Freshmen Look Back On Their First Year At Penn State

About nine months ago, thousands of high school graduates frantically moved into their Penn State dorms, donned shower shoes far too many times, suffered through dining hall meals, and experienced a whole lot of “firsts.”

We asked some of our freshmen staffers to take a break from studying for finals to reflect on their first year at Penn State. Here are some of their favorite memories, thoughts, and lessons learned.

Aboudi Rai

Writing this before my last final, I still haven’t gotten true closure with my freshman year at Penn State. With that said, it’s probably the best time to objectively reflect on my first year of college without getting too sentimental.

Like the first year of high school and the first year of middle school, the first year of college was initially a nerve-racking experience. There is this expectation of socializing and finding your new “friend group,” a process that I’ve learned just happens naturally. I conveniently found many of my best friends right on the floor of my dorm.

Interested in film and video as a naive engineering student, I also attended the College of Comm involvement fair, where I was stopped by someone who talked to me about Onward State and encouraged me to apply. Of course, I did, and it has probably been my best decision at Penn State thus far. I’ve gotten to explore and develop my passion in video, experience the Onward State tradition, and form some of my best relationships along the way.

What did I learn from this? Well, don’t try too hard to make friends — that’s not really how it works. Follow your passions, keep an open mind, get involved in things you care about, and the relationships will come naturally. This would have probably eased my nerves during my first weeks at Penn State.

I left out academics in this reflection and exclusively talked about the relationships I’ve formed because, in my opinion, that is the most important aspect of college. In my life and especially in college, I’ve learned just as many valuable lessons from my peers as I have in the classroom.

Alysa Rubin

In retrospect, I thought that my first year would’ve ended differently. I would’ve been writing this in between studying for my finals and moving out of my dorm. I would’ve gone to the Blue-White game, spent some time studying outside, and made more spring semester memories with my friends. Instead, I’m writing this from my bed and eating Creamery ice cream out of my freezer.

Even though my first year didn’t end like I thought it would have, I am so grateful for every moment I’ve had at Penn State. From move-in day to the White Out to THON to State Patty’s, I’ve met an amazing group of people and I’ve done a ton of things I never saw myself doing when I was younger, like taking pictures of sports teams and actually getting involved from the get-go. I also learned a lot about myself and life in general, like learning to do my own laundry (and turning it pink on the first try), spending more time alone, and figuring out how to live away from home. I didn’t expect to settle into college life quickly (and I didn’t!), but once I found my groove, Penn State welcomed me with open arms.

My freshman year wouldn’t have been as incredible as it was without Onward State. Through Onward State, I’ve made some of my favorite memories: shooting a soccer game in the pouring rain, line dancing on press row at THON, angering some folks online over security, and of course watching my good friend Dana do the worm across Carnegia Cinema. This blog has become my family, and I’m so lucky to be a part of something so unique. I can’t wait to see what we’ll do in the years to come.

Colleen Nersten

I came into college with this unrealistic expectation that I was going to get a 4.0, meet my forever friends, and work in a research lab as soon as I stepped foot on campus. Truthfully, my first year of college was less than mediocre. I spent too many weekends in, I struggled, I cried, and I felt like nobody was ever on my side.

When we transitioned to remote learning, I fell even further behind. I did all of my work from bed and skipped almost every class that I had. However, as someone who has an irrational fear of failure, I recently made peace with that concept, and it was the most significant lesson that I learned in my first year of college. Rather than focusing so heavily on resiliency, I learned that it’s okay to accept struggle at face value and to ~feel the feels~ sometimes. 

On a lighter note, I have a few Penn State LifeHacks that I discovered during my first year of college: Always do the extra credit, even if it’s only two points out of a thousand. The long down coat really is a necessity. If you have a Redifer salad for lunch four days a week, you can afford a HUB meal on Fridays. Invest in Chegg. Buy a fracket. Always tip your older friends. The Irving’s breakfast special is worth every penny.

Dana Nunemacher

I have been dreaming about this year of my life since I was 12. I knew I wanted to go to Penn State and study journalism in hopes of working as an anchor one day. However, I faced the reality this year that what I wanted in middle school wasn’t everything I wanted now…and that was a beautiful realization. 

