The Best Podcasts for College Students
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Published on April 24, 2020
One of the best parts about college is having interesting conversations with interesting people about interesting ideas. Podcasts package that experience into grab-and-go portions. Just by listening, you can connect to broader discussions and gain new perspectives that will help inform your studies.
We combed discussion boards and top 100 lists, and consulted podcast aficionados on the BestColleges team, to find the best podcasts for college students. The shows we selected combine vibrant storytelling with insights on student life, real-world issues, and money.
Another benefit for college students: podcasts are (mostly) free. All of our recommendations are free to download to your device, allowing you to listen offline at your leisure. Podcasts can fit neatly into your commute, but also make great company while doing chores or working out. And because many of our top picks have impressive back catalogues, get ready for a good binge.
Jump to the Best Student Podcasts by Category
Student Life Hacks
The College Info Geek
Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
Productivity hacks, studying tools, thoughts on the best reading position — "The College Info Geek" is equal parts educational and entertaining, thanks to the cheerful collegiate snark of its co-hosts, Thomas Frank and Martin Boehme.
Get stuck in with "Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?", an episode that explores the personal utility of answering the cliched question. But never fear — this isn't a podcast for students who have everything figured out. Quarter-life crises, meandering career paths, and burnout are also on the agenda.
Tiny Leaps, Big Changes
How to Overcome Procrastination
We've all heard the idiom, "Rome wasn't built in a day," but the second half of the idiom is more meaningful: "but they were laying bricks every hour." While personal development is a hefty subject, making changes and achieving goals is actually day-to-day work.
That's the premise of "Tiny Leaps, Big Changes," a podcast by Gregg Clunis. The focus is broad, covering wellness (start meditating), work (stop procrastinating), and wisdom (balance your rational and emotional minds). But the advice and the run time are both bite size: Clear the clutter from your workspace. And listen to this 15-minute podcast.
Get started with the five-episode series "How to Overcome Procrastination." Understanding why we procrastinate — lack of interest plus lack of confidence — is a revelation in itself.
TED Talks Daily
Why It's Worth Listening to People You Disagree With
You know about TED Talks — the conference series on technology, entertainment, and design ("TED") that morphed into a diverse, hugely influential media organization of online content, independent events, AND even a prize and fellowships. The podcast "TED Talks Daily" distills its incredible repertoire of talks into generally short (about 10 minutes) audio hits.
Timely information and inspiring ideas straight from experts — there are worse ways to spend 10 minutes. Start a positive new habit by tuning in every morning, or while you eat lunch. New episodes are released every weekday. Or get started with one of the show's most-downloaded episodes, "Why It's Worth Listening to People You Disagree With," in which once-student activist, now author Zachary R. Wood, encourages thoughtful engagement with controversial ideas.
How To Do Everything
F-Bombs, Chicken, and Exclamation Points
If you're in the market for "really random, awesome new knowledge," as one fan of the podcast puts it, then queue up "How To Do Everything." Hosts Mike Danforth and Ian Chillag (producers of NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!") answer listener questions ranging from the small (opening a loud Velcro bag — they talk to a military textile expert) to the dire (finding water in the desert.) And if the hour-long running time of most podcasts doesn't suit you, you'll appreciate the concise 20-minute-ish episodes.
The show ended in 2016, but its 200-plus episodes and timeless subject matter should keep you entertained. Case in point, "F-Bombs, Chicken, and Exclamation Points" teaches three enduring life skills: how to find alternatives to the F-word, cook chicken, and stop using exclamation points!
Stuff You Should Know
What Is the Gig Economy?
At once academic, funny, and mellow, "Stuff You Should Know" hashes out a staggering variety of obscure topics. The explanatory conversation between Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant covers historical curiosities, explores disarmingly simple questions ("How Coyotes Work"), and follows strange things to their odder ends. Take for example, "How Cult Deprogramming Works."
