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Original photo by Emma Wesolowski
Mental Health

“College Was a Movie:” How To Romanticize Your Time at Penn State

We’ve all seen movies and TV shows glamorizing the college experience. We’ve all seen the influencers on Instagram and TikTok painting a picture of a perfect college experience where life is carefree, outfits are adorable, students can afford to go to Starbucks every morning and the party is never-ending.

We all crave that feeling of living in a movie and having everything be so perfect, but in reality, life is messy.

I often hear other students talk about how college isn’t all that it’s hyped up to be. The thing is, college is hard. In movies and TV shows, it’s portrayed as an endless party, and the adults in our lives often talk so much about how college was the “best time of their life.”

This statement often adds a lot of pressure to live up to that expectation, which makes struggling with mental health in college that much harder to deal with. You’re supposed to be having fun, right? If this is supposed to be the best time of your life, are you in trouble for the future?

Here’s the reality: college is insanely expensive. If you’re at college, you’re probably broke— I know I am. Penn State is also one of the top research universities in the world, which means classes are hard. You’re probably drowning in school work and extracurriculars all while trying to pay rent each month.

It can be hard to see the bright side in that situation, which is why actively making an effort to romanticize your college experience is so important.

So yes, classes are hard, but you get to study what you (hopefully) love and prepare for your dream career. For four years of your life, you get to live in the same town as your best friends and have endless opportunities to spend time with them.

You have access to incredible facilities across campus, organizations filled with some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet and you have a chance to figure out who you are in a fun, safe environment where exploring who you want to be is not only accepted, but encouraged.

College can be an amazing time, but you do have to make an active choice to focus on these positives to remind yourself why you’re here when classes and your workload are wearing you down.

The thing about romanticizing your time at Penn State that I want to stress the most is it does not have to be expensive and it does not have to take up much time and energy. The whole point is to focus on the beauty of the simple, everyday things you experience on campus, so when you graduate, you can say that college really was like a movie.

romanticize your friendships!

Let’s start with the people around you. There are over 40,000 undergraduate students at Penn State’s University Park campus, and over 75,000 in total. That’s a lot of incredible people that you get to experience and know.

The mistake that many Penn State freshmen (and even upperclassmen) make is keeping those friendships shallow.

As a freshman, I remember meeting people in the dining hall or in my dorm, getting their Snapchat, going out with them once or twice… Then never really seeing them again or learning anything more about them. We have a habit of asking people their name, grade and major then never really looking deeper.

Penn State has a party culture that can be fun, but it can also cause students to burn out quickly. If the only thing you’re doing with friends is going out to drink, there’s going to be a lack of fulfillment.

Eventually, you’re going to wake up and realize that though you’ve held back your friends’ hair while they puke, you don’t know where they grew up or what they want to be doing in ten years. So, here’s my advice: act like you’re in a movie!

Make plans with your friends. Think about the deep connections the characters have in shows like “Friends.” Spend time with your friends sober and really take time to enjoy the moment.

Penn State has so much to offer. Try out the amazing restaurants downtown, go do goat yoga at Nittany Meadow Farm, plan a hayride this fall, watch the sunset from the arboretum, plan a hike, go to the trampoline park or go get coffee— even if your plans fall apart and erupt into chaos, you’ll have so many memories just from making an effort to spend time with your people.

be mindful of the simple, day-to-day moments.

Our campus is beautiful. It’s also huge, which means the walks to class are long, but there’s so much to gain from that time.

Put in your headphones, put on music you love and enjoy the walk. Look at the beautiful landscaping and the buildings, and enjoy the atmosphere of the college campus. Right now is a fun transitional time to watch the leaves start to change in the trees and to see who is already busting out their fall wardrobe.

Romanticize the things you already have to do. As I write this article, I’m sitting on the bridge of the Chambers Building, taking in the moment. My space is clean, I have a great view out the window and I’m just enjoying this moment to relax and write for an organization I love.

The leaves are starting to change near the top of the very tall tree right outside, which makes me excited for fall. I have a chai latte next to me (my favorite drink) and I’m listening to relaxing jazz music while I do homework between classes.

I already have to do the homework and I was already in the building for my last class, but I can choose to make the experience enjoyable with little actual effort involved. I just chose a nice spot and some ambient music.

Penn State has some beautiful study spaces across campus that I feel much more productive in than at home in my bed hunched over my laptop.