Some things I did that I knew I always wanted to do: stand on the field of Beaver Stadium, attend THON, and join my favorite Penn State news source since middle school, Onward State. 

Things that I did that I NEVER expected myself to do: join a service sorority, become a TA (for a class that has nothing to do with my major, but simply because I enjoy it), and change my major. 

It was hard for me to accept the fact that things change, but there was never a time where I thought, “I don’t belong here.” That’s the best part of Penn State. I may not know what I want to do tomorrow, but Penn State will always be there to be my home and support me (side by side with my family, of course).

I don’t know where the next three years will take me, but may each change be considered with an open mind. 

Frankie Marzano

Coming from a Penn State family, I knew that I was going to be a Nittany Lion since the day I was born. I walked around campus for the first time when I was just 6 years old and attended my first football game when I was 11. All of my friends in high school knew me as “Mr. Penn State.” I spent 18 years building up what it would be like to finally attend my dream school, and this year was everything that I dreamed of and more.

I could barely keep my excitement during the drive to State College in August. Tears of joy actually started to come out as I saw Beaver Stadium appear on the horizon from I-99. There was never a doubt that this was the place for me, but I was still nervous as I was moving in for SHO Time. There was so much I wanted to do. The first semester was a roller coaster, but it couldn’t be more fun. From College Gameday to the White Out to storming the court when Penn State beat Maryland in basketball, that first semester was filled with moments that I will never forget.

I decided to get more involved when the second semester came around. I quickly joined the SNLC executive board, Smeal Student Mentors, and, most importantly, Onward State. I never knew that getting involved in these clubs would improve my freshman experience by this much.

Going online after spring break certainly hurt, but I would not change one thing about this year as I look back on it. I have already learned so many great lessons in just one year. I started building my own legacy here, and I could still confidently say that Penn State is the right place for me, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Gabe Angieri

My first year at Penn State was certainly a wild one, but one that I enjoyed. Although it didn’t end the way I wanted to, the first semester and a half was one hell of a time. Joining Onward State is what kickstarted my freshman year and is what made it so great. I love being apart of Onward State and I made a lot of new friends in the process.

Attending football games in the fall was something I looked forward to ever since I made the decision to come to Penn State, and was definitely one of the highlights of the year. The basketball team being good for the first time in a while also was one of the highlights of the year. 

I remember when it was time for me to move in, I was nervous but excited for what was to come. I was told by everyone to get involved and I’m really glad I did. Whether it be joining Onward State or CommRadio, going to sporting events, or just interacting with new people, those are the things that made my freshman year so great. 

I can’t believe I’m sitting here writing this with my freshman year already over, but I know I can’t wait to go back and make more memories soon.

Grace Cunningham

Unlike many, I never thought I would end up at Penn State. As a senior in high school, I applied to 18 colleges, so Penn State was just another application. I had my heart set on other schools that didn’t have their hearts set on me, so by decision day, I had no idea what I was going to do. I was all over the place. Looking back, I am so happy that I made the decision to attend Penn State, but I wasn’t always so confident.

 Throughout my freshman year, I had a lot of doubts. Although I was meeting new people, joining clubs, and making memories, the thought of transferring always lingered in the back of my mind. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong here. I felt like everyone else was born bleeding blue and white, while I was an outsider who got thrown into the mix at the last second. It seemed like everyone else was always two steps ahead of me.

At my Onward State interview back in September, I was asked to name three football players, the Penn State president, and a head coach — I couldn’t name any of them. Somehow, by the grace of God, they still put me on staff and I am grateful every single day that they did. Onward State has been the backbone of my freshman experience and, ultimately, it is the reason I chose to stay at Penn State. I have met some of the greatest people on this Earth while doing what I love to do. Onward State has taught me all the ins and outs of Happy Valley, and while I’m still learning, I’m proud to say that I can now name three football players, the Penn State president, and a head coach. 

