10 Books to Read Before College

Making the transition to becoming a college student can be challenging to navigate.

Whether you just graduated high school, are changing careers, or attending as a non-traditional student, you’ll face barriers that will test your commitment to keep going.

Stories — both fictional and first-hand experiences — can help mentally prepare you for what you’ll encounter.

This roundup of books to read before college includes stories that will inspire, teach and guide you as you begin this journey.

From the transition to leaving home and taking on more responsibility to making the most of your time — the titles here cover it all.

1. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom

This book is a testament to the power of the student/mentor relationship, and why it’s important to be fully invested in it from both sides.

Albom’s memoir is a chronicle of his relationship with his college mentor, Morrie Schwartz. Albom reconnected with Morrie 20 years after the professor had left an impact on him, and visited with him every Tuesday just as he had back when he was a student. Only now, Morrie was suffering from ALS and was in the last few months of his life.

Albom knew he had bigger questions to ask Morrie than he had in his college years. Fortunately, he had a second chance to do so.

2. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

This book will show you what an education means to someone who wasn’t likely to get it and that it is not something to take for granted.

Westover’s story makes you appreciate the opportunity it is to be a college student. All the girl ever wanted was an education, but she grew up in a Mormon household with paranoid parents who were suspicious of public school systems brainwashing their children.

Westover was homeschooled throughout her childhood. She spent her days working in her father’s junkyard and stewing herbs for her mother. At sixteen, she left home and enrolled at BYU, then pursued learning for the next decade.

While her story is heavy in abuse and psychological suffering, it is also inspirational in showing her relentless pursuit of an education, and how she overcame adversities and didn’t let her family stand in her way.

3. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

Uncertainty, hope, ambition —this book contains everything new college students can relate to.

Marina Keegan’s essay “The Opposite of Loneliness” published in The New Yorker went viral in 2012. The essay beautifully captured all the angst we feel at figuring out what to do next and celebrating the community of a college campus. Tragically, Keegan died in a car accident just five days after graduating from Yale at the age of 22.

The Opposite of Loneliness is a posthumous collection of the writing she left behind. Uncertainty, hope, ambition — her prose contains everything new college students can relate to.

As you read Keegan’s work you can’t help but feel many mixed emotions— connection and possibility, along with the reminder that we only have the day in front of us.

4. Have Fun Be Safe I Love You: And Everything Else I Want to Say to My Kids About College and Beyond by Kate Hickey

If you’re a family person and leaving home for the first time, this might be just the touch of sentimentality that you need.

Sure, this sounds like your mom wrote it for you and you might be eagerly counting the days until you leave your parents’ house.

But the truth is — college is not going to wrap its arms around you the way your parents do, and you might just find out how much you miss that comfort pretty quickly.

Hickey is someone who went to college, had her experience, and wants to share her lessons from it. She shares helpful tips in a non-nagging way and will empower you to courageously start your own journey. If you’re a family person and leaving home for the first time, this might be just the touch of sentimentality that you need.

5. Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown

Your manual for navigating adult life.

With college comes adulthood. Renting an apartment, getting a job, learning how to network — these situations all come with challenges.

This one is for the high school graduates who are stepping into more responsibility than they’ve ever known (though the adult students are also likely to pick up some fresh life hacks here as well 😅).

Here’s your manual for navigating adult life.

6. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

The importance of communication in the real world and the benefits of understanding others to prevent conflict.

One of the most intimidating things about leaving high school and starting fresh at college is that everyone is new — your teachers, your friends, your administrators. Probably even your mascot (go Jacks!). This book won’t show you how to make friends with people, but you’ll gain a perspective on communication that is so important in the real world.

Using cases right out of history and the news, Gladwell explores what really went wrong in troubled times. You’ll learn about the benefits of understanding other people to prevent conflict.

This isn’t just good college prep — but good advice for handling whoever you may come across as you leave the comforts of home.

7. We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter by Celeste Headlee

This book offers strategies for approaching difficult topics with others, which can help not only in the classroom — all facets of life.

In a similar sense to Gladwell’s book, We Need to Talk is a useful guide to navigating conversations with people who have different opinions than you.

College is often the first time people encounter so many peers who come from different backgrounds.

Headlee offers strategies for approaching difficult topics with others, which can help not only in the classroom but in all facets of life.

Fun fact: Headlee earned an undergraduate degree from NAU in 1995.

Check out her Ted Talk 10 Ways To Be A Better Listener.

8. Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education by Matthew L. Sanders

This book will help you realize what’s important during your time in college and make the most out of these learning opportunities.

This is the book you’ll wish you had when you started college.

Sanders offers the hard and fast truths about college that often, as an adolescent, you might not realize until the time to pick a school comes around. College tuition costs, an oversaturated job market, and whether your degree will lead to your dream job — this book is a reality check for students.

While it might sound gloomy, Sanders’ book is meant to help you realize what’s important during your time in college and make the most out of these learning opportunities.

You’ll come away with a clearer understanding of the purpose a higher education serves in your life.

9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This book will get you thinking about the suppression of knowledge and ideas and the value of free-thinking

For those students who would rather learn through fictional stories, Fahrenheit 451 is an essential college prep book. In Bradbury’s dystopian world, books are outlawed. “Firemen” burn any books that are found at 451 ℉ or greater, the temperature at which pages can ignite.

This book will get you thinking about the suppression of knowledge and ideas and the value of free-thinking, concepts that are important as you enter discussions in a college classroom.

10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Salinger’s classic novel captures the range of loss and emotions we feel at leaving childhood behind.

This classic is a powerful coming-of-age book. Holden Caulfield faces it all — rebellion, loneliness, identity, superficiality — when he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. Salinger’s classic novel captures the range of loss and emotions we feel at leaving childhood behind. The Catcher in the Rye is a must-read for those entering college.

What books have you been reading? What literature has helped you navigate the transition to college life? Share your favorites with us!

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