12 College Application Books to Help You Get Into Your Dream School

College applications can be nerve-racking. Check out some great books to help you put your best foot forward when applying to your dream school.

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by Kim-Ling Sun

Updated September 12, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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12 College Application Books to Help You Get Into Your Dream School
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Applying to colleges can be daunting, especially when trying to earn a coveted spot at the school of your choice. Students preparing for college often panic when it's time to apply to their dream school.

With the right resources and adequate planning and perseverance, you can rock the application process, even if you're the first one in your family to attend college. According to 2016 data from Statista, 74% of first-generation students got accepted into their first-choice college.

So how can you ensure you get in? One way is to read a top-rated college application book.

What Is a College Application Book?

A college application book provides you with guidance for completing the college application process. These books can be comprehensive or focus on individual parts of the application process.

College admissions have significantly changed over the past 25 years. With upcoming SAT changes, COVID-19, and the increasing number of test-optional schools, application books are especially beneficial in helping you prepare.

If you're the first one in your family to go to college, or if your parents or guardians are far removed from the admissions process since they attended, college application books can help you understand college admissions and even raise your chances of getting into your first-choice school.

The 12 Best Books to Read for College Admissions

Everyone can use a hand in getting into a school that's the perfect fit for them. Discover 12 great college application books that can help you when applying to your dream school.

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1. The Fiske Guide to Colleges

By Edward B. Fiske


The leading guide to four-year schools, "The Fiske Guide to Colleges" (2022) has been one of the go-to books to prepare for college over the last 40 years.

In this guide, you can find a quiz to help you determine what college is the right fit for you and a list of programs and majors with overlapping listings to broaden your options.

You can also find detailed information on the colleges, including financial aid and acceptance rates.

2. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, 5th Edition: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice

By Staff of the Harvard Crimson


The essays in this collection helped their authors secure admission into Harvard and demonstrate various points you can use to impress with your own essay. In addition to real application essays, this book contains invaluable tips for standing out to admissions officers.

The collection highlights common essay pitfalls and sets students up to write stellar essays. "50 Successful Harvard Application Essays" (2017) is an excellent tool for students who don't know where to begin.

3. Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions

By Jeffrey Selingo


New York Times Notable Book of 2020, "Who Gets In and Why" (2020) reveals the inner workings of the college admissions office. This invaluable insider information offers surprising strategies that can aid in your college search.

According to author Jeffrey Selingo, knowing your college's admissions agenda may help you find the right fit and market yourself in your application.

4. College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay

By Ethan Sawyer


Written by the famous College Essay Guy, this book not only contains tons of essay writing tips but also includes writing exercises to help you craft the perfect essay. "College Essentials" (2016) also walks you through selecting an essay structure and revising and editing your application essay.

5. The College Bound Organizer: The Ultimate Guide to Successful College Applications

By Anna Costaras and Gail Liss


This No. 1 bestseller presents your need-to-knows and must-dos in a helpful workbook format. "The College Bound Organizer" (2017) prepares you to build a profile, develop a balanced list of schools, and secure letters of recommendation.

It also goes over how to complete applications and develop your essays.

6. The Kids Who Get In: A New Authentic Approach to College Admissions

By Daavi Gazelle


Daavi Gazelle's essential guide aims to provide readers with a stress-free approach to the application process. "The Kids Who Get In" (2020) offers 20 successful applications from students through an admissions officer's eyes, highlighting the process's dos and don'ts.

Gazelle demonstrates that by highlighting real aspects of yourself, you can still be admitted without a 4.0 GPA or a laundry list of extracurriculars.

7. Valedictorians at the Gate: Standing Out, Getting In, and Staying Sane While Applying to College

By Becky Munsterer Sabky


Written by a former Ivy admissions director, this book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the admissions process. It addresses prospective college students and offers empowering advice while including humorous asides, avoiding the usual hum-drum reading found in many college application books.

Throughout "Valedictorians at the Gate" (2021), Sabky guides students to find the perfect fit for them — not where others think they should attend.

8. Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania

By Frank Bruni


The goal of New York Times bestseller "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be" (2016) is to center both parents and students during the frenzied, terrifying, and sometimes devastating process of getting into college.

Reminding readers that where you receive your degree doesn't solely determine your future success in your career, Bruni works with readers to take the anxiety out of the college application process.

9. The Black Family's Guide to College Admissions: A Conversation about Education, Parenting, and Race

By Timothy L. Fields and Shereem Herndon-Brown


This soon-to-be-released book (Sept. 2022) provides great insight to readers into the application process for Black families. Fields and Herndon-Brown strive to address concerns often neglected by school counselors and college application resources.

"The Black Family's Guide to College Admissions" also includes a list of best colleges for Black students, FAQs, and information on recruitment in specialized fields, athletics, and the arts.

10. Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps

By Alan Gelb


A top seller in the college prep category, "Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps" (2017) prepares you to craft a memorable personal statement.

Gelb's encouraging step-by-step instructions educate students on how to find an engaging topic and use creative writing to bring their statement to life beyond the typed page. The book also guides readers in crafting supplemental and waitlist essays.

11. The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education

By Eric J. Furda and Jacques Steinberg


Written by two leaders in the field, this book assists parents and guardians in the conversations needed between them and their college-bound students. The five sections of the book walk you through how to have discussions and guide your students through the college discovery process and the search for the perfect school.

"The College Conversation" (2020) then helps with having conversations about submitting applications, making the hard decisions after the admissions process, and preparing students for a smooth transition to college.

12. On Writing the College Application Essay: The Key to Acceptance at the College of Your Choice

By Harry Bauld


Though many find writing the college essay to be the most stressful part of the application process, "On Writing the College Application Essay" (2012) aims to provide prospective students with an insider's guide.

In this book, you'll learn to discover your authentic voice. Bauld provides students with tools to help them find original entry points into their essays and even advises them on what topics to avoid.