If I could, I would go back and tell myself that nobody (literally nobody) has any idea what the hell they’re doing. Everyone misses home, everyone gets lonely, everyone struggles in some way or another during their freshman year. College is hard, weird, and fun, so just relax and enjoy the ride.

Katie Braun

Choosing Penn State was probably the easiest decision I’ve ever made in my life after seeing my brother go through his four years here and how many amazing experiences he had. Despite this, coming into the first semester I was super nervous about how I would make a bunch of new friends after spending my whole life with mostly the same people. But, it also excited me at the same time that I could have such a fresh new start and had so many new opportunities at my fingertips.

Fortunately, making new friends was the least of my problems thanks to the people on my floor in Earle Hall (and how could I forget Curtin and Pinchot Halls<3). Penn State has provided me with so many unforgettable experiences already in just my first year alone like touring College Gameday and storming the court after upsetting Maryland.

The best advice I can give is to get out of your comfort zone. You can find a club for practically anything so it’s easy. Getting involved in different clubs and organizations will only help you in the long run and you might even make a few friends while at it. Every single club I’ve joined in my two semesters has given me a unique experience whether it was my THON organization, Eclipse, to AWSM to Onward State. 

Although I still have a bunch of my things collecting dust in my dorm room, I’m dreading having to go back up there because I never want this year to end. There are so many memories made in that room that I wouldn’t exchange for the world. So while freshman year is coming to an end, knowing that I still have three more years of all of this is the only thing getting me through the impending move-out.

Lauren Wysseier

“How lucky am I to have something so special that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

This quote really hits home as I reflect on my time as a Penn State freshman. It’s crazy to think that I applied to Penn State just for fun and now I’ve made memories I will never forget and friends I will never lose. When I first stepped foot on campus as a young, naive freshman, I knew that I had chosen the right school, but I had no idea what incredible memories were soon to come.

Deciding to go to an out-of-state school is something that I will never regret. Coming from Florida, I didn’t know anyone — it was both freeing and absolutely terrifying. I was able to meet so many new people and experience what it’s like to live up North. I’ll still never understand how it’s a normal thing for people to go out in 20-degree weather wearing crop tops, but hey, I’ve adapted. 

The point is, I realized that you have to leave your comfort zone in order to grow. In my time as a freshman, I learned how to live in an unrenovated, stuffy, box of a dorm room with a girl who I barely knew, but ended up becoming one of my best friends. I learned how to book it to class across campus when I slept through my alarm and actually make it on time. I took risks and ended up joining organizations that I had only dreamed of being a part of. These experiences are what led me to fall in love with Penn State. 

Thank you, freshman year, for being everything I had hoped for, and more. See you as a sophomore, Happy Valley!

Lily Whitmoyer

Freshman year went by really fast. One day, my roommate, Leigha, and I are giggling, hanging up pictures of Trace McSorley, Christian Hackenberg, and Saquon Barkley in our dorm room. The next, I’m sitting two and a half hours away from State College trying to submit my last final on Canvas. 

The best decision I made this year was joining Onward State, THON, and Relay for Life. I don’t necessarily have a group of friends yet, but I met people who are just as passionate as I am. I met people who are inspiring, even if they don’t realize it. 

Amidst the fun of taking pictures at soccer and basketball games, yelling at people to stand up at THON, and reading somewhat interesting textbook pages, I couldn’t help but feel lonely the majority of the year. I preferred reading or watching TV in my dorm than going out with friends. I didn’t want to go to parties, and it was tempting for me to think that it’d be easier for me to make friends if I did. I’m still learning that isn’t true.

I’m excited for the next three years. My freshman year wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, but that doesn’t make it meaningless. It was a place for me to make mistakes and learn from them. I can only grow from here.

Owen Abbey

For every freshman, our first year at college was not the typical experience. But I could not have asked for a better time than what I got on campus. I remember being really nervous and anxious moving into my dorm in Pinchot Hall, but that all disappeared when I met some really amazing people. 

I am lucky to have a lot of amazing experiences that I didn’t know I could have stepping foot on campus in August. Writing for Onward State and doing a lot of interesting things with them has been a dream come true. But I also appreciated becoming my own person. I truly was the happiest in Happy Valley.

