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The Community College Advantage

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If you attend a community college, you’re probably one of the smartest people I’ll ever meet.

Plain and simple, community colleges are awesome because they provide easy access to a better life. It can be as much or as little as you make it. Unfortunately, most community college students don’t maximize this potential.

As a first-generation college graduate, I know how important it is to use an education for a better life. The entire cycle of poverty for a family can be broken forever with easy access to education, some hard work, and a willingness to set yourself apart from the rest. It all begins with simple decisions, which seem so small now, but ultimately will change everything about you for the better.

Here are five tips I share with students to give them an edge in creating the life they’ve always wanted, no matter where they choose to attend school.

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Author, Kevin Smith

1. Never Say “Just”

The first step to success at a community college begins with establishing the right attitude. When asked where they go to school, most community college students unfortunately say, “I just go to…” For some reason, they buy into the myths that they are “less-than” a student with similar credentials who chose to go somewhere else.

Warren Buffett said, “I don’t care where someone went to school…that never caused me to hire anyone or buy a business.” I’d listen to him. He’s a multi-billionaire and a good human being.

Take a minute and write down all the reasons why this was the best decision you ever made. Do this so you can articulate these reasons well. Then, believe in your message and go out and capitalize on it. It is up to you to discover and frame them so you can sell it. Eliminate this word – “just” – from your vocabulary; it only causes failure. TwitterLogo_#55acee

2. Your Degree Is The Price of Admission TwitterLogo_#55acee

Your degree – no matter which school you attend – takes up about 5% of your resume. The rest is all about the experiences you gain along the way. The biggest mistake I see community college students making is that they reverse this and believe that the degree is going to be the game-changer.

The world is too competitive now. Yes, you will probably need the academic credentials, but you’re not going to school for your resume to get placed in a recruiter’s “maybe” pile when applying for a job. Getting into the “yes” pile will have everything to do with your experiences and your personal skills and the way you communicate them. Those come from outside the classroom. Community colleges are investing heavily into these outside-the-classroom experiences. Go find them.

The secret skill you need to get hired.
The secret skill you need to get hired.

3. Show Up

More than likely, you’re used to going to class and then leaving. Instead, pay attention to those posters and events you see everywhere that advertise opportunities for you on and off campus.

Show up to some of these events. Apart from what you will learn, you’ll meet administrators, high-achieving students who get it, and maybe even people like me who can all help you navigate yourself to anywhere you want to be. Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future. Don’t be a loner.

4. Get An Internship

I don’t care if you have to make coffee and clean the fridge, go get an internship.

Students from ANY college who take an internship are almost 80% more likely to get a job out of college those who don’t. As a bonus, they typically make nearly $5,000 a year more when they start their career. If you work for 30 years, that one internship translates into a $150,000 signing bonus paid out over your career.

Most internships are very meaningful and many of them are paid. Talk to your internship coordinator at your school. If this is not a position your college has then take your resume to some local companies that you’d like to learn more about and to tell them you’re a college student looking for a chance to learn and make a contribution in return for experience.


5. Brand Yourself As Someone Who Is Work Ready

I have a degree in English and I had only two choices, either limit myself to teaching and/or editing textbooks, or I could decide to promote my ability to solve problems. I chose the latter. To this day, I’ve never worked in a job which I didn’t create myself, even my current one. It’s worked out very well.

As a community college student in this economy, you have the advantage to brand yourself differently from others TwitterLogo_#55acee, and this is a great thing. Employers are beginning to perceive large Universities as mazes for the masses where students graduate with no real-world experience. As a community college student, you can make the case that you have what they are really looking for – experience and a working knowledge of the real-world.

Don’t label yourself as a one-dimensional  college major or by where you attended  school. Most employers are looking for two simple things: proof of an ability to learn and an ability to solve problems.TwitterLogo_#55aceeThe latter will all be accentuated by the experiences you have listed under the remaining 95% of your resume. Brand yourself as a problem-solver, everyone needs one of these no matter what their industry.TwitterLogo_#55acee

Now is the time to attend a community college and now is the time to realize how much of an advantage this can give you. Choose your attitude, seeks outside-the-classroom experiences, show up, get an internship, and make it count.


Kevin Smith is the Director of the Institute for Leadership Advancement in the College of Business at The University of Akron and a keynote speaker to large corporations, MBA programs and universities across the United States. Kevin is a first-generation college graduate and holds degrees from The Ohio State University and Ohio University.

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