12 Books for College Graduates
by: Michelle Barichello
Graduation is a time of achievement, reflection, and reward. You did it! You survived all those tests and papers and earned that diploma!
Graduation can also be a time of confusion. After being in school for most of your life, it’s time to go out on your own and go get a job. Or travel. Or start a family. What do you want to do and what is the next step?
Books are never a bad place to start.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to plan your life post-graduation, the books listed below are some of the most useful and inspirational resources to help you figure out your next move.
- The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay
I read this book in my late twenties and wish I had my hands on it sooner. A therapist who works closely with twenty- and thirty-somethings, Jay incorporates thorough research with examples from her client stories to offer a practical roadmap for thinking proactively and living intentionally in your twenties.
“Our twenties can be like living beyond time. When we graduate from school, we leave behind the only lives we have ever known, ones that have been neatly packaged in semester-sized chunks with goals nestled within. Suddenly, life opens up and the syllabi are gone. There are days and weeks and months and years, but no clear way to know when or why any one thing should happen. It can be a disorienting, cave-like existence. As one twentysomething astutely put it, “The twentysomething years are a whole new way of thinking about time. There’s this big chunk of time and a whole bunch of stuff that needs to happen somehow.”
― Meg Jay, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now
2. So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport
This book helps you see what really matters when it comes to finding work that doesn’t feel like work: that what you do for a living is not as important as how you do it.
“If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (’what can the world offer me?’) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (‘what can I offer the world?’).”
― Cal Newport, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
3. More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are by Elaine Welteroth
I love reading memoirs about people who have succeeded against all odds, and Welteroth’s story is a great one for graduates just entering the workforce. This story shows how a young boss and often the only Black woman in the room learns to rely on herself as she navigates race, identity and success in her career. Young women can learn valuable lessons from Welteroth’s journey.
“When the music changes, so must your dance. It was the most beautifully worded truth, a profound lesson reminding me to trust my instincts, to let life guide me, and to never stay anywhere doing the same thing longer than I was supposed to.”
― Elaine Welteroth, More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are
4. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
I recommend this book to anyone, no matter what stage of life you’re in, and college grads will definitely get valuable life lessons from Strayed’s insightful advice. From the author of Wild comes a beautiful collection of advice essays from her work as an advice columnist on Dear Sugar. Strayed’s work spans everything from jobs and passions to tougher topics like grief and suffering.
“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
5. Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Before Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda took to Twitter with words of encouragement at the beginning and end of each day. This book is full of his original sayings, aphorisms and poetic bits that will hopefully give you some hope and inspiration as you navigate the post-graduation world.
This feeling will pass.
This workload will pass.
These people will pass.
But look at you, with the gift of memory.
You can time travel to the good stuff just by closing your eyes & breathing.
Then come right back to now, eyes up for the good stuff ahead.
You magic thing.
This moment will pass.
This fatigue will pass.
Tonight will pass.
But look at you, with the gift of imagination.
You can teleport to where you’re happiest just by closing your eyes and breathing.
Then come right back to now, check in with the present.
You magic thing, you.”
― Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You
6. Courage Is Calling: Fortune Favors the Brave by Ryan Holiday
I would recommend any of Ryan Holiday’s books for college graduates, but his latest release is all about one of the most important virtues you’ll need as you leave school: courage. Holiday breaks down the elements of fear, courage and heroism through stories about historic and contemporary leaders.
“Don’t worry about whether things will be hard. Because they will be. Instead, focus on the fact that these things will help you. This is why you needn’t fear them.”
― Ryan Holiday, Courage Is Calling: Fortune Favors the Brave
7. Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders
George Saunders gave a popular commencement address at Syracuse University, and it was transcribed to form this beautiful book. A great gift for college graduates, this book shares Saunders’ uplifting message encouraging all of us to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives.
“Be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life. Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of you — and go after those things as if nothing else matters. Because, actually, nothing else does.”
― George Saunders, Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness
This is another commencement-speech-turned-book by the author who brought us Harry Potter, one of the most iconic stories and series of all time. In her speech, Rowling highlights the importance of embracing failure and using our imagination.
“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.”
― J.K. Rowling, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination
9. Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff is a fresh, funny voice in the professional development genre. This book of his is especially helpful for college graduates because it helps you prepare for and learn how to handle major career transitions in your life and work toward the job you want.
“We — not our company — are responsible for our attitudes. What happens each day at work doesn’t get to determine my attitude, I do. Attitude is a decision. And it’s a decision we have to make every day, sometimes every hour if that particular day is especially whack.”
― Jon Acuff, Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck
10: Designing Your Life: Build a Life That Works for You by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
The content of this book was originally a class taught by the authors at Standford University and has gone on to become a #1 New York Times Bestseller. The authors teach you how to create a meaningful and fulfilling life based on design thinking. If you are graduating college and realizing now that you don’t want a career in what you majored in, I highly recommend picking up this book and doing the exercises.
“For most people, passion comes after they try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery — not before. To put it more succinctly: passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause.”
― Bill Burnett, Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You
11. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
In 2007, Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch delivered his last lecture before passing away from cancer. The lecture he gave, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” became widely spread in the media and was expanded into this book. It is an inspirational message about overcoming obstacles, enabling the dreams of others, and seizing every moment.
“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
12. In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It by Lauren Graham
The Gilmore Girls star delivered the 2017 commencement speech at her hometown Langley High, and this book expands on her message. Graham reflects on growing up, pursuing your dreams, and living in the here and now.
“BUT here’s a secret: The lows don’t last any longer than the highs do. Like clouds on an overcast day, sometimes we have to face the fact that what happens to us in life isn’t controllable, and if we wait a while, don’t take it personally, and decide to enjoy ourselves anyway, the sky will eventually clear up.”
― Lauren Graham, In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It
If you’re graduating or looking for the perfect gift for a college graduate, these 12 books are sure to be meaningful and useful for people just starting out in their careers.
🎓Congratulations to all our NAU graduates! 🎓