City Pulse: 7 things you need to know to prepare for college

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Aug. 21, 2013 at 3:21 a.m.

J.R. Ortega stands with his late mother Anita H. Ortega at his college graduation in 2009.

J.R. Ortega stands with his late mother Anita H. Ortega at his college graduation in 2009.

Several weeks ago, I found myself chatting with a source about college.

It was just chitchat; she looked fairly young, maybe 19 or at the oldest 21.

"So how's college going," I asked her, just filling in awkward silence.

Her answer forever changed how I viewed myself in the world. She said she had graduated a few years back and then continued that she was my age - 27.

What - a few years ago? Then I counted. Five; well almost five years ago I graduated college. Yes, I know, saying I graduate half a decade ago doesn't sound like much, but in my mind it really is.

And as incoming freshmen leave their homes for the first time ready to decorate their dorms and begin to discover themselves, I can't help but remember what it was like leaving for college.

If I knew now what I didn't know then, well let me just say, it would have saved me a lot of slip-ups and uh-ohs.

Here are some things you need to know:

• First off, you can probably afford more than Top Ramen Noodles and a four-pack of Kraft Easy Mac - really. It's so bad for your diet, and though you might feel dirt poor, you're still at the age where you can phone or text home and be saved. Dirt poor comes much later, like when you're trying to survive your first job all while paying rent, utilities and those dreaded student loans (That's a column for another day).

• Your idea of college may be strutting into lecture hall late like a total badass in your SpongeBob SquarePants pajama bottoms, but trust me and don't embarrass yourself. Those same professors who see you looking like a groggy student will be the same professors you'll need when you're approaching graduation and looking to network. You don't want to be remembered as the student with sleepy-eye gunk and stale jammies.

•  This is for those 21 and up; Jungle Juice is very, very bad news, especially when you make enough to use in a five-gallon water cooler. Don't drink it. My liver hurts thinking about it. Enough said.

• Internships, internships, internships. Apply yourself. Just because you've made it to college and make Dean's List every semester does not automatically make you awesome. Your GPA is nothing compared to what you'll learn by working in the field you've chosen.

• Ah, the three-day weekend. I know you'll still do this no matter what I say, but there will come a time when you have the chance to register for classes and work it in a way that you don't have a Friday class. While that is a great idea, please use it wisely. I used my Thursday nights, Fridays and Saturdays one semester as time to go out and soak up the "college nightlife" experience. You will need more than a Sunday to recover from that hangover and from that depleted bank account.

• Take summer classes. Don't use your summer classes to vegetate. I never took one summer class, and I graduated a year later than I wanted. I was a junior when I realized it. Plus, the shock of never having a summer off ever again is not as heart-wrenching when you start your first job.

• And last but not least, pay no attention to what someone who is no longer in college sees in hindsight - including myself.

Really, there is only one thing you need to know, and that is to just be you.

Be responsible. Yes, you're going to mess up, and yes, you'll kick yourself later for those mistakes, but that's all part of the learning adventure.

One day, you'll be in my shoes and look back at the things you did and the things you didn't do, and no matter what, you'll smile.

Good luck.



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