Freshmen Look Back On Their First Year At Penn State

Roughly nine months ago, Penn State’s Class of 2025 arrived in Happy Valley ahead of the fall 2021 semester. Thousands of high school graduates came to Penn State not knowing what to expect during their first year on campus.

Now that finals are done and the 2021-22 school year is in the books, we asked some of our freshman staffers to reflect on their first year at Penn State. Here are some of their favorite memories, thoughts, and lessons learned.

Alyssa Wagner

Unlike most students, I never planned on going to Penn State. I applied to 13 schools, so getting my acceptance letter just added to my pile. I never had my heart set on a school because I couldn’t picture myself anywhere without seeing it in person. When I toured Penn State back in 2019, it was my first ever college tour, so I had nothing to compare it to. At the time, I assumed it was just an average school.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now that my first year is over, I know I made the right choice. I got to experience my first White Out, my first THON, joined three clubs, worked four different internships, made the Dean’s List, gained an extra semester’s worth of credits, and made some amazing friends along the way.

I came to Happy Valley nervous and shy. Unsure of what my first year would look like, I expected to get sent home because of new COVID-19 variants. Now, I’m coming back home confident and excited about what my future at Penn State holds.

I honestly can’t believe my first year of college is over. As cliché as it is, time really did fly because I was having fun. I can’t thank Onward State enough for the friends I’ve made and the experience I gained. I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring!

Camryn O’Rourke

My freshman year was both what I expected it to be and also completely new. It started out sweet — the hot August air buzzed with excitement and the term “Happy Valley” finally made sense to me. Most of my nights were spent in the dorms watching movies and laughing. Fall swept in before we blinked an eye. Football games, tailgates, writing, and studying occupied me. The trees shed their leaves in a slow, beautiful manner. I remember thinking how amazing the colors were on the mountains.

The winter eventually came and that’s where I hit a rough patch. I felt disconnected from everyone for a while, but I eventually stumbled into Onward State. After that, some therapy, and some help from friends and family, I was back to my old self. The short, cold days eventually turned into warm, long nights as my friends and I reflected on our freshman year while discussing plans for the summer. While my first year has been a rollercoaster, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Charlie Pegler

Ever since my first Penn State football game when I was eight years old, I knew that this school is where I always wanted to be. For years, I have built up this idea in my head of the unbelievable possibilities that would be available to me here. This made the college application process pretty simple, as there was really only one place I wanted to attend.

When my parents left me at Pinchot Hall, I was excited, confused, and honestly pretty scared. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. After sitting alone in my room for a few hours, I texted my brother Will (a common trend of my first year), and he recommended I apply to this blog that he has been a part of since his first semester. Thankfully, I took his advice and applied to this amazing blog and even got involved in our podcast, Podward State. Thank you Sam, Grace, Jordan, Will, Connor, Shannon, Stutz and everyone else involved with the Pod for truly making Penn State the special place I knew it could be.

Was Penn State always the perfect place I had built up in my head? Not exactly. But thanks to some of the amazing friends I made, and especially thanks to my big brother, I figured it out. I guess that would make my advice to an incoming freshman at Penn State to just relax, get involved, and in no time, it will become home. As I’m writing this on my couch in Connecticut, I’ve realized that the place I sometimes wanted to leave in early September is now the home I can’t wait to go back to in August.

Hailey Stutzman

I don’t come from a Penn State family. However, it was a no-brainer that I had to go here. After being crowned “Most School Spirited” in school, I knew I needed to take that spirit to college with me. There was no better school in mind to fulfill that than Penn State.

My freshman year was all that I’d hoped it’d be and more. From standing on the field at a football game to attending THON and to hanging out with my best friends in the dorm late at night, I’ve made memories that’ll stick with me forever.

Onward State stuck out to me the most at the Involvement Fair. Two semesters later, this blog has given me best friends for life and amazing memories. I knew I wanted to be involved in photography and filmmaking since I was a child. The opportunities during my freshman year have fulfilled those dreams. Whether those experiences came from Onward State, Podward State, or my internship during the first semester, I’ve gained so many adventures that made my freshman year so unique.

College is awesome, and I can’t wait for the next three years. To incoming freshmen: get involved with clubs, keep your dorm room open during the first week, and don’t jump in the arboretum fountain.

