Penn State is a huge university. There is no getting around that. With going to a large university comes a sense of feeling like lost in the crowd, but you have to remember you can make a big school seem small but you can never make a small school big. That's the mantra I live by here at Penn State. I have had the opportunity to make some great networking connections through professors and advisors that are in charge of various clubs I am in, as well as make some lifelong friends just by sitting next to people in my large 600 people lecture hall classes, taking a chance and sitting down with someone new in the HUB (our student center) or meeting new people left and right through some of my current friends.
In case you were wondering, here are some facts and figures about Penn State for you. Throughout all campuses, including the 19 commonwealth campuses, World Campus, PA College of Technology, Penn State College of Medicine and Dickinson School of Law, the total enrollment for 2016 was 99,133 students. At Penn State’s University Park campus, there are 47,261 students enrolled. Penn State also has the largest alumni association out of any college in the nation with over 658,000 alumni to date. With so many other students on campus with you, it can be easy to feel lost, so here's a guide to help you through it:
1. After you attend New Student Orientation (NSO), get ready to start a completely new chapter.
Part of the Penn State transition is attending NSO, which is an overnight orientation for all freshman. If you don’t attend NSO, you cannot schedule your classes. When you're at NSO, you have an allotted time period to meet with upperclassmen and an academic advisor to schedule your classes. Even though there is a recommended academic plan for your proposed major, you do not by any means need to follow that exactly. For example, I started off my major in biology and I had to take calculus, biology and chemistry in the same semester alongside with my English and freshman seminar class. It was so hard since the majority of my classes were very time consuming and difficult to say the least, so I wish I would have known that I could have spread out taking calculus, biology and chemistry.
2. Map out your classes.
Sometimes the only classes that will fit into your schedule are 15 minutes apart. While that may seem like an ample amount of time to get from classroom building to classroom building, it often time is not, especially if you do not know where you are going. As time goes on, you will quickly learn the layout of the campus within the span of one or two weeks. After that, you will begin to find shortcuts that will make your life so much easier, but when you are just starting by trying to get the feel for where your classes are it is important to map out where you are going. Now you might be thinking, "Why would I want to carry around a map and look like a freshman?" Fortunately, there are various apps you can download that have the Penn State maps or you can even type in your destination on Google Maps. My favorite though is going to www.map.psu.edu and looking at that from my phone.
3. Don't be afraid to change your major.
When people say they know exactly what they are going to do with their life, good for them. But one benefit of Penn State is that it offers over 160 majors throughout 18 academic colleges. I already changed my major twice and it has been the best decision thus far. I know I want to pursue something in the medical field, whether that be becoming a physician's assistant, getting a counseling degree in psychology or going to pharmacy school after my undergraduate degree, it did take time to figure out what major would suit me best for what I would like to do in the future. I started off as a kinesiology major, then quickly switched to biology at NSO and then I finally settled on biobehavioral health and I am so happy I have found a major that I actually thoroughly enjoy. Don’t sell yourself short. If you find out about a major you didn’t know existed and you seem to really like it, don’t be afraid to switch into that major or consider double majoring or minoring. Those are all viable options that may make you happier in the long run.
4. Meet as many new people as you can.
One of the things I love about Penn State is the amount of people that go here. It is always so fun to meet new people both in and out of the classroom and hear all about their stories. It turns out through meeting others that you more often than not are going to have various mutual friends. There have been more times than I can count where I would meet a new person and somehow someone we both know would be brought up into the conversation merely by the other person or myself saying what our major is, what clubs we’re involved in or by looking each other up on social media and seeing that we have mutual friends. That is just another way that you can get the small school feel at Penn State.
5. Pick housing in a place where you would feel most comfortable.
For freshmen, there are five on-campus options that you can live in. The most common area for freshmen to live is in East, which is comprised of entirely freshmen. If you live there, it is going to be quite loud and like a party city, although you will get what is considered the freshmen experience. East residence hall has traditional doubles, triples or sometimes you have have up to eight people in a room if you are in supplemental housing.
The next living option that houses the most freshmen is Pollock. Pollock also houses upperclassmen and the location is definitely closer to the classroom buildings and central locations on campus. You still are able to meet tons of people by living in the traditional two person rooms in Pollock.
