The inevitable consequence of achieving success on a standardized test – whether it be the SAT, ACT, MCAT, GMAT, or another of the test that we cover – is having to attend college. As you prepare for your standardized test, take some time to learn about or renew the experience of attending college with our editors’ Top 10 List of the Best Books for College Students.
Even though experiences at, say, medical school may differ from those at, say, business school, at its essence attending college employs many of the same fundamental experiences. There is the anticipation of beginning a new program, the anxiety of studying for exams, and possibly the experience of falling in love and the inevitability of falling over drunk. We hope you will enjoy one or more of the following titles – let us know if you have any feedback or suggestions!
Our list of the best books for college students begins with the enjoyable and highly entertaining Starter for Ten, the first novel by the fantastic David Nicholls (which has also been made into a movie). This book about a fish out of water follows the tale of Brian Jackson, a working class kid, who enters university. Brian’s ultimate desire is to be on a university quiz show, and possibly to land the beautiful (and posh) Alice, but alas life for Brian is anything but easy. This satirical book illustrates Brian’s repeated mishaps and misunderstandings and provides a hilarious look at everything that can go wrong at college.
Entering college, for some, is an opportunity to experience an entirely different life from the one you had at home. Such is the case for Richard, the narrator of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History who befriends an elite group of students studying Classics at a small college in Vermont. Richard’s new friends represent a moneyed, secretive yet charming group of individuals who stand in sharp contrast to our hero’s own humble background. Slowly, Richard is pulled into the complications of his new friends’ lives, irrevocably changing the course of his own life in the process. If you’re wondering what life in college in a small town is like, this is one of the best books for college students that details this kind of experience.
This story, another strong contender from our list of the best books for college students, is about a girl entering her first year of college who, in her own words, describes herself as “scared about everything” and “a complete disaster”. Fangirl follows the adventures of socially inept Cath, who would rather write fan fiction than attend a drunken frat party. As with many coming-of-age stories, Cath falls in love and experiences family drama, but what makes this book unique is Cath’s true to life experiences as a social misfit at college as well as the ultimate recognition she receives of her talent for writing. Rainbow Rowell’s mastery of true-to-life dialogue immerses the reader in often hilarious tales of real-life (not candy coated) college life experiences.
“Sensitive reader, start not at the apparition! Oxford is a plexus of anomalies.” And Oxford’s anomalies are presented in all their glory in this satirical novel by Beerbohm. This book focuses on Zuleika Dobson, the granddaughter of the Warden of Judas College, Oxford, who has decided that a woman of her beauty can only love a man impervious to her charms. As the male body of Oxford falls under her charms – and vow to die to seek Zuleika’s love – this bizarre and satirical tale delights with its fanciful and whimsical charms of college life at Oxford.
In a poignant first essay of this book, the author Marina Keegan observes that the Opposite of Loneliness is her life at Yale. Keegan wrote this and a series of other essays and fiction that make up this book while a student at Yale. The book embodies not only life as a collegiate but also reflects on what a young person wants from life. Tragically, Keegan was killed in a car accident five days after graduating at the age of 22. Nonetheless, her beautiful prose lives on in this rare book that honestly portrays life at college and beyond.
Is life at college really a mishmash of sports and sex with academics thrown in on the side? Tom Wolfe – he of The Bonfires of the Vanities fame – seems to think so as he follows the life of new college student Charlotte Simmons. Charlotte enters fictional Dupont University (allegedly based on Duke U) a naïve and poor student on scholarship and soon becomes embroiled with an elitist frat boy, a working-class intellectual, and a jock. She experiences sports and love affairs (not necessarily in that order) and academics on the side transforming from naïve to an elitist. Written in intricate detail, this voluminous novel portrays life at college as a soap opera but it is a fascinating, page-turning read. It’s a long book, but we enjoyed every page of it and certainly felt that it deserves a firm spot in our Top 10 of the best books for college students.
A recent college graduate at the time he wrote this book, the brilliant American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis weaves a tale about three privileged, self-absorbed college students engaged in a love triangle. In Rules of Attraction, students Lauren, Paul and Sean spend their time in emotional, physical and chemical excess forgoing all sense of responsibility and squandering their wealth and youth. A dark novel about the college experience that stays with the reader even after it is over.
Set in a renowned writing school, All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Samantha Chang weaves the tale of poetry students Roman and Bernard who vie for the attention of their charismatic professor Miranda. The book realistically portrays the world of graduate school and the sacrifices people must make for their ‘art’. A haunting novel that reflects not only the college experience but also the price of success.
Another tale of an outsider joining ranks with the elite, I’ll Take You There follows the unnamed narrator’s journey as she joins a sorority at a college in Syracuse. The poor and geeky narrator is thrown into the midst of a pool of rich and beautiful girls who make up the sorority and who ultimately reject the narrator. She goes on to fall in love with one of her fellow students and experience devastating heartbreak before eventually coming to terms with her family. I’ll Take You There presents a raw portrait of a vast range of college experiences.
Does the fantastic have as its context the mundane? That is the premise of this book – the final pick on our list of the very best books college students should read – which retells the Scottish ballad of Tam Lin in terms of life at a liberal arts college in the 1970s. English major Janet Carter befriends a group of classicists at college and the book details the minutiae of her life at college. An excellent look at the daily life of college with an element of fantasy tacked on. Enjoyable and mystical at the same time.