Jake Musmanno

If you asked me at the beginning of my senior year of high school where I was going to go to college, Penn State would have been near the bottom of my list. In fact, I swore to my two Penn State alum parents that I wouldn’t be attending Penn State. Don’t get me wrong — I had nothing against it. This school provides a good education, it has a competitive football team to root for, and most of all, it has a one-of-a-kind community. What had originally drawn me away from this school was the mere fact that I wanted to do something different than my parents. Penn State has been a part of my family my entire life, so I wanted something different for myself.

This mentality obviously changed, as here I am. Toward the end of my college-decision process, I came to realize how amazing Penn State really was and that I didn’t have to do exactly what my parents had done during their time in University Park. Everyone’s path is different. That being said, I came to Penn State with this exact mentality.

Like any incoming freshman, the prospect of attending college was scary. It wasn’t so much the academics that scared me. I knew I could handle them. It was more about college’s social side — making friends. Coming from a small town in Central New Jersey, I have had the same 10 friends since I was in kindergarten. Accordingly, I haven’t had to make new friends in years, nor did I remember how to do it (I know it sounds ridiculous, but this was my thought process). On top of that, I felt this immense pressure that I needed to find a solid group of friends during the first week — you know, the ones that stick around for the rest of your life, the ones that you invite to your wedding. This nervousness in combination with this self-inflicted pressure amplified my anxiousness.

Now, with the handy tool of hindsight, I realize how foolish this outlook was. No, I didn’t find my core group of friends during the first week of college. It actually took a total of five. And no, the process of making friends was not like how I had imagined it; it was effortless, and it just sort of happened. I know there are others who were not as lucky as I was, but just know the time will come. Put yourself out there! I made one of my first friends simply by asking him if he wanted to grab lunch.

Anyway, because I’m such an indecisive person, even after choosing Penn State, I was concerned that I had made the wrong decision. After completing my first year of college, I can confidently say that Penn State was the right choice. It’s the perfect place for me.

Overall, I would say that my first year met, and then exceeded, my expectations. Whether it was experiencing my first White Out in Beaver Stadium, joining a service organization, or joining Onward State as a photographer, Penn State has provided me more than I could ever ask for. Because I came from a high school class of around 190 students, I was hesitant attending such a large university. However, this big school is full of amazing opportunities that I’m grateful to have experienced.

So that I don’t take up more of this blog post, I will sum up my first year with a few of my favorite memories:

  • Move-In Day
  • White Out & College GameDay
  • Sledding with friends during the first snow storm
  • Photographing the men’s basketball team during senior night
  • THON
  • Volunteering at a local farm with a service organization

I would give it a 10/10 and would love to experience it again.

Joe Lister

I never really intended to come to Penn State. I just drifted to the school because it made sense, but I bought into the cult pretty quickly.

My grades weren’t what I wanted them to be, but since they were largely Gen Eds that I (likely) won’t use professionally, I’m not overly concerned.

I put a lot more value into the friends that I made. After a complicated relationship with high school, I found that friends in college came easier. I met two of the three people I’ll live with next year on the third day of classes, and I met the fourth just a month later.

I went to football games and joined the wild frenzy that is Penn State’s sports fandom. After not expecting to even care about Penn State sports, I found myself shirtless at a snowy Penn State men’s soccer Big Ten championship game. After one semester, I’m sure I attended more sporting events than both my parents in four years at their respective universities.

Joining Onward State was a pretty swaggy move, too. I’ve had a blast in the one short semester I’ve been on staff, and I don’t take for granted what I’ve been able to do. I like to save press passes from different events I attend, and a few months with OS has boosted my pile several times over.

To any incoming freshmen — don’t stress it. I’m a naturally more introverted person, and I just pushed myself to make new friends for a few weeks. If you’re friendly and talk to enough people, you’ll find people who you like. Join a club, go and throw a frisbee at the HUB, and talk to people on your floor. Just put yourself out there.

Keeley Lamm

My first year of college looked nothing like my initial expectations. Let me tell it to you straight — first semester freshman year is tough. Penn State is a ~huge~ campus, and there is so much to do, see, and discover. While that might seem overwhelming, I constantly reminded myself that if there are 45,000 other students here, chances are that there are plenty of other kids dealing with similar struggles as me. Better yet, out of 45,000 other Nittany Lions, I figured I was bound to find some pretty cool people. Looking back, I can confidently say that I found some awesome friends and great organizations to get involved in.