Next is South. South houses the majority of the Schreyer Honors Scholars and students in any year, although there is a good percentage of freshmen that live there. South has recently been renovated, so the residence halls are beginning to be more modern and include private bathrooms and air conditioning. You will also be in close proximity to downtown and the HUB.
Then there is West. West is the most traditional housing on campus with older buildings and a quad. You can have a single, double or triple room in any of the six halls there. West dining commons is also known to have the best chocolate chip cookies on campus, even though I personally think North has the best cookies. If you live in West the library is a three minute walk away — or less — which is really nice for studying.
Lastly, freshmen can live in North, which is where I live. North is all suite style housing consisting of four buildings. Each room is set up as either two doubles or singles with a shared common room and a shared bathroom. There is also air conditioning and carpet which are two aspects that the other residence halls do not have. There are multiple special living options as well which means that there are floors dedicated to students in the same major as you. With all of these options, you are sure to find the right living option for you.
6. Start looking into clubs, internships or research you might be interested in right off the bat.
The longer you wait to get involved, the harder it will be. First off, if you are not involved in the start of your college career you will most likely not have any motivation to be involved in anything since you will be used to having a lot of free time. It also looks much better on a resume if you were involved in various clubs since the beginning of your freshmen year as opposed to getting involved in many clubs during your junior or senior year. As for internships and research, many spots on campus that you can internship at (or research labs) prefer younger students because they will be able to commit more semesters to work and will have much more time to grow.
7. Find your favorite study spots.
College is hard and in order to attempt to get the grades you want you will have to put in a lot of time studying. Each person has different study habits and you will have to find the places that are most conducive for you. If you like background noise, studying in the HUB would be a good place to study. If you fancy quieter places like myself, you could end up in the hundreds of nooks and crannies in the library. Personally, I enjoy to study in the Harry Potter Room in the library because it is a no talking area and I am able to really focus on the tasks I have at hand. All of the residence halls have study rooms as well, so if you would like to stay in your building that is not an issue either. All of the classroom buildings provide great study spaces, as well. Test the waters and see what you like.
8. Learn where you like to eat on-campus vs. off-campus.
As a freshman, you are required to purchase a meal plan that can get you access to any of the five dining halls on campus, as well as food in the HUB. If you want to eat in East you go to Findlay Commons, Pollock is Pollock Commons, South is Redifer Commons, West is Waring Commons and North is Warnock Commons. I’ve eaten at all of them and the food isn’t bad at all. All of the commons offer a to-go option as well if you need to grab food in a rush. I honestly get my food to-go way more often than sitting down in the dining hall to eat. There are also a variety of food options in the HUB, including Chick-fil-a, Panda Express, Blue Burrito, Jamba Juice, Burger King, Starbucks (there are two of them!) and much more. If you want to eat off-campus, there are plenty of options downtown, although they do not take your meal plan. Some of them take LionCash though, which is on your ID card as well. LionCash is basically a debit card since you put your own money on it.
9. Consider studying abroad.
More and more employers are wanting to see that you have some study abroad experiences. Personally, I do not want to spend an entire semester or summer abroad. Penn State has so many short embedded programs as well as full semester or full year study abroad options. I am going on an embedded study abroad over spring break this coming year to Costa Rica where I will learn about the healthcare system in a new environment. It will still be an amazing experience and look great on a resume even though it will only be for eight days. But if you want to spend more time abroad, then there are plenty of options to travel to any continent you want and spend an ample amount of time abroad.
10. Think about whether or not you want to become involved in THON.
There’s no getting around that Penn State has the largest student run philanthropy in the United States, raising millions of dollars for pediatric cancer each year. While it may seem like everyone on campus in involved due to seeing people wearing THON merchandise or talking about THON, there are definitely just as many students who have nothing to do with THON. This year, I was heavily involved in THON through my dance team, honor society and THON Rules and Regulations committee. I also know some of my friends that had absolutely nothing to do with THON. That is the beauty of Penn State. You can be involved in THON as much or as little as you would like. There are plenty of organizations and committees that you are able to look into if you actually want to have a job THON weekend or if you’d rather just attend you can stand in the stands with a particular club that you are a part of. Remember, it’s all for the kids!
