What Did Seniors Wish They Knew As Freshmen?
This week, thousands of wide-eyed Penn State freshmen officially embarked on what should be the best years of their lives.
As those journeys begin, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of college life. Between games in Beaver Stadium and lectures with hundreds of classmates, there’s a lot going on on campus. There’s so much to do, learn, and experience as a Nittany Lion, which can make the beginning of your college career as intimidating as it is exciting.
To help calm some nerves, our senior staffers offered advice to the Class of 2025.
This is a hard question to answer! Quite honestly, besides the whole pandemic situation, there isn’t much I would change about my time at Penn State. Yeah, there are a few decisions I would like to make again and there were some things that didn’t go my way, but in the end, it really all worked out.
Maybe that’s what I would tell myself: just Trust The Process. Obsessing over having the perfect college experience and comparing your life to what you see on Snapchat is pointless. Blazing your own path, being comfortable in who you are as a person, and just rolling with the punches is paramount. As a freshman, I probably spent too much time wishing I had more friends or beating myself up over not getting involved in certain things. Life truly has a funny way of working itself out, and it really is what you make of it.
So, freshmen, you’re dealt the cards you’re dealt. It is what it is. Make the most of what you have, because in four shorts years, you’re really going to be wishing you had four more. Yes, it’s cliche, but it’s true. Don’t get caught up in the little things and trust that with a bit of hard work and perseverance, things will work out.
Oh, and speaking of Trusting The Process, stop defending Ben Simmons. You will buy tickets to a Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks in 2021 and he will pass out of a potentially game-winning dunk and ruin your life.
College has often taught me that life doesn’t happen in your dorm room. Now, that’s pretty ironic coming from a senior who’s still living on campus (and currently in a single dorm for the third straight year). But hey — it’s true!
To get the most out of Penn State, you need to go see it for yourself. All the memories you’ll make and great friends you’ll meet probably won’t pop up in the cinder block cell you’re cooped up in. I quickly learned that you need to put the effort in if you want to reap the rewards.
So whenever you’re feeling a little lonely, unfulfilled, or perhaps even bored, venture out of your dorm and see what’s happening on campus. Go hang out with that club, join that pickup game, get dinner with friends, or try something new on campus. Maybe you’ll find a new hobby, or maybe you’ll waste part of your day. Either way, you did something new, and that’s all that matters.
If you are going to stay in your room all year, please, at the very least, prop your door open. It’s a simple way to greet folks and ease yourself into social interactions without entirely leaving your comfort zone. You just never know who might walk by one day.
As cliche as it sounds, I wish I would have told my freshman self to enjoy my time here more. Time moves so incredibly fast when you go to a place like Penn State and are surrounded by so many amazing people, that I’ve forgotten to enjoy and really cherish the small moments. I never knew how much I would miss running around my freshman year dorm playing pranks on the floors above us or anxiously waiting for the white loop on the way to the frats. I would tell myself to take more time to do the things I want and surround myself with the people who make me truly happy.
My freshman self would have no idea that COVID-19 would derail about 50% of my time as a student during “normal” times, but that’s OK. I would tell myself that I found a new normal. One that includes virtual meetings, virtual student teaching, and more. I would tell my freshman self to keep up that feeling of gratitude because I have a place like Penn State that brings my family together, for everything from football games to spontaneous dinners when your parents drive three hours back and forth in one night just to see you. And now, as a senior, I have the best group of friends, the best roommates, and the best kindergarten students in the entire world. I would tell my freshman self to wipe away the tears when you’re homesick or feeling anxious because time truly does fly at the happiest place on earth, and there’s never enough of it.
You’ll find your way, no matter who you are.
For much of the first half of college, I remember being very concerned with the idea that I didn’t fit into the groups I was associating with. Many of my friends in engineering were performing much better than I was in class, I was assuming that I wasn’t accepted within the photography network at Penn State because of my different major, and I generally just thought I was looked down upon for things like the fact that I don’t use TikTok and that I primarily listen to 80s music that everyone’s parents would appreciate. I’d often ask myself, “How do these people keep sticking with me?”
Eventually, I just stopped questioning it. I learned that if you have just one similarity with someone else, whether it’d be your major, a hobby, or even just a TV show you both watch, they’re likely going to want to keep talking to you about that subject, and eventually know more about you. They’ll keep coming back to you if they like what they hear.
As a senior, I wish I knew to take advantage of all of the opportunities that came my way. I didn’t always go out with my friends when I was invited. Now, knowing that anything can happen and how quickly those opportunities can be taken away, I wish I knew to seize all of those moments.
Time flies. Every day, I wake up to a new Snapchat memory and can’t believe it was taken three years ago. Although not every memory in my phone is a great one, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the past three years. Some of the best memories I have are trips to the dining hall with my floormates or skipping class to get ice cream with my friends.
If I could give little 18-year-old me some advice it would be to just go do whatever you want. It might not sound like a good idea at the moment, but you won’t know that until you do it! Your four years of college go by incredibly fast, and you’ll feel like you can’t fit in everything you want to do in your final year. So go run around and do whatever. Who knows when the next global pandemic will strike.
My simplest advice to freshmen is to just get involved. Say “yes” to things. Sign up for clubs you’re interested in. Don’t wait around to get comfortable with the idea of college or to settle in — just do it! Put yourself out there.
If the pandemic taught me anything, it’s that I wasn’t taking full advantage of the opportunities I had around me to be social and have fun. Even though it’s OK to say “no” to parties and clubs (because you *are* a student), it’s also OK to say “yes”! Go to the party on a Thursday night! Join that THON org! Go join the best independent student-run media outlet on campus! Just say “yes.”
I wish I’d known that freshman year doesn’t have to be “the best year of your life.” While it’s definitely an exciting life change, it’s also really hard adjusting life on your own. Doing new things like making friends, living with a roommate, and navigating your way around a completely new place is so overwhelming. Unfortunately, no one really likes to talk about how hard freshman year is until after they’ve moved past it. That said, I also wish I reached out to more people about how I was really feeling at the time. I’m sure it would have helped me feel less alone.
Going along with that, I wish I would have known that there’s no rush. It’s hard not to have this sense of urgency to accomplish so many things at once, but it’s important to remember that everyone is on their own timeline. The best things happen when you stop worrying about what you should be doing and focus on what you’re currently doing.
Do your best to take a moment and really appreciate your time at Penn State every once in a while. I know everyone says it, but it literally feels like yesterday that I was making my way through East Halls for my first day of freshman year.
Even if you’re doing something as small as getting dinner with friends or as boring as studying for a test, just appreciate that you’re here. Although you might not feel comfortable yet, you’re going to find your place and have the time of your life. It’s going to fly by, so don’t take any of the little moments for granted.
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About the Author
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