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Answering The Class Of 2024’s Burning Questions

Although Penn State men’s basketball coach Pat Chambers would argue it’s always a great day to be a Nittany Lion, 2020 isn’t shaping up to be an ideal time to begin your college journey.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought most “normal” activities to a screeching halt. Although Penn State won’t announce the fate of the fall semester until June 15 at the latest, it’s likely things in Happy Valley won’t be business as usual next semester.

Other universities are implementing things like hybrid learning, modified schedules, and contact tracing, which throw a wrench in the typical college experience. Even Penn State itself is offering an option to spend your first year at a Commonwealth Campus. With so much to worry about, it’s normal for all students, including incoming freshmen, to feel a little overwhelmed.

To help calm your nerves and provide a little guidance, we set out to answer the Class of 2024’s biggest questions heading into their first year at Penn State.

Football?

One of the biggest problems we heard from freshmen was whether or not college football would take place this fall. Although many, including head coach James Franklin, are optimistic about playing this fall, others, including Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, believe a vaccine is needed for sports to fully return. Either way, it’ll be tough to predict where sports will stand in a month, let alone September.

Some experts believe athletics and academics will go hand-in-hand. As NCAA President Mark Emmert said earlier this month, sports won’t be happening on campus without students in classrooms. Programs received a bit of good news last week when the NCAA ruled teams could return to campus for voluntary workouts starting June 1, but Penn State hasn’t hatched a plan for that just yet.

Moral of the story: Your first Penn State football game will come…eventually. Even if games this fall don’t happen with fans, we’ll be back in Beaver Stadium #107KStrong sooner than you’d think. One of the best parts of being a Penn Stater is returning for games as a washed-up alum, so you’ll have plenty of tailgates and White Outs in your future.

Yes, it sucks that you might miss out on the “freshman football experience.” Yes, it’s disappointing. And yes, you might be second-guessing your decision. It’s cliche, but you’re certainly not alone. Absence makes the heart grow fonder anyway, right?

New Student Orientation (NSO)

A handful of incoming students said that they’re worried about having NSO online instead of the traditional in-person overnight experience. Will you miss anything having NSO online? Short answer: No. Longer answer: probably not.

A lot of in-person NSO is awkward, confusing, and leaves you wondering why Penn State didn’t just let you do this all online in the first place. Although I personally liked my NSO group, the whole thing is basically one long icebreaker, and I didn’t talk to my roommate or any of my group members beyond that weekend. It was nice to experience having a roommate for a night and to wander around campus, but I didn’t really take anything away from the weekend other than a class schedule.

So don’t stress about it being online. The most important part of NSO is nailing down your schedule for your first college semester, which can easily be done now with an advisor over Zoom.

Time Management

One student’s most pressing question was, “How long did it take to develop time management habits?” This is an interesting question, and my immediate thought was, “Did I develop time management habits?”

My first semester was definitely the most difficult by balancing classes with college life. It’s tough to manage living on your own for the first time while also working to maintain a certain GPA. Once I settled into my new life, though, things got easier.

Some good advice I’ve heard is to treat school like a nine-to-five job and get everything done before you “clock out” for the day at five. Although this doesn’t work for me personally, others can definitely excel with this strategy. I always tried to budget my time so if something came up socially, I would never have to say, “Sorry, I’ve got too much work to do.” Learning time management is a sort of trial-by-fire but don’t be too worried about picking up that skill.

Dorms

What is dorm life like? Well, it’s kind of amazing but also annoying and even a little scary. It’s up to you if you want to make best friends with your floor-mates, or ignore them and keep to yourself. Living in East Halls freshman year was a great experience for me and was a great way to get to know people in my building and around the commons, too.

There are obviously some drawbacks, though. Sometimes, when you’re in a rush and need to take a shower, they’re all full. Sometimes, someone on your floor will walk down the hallway with his industrial-grade speaker playing “Mo Bamba.” Sometimes, you’ll want to brush your teeth before bed on a Tuesday and there’ll be vomit outside your door or cops on your floor. All in all, living in the dorms is a great experience and is one you’ll find yourself missing as an upperclassman.

Someone also had a specific question about the internet in the dorms. It’s actually surprisingly good and each room has two Ethernet ports for desktops or laptops. Although sometimes the WiFi will go out right before finals week, it was never a noticeable problem for me.

Flex-Start

Most incoming freshmen received a letter in the mail inviting them to participate in Flex-Start, an initiative that allows them to spend their first year at a Commonwealth Campus instead of University Park. Penn State said it was reintroducing this program to help ease financial concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Should incoming freshmen take advantage of this program? Well, it’s complicated. Plenty of students already do something similar through Penn State’s 2+2 program, and many say they loved it. Let’s take a look at the tuition breakdown.

In-state students pay around an additional $4,000 going to University Park instead of a Commonwealth Campus. But if you were to commute to a Commonwealth Campus from home in the fall, you would save $11,570 on room and meals. If Penn State were to go completely online in the fall, this would be a solid option for students with significant financial concerns, even if the spring semester is back in person.

The “Freshman Experience”

This is a hot topic. Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic is making it hard to get any type of experience anywhere right now. While the situation evolves and changes as the summer progresses, it’s normal to be worried about missing out on the typical freshman year. The fall is going to be weird, interesting, and awkward no matter what, so it’s likely your college woes will be amplified.

Is this worth taking a gap year? The answer to that question is embedded somewhere in a much larger discussion about higher education, but my personal opinion is that it’s easier to just hold your breath and brave what’s ahead. It may not be worth falling a year behind your friends, and some students who take a gap year end up not wanting to even go to school when they’re done.

Besides, this could be a “fun” time to be in college. Despite things not being typical, it could be enjoyable and new to navigate this landscape. You can also tell your grandkids, “Oh yeah, I sure was at Penn State during the coronavirus pandemic ahah bro it was crazy.” This is obviously a very personal decision to make, and you should consult your friends and family, not a blog boy like me.


This fall is going to be…interesting. The Class of 2024 seems to be more concerned with coronavirus-related issues than it is with general college-related issues. Time will tell what ends up being more of a challenge. Thanks to all who submitted their concerns, and best of luck with virtual NSO!

If you’ve got other concerns or questions, send them our way and we’ll try to answer them later this summer.


We’ll continue writing incoming-freshmen related guides and #content throughout the summer. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay in the loop.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a junior business major from Bucks County and is Onward State's social media manager. He writes about a lot of things. He's a huge Philly sports fan, back to back to back failed entrepreneur, and he appeared on the Rachel Ray Show at the age of 5. If you want to gain absolutely nothing, you can follow him on twitter @rjparsons9. Any "serious" inquiries or death threats can be sent to [email protected]

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