"Stuff You Should Know" has been going strong for over 10 years and continues to release three new episodes a week, growing their 1,000-plus back catalogue. For a relevant first listen, check out "What Is the Gig Economy?" The episode explores the past incarnations and present complexities of app-based side work.
Adulthood Made Easy
Dr. Meg Jay on Why Your Twenties Matter
For many, college is the bridge to adulthood. But crossing it does not automatically make you feel like an adult, ready to take on the job hunt, manage finances, and cook dinner. "Adulthood Made Easy" offers a primer in just over 100 episodes.
The show is gently tilted toward female listeners, with episodes about the expense of being a bridesmaid and "Why You Need a Feminist Fight Club." But the show's larger focus is on taking care of life's little (dating, money, life purpose) questions, applicable to all. Take "Dr. Meg Jay on Why Your Twenties Matter," in which host Sam Zabell talks to a noted clinical psychologist about the lifelong impact of choices made as a 20-something.
How to Focus While Reading
"Life Kit" host Allison Aubrey breaks down life's big little questions, like whether you should date your co-worker and how to buy a car. With a diffused focus on money, work, personal betterment, and parenting, the show may appeal most to returning or nontraditional students who have already started their careers.
"Life Kit," generally released twice weekly, is also highly responsive to breaking news, doing deep dives on timely issues. Expert-informed perspectives help you decide what you should do now given the complex reality we live in. Some of the most useful episodes are the ones that respond to high-level issues dredged up by current events. A current example: "How to Focus While Reading."
Reading the news today, it's hard to know what's true or false. The same is true with history. The historical events we all take as common knowledge are often shaped by political agendas, and because of this, we may fail to learn important lessons about the modern day.
In comes NPR's popular podcast, "Throughline." The goal of this podcast is to show the deeply interwoven nature of history and the present, and to challenge conventional historical perspectives on seminal periods and events throughout history.
For example, in the episode, "1918 Flu," co-hosts Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei explain how — despite being known as the Spanish flu — the virus had probable American origins. The episode goes on to explain how the global pandemic was politicized in much the same way as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Freakonomics Goes to College, Part 1
The 2005 book, "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything," ignited the blogosphere and hit #2 on The New York Times Best Sellers nonfiction list. Co-authors Stephen J. Dubner and TK treated a far-ranging set of subject matter to economic theory, finding new insights into everyday phenomena and niche activities — from sumo wrestling to drug dealing.
The podcast version, "Freakonomics Radio," hosted by Dubner, has been going strong since 2010. The show explores the underside of current issues (will COVID-19 result in a baby boom?) and interrogates policy, systems, and the vaping crisis. To get your mind blown close to home, sample "Freakonomics Goes to College, Part 1," A.K.A., "Is College Really Worth It?"
You're Wrong About
Consider everything you think you know. Then, turn it on its head. That pretty much sums up the podcast, "You're Wrong About." Co-hosted by journalists Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall, you are sure to have your conventional wisdom challenged by this hard-hitting podcast that investigates the truth behind the headlines.
The episode, "Human Trafficking," is a good example of how what we take to be fact — like the crisis of human trafficking — is actually not what it appears to be. Like many highly politicized issues, public hysteria fueled a panic of "stranger danger" proportions that simply isn't supported by facts or data.
Bad With Money
Jagged Little Bills
As host Gaby Dunn puts it in the book version of her podcast "Bad With Money," "Welcome to the first honest conversation about money you've ever had."
Start with season one, a primer on everything Dunn didn't know about money, wealth, and student loans. In the first episode, "Jagged Little Bills," Dunn exposes the money talk taboo by asking everyone in a coffee shop what their favorite sex position is, then how much money is in their bank accounts. Dunn's thesis: Stigma stifles information.
Getting information about money is the podcast's quest, as Dunn breaks down retirement plans, needlessly complex financial jargon, and what exactly a stock is — all while centering financial inequality and social justice.
