Book Review: The Community College Advantage

By Naomi Sheehan

Nearly half of college students in the United States are the first generation in their families to pursue higher education. This motivated Diane Melville, who got her own start at a community college, to write The Community College Advantage, a guidebook for prospective students who don’t have the benefit of experience in their families.

Community colleges are “a hotbed for opportunities-if you seek them out,” Melville explains. “For every harsh reality, there is a subsequent opportunity.” For example, you may have to juggle other life responsibilities, or take developmental courses before jumping into a program.

Opportunities are embedded in challenges. You’ll build character and reputation, which can help you transfer to a good four-year school or land a good job. The perseverance, maturity, and hard work of a community college student are often valued more than the squeaky clean grades of a high school grad.

“Most students you’ll run into on a community college campus have jobs, bills, and families, and generally have felt the brunt of life more than a four-year-college student,” Melville says.

Make your mark

Melville explains how to engage the college “gateways” and the “gatekeepers.” Gateways like clubs and activities on campus, and gatekeepers like teachers and deans, are important points of contact.

Get to know your “gatekeepers.”

“Email your professors and set up time to introduce yourself,” Melville advises. “Let your class dean or campus president know in a quick email about your career goals and how you plan to achieve them. These people are not celebrities so don’t feel shy about emailing them. The point is that if they don’t know who you are, they can’t help you.”

Establishing relationships with faculty members is a prerequisite to getting strong letters of recommendation. It can also open doors to job options, especially in programs that partner with local businesses.

Join peer study groups.

“The combination of differing ideas, study habits, and lecture perspectives can be the difference between an easy A and a hard-fought B in a class,” Melville says. “Even a quick thirty-minute recap with classmates before an exam can make a huge difference in your test-taking confidence.”

While forming social connections might seem daunting, especially for a busy “nontraditional” or commuter student, community colleges usually average less than 30 students per class. Compare that to a four-year school, where lecture courses can run up to 300 students. By the end of the semester, how many classmates will you know on a first-name basis?

Join extracurricular clubs.

Beyond the social benefits, student organizations perform community services that look good on your resume. Some organizations also offer scholarships and awards.