I learned that it was important to make such a big campus feel smaller by finding the things I enjoyed and just letting life happen around me. Some of the most fun of my first year happened unexpectedly.

This year offered not only great fun, great academics, and great stories, but also many great lessons learned. Here are some important things to remember as an incoming first-year student:

  • Stay until the end of every football game
  • Take advantage of office hours
  • Always carry an umbrella
  • Go to the Involvement Fair alone
  • Know the names of the custodians on your dorm floor
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Say yes to as much as you can

Mara McKeon

My freshman year started with me absolutely hating Penn State and trying to do anything I could to leave. But, I ultimately made the decision to stay, and it was the best thing I have ever done for myself.

This year taught me a lot about being independent, having time management, and knowing how to prioritize. But, I’m most thankful for the people and memories I’ve made in just one year here.

From traveling to Detroit for the 2022 NCAA Wrestling Championships (shoutout Will Pegler and Erin Sullivan) to just heading down the road to Pollock to hang out with my friends, it all made this year a life changing experience.

Thank you to Onward State and Podward State, my fellow freshmen here at the blog, and my best friends Meghan, Emily, and Sarah for showing me what it’s like to have true friends surrounding me daily.

Mikey DeAngelis

Growing up, I never thought I wanted to come to a big school like Penn State. I went to a small elementary school and a small high school, so the idea of jumping into one of the largest universities in the county was scary to me. That being said, after really weighing my options, I realized that Penn State was the perfect school for me. I even made the rash decision to accept my offer of admission before I ever stepped foot on campus for a tour.

When I showed up as a wide-eyed freshman in the fall, I embraced the Penn State lifestyle to the fullest extent. I got to know our beautiful campus, went to athletic events, and joined a bunch of clubs and organizations — the first and most important of which was Onward State. I jumped in, head first, into being a Nittany Lion, and discovered why this place is truly amazing. All the things I had heard from friends, alumni, and admissions employees were finally coming to life, and no one was exaggerating.

You can smile and nod your head at someone’s recommendation to try the Creamery, but until you get your first hand-scooped cone, you don’t realize how amazing it tastes. You can watch old White Out clips on YouTube, but until you feel the stadium shaking beneath your feet and feel your ears ringing from 109,000 people cheering in unison, you don’t get a scope for why it’s truly special. You can smile at the local news headline showing the yearly THON total, but it’s not until you’re on the floor that you see the raw passion and love that Penn Staters have for that cause.

I owe much of my amazing freshman year to joining Onward State, which was the best decision I’ve made so far here at Penn State. I’ve made countless friends that have become my family here, and this blog has given me so many opportunities that I am beyond grateful for. All I know is that if this year taught me anything, the next three years of my life are gonna be pretty amazing, especially if I’m alongside my Onward State family.

Nolan Wick

Coming into my first year at the greatest school on earth, I had no idea where it would go. That made me nervous, to say the least.

However, joining a few organizations, particularly Onward State, eased my transition by a mile. I instantly met some very good people and made some great friends. Additionally, I was thrilled with how my classes went and the journalism opportunities I got.

Overall, I like how my freshman year went, and I look forward to seeing how things will go the rest of the way.

Theo Koch

Freshman year can be full of highs and the occasional low. For me, the beginning was a little bit slow, but once I got my feet under myself, time started to fly.

Every freshman is in an uncomfortable situation when they’re leaving family, friends, and getting used to living away from home. People are trying to meet each other and make new friends. Don’t be alarmed if you feel uncomfortable at the beginning.

Once I got the ball rolling, I never looked back. I got involved in multiple organizations that have brought me many of my closest friends. Finding best friends has really allowed me to enjoy this school.

Penn State is a school like no other. The passion of students and fans brings life to State College. Football season really brings energy out of fans. THON is something I highly recommend getting involved in. It’s so unique to Penn State and is really rewarding to be a part of.

Overall, I’d say to just get involved and try new things. There is so much to learn while being away from home and doing life on your own. Penn State will provide you with some of your best memories yet.

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About the Author


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