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Freshman 101: On-Campus Life

Welcome, freshmen!  Soon you’ll leave the comforts of home for dorm showers, dining hall meals, and long walks to classes — and it’s going to be great.  Here’s some advice from a former freshman on how to live your best (on-campus) life.


We’ll start with a priority: food. Penn State has dining facilities in each of the main on-campus living areas. My main advice is to try them all, as they each bring something different to the table (ha, puns).

Findlay Commons, located in the heart of East Halls, has a fully-stocked mini-market, as well as both sit-down and to-go salads, pizzas, pasta dishes, and now sushi. Findlay also has an all-you-can-eat-for-a-swipe buffet Sunday through Thursday, with brunch offered on Sundays.

Pollock Commons is a bit quieter than Findlay, but still has tons of options.  The Mix, a convenience store located on the lower level, has all the mozzarella sticks, coffee, and toiletries you’ll need. Upstairs, a buffet serves salads, pasta, pizza, vegetables, and more. Pro tip: Get up early (at least once) on a Saturday and wait in the impossibly long line for a design-your-own Pollock omelette.

Waring Commons boils down to one thing: the chocolate chip cookies.  They’re a must-have before your freshman year ends. West also has a buffet similar in style to the other commons, as well as West Wing, which makes great paninis and wraps.

Redifer in South Commons is best known for hosting “Late Night,” or the late dinner/9 p.m. meal for when that study session ran just a little too late and you’re still hungry. Redifer also has tons of different sandwiches, salads, noodles, and sushi you can choose from on the lower level.

Redifer Commons in South

The North Food District, or Northside, is much quieter than other options you’ll find on campus. Due to its remoteness, there are fewer options to choose from compared to South and Findlay. Looking for a quiet escape?Head to North.

Lastly, the HUB has plenty of food options, ranging from Starbucks to poke bowls to grilled cheese to salads. The HUB dining options sometimes keep weird hours, so it’s usually good to check if they’re open online. Scattered around campus are also coffee shops and stops to pick up ready-made sandwiches.


Good luck putting off the inevitable, but you’ll eventually have to study.  Though some students opt to study in the dorms, there are plenty of spots on campus to get work done. The Pattee and the Paterno Libraries are where you’ll find most students working, ranging from the quiet stacks to the reading room, which is more affectionately known as the Harry Potter room.

The Harry Potter Room in Pattee Library (Photo: Ben Chronister)

Other great study spots are the various libraries scattered around campus, like the Earth and Mineral Sciences Library in Deike Building.  If you work better with some background chatter, the Kunkle Lounge in Hammond or the HUB may be for you (if you can snag a table).


Penn State is a huge school, so when it comes to leisurely activities, you’ll have no trouble finding a group you can chill with. First stop: the involvement fair. There are over 1,000 organizations at University Park that you can join, so if you have a niche hobby, odds are there’s a club for you.  Check out all the organizations at University Park here.

In addition, the Student Programming Association, or SPA, hosts weekly LateNight at the HUB, as well as tons of free concerts and lectures. LateNight is meant to be an alternative to drinking, so it runs every weekend. Participants can expect to watch movies, paint, and attend the occasional comedy show. The schedule can be found online as well.

Lastly, the gyms and outdoor facilities on campus are phenomenal and you should definitely take advantage of them, as they’re now included in your student fee, so membership is “free.” In addition to the three gyms on campus, there are also volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts, which are the perfect spot for hanging out on a warm day.


As the temperature drops and the wind picks up, you’ll want to have figured out your ideal bus route! The White Loop, or Whoop, travels counterclockwise around campus and through downtown, while the Blue Loop, or Bloop, travels in the clockwise direction.  Luckily, these CATA buses are free, so don’t worry about needing to carry around change to hitch a ride.

The easiest way to get familiar with on-campus life here at Penn State, though, is by exploring yourself.  Take time to familiarize yourself with a map (or a map app, if you want to be a little more inconspicuous), and in no time you’ll be all settled in.

About the Author

Ali Richards

Ali is a copy editor for Onward State, and is currently pursuing her major in Geoscience. She's from Washington, DC (Go Caps!), enjoys gneiss rock puns, and dislikes wavy chips. You can reach her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @haveagneisslife.



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