Freshmen Look Back On Their First Year At Penn State

It seemed like just yesterday they were rocking the colorful convocation shirts and doing the wave in the Bryce Jordan Center. Now roughly nine months later, the first year of college is in the books for the Class of 2027.

With finals right around the corner, we asked our freshman staffers to reflect on their first year at Penn State. Compiled below are the highs, the lows (because the year wouldn’t be complete without them), and their favorite memories.

Michael Siroty

Like every other freshman (if they disagree, they’re lying), I was scared to start college at a place as big as Penn State, and it took me a couple of weeks to adjust. However, after that time passed, I felt like I belonged here. From the people I met and the things I saw to the opportunities I had, my first year at State College was truly amazing.

When my parents walked away the Saturday before classes, I felt more lost than I ever have, but I still have to thank them for making this year possible for me (even though my mom couldn’t be happier to have a reason to come back to Penn State). Despite that feeling, I quickly found “my people” when I joined Onward State, and I can’t imagine a different group to have spent this year with.

Covering and going to so many sporting events, eating Creamery ice cream, hearing the Old Main bells, dropping my AirPod down a drain, walking laps around Beaver Stadium, recording a Christmas song, writing about THON, eating way too many hot dogs at baseball games, and beating The Daily Collegian in flag football were some of the many incredible experiences I’m so grateful to have had in my first year at Penn State, and I can’t wait to be back in August.

Ericka Apolskis

Since I decided to come to Penn State around a year ago now, April 4, 2023, to be exact, I am pretty sure I have been asked why I chose to attend here over 1,000 times. To be honest I chose it on a whim. After applying and touring 14 schools all over the country, I didn’t know what I was looking for. All I knew was that I wanted to go somewhere not in Texas, a place that had tons of school spirit, and a lot of opportunities for students to be involved. Penn State being Penn State checked all those boxes by a mile, and I could not have made a better decision. I have truly met the best of friends here and the endless experiences I have had I would not trade for the world.

I have always liked to be busy and that didn’t stop when I stepped foot onto campus. Over the year, I think I have been officially and unofficially part of about 15 clubs, two jobs, applied to about eight more, an internship, 13 different friend groups, and of course, had many, many breakdowns about my future/life/school. But who’s counting? As the year has gone on, I am grateful for all of the experiences I had with each, and I truly believe they built me into a better and more confident person every day. And all that to say, I know Penn State is the place I was supposed to end up.

It’s crazy to me that the year is already over, but this is only the beginning for me and I am so excited to see what these next few years will bring. I am truly thankful I never have to use a communal shower ever again.

Ryan Smith

When looking back on my experiences of my freshman year, 99% of my memories are positive ones, and I’ll always cherish my first year here at Penn State. Whether it was joining Onward State, going to my first White Out as a student, dancing at THON for 46 hours with my sister, or meeting some of my best friends in my business fraternity Phi Gamma Nu, I felt like I’ve lived an entire lifetime here, and I’m excited for the future and my three more years to come.

I’ve grown more as a person in these past two semesters than in my entire life before Penn State. Going to college is scary. Leaving your best friends that you’ve always known, maybe sharing a room for the first time, being far from your parents, or just understanding that you are growing up and starting a new chapter. I can wholeheartedly say the scariness of college will fade fast, and you’ll be going on adventures and growing close to a brand new set of people. Whether they are your age or many years older, everyone has a home here at Penn State, and I’m lucky I found my forever friends so early on.

All I can say is that it felt like yesterday that I moved into my room in Geary Hall, and now I’m staring at a sheet that says “Move-out plans for East Halls residents.” If you are reading this before coming to Penn State, your freshman experience will be one you’ll never forget!

Sarah Nasif

Growing up essentially bleeding “blue and white,” I knew Penn State as a fascinating place that I once wanted to call home, just like my parents. However, it wasn’t until I spent my first year here that I truly realized how strong my admiration for this school truly was. Coming from Wisconsin, I was nervous about my adjustments to independent life, making new friends, and overall, starting this new chapter in my life. Now, looking back at my freshman year, I simply don’t want it to end.

There are so many memories that will forever resonate with me from this year whether it was from running around the halls of Pennypacker Hall, endlessly laughing with my newly found best friends, or jumping up and down in the student section at Beaver Stadium with those friends. The people I have met thus far at Penn State have truly made Penn State a home. As an out-of-state kid, I really don’t know what I will do without them, however, it will probably result in endless group FaceTime calls, just like we did almost every break.

It wasn’t until coming to this campus that I finally was able to surround myself with others who shared the same pride for Penn State as I did. Experiencing my first White Out, even though it was a battle to get season tickets, was a dream come true. Getting to make an impact, and being announced as a top-five fundraising organization with my sorority at THON was heartfelt. Joining my sorority, meeting new best friends, and finally getting a “big” sister was life-changing. And, of course, meeting Saquon Barkley downtown was a bucket-list moment.

