to think I’m “fat” because I eat in the dining buffets every day. Aren’t they the cheapest meal on campus though?

A: Yes, if you have a meal plan the best option is to use it as much as possible. It feels like free money even though it’s not. A large majority of freshmen will be doing that. My advice for you, though, has nothing to do with dining halls. I know it’s hard, but try to stop caring so much what people think about you. It will make your year and your life so much better. I don’t think anyone will even notice you in the dining halls unless you’re naked or screaming obscenities or something. And anyone who judges you for eating in the dining buffets clearly has his/her own issues.

Q: What is the most important thing for dorm living?

A: Your mentality. Of course living inches away from someone else and having to use communal showers sucks, but you’ll likely never be in closer proximity to your peers ever again. Take advantage of the good things about that, and when the bad things start to drive you crazy, remember it’s not forever.

What To Bring

Q: Should I bring my own printer?

A: I highly recommend this.

Q: What type of things do you suggest to bring for summer sessions for dorms?

A: All the fans you think you’ll need, and then two more to be safe. A box fan is “essential,” according to OS staffers who did summer session. They also recommend a bathing suit, a rice cooker, an ice tray for your freezer, and supplies for outdoor activities “like a bike, longboard, skateboard, and outside stuff like Kan Jam and soccer balls…you have an immense amount of free time every day and can get bored easily and all those things can help make friends,” one summer session champion recommended. Some degenerates I know suggest bringing alcohol so you won’t have to bum off people for a while. “Not bringing alcohol was my biggest regret,” one of these degenerates recalled.

Q: What are some apps you recommend getting?

A: The CATA app isn’t the most reliable, but it’s better than nothing. You’ll probably be using the campus buses a lot, so it makes life easier. Penn State Strength and Fitness tells you the capacity of every on-campus gym at any given time. The LionPATH app is bad but it’s a thing that exists. Penn State Tinder is hilarious, download Tinder if you’re single. Download the Onward State app too, obviously ;). Here are some more.


Q: What’s the best elective course to take?

A: If you’re into social justice, you’ll love Soc 119. If you hate art, take English 50, it’s creative writing that counts as an Art Gen Ed and Paul Kellerman is a brilliant man. Please don’t take Nutrition as your physical activity Gen Ed, it’s hard as hell when you could just be walking around or doing yoga. I made that mistake TWICE because I convinced myself I’d grow to like it. Here are some more suggestions. While we’re on the subject, I recommend getting Gen Eds out of the way early on.

To go on a bit of a tangent, do not act like a douche about whatever major you’re in. I don’t care how hard it is, you’re not impressing anyone until I see the diploma. And to all my fellow Comm majors out there: don’t try to argue it’s as hard as some of the majors people brag about. Everyone just shut up about all of this and people will like you infinitely more.

Q: What is your advice for balancing academics with a social life? I don’t plan on partying much (if at all), but I would still like to go out and attend sporting events without having to risk my grades. Thank you for your time, and WE ARE!

A: One of my best teachers freshman year told me to treat college like a full-time job. This means put yourself on a 9-5 clock and use any extra time you’re not in class during that block to stay on top of homework. I didn’t take this advice, but I should’ve.


Q: Will I be able to find a job in town?

A: Probably. There’s almost always somewhere off campus hiring, and there are usually opportunities on campus with dining and hospitality and RESCOM.

Q: Why do Penn Staters worship Joe Paterno as if he were a God or something?

A: This is a tough one to describe, but I’ll take a crack at it. I was an out-of-state freshman in 2012, the year after the Sandusky scandal surfaced. I came into Penn State with the same question — Why do Penn Staters defend this man so steadfastly when they could just back off and seem a little less crazy? I found the answer in just about every place I thought I wouldn’t: in the Paterno Library, in his creation of Success with Honor, an (almost revolutionary at the time) idea that college athletes should also excel in the classroom, in the millions of dollars he and Sue donated to Penn State and its students, in their modest home just minutes away from campus. Combine that attitude and those contributions with being the winningest coach in college football, and you have yourself a legend. Simply put, he was Penn State and he’s a huge part of why this place is so awesome.


If you read this and still have any questions, submit them here for round two:

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About the Author

Sara Civian

Sara Civian is one of Onward State's three ridiculously good looking managing editors, a hockey writer at heart, and an Oxford comma Stan. She's a senior majoring in journalism, minoring in history, and living at Bill Pickle's Tap Room. Her favorite pastimes are telling people she's from Boston, watching the Bruins, and meticulously dissecting the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album. She's seen Third Eye Blind live 14 times. If you really hate yourself, you can follow her at @SaraCivian or email her at

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