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Top 10 Books to Read Before College

Great books have the power to change the way you think about the world and yourself. Reading is an excellent way to expose yourself to new ideas and perspectives, which is especially helpful as you transition from high school to college. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the top books to read before college. From must-read classics like 1984 to practical self-help guides like The Defining Decade, this list contains thought-provoking books perfect for every soon-to-be college student. 

Here is our Top 10 list, in no particular order:

1. The Alchemist 

This book is a timeless tale about following your dreams. It tells the story of a young man named Santiago who leaves behind his comfortable life as a shepherd to fulfill his “Personal Legend.” He journeys through the Egyptian desert, overcoming obstacles and gaining wisdom along the way. What begins as a quest to find worldly treasures turns into a journey of self-discovery. Inspiring and unforgettable, The Alchemist is an essential read for young people charting their way through life. 

2. Between the World and Me

Written as a letter from father to son, this powerful book explores the realities of being black in the US. Ta-Nehisi Coates investigates the nation’s history of slavery and segregation, while grappling with what it means to parent a black child in 21st-century America. Between the World and Me offers an insightful framework for understanding America’s issue of systemic racism, and leaves readers contemplating a vision for the way forward. 

3. Just Mercy 

Written by one of the most influential lawyers of our time, this memoir focuses on Bryan Stevenson’s work in representing disadvantaged clients. Stevenson recounts his efforts to help Walter McMillian, a man sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. Readers also learn about how Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office dedicated to defending the poor, the incarcerated, and the wrongly condemned. This eye-opening read sheds light on flaws in the U.S. justice system and calls for an end to mass incarceration in America. 

4. Into the Heart of Mindfulness 

It’s no secret that college is a very busy (and sometimes stressful) time for students. It’s all too easy to get caught up worrying about the past or future, and forget to be mindful of the present moment. In this book, journalist Ed Halliwell describes how mindfulness helped him overcome anxiety and depression. Drawing on Buddhist traditions as well as science, Halliwell explains how being present in the moment leads to a higher quality of life. Readers are offered practical advice on how to incorporate mindfulness into their everyday lives. 

5. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter

You may not be in your twenties yet, but it can’t hurt to start thinking about your future. In this book, clinical psychologist Meg Jay offers a guide to navigating the uncertain landscape of your twenties. Her book is full of stories from twenty somethings and packed with scientific research. Young adults looking forward to the next chapter of their lives should definitely check this one out.

6. The Catcher in the Rye

After getting expelled from prep school, Holden Caulfield catches a train to New York City to avoid confronting his parents. As he wanders the streets of the city, Holden deals with familiar teenage topics like loneliness, rebellion, identity, and superficiality. Holden’s journey is a classic portrayal of the frustration and confusion that often accompanies the transition from childhood to adulthood. Published in 1951, this timeless coming-of-age story is one that soon-to-be college students can find relatable. 

7. 1984

Hailed as the ultimate dystopian novel, this great classic tells the story of one man’s attempt to find individuality in a totalitarian world. The novel’s main character, Winston Smith, lives under a repressive regime that prohibits free thought and controls every aspect of society. Despite being published in 1949, George Orwell’s frightening vision of the future is timelier than ever. Readers will reckon with important issues regarding free speech, surveillance, and the role of the government in society. 

8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

If you’re looking for some comic relief (and some absurdly profound insights about the universe), check out this 1979 science fiction novel. In this classic book, Douglas Adams tells the hilarious and chaotic story of a human fleeing to space with an alien friend to avoid dying on Earth. Originally a BBC radio series, Adams then adapted it into a novel, a TV series, and a stage play. 

9. On Beauty

Zadie Smith tells the story of an interracial family living in a small college town in Massachusetts. Along with examining issues of race and multiculturalism in America, On Beauty provides fresh perspectives regarding family life, marriage, and the intersection between personal and political beliefs. Insightful and full of wit, this book is a great read for soon-to-be college students. 

10. The Best American Series 

Want to read the very best science fiction stories? How about the best American travel writing? Published annually, this series showcases the country’s finest nonfiction and fiction. Each volume compiles notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites across the country. From sports reporting and food writing to mystery stories and nonfiction essays, this series has got it all. If you’re looking to take a deep dive into a particular genre or subject area, these books are a great place to start. 

Our book list is just the start…

While these books are especially valuable for young adults entering college, they’re definitely not the only books you should read. The world of literature is a very big place, and we encourage you to explore it on your own. Keep reading, because you never know what kind of ideas and insight you can gain from the pages of a book. 

More resources for the transition to college

If you’re getting ready to go to college, you’ve probably got a lot on your mind. If you’re looking to make money in college or to pay for housing, we can help. You may also be wondering how you can get involved on campus, and how to save money in school. Finally, as you prepare for your first semester, you’ll have to decide whether to buy or rent textbooks. If you have other questions as you continue your transition, make sure to check back at our site!

Also see: Top scholarships for English majors