A Successful First Year at University Park Campus

You're probably excited and anxious about becoming a student at Penn State, and that's a natural reaction. Remember, however, that we wouldn't have asked you to enroll here if we didn't feel you have an excellent opportunity to succeed. It's now up to you to take full advantage of the curricular and extracurricular opportunities at the University.

During your first semester, you will have many opportunities to interact with faculty and staff members. Make the most of these interactions by learning as much as possible about the University and your education. If you have answers to the following questions by the end of your first semester, then your introduction to Penn State will be complete:

What and where are the resources available to enhance my educational experience?

What is meant by lifelong learning, and what are the skills needed to support this concept?

How important are writing and verbal skills to successful academic performance?

What is the meaning of academic excellence, and what are the University's standards of intellectual/scholarly performance?

After I choose a major, how can ongoing curricular choices provide opportunities to achieve my personal educational aspirations?

What is my role as a self-directed learner and how can personal initiative enhance the educational experience?

What are the educational advantages associated with being a member of a multicultural academic community?

Why is it important for me to understand and appreciate my own heritage, as well as respect other people and their cultures?

What are my personal values and how do they relate to current issues and to a particular discipline?

What constitutes an educated person?

What are my academic, career, and personal goals?

Let Your Orientation Guide Your Academic Decision Making

What are your intellectual interests? Are you interested in the area of artistic expression, or are you inclined to study subjects that are highly structured and orderly? Do you enjoy writing or public speaking more than scientific inquiry? As a new student, your "direction of interest"—your orientation—already exists as a highly structured set of personal perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors that have been nurtured through years of formal education and experiences. These preferences or interests have already been a guiding force in helping you make the important choices that have brought you to this place along education's path.

When you enroll, Penn State will recognize you as a mature adult, capable of making rational decisions as well as good judgments. Your ideas, inclinations, and expressed interests contribute to the richness and diversity of the teaching/learning environment. The unique way that you see, interpret, and react to your education is what gives this University meaning. What is a university if not a collection of faculty and staff dedicated to helping you live out your interests so that you can reach your dreams?

As a member of the Penn State community, you will be asked to make a myriad of choices-some simple, others complex. Two important decisions you will face are the selection of semester courses and the choice of a major. When the time comes for you to choose, it is critical to have confidence in what you know to be your interests and abilities. Rely heavily upon what you already know about your personal academic strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. Your past performance is the best predictor of your future success. Don't disregard as trivial the activities that have brought you satisfaction and recognition, no matter how insignificant they may seem. And don't let the shadow of a doubt keep you from making a choice. Remember, some degree of uncertainty will always accompany a tough decision.

Typical New Student Concerns

Most new students are concerned about succeeding academically. You know the competition will be tough and the courses demanding. Large classes, teaching assistants, and diverse teaching styles mean that you will have to make some adjustments. You are academically qualified to succeed here if you have the motivation and commitment to do so.

Finding new friends will also be important. You will probably have a roommate for the first time and will be concerned about getting along with that person. Students who succeed in finding friends will have an easier time adjusting than those who won't or don't find friends.

Other issues will affect you as well. New interests develop and old interests fade. You may find out through taking courses that your abilities do not match your career goals. Sorting out your beliefs will be a challenge. Your personal values may change as you examine your attitudes toward such issues as alcohol, drugs, and sexuality.

You may be away from home for the first time and looking forward to a new degree of freedom. Most likely, your parents will continue to be a source of support, and you will continue to rely on them in many of the decisions you face.

If you will be living at home, the challenges will be even greater. Unless you make a real effort to get involved in campus life, both inside and outside the classroom, you will be more likely to drop out and less likely to earn good grades, compared to your on-campus counterparts. It may be harder to break away from home, and more difficult to participate in campus life, if you don't get involved.

Advice to First-Year Students: Don't Become an Academic Tourist

Commitment is important. If you came here because you had a general career goal in mind and are interested in several possible majors, you're on the right track. It's important to your success that your chosen major be well suited to your individual interests, abilities, and career and lifestyle goals. The sooner you choose a major, the better. There is greater potential for learning when you immerse yourself in a discipline early. Don't become an academic tourist, sightseeing your way through your first few semesters. Follow your academic orientation.