While the growing-up part was hard (i.e. learning to not spend all my meal plan on Starbucks or all my real money on Doordash), Penn State made it seem less intimidating. If I could slow down time, even if it meant having to do more schoolwork, I absolutely would.

Jessica Farhat

I never really planned to go to Penn State. In fact, it was closer to the bottom of my list. No one in my family went to Penn State, so I really knew nothing about the culture here. When I first moved in, I immediately wanted to leave but ultimately decided to try it out — turns out a lot of people also felt like that.

I realized I had to put myself out there if I wanted to accomplish anything and make some friends. I met some awesome people in my classes and slowly started making connections. For my first semester, I kept things light and decided to join one activity (which happened to be Onward State) and really focus on my academics. Later on, I started getting more comfortable with my surroundings and really found my place. I slowly started joining more and more activities and meeting even more amazing people. There is always something happening around campus, and when you take the time to explore, you realize there is never a dull day in Happy Valley.

While I started off with negative thoughts about Penn State, I have really learned to love the campus and all the things it has to offer. I can’t wait to come back in the fall and see what Penn State has in store!

Kayla Wakeley

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to come to Penn State. So, when I finally stepped foot on campus as an official student, I was super excited, to say the least. Now, looking back and realizing my first year is over, I’m terrified with how fast my time here is going but will continue to cherish my time, memories, and people I’m able to meet along the way.

My first semester was filled with sports and thousands of FaceTime calls made to my mom and sister. I was lucky enough to attend all but one home football game and most hockey games. The school spirit here is truly unmatched. I couldn’t have picked a better school for this. Football Saturdays at Beaver Stadium were nothing short of electrifying. I was pretty shy and wasn’t too social (really regret this now) and only joined one club, but I was still able to meet some people that I truly consider to be my best friends.

My second semester was so much better than the first. I would actually leave my dorm for things other than sports. I saw Travis Scott and Drake at the Bryce Jordan Center, which was obviously incredible. I also decided that it was time to start getting involved. I applied for and got into Her Campus and Onward State. Receiving my “Welcome to Onward State!” email was one of the biggest accomplishments of this year. Before coming to Penn State, I always found myself reading itd articles just so I could get a taste of what it would be like to actually be here. Onward State also gave me one of the greatest opportunities of being able to work at THON, which was also a huge reason I wanted to come to Penn State. I am truly so thankful to have been accepted into such an amazing group of people with so many amazing opportunities. Thanks, blog.

Despite the fact that coming to Penn State was a huge dream of mine and has given me so many things to be grateful for, I still had some challenges. Being the first in my family to go to college didn’t make the four-hour move away from home too easy. I was learning to live on my own for the first time with little to no guidance. I came here knowing only one person, which was my roommate from back home (Hey, Ari!). Balancing academics, extracurriculars, and personal life often felt like a juggling act. There were moments of doubt, stress, and homesickness, but each challenge was an opportunity to learn, adapt, and grow stronger.

From spending way too much money on chicken baskets at football games to sledding down the HUB Lawn on lunch trays to barely seeing a solar eclipse, my freshman year was filled with an endless number of memories and people I will never forget. Thank you, Penn State! Can’t wait to be back.

Leah Meyer

I cannot believe that my first year of college is about to come to an end. There are so many things that have occurred this year and I am grateful for all of them. During my first semester here, I was definitely overwhelmed and intimidated. I struggled to manage school and a social life at the same time. I didn’t know how to put myself out there and meet new people. I was worried that I would not find MY people.

After coming back from winter break, I realized that there are so many opportunities here at Penn State and I need to take advantage of them. I thought that there had to be people here that have the same interests as me, and there were. I started putting myself out there and talking to more people in my classes, making more friends on my dorm floor, and even found my future roommates for next year. I also joined Onward State in February and I am so glad that I did. I think one of the best things that anyone can do to meet new people is to join a club or organization that interests them.

I wish I could tell my past self at the beginning of the year that everything would work out the way it should. Everyone is going to have doubts and worries about starting fresh at college, but I promise it gets better as long as you put in the effort to make the best out of every situation.

Jamie Lynch

I arrived on campus in the fall expecting a fresh start. I was eager to meet new people, settle into college life, and of course, go to all of the football games. I did everything I was “supposed” to do during the fall as a college freshman. I tailgated, joined some clubs, and celebrated Halloweekend. But as the leaves fell off the trees, and seven home games came and went, it felt like all of a sudden, I was headed home for winter break.

