How the first-year housing experience lays a foundation for success

three smiling students in orange Move-In Day t-shirts carrying furniture
Upper-class students help the Class of 2022 move into their dorms on Move-In Day in 2018.

Before arriving at Gettysburg College, I had never been far from home or family, let alone shared a room with a stranger. With the new changes ahead, I felt apprehensive about having a random roommate and floormates. Now, I would tell my former self that community-based housing provided at Gettysburg led to the best year of my life and set me up for a successful college career.

Living and learning together

Patrick at the Disco banner with fishnets, heels, and disco ball hangs from dorm room window
Patrick Hall during Move-In Day 2021

Move-In Day my first year was equally exhilarating and nerve-racking. For the first time, I was moving away from home and starting my next chapter at Gettysburg College. On Move-In Day, I settled into my new home: Patrick Hall’s fourth floor. This is still a place where I have fond memories with my first college friends.

At Gettysburg, first-year housing is based on your First-Year Seminar (FYS)—a class designed to help first-year students become acclimated to college-level academics. These seminars cover a wide variety of intriguing topics ranging from conspiracy theories to dance to contemplating some of life’s toughest questions, including “What is happiness?” or “What is death?” My seminar was “Sex and the Supreme Court,” taught by Public Policy Prof. Anne Douds. It was a fitting choice for a future political science major and aspiring lawyer.

Having this First-Year Seminar-based housing system allowed me and my fellow students to continue friendships outside the classroom. I remember walking to and from class with classmates from my residence hall, often stopping at Servo, our dining hall, to grab a meal afterward. Together, we would spend nights studying and continuing our classwork in the common room, further creating an environment for discussion and friendships.

Tess Pietila ’22 and her roommate
Tess Pietila ’22 (left) and her first-year roommate in their dorm room.

Sharing interests and growing from differences

In each first-year residence hall, there are students from four seminars on average, randomly dispersed throughout the building. This setup allows students to meet their peers from inside and outside their classes. Due to the common themes in each of the seminars, the students placed in each building share common themes of interests, allowing a stronger community to form and create long-lasting friendships. In this shared living community, there is always someone to join you in studying, going to the dining hall and eating Servo cookies, or exploring our town.

My first-year roommate was an international student from Nepal. She was not in my seminar, but we quickly bonded over similar interests like watching movies and listening to music, while acknowledging our differences in order to learn and grow from one another.

Since first-year students are paired together randomly, we have the opportunity to learn and grow with others who are from different backgrounds with a variety of interests. This system allows for a tight-knit community to form based on respect, while encouraging social and academic growth for the students in the hall. Our entire residence hall bonded through community meetings, educational events, and fun activities like field day, which pushed us out of our comfort zone to meet one another.

red brick dorm building, large pine tree, and blue sky
Patrick Hall at Gettysburg College

Creating memorable bonds

Some of my fondest memories in Patrick Hall took place on the fourth floor, where I lived. Each night, my entire floor would sit in the hallway and chat. We all instantly bonded and became notorious for our strong friendships and sense of community. We celebrated everyone’s birthdays and major accomplishments with family dinners, cake, and movie nights. These friendships even extended beyond Patrick Hall—whether it be supporting one another at sports games or theater events, we were there for each other by cheering in the crowds. It was comforting to know that I could walk down the hall and knock on the door and have a friend in each room.

First-year housing at Gettysburg is structured to foster a community based on social and academic excellence, ensuring all students are given equal opportunities to reach their fullest potential. Now as I have entered my senior year, the friendships I made my first year and are still strong, and I would give anything to go to back to Move-In Day my first year and relive those memories all over again.

Learn more about Gettysburg’s distinctive First-Year Seminar program here.

West Quad interior with green grass and puffy clouds in a blue sky
Roshani Nagarajah ’22 in her Patrick Hall east room
Paul Hall room of Camryn Council ’25 with bed, fairy lights, desk, and pictures and view of West Quad
Stine Hall’s red brick against green spring grass and pale pink blossoms of the trees

By Tess Pietila ’22
Photos by Shawna Sherrell, Miranda Harple, and courtesy of Tess Pietila ’22 and featured subjects
Posted: 11/30/21