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Freshmen Look Back On Their First Year At Penn State

About nine months ago, swarms of eager and excited freshmen arrived at Penn State prior to the start of the fall semester. Unsure what to expect, the class of 2026 definitely experienced a lot of firsts while navigating their freshman year.

With finals approaching rapidly and the 2022-23 school year winding down, we asked our freshmen staffers to reflect on their first year in Happy Valley. Listed below are the lessons, memories, and final thoughts they took away.

CJ Gill

My first year at Penn State has been nothing short of excellent. I did not know what to expect when I arrived on campus back in August. However, I have been extremely lucky since I moved into my dorm nine months ago. I have met my best friends and tailgated all fall with them. I took a risk and joined this great blog and have never made a better decision. In the spring, I took another risk and joined a business frat, Phi Beta Lambda. I have accomplished and learned so much from these two experiences. My freshman year has been made because of the people I have met in these two organizations. I couldn’t be more excited to return to campus next fall and continue my Penn State journey.

Sabrina Knox

Throughout high school, I found the subject of college stressful. I had no idea where I wanted to go, but Penn State was always in the back of my mind. When I learned about Schreyer Honors College, I knew I wanted to be a part of that community and I have loved every second of it.

If you’re reading this right now as a high school student lost in the sea of impending college applications, I think you should consider applying to Penn State. I arrived on campus on a beautiful day to unpack and move in with my roommate, Ava, who I met at a Schreyer Accepted Student program in March 2022.

During SHO TIME, an orientation program with the honors college, I got to meet many of my peers, listen to talks, and participate in activities that prepared me to start the semester. My favorite memory from the weekend was getting up at 4 a.m. to get in line for the Lululemon launch at the Family Clothesline. We were first in line at 4:15 a.m. and I have no regrets. The line was wrapped around the block before long, and it was so much fun to be the first ones in the store. Before I knew it, I was walking to my first class on Monday morning, and I’m happy to report all of my professors have been great thus far.

Throughout the next few weeks, I met a group of friends who have been an incredible and irreplaceable part of my college experience. I also found myself falling for one of my guy friends, and I’m happy to report that we have been in an amazing relationship for seven months now. From stargazing at the Arboretum to trying all the restaurants in town to climbing Mount Nittany, so many beautiful memories have been made.

I have loved the changing of the seasons and even the bitter cold. When it snowed, I got to ski at Tussey Mountain and watch students roll a giant snowball into the HUB. We even had a snow day! Watching the winter turn to spring has reminded me of how I too entered a new season of my life here at Penn State and I am proud of how far I have come.

This year I participated in a service day, joined two choirs (Oriana Singers and Vocal Dimensions), played IM soccer, attended the Global Careers Institute symposium, and applied for internships and other programs. Of course, I also joined Onward State, which has been a great adventure, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

Luke Pieczynski

I’m not really sure what to make from my first year of college. When I came to Penn State, I knew that I wanted a huge school where you’d be running into a completely different person every day. My high school graduating class was fairly large and I always felt comfortable in being able to hide in such a huge group of people. I really didn’t have another reason for coming here other than it was big, it wasn’t a completely urban environment like Pitt (!), and I got in-state tuition.

That being said, I still tried to make my mark this year and get involved in “college things” that I wouldn’t be able to do back home or in high school. I remember on my first and only tour here, which was over a year ago (what the hell?) one of the guides said that “you can’t make a small school any bigger, but you can make a big school as big as you want,” and that always stuck with me. It’s kinda funny how I’ve floated between wanting to drop out immediately and loving everything about this place so much in one year.

I was lucky enough to be able to march in and out of Beaver Stadium every home weekend with the Blue Band and #RaiseTheSong in the fall. This also included the (agonizingly long) bus ride to Alabama to watch Penn State steamroll Auburn on its home turf, and I got to take my first trip to the west coast and see the Nittany Lions win at the Rose Bowl. Fogo de Chão on Dr. Drane? Worth it entirely.

Joining THON as an R&R volunteer got me to spend my Wednesday evenings with one of the most dedicated, resourceful, and inspirational groups of people I’ve gotten the chance to meet. There really is nothing like being on the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center as THON announced its record-breaking total this year, and I think that’s a pretty amazing experience to have in just my first year at this place.

Obviously joining Onward State was another experience itself. While I’ve only been on staff for just this spring semester, I’m grateful for the stories I’ve gotten to write so far in that time and the people this organization has introduced me to…many who so creatively call me “Pie” now. Thanks, guys.

A lot of my friends said I was involved in too much and was pretty busy and they’re right. But they’re also wrong — I’m sitting here at the end of the semester, and while I’m ready to be done with classes, I’m still so eager because there’s still so much I want to do and accomplish in these three years. There’s still more I want to get involved in. Look out, world!

My only advice is just to go to your classes. Please. You’re spending the money already, just go. Right now, I’ve only missed one — just so Jack and I could (unfruitfully) snag a photo of Mike Rhoades at the University Park Airport. It gets so much harder when you skip one. Accounting 211 is really hard to teach yourself when you didn’t go to class.

McKenna Murphy

Despite the tears, the laughs, and the plethora of frantic FaceTime calls to my mom, I have, in fact, made it to the end of my first year at Penn State. I remember the first time I toured the campus last spring, I really did not think I could see myself going here. I feared being indoctrinated into the acclaimed “Penn State cult,” and thought my lack of overwhelming enthusiasm for the university would make me an outcast. However, after being accepted to the honors college and having my best friend confirm his commitment to Penn State, I knew I should give it a shot. One long and eventful year later, I can say that I have found a home here.

