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Wellness > Mental Health

It’s The End of Your First Semester and Penn State Still Doesn’t Feel Like Home: What Now?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at PSU chapter.

The first semester of college is undeniably tough.

Many of us came from high schools where you had the same friends for years, where everyone knew who you were and where life just seemed simpler. Now you’re on your own, trying to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life surrounded by 40,000 other undergraduates, and Penn State still doesn’t feel like home.

But please don’t start looking into those transfer papers yet. You are not alone and things WILL get better, I promise.

My first semester of college was a rollercoaster of emotions. I loved college itself. I loved the classrooms, the campus, the clubs I joined and the independence. I loved the feeling of being a Penn State student and screaming WE ARE at the top of my lungs at football games.

But, despite being surrounded by people, I was lonely. I was experiencing long-distance with my boyfriend for the first time after years of being best friends that hung out constantly, which was absolutely an adjustment. I missed my mom, brother and sister. I hated dining hall food. I didn’t like coming back to my tiny dorm at the end of the day. I just felt lost.

I’m someone who thrives on academic validation, and for the first time in my life, I had to study and work hard for good grades. Adjusting to Penn State’s giant lecture halls after graduating with a class of 68 students was tough, and I stressed myself out horribly to get all A’s first semester.

I was happy most of the time, but sometimes on my own at the end of the day staring at my ceiling, I just thought about how out of place I felt.

Fast forward a year, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been before.

I have the best friends on the planet. They’re the kind of people who always make you laugh, who pick you up when you fall, hold you when you cry and help walk you to your door and take the makeup off your face after a crazy night.

I have a kitchen and I don’t have to eat dining hall food anymore. I changed my major and I absolutely love my classes now. My boyfriend is now a Penn State student too, so we aren’t long-distance anymore and we’re going on four years together.

Life is stressful and chaotic, but I don’t feel out of place anymore. I feel loved, appreciated and like right here on this campus is where I belong. And it all changed second semester.

So, if you’re nearing the end of your first semester and still feel a little out of place, it’s okay. Things can and will turn around.

There are so many things that I wish people told me first semester, so here are a few from me to you. Keep going, keep breathing, and it will all be alright.

first semester friends are not going to be your friends for the rest of college

The thing about your first semester of college is that most of the people you meet and the friends you make won’t be based on common interests or similar personalities. Your friends first semester are usually your roommate and the people in your dorm, which means the only thing you have in common with them is that you were both randomly assigned to the same hallway in an overpriced, uncomfortable living environment.

I had friends first semester of freshman year, but many of the friends that I saw regularly didn’t have much in common with me. We were all just in it together, a jumble of different majors from different parts of the country with wildly different personalities and interests. It was cool getting to meet new people, but I just never felt that click that comes with meeting someone who just gets you.

You’ll also unfortunately have that conversation over and over again. You know the one. “Hey, I’m ___! What’s your major? Where are you from? What dorm are you in? Are you in English 15/Econ 102/CAS 100/any other generic freshman class?” These conversations really don’t ever lead anywhere, but it is definitely an integral part of freshman year to meet a stranger in the dining hall, find out their major and where they’re from, then sit in awkward silence eating only to never see them again after that.

Those conversations always left me feeling so disappointed. Every time I hoped for an opportunity for a new friend, it never actually went anywhere. But please don’t be disappointed. It’s just that the dining hall isn’t really a place to make lasting friendships!

Your first-semester friends are not likely to stay your friends for the rest of your time at Penn State, so if you feel out of place or like they just don’t get you, please don’t stress. You still have time to meet your people.

there are so many incredible organizations to join and people to meet

The key to making new friends is joining clubs and organizations. And luckily for you, Penn State has hundreds of these.

There’s two very important things that orgs do for you. First, they force you to repeatedly spend time with people and get to know them. As weird as that sounds, it’s incredibly important.

Orgs create a situation that is the opposite of the dining hall introductions. When you meet new people in an org, you are guaranteed to see them again, whether it is once a week, twice, or three times. When you introduce yourself and tell them your name and major, they actually need to learn it because they will see you again.

It’s a fact that mere exposure to other people and spending time with them creates friendships. You go to a meeting, then ask if they want to go with you to Raising Cane’s afterward because you’re both starving. You sit and chat, bond and soon enough, you’re texting each other and asking to hang out again.

Many orgs have planned bonding events to encourage members to talk to each other and make friendships. It’s much easier to come out of your shell and make friends in a setting that encourages getting to know each other and repeatedly hanging out.

The second important thing that orgs do is guarantee a common interest. Orgs take a student body of 40,000 people and narrow it down to somewhere between 10 and 300 people with something in common with you. Whether it’s a professional organization made up of people with the same career goals as you, Greek Life, a music group or a club sport, you have something in common with the people there.

