I went to a “big” high school. Our enrollment was near 1,600 and I graduated with 400 of my closest friends. However, going to a big high school was nothing compared to attending one of the largest universities in the country. I traded 1,600 for 46,000 and take pleasure in roaming a campus so sprawling that it has its own zip code. I’m one of 8,600 freshmen at Penn State University Park and no, I don’t think my campus is “too big.”
When I first decided on Penn State, I was slightly concerned about the size of main campus. While I considered my high school to be large, it paled in comparison to sitting in a 700-person lecture hall. Because of the messages around me about how small schools allowed for more intimate relationships and a sense of community with fellow students, I spent the months leading up to move-in wondering if I made the right choice. Should I attend a branch campus? Would I be able to handle University Park?
By the end of the first week on campus, I knew Penn State was where I belonged. Unlike high school, cliques, gossip and trends were nonexistent. You could be your authentic self and easily find people with shared interests and values. Faculty members explained that becoming a Penn State student meant joining a very large family and when I looked around lecture halls filled with other freshmen donning the blue and white, I felt an immediate connection to the student body.
As the semester progressed, I fell more in love with the big school environment. Especially in a place like State College, campus extends beyond classroom buildings. There are students in town at any time or day and locals, or “townies,” are often Penn State alumni themselves. It’s not just a school, but a community. With a big community comes a significant sense of pride. Whether it be an ordinary Monday afternoon or a football Saturday, if you yell “We Are” anywhere in town, you will be greeted with “Penn State” in return. It’s an unspoken rule. Penn Staters love their school – it’s fantastic.
Aside from having a connection with 46,000 other undergrads, graduate students and townies, attending a large school means there is never a shortage of things to do around campus. Unlike smaller schools where participating in Greek Life or sports is essential to having a social life, with over 1,000 student organizations and a plethora of other events occurring throughout the year, there are endless opportunities to get the most out of the college experience. It’s easy to get involved, make friends and develop connections with people from across the world. There’s something for everyone.
Academically, a big school is not as intimidating as it’s made out to be. Even in the largest of classes, there are professors with a passion for teaching and a genuine desire to help students succeed. A lecture is only as big as you let it seem. As someone who prefers more individualized instruction, I choose to sit in the front row, introduce myself to the professors, attend office hours and ask questions.
In my first semester, I had a combination of large lectures and small classes. With time and effort, I was able to get to know my professors fairly well by the end of the semester and still keep in touch with some of them. Just because it’s a big school doesn’t mean that people don’t care. If you make an effort to get to know faculty members, they can serve as great resources in getting involved around campus and working towards long-term goals.
Looking into the future, I am beyond excited to continue exploring the benefits of the large school experience. Having already developed so many interests and relationships around campus, I eagerly await the opportunity for continued personal and academic growth. Any school is as large or small as you make it. If you never leave your dorm room, the smallest college can seem massive. However, if you are willing to try new things and put yourself out there, any school can feel like home.
Since I first made the decision to attend Penn State, people have told me about the value and importance of the alumni network. That was quickly proven true, as I’ve had great conversations with proud alumni in California, Massachusetts, Florida and Ohio. As they say, “Penn State lives everywhere.”
Obviously, there are advantages to attending smaller colleges, and a big school is not for everyone. But, as you enter your professional life after graduating, will people be familiar with your school? Will you meet fellow alumni in other parts of the world or have the chance to work alongside graduates from your university?
I am proud to attend a university that affords me with so many opportunities for growth, development and connections that will last a lifetime. I will always be appreciative of my school decision. I am, and will always be, Penn State.