In a large university, if you don't take the initiative, you may not have much faculty contact. But if you get involved with faculty, both inside and outside the classroom, you will adjust better to life at Penn State. Go to programs led by faculty and visit them in their offices.

You may need a part-time job to help meet your college expenses; you may also be concerned that it will interfere with your studies. Actually, whether you work or not is less important than how much you work. Students who work more than twenty hours per week have a dropout rate nearly five times that of other students, and their grades are significantly lower.

If possible, live in a residence hall. First-year students who live off campus drop out at a rate nearly twice that of those who live on campus and earn significantly lower grades. If you live on campus, consider one of the special-living options, where you can live with students who have similar academic interests and participate in programs involving faculty. If you live off campus, you'll be more likely to succeed if you participate in campus clubs and organizations, attend campus activities, or work part-time on campus.

Make an effort to get along with others. Students who are lonely and report difficulty in getting along with people are more likely to run into trouble academically. In your first year, you will probably room with someone you didn't know before. A major cause of unhappiness and dissatisfaction among first-year students is the inability to get along with roommates. If roommate problems develop, work them out or get some help. The residence hall staff is more than willing to help you if a problem develops. Successful roommate pairs are those willing to work to make the necessary compromises and sacrifices.

In each residence hall, undergraduate students called resident assistants (RAs) are responsible for informal counseling, advising, supervising, and planning activities. They are extensively trained to help you adjust to college life. They are also important people with whom you should get along. Students who report a good relationship with their resident assistants have less trouble academically than other students. RAs are a valuable resource, so get to know the ones in your residence hall.

Students who maintain a good relationship with their parents also have less trouble academically than other students. After four years of college, you will identify your parents as a major positive influence on your life while you were in college. They'll need some help from you, too, because they may have trouble adjusting to the fact that you're no longer at home. Just because you're away from home, don't forget the importance of their support and advice.

Finally, get involved! Take advantage of the diverse opportunities to involve yourself in campus life. Of course, you should avoid the danger of letting your social life overwhelm your academic life. You do, however, need some relief from the pressure of your studies. Students who fail to find that outlet are more likely to run into academic difficulties than are other students. So participate in a student organization (more than 900 are available), join an intramural team, and attend campus cultural events. You will find that residence hall staff and students plan all kinds of activities for you. Some of the activities are designed to enhance your academic progress, and some are just plain fun.

Graduating from college is more than a matter of studying a lot and applying your abilities. Other factors, such as your initial personal adjustment and ability to establish effective relationships with others, will affect your success at Penn State. In other words, you should work as hard at your life outside the classroom as you do at your life inside it.

A Message to Transfer and Change-of-Campus Students

As a new University Park student, you will find the campus full of exciting opportunities.

Even if you have been a Penn State student for as long as two years, or a student at another university or college, Penn State's University Park campus is well worth the time it takes to explore its diverse array of academic treasures. The programs designed for new students are not just for first-year students. The orientation programs here have been designed to contribute to your growth and development.

The sooner you become familiar with campus, the better you'll be able to take advantage of all that is offered. Adjusting to a new environment takes effort; it doesn't just happen magically. We strongly recommend that you expand your learning opportunities. Listen to the advice that previous transfer students have offered.

The most important first step is to admit that your experience at University Park campus will be different from whatever you were used to before. Change is good...right?

Recognizing this will position you well as you gather information about your new environment. You may find some of your classes to be large. And you may also find services, programs, and facilities that will bring you face to face with some of the world's leading academics and brightest students. Sure, you'll need to be more assertive to find what you want, but remember that Penn State is second to none when it comes to staff who are willing and able to help you succeed. Take the initiative to contact faculty and other students...doing so will soon make you feel less alone. Remember, many other students share the need to adjust.

Upper-level courses will engage you. Many students report that course work at this level is both intellectually exciting and demanding. Your living arrangements may also have changed. The transition from commuting from home to living in a residence hall or apartment off campus calls for changes in behavior. Adjusting to roommates, different meal schedules, and a new social life takes time and energy.

Life is full of transitions. For you, coming to a new campus opens a new and challenging adventure. Orientation programs are offered to assist new students in adjusting to University Park campus. We encourage you to attend as many sessions as you can, ask questions, and seek out help. When you have questions, contact Assistance and Information at the HUB Desk. You'll find students who can help you find answers to this hallmark experience in your life. Welcome to a great adventure!