As cheesy as it sounds, my life changed when I spontaneously sent in an audition video an hour before the deadline for the Singing Lions. I didn’t really know at the time if I had time for it, or if I could balance another extracurricular with my classes, or if I’d even like being in a show choir. But, I missed singing, dancing and performing, so I decided to go for it.

When I got to callbacks, I felt the click that I had been missing. Everyone was so funny and kind and talented. I could see my own personality reflected in different members of the exec board standing at the front of the room. Instantly upon walking into that classroom in the Thomas Building, I told myself that I wanted these people to be my friends, and I was going to bust my ass in the dance and vocal callbacks to get into this group.

Now, I have twenty-three best friends. Since then, we’ve traveled all the way to New Orleans together, laughed, cried, hugged hundreds of times, performed concerts and cabarets and spend all of our time together.

Last spring, surrounded by such amazing people on my birthday, I cried because I had never felt so loved and appreciated by friends before. I couldn’t believe that in just a few months’ time, my experience at Penn State had changed so drastically from being lonely to feeling like I never had to eat a meal alone again.

You deserve the kind of love, friendship and happiness that I’m lucky enough to experience from this group, and I promise that you’ll get it. Orgs are the fastest and easiest way to make friends that will really care about you and support you because you have similar personalities and common interests.

about 80% of college students change their major at least once — and most change it freshman year

I applied to Penn State to be a Journalism major. By my first semester of freshman year, I was a Pre-Law Education and Public Policy major. Now I’m in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. If that doesn’t tell you that I needed to do some soul-searching and figure out who I really was, I don’t know what will.

It’s okay if you’re not happy with your classes right now. Or, if like me, you love your classes but you can’t picture yourself being happy in the career you’re going for.

80% of college students change their major at least once, so you do not have to feel guilty for taking the time to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. That’s what gen eds are for. Just don’t transfer schools or drop out because you’re not enjoying your classes right now. You might just need a switch!

Also, I hate to say it, but sometimes certain professors just suck. Most of mine did my first semester. During the second semester, I actually got some good ones, and it made a huge difference in my love for my classes.

your roommate does not have to be your best friend

This one is so important. So many people are miserable during their freshman year because they’re trying so hard to be best friends with their roommate, only to get nowhere. You also never have to room with them again if you don’t want to!

All you need with your roommate is a cordial relationship where you can ask them to take out the trash or chat with them about your classes or your day. You don’t have to know their mom’s middle name and they don’t need to know about your first pet. It’s okay just to be polite acquaintances.

Some of my friends had horrible freshman roommate experiences, and if that’s the situation that you’re in right now, I’m deeply sorry. But the good news is, you do not have to be close with your roommate the way that so many movies and TV shows suggest.

You have three more years to live with your best friends in an actual apartment with separate bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and kitchen space. You’ll probably pay less for your apartment than you do for your dorm, anyway. But, this year might just be the year that you have to push through before you can get to that part.

You are not annoying or hard to get along with if your roommate doesn’t like you. Dorms are tiny, nobody likes living in them and emotions run high. Your roommate is struggling with many of the same freshman doubts that you are right now, and the next few years will not be this bad. You’ll gain confidence in yourself and in your place at this university, and you will upgrade from the hellholes that are freshman dorms.

My best advice is to find things to do outside of your dorm. Study in the library, watch movies on your laptop in the commons or the Hub or hang out at older friends’ apartments. Don’t spend all of your time in your dorm. Dorms are a dark, depressing place. Sleep there, get ready for the day there and then get out.

you belong here

Just remember that you picked this university for a reason. Coming from a small town, it was weird for me to go from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in the biggest pond ever. Everyone is smart, everyone is talented and it’s easy to feel like you’re just another face in the crowd.

But here’s the thing. People notice you more than you think.

Your professors notice that great paper you wrote and might just offer you an opportunity to be a T.A. next semester. Take it. That cute person in your tiny English 15 class might notice the new way you styled your hair or the outfit you painstakingly put together, and they might just offer you their number. Take it. The woman you talked to at the career fair about your dream job might remember your name and face and might just send you an email about an internship opportunity. Take it.

This university is full of incredible people, and you’re one of them. You will have so many opportunities to do so many things here. You’ll attend football games, you’ll cry during Final Four at Thon, you’ll spend way too much time looking for an open seat in the library during finals week, you’ll sit on the sidewalk and devour some Canyon pizza at 3 a.m. even though it’s really not that good. But you’ll share those experiences with thousands of other people.

Penn State is a magical place where everyone is an individual but they have a place in this incredible collection of people. This is an opportunity that you only have a few years to truly enjoy, so enjoy it. You really do belong here.

Emma is a third-year Elementary and Early Childhood Education major at Penn State University. When she's not writing, you can usually find her singing, reading, painting, going on walks, hanging out with friends/her incredible boyfriend, and drinking iced chai lattes. Outside of Her Campus, Emma is the President of the Penn State Singing Lions, a Students United Against Poverty Ambassador, a member of the Phi Eta Sigma honors fraternity, and works at an after-school program.