Expectations vs. Reality: My First Semester at Penn State | Blog | Way of life

Before I started my college journey this fall, I had a long list of expectations about what I was going to experience as a student at Penn State.

As finals week approaches and the semester draws to a close, I can safely say that this semester was not at all what I had imagined.

Here are some expectations I had about Penn State that have been confirmed or debunked in my experience this semester.

Expectation: Penn State would be an extremely large school

It is well known that Penn State’s main campus has an above average student body. According to Penn State Undergraduate Admissions, the class of 2026 has 8,305 students at University Park.

As someone who tends to be introverted, this initially alarmed me. I worried that it would make it difficult for me to meet people and cause a feeling of isolation.

Before coming here, I was told that in big universities, you usually never see the same people more than once unless you become friends.

However, that was not the case for me this semester.

The friendly faces I have encountered in my building, in class and in student organizations are the same faces I encounter daily at the HUB-Robeson Center and on the way to class. Whether we stop for a quick chat or just smile and get on with our day, it brings comfort and socialization to my busy weekdays.

Honestly, I haven’t really had an active social life this semester, but I firmly believe that my class size isn’t to blame for that. I’ve met a plethora of people this semester; the hardest part was going further and connecting with these people.

As I have shared this with upperclassmen, many have told me that they experienced something similar during their first semester of freshman year. Finding your small community within the larger ones takes time.

Expectation: Being a student of color in a predominantly white institution would be extremely isolating

According to Penn State Undergraduate Admissions, white students made up nearly 65% โ€‹โ€‹of University Park’s student body as of the 2019-20 school year.

As a student of color growing up in a predominantly black and Hispanic community, this was intimidating to me.

However, in my experience, there are many more people who look like me and share similar experiences with me than I expected.

Additionally, there are many student organizations and other spaces on campus for students of color to connect with one another.

Even if you don’t have time to commit to membership in these organizations, you can still get involved by attending their events.

Expectation: I would have a consistent weekly routine

With the independence that comes with life on a college campus, I was eager to start and maintain a healthier lifestyle.

I had a strict weekly routine filled with better eating habits, gym sessions, and specific homework and study times planned in my head.

This only lasted for my first week of class.

Between classes, my part-time job, and the student organizations I’ve been involved with this semester, my schedule varies from week to week.

Some weeks had a heavier workload than others, and sometimes things happened that interfered with my original plans.

Some days I was just too tired to do anything other than what I had to do that day.

In my experience, it was nearly impossible to make every week look the same. Nevertheless, I managed to maintain a relatively healthy balance between school, work and personal life.

Expectation: I would not like to go to football matches

As someone who didn’t care about football, I had no interest in getting tickets for this season.

However, I regret not having purchased subscriptions this semester.

I was well aware that Penn State was part of the Big Ten and that huge school spirit comes with that territory, but that just didn’t seem like something I wanted to be involved in.

However, I did end up going to a game this semester, and through that experience I learned that Penn State football is more than about winning and losing – it’s also about unity.

Although I still don’t have much of an interest in sports, the positive energy and sense of pride felt at Beaver Stadium was worth it, and I highly recommend experiencing at least one game during your time here.

Final Thoughts

Although things didn’t necessarily go as planned, I would still consider my first semester of college a success.

This fall I learned a lot about myself as an individual and as a student. I also learned more about the Penn State community which will help me navigate my next seven semesters here.

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