10 Books to Read Before College That’ll Set You Up for Success

Heading off to college soon? These 10 books to read before college can help set you up for success, both academically and personally.

portrait of Samantha L. Solomon, Ph.D.
by Samantha L. Solomon, Ph.D.

Published June 23, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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10 Books to Read Before College That’ll Set You Up for Success
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Whether you're heading off right after high school or getting ready to attend as a nontraditional student, the transition to college is no doubt a major life event.

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Ready to start your journey?

The following books offer helpful advice for you to succeed in college, both academically and personally. These engaging books cover everything you should know, from academic success tips and inspirational anecdotes to living on your own for the first time.

No matter your expectations for higher education or level of preparedness, these top 10 books to read before college can set you up for success.

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1. Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education

By Matthew L. Sanders


"Becoming a Learner" (2012) is near and dear to my heart because I teach it to first-year students in my student success seminar.

In this book, Matthew L. Sanders offers helpful information for the modern-day college student, including information many starry-eyed young adults may feel reluctant to hear.

You'll learn about the realities of an oversaturated job market, the high cost of college, the fact that your college degree doesn't guarantee you'll get your dream job right away, and how many of the skills you learn in college may become obsolete by the time you enter the workforce.

But wait! Before you run away screaming, it's the inspirational takeaways of this book that make me strongly recommend it.

Sanders argues that because of the hurdles students face, we can better understand the purpose of college: It's not about just getting a job or making money, but rather becoming learners by seeking opportunities and acknowledging the privilege of education.

2. The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College

By Harlan Cohen


The title makes this book pretty self-explanatory. "The Naked Roommate" (2005) is one of the best books to read before college because it highlights scenarios you'll likely encounter and provides tips on how to deal with them.

Harlan Cohen uses brief, clearly marked chapters, which function as a guide for questions and concerns you may have about starting college. Best of all, the book uses real students' stories. So you know you're getting advice, from people you can relate to, about real-world issues.

3. Adulting Made Easy: Things Someone Should Have Told You About Getting Your Grown-Up Act Together

By Amanda Morin


As I often tell my students, going to college is about more than just going to class. For many students, it's their first time living alone and juggling adult responsibilities. Students understand their classes will be hard. However, they often overlook the complicated transition into adulthood as part of the college experience.

In "Adulting Made Easy" (2021), Amanda Morin offers tips for common scenarios, such as managing finances and finding a job.

But it's her coverage of less-obvious topics that make this book a treasure: How should you practice self-care? What are the most effective methods of communication? What should you put on your grocery list? Why do you need to separate your laundry by color?

This book is great for anyone who may need some help "adulting" — especially for high school students going into college, who will likely face the challenge of living alone for the first time.

4. We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter

By Celeste Headlee


One of the most challenging elements of college is learning to have conversations with people who hold different opinions from you. For many students, college is the first time they're engaging with others from so many backgrounds.

"We Need to Talk" (2017) explains how to engage in civil discourse using special strategies for approaching difficult conversation topics. These tips are not only helpful for classes, but they'll also teach you how to communicate with people who may have different ways of thinking.

You can even apply these strategies toward conversations with your parents or guardians after you move away from home.

5. Educated: A Memoir

By Tara Westover


Many colleges have adopted "Educated" as required reading since its initial publication in 2018 — and for good reason.

This book is a raw and reflective look at author Tara Westover's unorthodox journey through education. Raised in a survivalist society in Idaho with no formal schooling, Westover eventually went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.

While most are unlikely to share Westover's exact history, this book demonstrates the value of education. It's also a powerful testament to the ways one can grow, adapt, and embrace the journey of self-discovery that accompanies pursuing an education.

6. Klara and the Sun

By Kazuo Ishiguro


As someone with a Ph.D. in literature, I had to include a book that is (in my opinion, at least) a literary masterpiece!

"Klara and the Sun" (2021) is a nontraditional coming-of-age novel — or bildungsroman (remember that one for your literature classes) — that's become popular in college courses. The novel follows Klara, an "artificial friend" to her human, Josie, who is ill for reasons initially unknown, and their journey into adulthood together.

This dystopian science fiction novel will surprise you at every turn — and give you some cool talking points for your classes or late-night discussions with friends about the environment, the ethics of artificial intelligence, genetic manipulation, and more.

7. In Conclusion, Don't Worry About It

By Lauren Graham


You may recognize Lauren Graham as the famous actress who starred in "Gilmore Girls" and "Parenthood," but did you know she's also an acclaimed author? In this 2018 book, Graham offers bits of wisdom that were part of a speech she gave to graduating high school students in her hometown.

"In Conclusion, Don't Worry About It" is a great book to read before college because it's filled with inspirational tidbits about staying true to yourself, discovering your dreams and path in life, and not getting hung up on a list of accomplishments or self-imposed deadlines.

At a brief 64 pages, this book makes for a quick, inspirational read for any college-bound person.

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

By Kate Hickey


"Have Fun Be Safe I Love You" (2022) feels like a tight, warm hug from a loved one. This book is packed with helpful tips about how to be successful in college, with the overtone of life advice and inspiration from those who love you most.

Kate Hickey's casual tone allows the text to be helpful without feeling condescending or confusing. The book also empowers readers by acknowledging their emotional readiness for college while gently nudging them toward wisdom and advice from college grads, faculty, staff, and parents who've been there.

9. First Year Student to First Year Success: 21 Things You NEED to Know When Starting College

By Tom Krieglstein; Melissa Ruiz, MSW; and Sabina Colleran


Described as "the ultimate college field guide," this 2016 book contains tons of helpful advice, including tips on how to succeed academically, how to make friends, and how to get involved in campus life.

The authors have many years of experience working with college students, allowing them to combine their expertise with what they've heard from learners.

Like other books on this list, you can read this book cover to cover or turn to the chapter that's most relevant to you. Either way, I recommend "First Year Student to First Year Success" for anyone starting college.

10. Seuss-isms! A Guide to Life for Those Just Starting Out … and Those Already on Their Way

By Dr. Seuss


Finally, here's a fun one for the high school graduate.

This cute 2015 compilation contains an array of inspirational tidbits from Dr. Seuss. "Seuss-isms!" is a popular gift for high school grads due to its nostalgic value and funny, witty, and relatable life advice.

While meaningful because of the way it commemorates the transition from childhood to adulthood, this book also lets you see your favorite childhood stories in a new light. It prepares you to take the morals and lessons you've learned into the next phase of life.

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