My first semester was off to a pretty rough start. If I was writing this reflection in November, I would most likely write that I desperately wanted to get on the nearest bus out of State College. I felt lost and was constantly overwhelmed with coursework and deciding whether my major was the right fit. After many restless nights, talks with my advisor, and nights spent wandering the PSU bulletin website, I finally decided to change my major to agricultural science. That first semester taught me that you do not have to have everything perfectly figured out, and even though everyone around you may seem to have it all together, chances are everyone else is just as confused and overwhelmed. 

I know this phrase is often repeated ad nauseam, but Penn State truly does have so much to offer and getting involved will make this big campus seem smaller. Joining Onward State was an absolute highlight of my year, as I now have the opportunity to contribute to a blog that I admire and can connect with the Penn State community in more ways than I could ever imagine. Participating in THON as a first-year committee member was also one of the best decisions I made this year. Not only was I able to meet so many amazing people, but I got to witness firsthand the scale and widespread impact of an event like THON. Not only clubs, but actually going to games and events is really what made this year so special. I miss yelling and cheering at Pegula or Beaver Stadium and I desperately cannot wait for more games next year.

One piece of advice I would give to any incoming freshman is to live in South Halls. I know it’s the freshman dream to live in East renovated, but the location of South Halls is truly unmatched. You are super close to downtown, the HUB, and my favorite fine dining location (Pollock). I am now extremely sad to be departing from my cozy corner in Simmons Hall and can say that I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. 

All in all, this year has really taught me to never judge a college by its first semester. I am glad that I did not let the tears take away from the great experiences I had this year and I cannot wait to return to Happy Valley in the fall. 

Olivia Damato

Oh God, where do I even start? Finishing my first year at my dream school did not go as planned. I was placed in supplemental housing because this school over-accepted students (don’t ever say yes to supplemental housing it’s the worst thing ever and should not exist) and thought multiple boxes of jet-black hair dye would solve all my problems.

This was the hardest year of my life. Freshman year is supposed to be the time of your life when you make friendships that last a lifetime. Well, my parents were my only friends for a while, and I called my mom at 5 a.m. crying so hard in the bathroom to the point I couldn’t breathe because I just wanted to go home. After one of the worst weeks, they drove four hours to visit. We tailgated together and they brought food for all of my “friends” because I was too scared to tell them I didn’t have any.

I’m going to sound cheesy but joining Onward State gave me hope. It was the only thing that would honestly get me out of bed. It gave me friends, happiness, and opportunities I never thought I would be able to do as a freshman. Right before winter break I secretly applied to three different schools. After talking to my whole family, I decided to give my god-awful dorm room and this school a second chance. I also couldn’t afford the other schools’ application fees, so I never actually submitted them anyway.

Coming in the second semester, I forced myself to have a new mindset and a list of goals. I stopped sleeping all day, calling my mom at 5 a.m. to cry, and killing my hair with box dye. I now have my best friends that I can call family. Most of the time I do enjoy it here. I’m still learning, growing, and just trying to survive. Just remember nothing is ever going to be perfect, people suck, you are supposed to run out of meal plan money, and life is what you make of it. Lastly, try not to worry your mom like I did. Love you Rexie <3

To freshman year, I will not miss you and the hell you put me through!

Ashley Connington

It was never a question if I would be coming to Penn State. Since I was nine, I knew this was my future and I only applied to other colleges “just in case.” Still, the first year was a whirlwind with lots of ups and downs. I quickly found out I would constantly be sick living in the dorm, especially in the first semester. It was a hard and fast adjustment to college life and I was lost for a few weeks, but joined clubs and soon met some of my best friends. It was definitely important to make such a huge, sometimes overwhelming campus feel small and go along with it. Most of my favorite memories were unexpected and came when I forced myself to just say “yes.”

Luckily for me, we’re a Penn State family and my brother Brandon is still at Penn State, so I always felt connected and had support from the start. I’m sure my brother got annoyed when I would crash at his apartment for hours on Sunday to watch football, but that apartment means so much to me and I knew I could always run there with any problems. I’ve unofficially adopted his roommates as my extra brothers and they made me feel so welcome and were the highlights of my fall semester. Next year won’t be the same without them.

I truly never thought I would be able to work for Onward State after reading it for years and am so thankful for everything this blog has given me. It gave me a sense of purpose as a new student and introduced me to some of the best people I’ve ever met (special shoutouts to Liv and Evan, thanks for still being friends with me). I never thought I would be able to talk to the lacrosse players I’ve watched for years or cover the men’s team’s second-ever Big Ten regular-season championship. Thank you Gabe for taking a chance on me and letting me be a part of this amazing blog and to Colleen and Keeley for always being so supportive and helpful.

Nothing will ever compare to the White Out or THON or just being a part of Penn State. I’ll be counting down the days until I’m back in August and will never regret my decision.

Erin Conaway

If you told me at high school graduation that I actually did end up loving Penn State, I probably would have rolled my eyes and scoffed. I wasn’t confident with my decision until about 24 hours after I moved into McKean Hall. Within that short span of time, I met some of the coolest people and then never saw or spoke to them again. That’s just the way life goes during your first couple of days here, or so I’ve heard…

From football games to the endless opportunities offered to me through Onward State to wandering the streets with my best friends every weekend, I’ve made memories that’ll last a lifetime. I will most definitely be exaggerating to my cousins and siblings to persuade them to enroll at the best university in the nation.

While not everything I planned in my head before coming here actually has played out, with three more years in Happy Valley, I’m determined to achieve all my goals and push myself further than my pre-Penn State brain ever could’ve imagined.

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