11. Remember to have fun.
While you may be caught up studying a lot of the time, it is important to try to remember to take some time for yourself or else you’ll go crazy, I promise. Literally the most time I can study before feeling like I need a break is three hours. After that I usually go grab a snack or take a walk or something to free my mind a from the endless amounts of homework and studying I have to do. I usually go out once a weekend, whether that is to a party or just hanging out with some friends and getting dinner. I think that is a great way to decompress, as well as take a much needed break from all of the hard work that I have put in during the week. Penn State always has something going on, whether it is having dogs to pet at the HUB, a famous comedian or singer coming or fun shows put on by your fellow peers, so I can promise you there will never be a time you are bored on or off-campus.
12. Try not to lose your ID or key.
Luckily I haven’t lost my ID or key yet, but I do know a lot of students who have. Each time you lose your ID, you have to go to the ID office in the HUB and pay $15 to get it replaced. If you lose your room key, you can borrow a key from the commons desk of your residence for two hours but if you still can’t find your key after that then you have to purchase one for $64. The moral of the story is to try to keep track of all of your belongings.
13. Show your Penn State pride.
When you walk around campus, it is flooded with the colors of navy and white. Students are always showing their Penn State pride by wearing Penn State attire, which I personally think is really cool. There are also so many sporting events to attend, such as football, basketball and hockey games where students show their pride. Penn State is a very selective school and many students are so proud that they are attending such a prestigious university that they just radiate pride. It is amazing having so many other people around you who share the same pride as you when you walk around campus. Also, every hour the Old Main bell tower plays the instrumental version of the alma mater, so it's neat when you’re out and about and hear that.
14. Download the CATA app.
There are four buses on campus that are free to anyone that take you from campus to downtown. They are the Blue Loop, White Loop, Red Link and Green Link. If you are in a time crunch to get to your next class, it is often helpful to just hop on a bus if you think you are going to be late. During the school week, there are usually around four of each bus that are running and you can see where you are in relation to the closest bus stop as well as when the next bus will be there and how many people are currently on the bus. It’s a pretty cool system, if you ask me. There are also 23 other buses that take you places off campus, but they cost $1.75 each time you get on unless you have a CATA bus pass, which a lot of students who live off-campus have. Sometimes it is fun to get on a random bus and get off at a random shopping center around State College. One time my roommate went to Petco and bought beta fish, so that is just an example of an adventure you can have!
15. Get to know your professors.
In large lecture hall classes, you may think it is impossible to meet up with your professors and actually get to know them, their background and what research they are involved in. Even though you may feel like you are just another number, if you still relatively close to the front of the class and go to their office hours they are able to put a name to a face. For example, in my statistics class I sit in the front, go to my professor’s office hours and have become close with her. She even thought I would be the perfect person to become a learning assistant for her class in the fall, which is a great opportunity for a future letter of recommendation and networking opportunities. She loves Jamba Juice, so I occasionally see her there and it is nice that she knows who I am and that we can have a great conversation. I have learned to stand out in that class of 300 students and you can too if you put the effort forth.
16. Learn to use Canvas and LionPath.
Penn State is currently in the process of completely switching over to Canvas in the fall which is going to be great since the old course management system, Angel, was so hard to navigate. Canvas is where you will do a lot of assignments for your classes and view your grades. That is also how you can e-mail your professors. LionPath is in the process of being altered as well because the old version was flat out confusing. I am fortunate enough to beta test the new LionPath since I am going to be an orientation leader this summer and it is much better than the old LionPath, fortunately. LionPath is where you schedule your classes through Schedule Builder, view your overall grades at the end of the semester, check your class schedule, add or drop classes, view your financial responsibilities and check your final exam schedule.
17. Never feel pressured to do anything you don't want to do.
Most importantly, with Penn State having a reputation of being a party school, never ever, and I mean EVER, feel pressured to drink or hook up with someone if that just isn’t you. Personally, that is not me and I never feel pressured to do anything because I just say no and people leave me alone, but I do have some friends who have felt pressured and then they just feel like trash the next day and it is a vicious cycle that keeps going on and on. Remember, attending Penn State means that you get to guide your own college experience, so if there is something you don’t feel comfortable doing then don’t be afraid to speak your mind.
I am so happy that I chose to attend Penn State for four years and I’m sad my first year is coming to a close. But for all of you freshmen attending Penn State, remember to make the most out of your experiences and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone! Whether that means going up and talking to a random person or joining a club you never thought in a million years that you would be a part of, you will definitely enjoy your time here. Good luck and I’ll see you in the fall!
Lead Image Credit: Meghan Field