A New Way To Pay For College
Among the stupefyingly complex economic events of our time, the subprime mortgage crisis of the late-Bush, early-Obama era is a stand-out. In 2008, an episode of "This American Life" demystified the ongoing crisis for general audiences, then inspired a podcast of its own. Get started on "A New Way To Pay For College," a deep dive into income-share agreements.
"Planet Money," true to its inaugural episode, explains financial riddles and current economic events with color, simplicity, and human focus. Even the show's smaller revelations, tangential to the episode's theme, astound: Gift cards are 0% interest loans that customers give to companies. The rotating cast of NPR hosts also unearths historical precedent (carriage tax as the first tax on wealth) and investigate lucrative business, from Danish sperm banks to investor-funded lawsuits.
The College Investor Audio Show
How To Find Grants To Pay For College
Zoom in on college students' most pressing financial topics with "The College Investor Audio Show" hosted by Robert Farrington. A "millennial money expert," Farrington built the College Investor brand to help students get out of debt and start building wealth.
Quick-hit, almost-daily podcasts deliver the headline stories from The College Investor blog. Learn common sense investing strategies alongside ways to reduce college costs and diversify your income streams. Check out "How To Find Grants To Pay For College," an episode that explores the "free money of college tuition."
Just for Fun
Chatty, earnest, as ready to pursue ridiculous truths as cable TV jokesters are to pull a prank, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman tell stories about people and the internet. Put broadly, "Reply All" explores all the interesting ways those two things come together. The show started in 2014, a spin-off of sorts from the hosts' earlier effort, "TLDR," another deep dive into the internet age.
Get hooked with "Long Distance," in which the hosts track down a tele-scammer from India. Things escalate so much they wind end up in India meeting the guy. Other topics that first obsessed them, and then obsessed listeners: a pop song no one remembers, a camera left in a New York City cab, and the market for hacked Snapchat accounts.
Blueprint for Armageddon
History — if the subject brings to mind an aging historian, discussing dry and dreary matters in droning monotone, you may be floored to encounter "Hardcore History" by Dan Carlin. Carlin is not an academic. He holds a bachelor's degree in history, but had a career as a radio host before launching his mind-blowingly popular podcast series (and their spinoffs).
From Spartan battles to biblical coups to the Nuclear Age, Carlin questions the known and assumed by asking far-out questions. "Blueprint for Armageddon" reflects on world war in the 19th century, its massive cultural and technological transformations and its unique horrors.
Carlin's absorbing "theater of the mind" story-telling style makes history come alive for even non-history buffs. The podcast is for all, but not all of it is free. Some topic series and extra material sets cost $5-$10 on Carlin's site, or you could snap up the entire podcast collection for $75.
A Penetrating History of F*%k
Interested in the evolution of cuss words, the Southern accent, the death of language? Check out "Lexicon Valley," a linguistic podcast from Slate, the online current events magazine. The podcast's exploration of language roams between the minute and bizarre (the origin of slang terms for male genitalia) to the vast: To what extent does the language we use shape our world?
English, in all its incredible irregularity, provides plenty of fodder for the show's clever investigations, but the trip isn't constrained to Anglophone countries. The show's host, linguist John McWhorter, also explores the shared roots of Arabic and Hebrew, and the tonal languages that by and large developed in the world's hot, humid climes.
Menu Mind Control
A gastropod is a mollusk, often seen beating a glacial retreat from nibbled garden veggies, a sticky trail left in its wake. In short, a slug or snail. Gastropods, from the Greek "stomach foot," are so called because they effectively scoot around on their bellies.
Now, deep in quarantine, you may relate. But who wasn't already a foodie, at this point? Sample the food/history/science podcast that is "Gastropod" to bone up on the culinary knowledge that gives you a right to the name — foodie, not gastropod. Co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley explore polarizing flavors (licorice, kimchi), strawberry fumigation, how menus manipulate, and the rise of the bagel in America.