Student Life at Penn State

Advisor Tips 5 min read

Penn State (PSU), aptly named Happy Valley, is a gorgeous campus with a myriad of things to see and do. The bustling campus can feel overwhelming for new students trying to balance coursework, friendships, and activities. Here are some of my tips on how to capitalize on all Penn State has to offer.

Photographer: Alex Korolkoff | Source: Unsplash

Find your spot.

Penn State’s campus can feel like a small city with the number of students living in the town and the constant stream of events. If you spend your first few weeks exploring the entire campus, you can build up a list of places where you can get some peace and quiet or get some studying done.

My favorite quiet spots are the Arboretum, a beautiful outdoor botanical garden, and the “Harry Potter room” on the second floor of Pattee Library. The Harry Potter room is aptly named: dimly lit, completely quiet, and filled with a dozen overstuffed armchairs, it’s a perfectly socially acceptable place to take a nap. (It is also one of the only rooms open 24 hours.) My other preferred study spot is the Law Library, where a large glass wall provides a view of the northeastern corner of campus.

Take your time when joining student organizations.

While you consider which of the hundreds of student organizations you plan to join, it is important to notice what kind of culture and style of interaction each organization has. Would you prefer a small, tight-knit group with frequent meetings, or a large organization that focuses on community involvement? Are you looking to join for intellectual experiences, social experiences, or something in between?

Regardless of the organizations you belong to, I strongly recommend that you participate in THON. One of my favorite traditions at Penn State, and the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, THON is a massive, 46-hour dance marathon that celebrates a yearlong effort to raise funds and awareness to fight pediatric cancer. In 2019 alone, students raised over ten million dollars for research funding and financial support for families. (The total amount raised since THON began in 1973 is over 165 million.)

Photographer: Carly Weiss | Source: Onward State

There are many ways to get involved in THON: you can join a committee, a student club, or be chosen as a dancer. There are 11 different THON committees that help put together the event behind the scenes. Student clubs ranging from the academic/professional and multicultural to sororities/fraternities fundraise year-round and donate their totals prior to THON.

It’s an honor to become a student dancer in THON. Student dancers are specially chosen from a large pool of applicants. Dancers must stand the entire 46 hours, and students always push through. THON is an absolutely amazing event and, to me, an essential part of being a student at Penn State.

Explore off campus activities.

As you become more accustomed to the central campus, it can be refreshing to move outside your comfort zone. If you like to support local businesses or farmers, stop by Locust Lane downtown for your outdoor farmers’ market, or take a trip up to the Meats Laboratory for some protein.

Visit Mt. Nittany for a variety of gorgeous hikes ranging from 2-8 miles. If hiking isn’t your cup of tea, there is the nearby Tussey Mountain, where students enjoy the ski slopes, visit a go-kart track, golf, or just play outside.

Photographer: Patrick Mansell | Source: PSUstock

Many students also enjoy weekend trips for new scenery, since Penn State is centered between so many major cities. Pittsburgh it is just a two-hour drive away, NYC is a hair over three-and-a-half-hours east, Philadelphia is three hours southeast, and Washington DC is three-and-a-half-hours south.

Take advantage of all of Penn State’s resources.

A large school like Penn State has a huge wealth of resources to share with its students, but its size also means that it’s your responsibility to be proactive and seek them out.

During my time at Penn State, I’ve made plenty of use of their Career Services. They offer free resume review events, alumni talks and job application tips, and a free “professional attire” closet for students who may need help getting the right interview attire. The most personalized way to get help is drop-in career counseling, where students work with counselors to explore career options, prepare for networking events, and review application materials.

Photographer: Mimi Thian | Source: Unsplash

Penn State’s career fairs might feel overwhelming, but they can help you tap into a huge, successful alumni network interested in hiring recent graduates. Even if you’re not sure that you want to apply to jobs, you’ll benefit greatly from visiting tables, asking around, and just exploring what’s out there.

Don’t be concerned if you don’t find your best friends your first year.

Many freshmen opt to live in East Dorms. This may be where many of you meet your best friend for life, but know that establishing friendships in college is a process, one that shouldn’t be limited to your first year.

Photographer: Michelle Bixby | Source: PSUstock

When I moved into my dorm, I made sure to meet all my hallmates on my floor as well as the floors above and below me. This was a great way to make friends quickly, and it also helped me feel comfortable exploring the school or attending events for the first time. My closest friends as a freshman formed after a group of us tried out for the Club Ultimate Frisbee team and attended every football game together.

Many other people I know were able to form closer friendships once they declared their major. Even by my senior year, I was still getting to know the people who now are some of my best friends.

Your time at Penn State will give you opportunities to expand your horizons in every way– seize them! Be hungry to learn more, do more, and explore more, and most of all, have fun.


This informational essay was written by Victor Shen, Penn State Class of ‘18. If you want to get help writing your Penn State application essays from Victor or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, click here.

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