I’ve met some of my closest friends, and a lot of those memories that we made together are going to stick with me. Whether it was playing UNO all day long, group study sessions in the lounge, meeting up at the HUB to just chill and talk, or even just walking to class, those memories with those people will stay with me for a long time. 

Am I disappointed that I couldn’t finish my freshman year on campus? Absolutely. But it doesn’t take away all of the accomplishments and amazing things that I have done with my friends and Onward State. I know next year is going to be even better, and I am excited to continue on this journey with everyone.

Sammy Stevens

I honestly still can’t believe my freshmen year at Penn State is over. It feels like it was just yesterday that I was sobbing in my driveway and hugging my three best friends exclaiming, “I don’t wanna go!” But now, I can’t imagine what life would be like without my Penn State experiences so far. Even though it all ended super abruptly and on weird terms, I loved my freshman year and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

Freshman year was a roller coaster. With all my newfound freedom to go out on weekends and figure out my own schedule, life became a dream. I got my heart broken and I’ve been lifted in ways I never thought possible. 

I have always been a really anxious person and the thought of moving away from the people closest to me was terrifying, but I learned I can make it on my own. I learned that there is always room for more friends. I joined so many things and got rejected from so many others but I never stopped trying and here I am now. 

I made it into an acapella group, I’m a part of the biggest THON org on campus, I just got a job at Comm Agency, and I made it into Onward State. I never could have gotten to where I am without the friends I made my freshman year. I would like to thank every single one of them for pushing me to be my best. This roller coaster of a year went by really fast, but I made it around once. Who says I can’t survive another three? 

Teagan Staudenmeier

It’s crazy to think that my freshman year is over. It was equally amazing and challenging. The past two semesters I have had immense self-growth and I feel like a different version of myself. I was giddy and socially anxious when I showed up for my NSO and had a huge list of expectations for myself. However, during my first semester, life got in the way. I dealt with a big list of trying things and scraping them, but with the help of my extremely supportive family and roommate, I made the Dean’s list. That felt like the only true accomplishment of my first semester. 

When the second semester started I was eager to become more involved and make more friends. Early in the semester, I wandered over to the communications involvement fair in the HUB and Onward State instantly got my attention. I haven’t been on staff long and I have so much to learn, but the small handful of experiences and opportunities I have been given through Onward State have been incredible. I can’t wait to see what else I get to do and learn in the future. I also got a job as an Aurora leader and have made so many friends through it. My second semester, although short-lived, was magical and gave me hope for the future. 

The ending of my freshman year wasn’t at all what I expected but it has taught me things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Being forced to stay home has also made me even more excited for the day I get to go back to Penn State. At the end of it all, my first year was life-changing, and I can’t for my next three years.

Otis Lyons

It was a risk to travel across the country to come to Penn State, but I couldn’t be happier now that I wound up in Happy Valley. It turns out, as long as I have similar people around me, I could be anywhere and it wouldn’t matter (unless that was Ann Arbor, Michigan). 

Luckily, Penn State gave me the option in pursuing my dream as a sports journalist from the start with this wonderful blog. I was lucky enough to meet the greatest group of people on campus through Onward State while doing what I loved.

Sitting in the press box at Jeffrey Field in my first month at school and covering a much-improved men’s soccer team affirmed the fact that I had chosen the best place for me. I wish I could tell everyone from California that they should come to join me in Central Pennsylvania. It’s truly the best choice I’ve ever made.

Your ad blocker is on.

Please choose an option below.

Sign up for our e-mail newsletter:
Support quality journalism:
Purchase a Subscription!

About the Author


Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.

Retired Marine To Professor: How Colonel Jake Graham Has Immersed Himself In Penn State Community

After 26 years of service with the Marines, Graham works as a professor, lab director, and coach at Penn State.

Penn State Softball Season Ended By Texas State In NCAA Regionals

A sixth inning grand slam was too much for the Nittany Lions to overcome.

Penn State Baseball To Face Illinois In Big Ten Tournament

The Nittany Lions will take on the Illini at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Omaha, Nebraska.