My first day back for the spring semester was when it really seemed to hit me that I was fully immersed in campus life and that Penn State would become a place that I’d call home. Being surrounded by hundreds of fellow Nittany Lions sledding down HUB Lawn was one of my favorite memories from this year. The months continued to pass. In February, I attended THON, which was undoubtedly my favorite weekend of the year.

Then after a few more quintessential Penn State events and a club swim trip to nationals in Indianapolis, I find myself today staring at just one more week of classes. I have no idea where all the time went, and how my freshman year in college is already drawing to a close. But what I do know is that I can’t wait to experience what the next three years have to offer. I guess they were right, time flies when you’re having fun.

Ben Rosenbaum

I had an excellent first year here at Penn State! I had a ton of fun getting out there and experiencing all Penn State had to offer. From having fun at Beaver Stadium for football games, standing on the Bryce Jordan Center floor at THON, and of course, for every Dollar Dog Night, I am extremely thankful for the fun experiences I had, and the friends I made who were there with me. While the end of freshman year is bittersweet, and I am sad to close my chapter in Brumbaugh Hall, I cannot wait for what next year has to offer!

Collin Ward

I don’t come from a Penn State family like many of the folks here, but Penn State had everything that I wanted in a school when I was applying. The school spirit, the traditions, the athletics, and the endless opportunities were impossible to pass up. Thankfully, all of my expectations have been met and far exceeded.

From the moment I stepped on campus, I felt welcome and a part of something bigger than myself. The tailgates and the football games every Saturday made the fall weeks almost nonexistent. I fell in love with the community and passion shared by hundreds of thousands of fans every weekend.

This community extends so much further than athletics, though. There truly is something for everyone here. I was lucky and found my “something” quickly, joining Onward State right away. My colleagues turned to friends and suddenly the school felt small. Now almost done with my first year, I can honestly recommend this school to anyone considering it. The experiences and friends that I gained this year will be with me forever.

Ally Eaton

I currently am sitting in my shoebox-sized dorm room, now filled with the fragments of this year shoved into moving boxes as I go through and read the responses above me. As I compile and insert them into this article, I find myself teary-eyed and thankful. In fear of turning this post into my personal diary entry, I’m going to attempt to keep the bittersweet cliché reflections short.

A year and a half ago, I wanted to get the hell out of Pennsylvania. I hated the cold, I wanted a change, you get the gist. I applied to Penn State as an in-state option, then pushed it out of my mind and went on my Tour de Southern Schools. March of my senior year approached, and my dad forced me to come up for a day and meet with Emily Miller, the undergraduate recruiter for Bellisario. I reluctantly agreed and we made the snowy 2.5-hour trip up. The whole time we were here I kept trying to make myself hate it. Yet, there was nothing to hate. I stared out the snowy window my whole drive home questioning the pull I felt to State College.

Well, we see how that ended up. I decided to come here but doing a complete 360 from my original plan left a lot of room for doubt. Questions on if I would fit in, if I would love it, and if it was the right decision, circulated up until I moved in. I’ll never forget saying goodbye to my parents with tears streaking down their faces outside of Bigler Hall, then turning around and walking inside to start the new chapter of my life.

Now nine months later, I’m about to walk out of those same doors and close off the best year of my life. I can’t even begin to describe the validation I have received this year that I made the right decision choosing Penn State. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere and environment to someone who hasn’t gone here. I have never felt more like myself, more supported, and more alive than I have this year. I know that this isn’t the case for everyone, and I feel so lucky that this is my story, but I do believe you have to put yourself out there and get over the fear of the word “no.”

I have met irreplaceable people and had once-in-a-lifetime opportunities this year. As scary as it is, approach that person in your class who seems nice. Go to the introductory club interest meetings your first week here, you’re bound to find one you love. Join Onward State, you’re guaranteed to find your family here. This group is made up of such insanely talented individuals who have made my first year everything that it has been. Take chances and risks, the worst someone can tell you is no. You are capable of far more than you know, and you don’t know that until you try. This is one of the biggest lessons I have had to learn this year, and it has secured me positions that I wouldn’t imagine were possible for someone my age.

Go to all of the cheesy events your RA puts on for your floor and get to know those people, too. Go to every football game and concert. You’re guaranteed hard weeks and long stressful days, but surround yourself with people who will study with you into the late hours and bring you your favorite coffee when you’re down. All of these things, even the most mundane moments, have been some of my favorite parts of this year. I promise that you DO have a place here, and you will find your people, as I have found mine.

It is for these reasons that my eyes brim with tears when someone asks what day I’m leaving or if I’ve started packing yet. I am lucky enough to have found my home here and to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. I cannot wait to take advantage of my remaining three years, and it is my hope that they bring as much joy as this past one has.

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About the Author


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