Review by Donna W. Dabney
Book by Melissa Mellott
School of Education
Norfolk State University
Norfolk, VA

Written specifically for students and parents, Mellot offers sage advice in The Little College Handbook: A First Generation’s Guide to Getting In and Staying In. She leads the unsuspecting pre-college student through the decision making and application process to earning a college degree. Mellot speaks directly to the students asking everyday yet crucial questions such as, “Where are you in the college process? Can I really afford college? Where should I apply? What’s the difference between a major and a minor?” 

Because the definition of a first-generation college student rests solely on the educational attainment of parents, the premise of this handbook is that students in this category may lack the understanding to successfully navigate the complexities of the college experience. This little handbook provides a practical guide for college admission and success. 

Data from the 2005 National Center for Educational Statistics indicated that first generation students are less likely to graduate than peers who have at least one parent with a college education. It is widely known that success in college is not totally dependent upon academic ability. Specifically, Collier and Morgan (2004) argue that distinctly different perspectives exist between traditional and first-generation students based on variations in parents’ educational experiences. Other pre-enrollment variables such as individual attributes, previous schooling, and family support, first identified by distinguished professor Vincent Tinto also impact success. Indeed, the federally-funded TRIO programs address these very issues. Armed with this research and her own personal experience as a first-generation student, Mellot, in this book, adeptly plots a route that begins with covering how the handbook can be helpful including such subjects as campus visits, applications, financial aid, transition, and expectations; and concludes the journey with enjoying the college experience or social integration—another retention predictor. 

High school counselors will find this book a ready resource for their own offices and should recommend it for the school library collection. The majority of the book is written to the student, but wisely, Mellot has not left out the parent(s). Even without a single enticing photo that typically captures the attention of the younger generation, students will find it particularly interesting and easy to read. They may also use it as a basis to engage in discussion with their parent(s) about college. In fact, the websites for testing and scholarship information along with the glossary should be very helpful for the first-generation family to alleviate any confusion caused by the higher education terminology.
While the quotes interspersed throughout the final chapters are inspiring, there are no references to indicate the sources. Otherwise, this is a valuable tool that easily stands alone, or might be used as a complement to the National Orientation Directors Association’s booklet, Empowering Parents of First-Year College Students: A Guide for Success.


Collier, P.J. & Morgan, D.L. (2008). “Is that paper really due today?”: Differences in first-generation and traditional college students’ understandings of faculty expectations. Higher Education, 55, 425-446.

Mullendore, R. & Banahan, L. (2007). Empowering parents of first-year college students: A guide for success. National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience® & Students in Transition. University of South Carolina. 

National Center for Education Statistics. (2005). First-generation students in postsecondary education: A look at their college transcripts. NCES 2005 – 17. 

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The little college handbook: A first generation’s guide to getting in and staying in (2005). Book by Melissa Mellott. Review by Donna W. Dabney. Santa Barbara, CA: Advocacy Press. 140 pp, $12.95. ISBN # 0-9718345-1-2
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