In the morning, think about how what you are wearing will make you feel. I have a preference for athleisure clothes that are comfortable but also make me feel put together and cute.

It took me the same amount of time this morning to put on leggings, a tank top and to put my hair up as it would to put on a baggy sweatshirt and pajama pants, but I know which one makes me feel more motivated to move around campus and go to class.

I also know that as silly as it sounds, a little mascara, concealer and a pair of earrings make me feel more presentable and put-together and it takes me three minutes to do, so taking a little time out of my morning to make myself feel ready for the day is worth it to me.

Maybe for you, making a good breakfast or coffee is enough to keep you happy and motivated, or going to the gym before class. Choose to take the time to do what feels good for you. It’s done wonders for my mental health.

make things aesthetically pleasing

It’s a lot easier than you think! People always attack wellness influencers for promoting “unrealistic” standards and, of course, many do by purchasing incredibly expensive skincare products and home decor that simply aren’t attainable for the rest of us, but a lot of what they do actually isn’t that difficult.

Think about food. Those “what I eat in a day” videos always look so good but are so difficult and expensive. In reality, it doesn’t have to be that bad. This week I bought a bag of Brussel sprouts, quinoa and frozen fish at Aldi’s for less than a bag of chicken tenders at Target.

I can make that meal taste delicious and look pretty. It doesn’t take extra time or effort to arrange your plate a certain way. You’re putting the food on there either way.

If you’re not sure where to start with cooking, Pinterest is an amazing place for easy, delicious recipes— my “food” board is a lifesaver.

It also doesn’t take much effort to plan an outfit you feel good in. You’re putting clothes on your body either way, but you can choose to dress in a way that feels good.

And your clothes don’t have to be expensive! If you love Lululemon and can afford it, that’s great, but most of my clothes are from TJ Maxx and cost less than $12 an item.

I get tons of compliments on my outfits and I know that they were inexpensive. Also, if you love wearing oversized hoodies or other “casual” clothes, throw on a pair of earrings to dress things up. You’ll feel and look so much more put together.

Keeping things tidy and looking nice around your apartment/dorm also doesn’t have to take a lot of time and energy if you make an effort to put things away as soon as you’re done with them.

Of course, people get busy, places get messy and life happens, which is nothing to feel guilty for. But, it doesn’t take too much time to pick things back up and make our space feel nice again. All of these things can help you romanticize your life in college without spending any additional money.

take pictures and videos

You’ll only regret the pictures you didn’t take. If you’re in a moment and you notice that you’re genuinely happy and you want to remember the feeling, snap a quick picture or video.

But here’s the very important caveat with this: do not take pictures for social media.

Social media can be a great place to share these kinds of moments later, but don’t take a picture worrying about whether it’s “Insta-worthy” or whether you look perfect in it. Capture the moment exactly as it is: messy, blurry and fun.

Later, if you want to reminisce on these moments, make a video of all the pictures and videos with a fun song in the background. This is a great way to romanticize your life and make your own little movie. But try to genuinely capture the happiness you were experiencing instead of aiming for perfection.

Focus on the little things

It’s hard sometimes to stop yourself from stressing about upcoming tests, scheduling for next semester, your major, your career and your future. I catch myself spending most of my time thinking about what’s coming up rather than focusing on what is.

I’m trying to make a daily effort to enjoy the little things in my life every day. Today I had a gift card at Starbucks so I was able to get my favorite drink. That was little, but it made my day.

Later today I’ll see my boyfriend and we have plans to get dinner together and watch “Abbott Elementary.” Those little moments are more special than we realize.

Look for those moments in your day. Wear your favorite sweater or make one of your favorite meals, and pay attention to how you feel. Spend time with your favorite people.

College is tough, but it’s also a special chapter of our lives that we only get to experience for four years. Soak up every minute of it, and try to slow down and appreciate every little moment.

Enjoy this beautiful campus of ours, the incredible people around you and the phase of life that you’re in right now. Although stressing about the future is inevitable, this is your time for your college movie, so enjoy it.

Emma is a second-year Elementary and Early Childhood Education major at Penn State University. When she's not writing, you can usually find her singing, reading, hanging out with friends/her incredible boyfriend, traveling, and drinking iced chai lattes. Outside of Her Campus, Emma holds multiple exec/chair positions for The Singing Lions and works as a preschool teacher.
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