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25+ Books for College Students to Read in University (2022 Edition)

Looking for great books for college students to read in university you've come to the right place. here are our top picks for great reads..

Christian Eilers

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You do a lot of reading in college— 

From Microeconomics (10th edition) to checking the style guide in the Publication Manual of the APA to all those flyers posted in your dorm’s common area, you’ve got your hands—er, eyes—full.

Those are all good reads, for sure.


Both fiction and non-fiction, from self-improvement to psychological thriller, we’ve got several awesome college book recommendations for your spare time. 

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Here are the best books for college students to read while attending university:

1. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay

Ever since its publication in 2012, The Defining Decade has become the defining book for all twentysomethings. As we begin this new decade, Meg Jay’s book stays just as relevant. Full of stories from other twenty-year-olds and plenty of scientific research, this is one of the best college books to read for students and young adults. 

“A clinical psychologist issues a four-alarm call for the 50 million 20-somethings in America…. A cogent argument for growing up and a handy guidebook on how to get there.” Kirkus Reviews

See the book on : Goodreads • Amazon Kindle • Audible

2. The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters by Adam Smiley Poswolsky

Adam Poswolsky didn’t immediately realize that his above-average job with excellent pay was actually the cause of so much heartache and trouble for him. In this must-read book for college students, university graduates, and young professionals, he lays out plenty of solid advice for that most-pressing question in your twenties— what to do with my life? 

“With his triumphant The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, millennial Adam Smiley Poswolsky earns his place as a major voice of his generation. Pragmatic, philosophical, passionate, humble, delightfully funny, and infectiously inspiring, Poswolsky is a torchlight for those hungry to craft a more purposeful and rewarding adult life.” Julie Lythcott-Haims, New York Times bestselling author of How to Raise an Adult

Related Read : How to Take Initiative: Definition & Complete Guide for Career & Education

3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This is one of my all-time favorite books, in my top 5 actually, and I believe it’s one of the best books to read during college.

In this 771-page story, Theo Decker survives an accident, but this accident kills his mother. This recalibrates his course in life from an innocent boy to a young man moving through the shady side of the art world. 

Beautifully written—it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014—it’s a perfect coming-of-age story for our times, full of hope, fear, love, anxiety, pain, and identity.  

4. How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less by Cal Newport

This is the first Cal Newport book on our list of best books for students to read, and it’s jam-packed full of helpful advice. How to Become a Straight-A Student includes guidelines on writing A+ exam papers, choosing the right essay topics, and optimizing your study time.

“A smart, concise, fun, and above all informative guide on how to ace college by being smarter about how to work . . . This book is a must-have for anyone who wants to do well at college and enjoy it too.” M. Cecilia Gaposchkin, Assistant Dean of Faculty for Pre-Major Advising, Dartmouth College

Related Read : What Should I Major In? The Complete Guide on How to Choose a Major

5. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Atomic Habits is a great book for college students looking for an action plan on how to improve their lives, break bad habits, and form good habits.

Clear’s book is just that—clear. He takes tough, hard-to-grasp concepts and problems easy to understand and offers some simple ideas for turning them around. Whether you’re suffering from low willpower or struggling to measure progress, this book is for you.

“A supremely practical and useful book. James Clear distills the most fundamental information about habit formation, so you can accomplish more by focusing on less.” Mark Manson, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

6. Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience by Meg Jay

This is Meg Jay’s second title on our list of best books to read in college, and for good reason. In Supernormal , she talks us through adversity, the hidden handicap many of us face by the time we reach adulthood. In fact, according to Meg Jay’s research, she believes 5% of us experience adversity by the age of 20.

In this book, she gives us plenty of stories of regular people just like you, including artists, academics, students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals, and how they overcame adversity through resilience, courage, and strength.

“Adversity is much more common than we think. But so is resilience, as Meg Jay reveals in this remarkable book. With a storyteller’s grace and a clinician’s insight, Jay explains how everyday superheroes triumph over traumas of every kind — and how you can use their inspiration and lessons to transform your own life.” Daniel H. Pink, New York Times bestselling author of Drive

Related Read : 6 College Essay Tips to Help You Write & Ace Your Next University Paper

7. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

As a college student, you might have left the comfort and safety net of your home, family, and childhood friends. Making new friends in university can be daunting, to say the very least. In Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers , he doesn’t give us any answers to how to make friends or talk to strangers. However, he does give excellent insight into why some communication works while others don’t, as well as plenty of historical moments which could have had a different outcome if the parties involved could understand the other side just a bit better.

“Mr. Gladwell’s towering success rests on the moment when the skeptic starts to think that maybe we’re wrong about everything and maybe, just maybe, this Gladwell guy is onto something…Talking to Strangers is weightier than his previous titles.” Amy Chozick, New York Times

8. 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less) by Thomas Frank

In 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades , Thomas Frank goes beyond the common tips for earning good grades. Whether you’re a high school student or studying at university, this is one of the best books to read in college for studying smarter, planning better, conquering procrastination, and staying organized.

Related Read : 15 Best MBA Programs Around the World (MIT, Oxford, Tokyo & More!)

9. Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown

Unless you’ve entered college early like Sheldon Cooper, you’re an adult now. In this book, Ms. Brown gives hundreds of useful life tips for navigating adult situations. Whether you’re renting your first apartment, getting your first job , or trying to network with other newbie adults, this is one of the best books for university students to read, for sure.

“These are the steps I wish I’d had before I grew up. Wait-What am I talking about? These are steps I will start using today! Kelly Williams Brown writes as charmingly and hysterically as she does helpfully. Get this book and grow up!” J.J. Abrams – Writer, Director, Producer

10. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

In this one out of a collection of three in the You Are a Badass series, international traveler and bestselling author Jen Sincero tells it like it is. It’s a self-help book for people who are skeptical of people who read self-help books.

In 27 short chapters, with titles such as “Fear Is for Suckers” and “My Subconscious Made Me Do It,” Sincero gives us inspirational stories, tips for how to improve your relationships, surprisingly insightful advice, and more, all with her signature snark, curse word, and humor.

Related Read : 10+ Best College Tips & Advice to Improve Your University Experience

11. How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country’s Top Students by Cal Newport

In How to Win at College , Cal Newport interviews the best students around the United States in top-tier universities. Their insight, laid out in chapter form, spans topics such as dropping college classes, pulling all-nighters, working on projects, and grade point averages.

“Highly recommended because it is full of practical tips that will help high school grads take the next step in life.” Money

12. A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley

Now an engineering professor, Barbara Oakley once flunked several math and science classes. With her academic background, she becomes the perfect person to empathize with struggling STEM students. In this book, she lets us in on her secrets and solutions to understanding numbers better.

“A good teacher will leave you educated. But a great teacher will leave you curious. Well, Barbara Oakley is a great teacher. Not only does she have a mind for numbers, she has a way with words, and she makes every one of them count.” Mike Rowe, creator and host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” and CEO of mikeroweWORKS

Related Read : How to Make Money in College (25 Ways to Earn Money as a Student)

13. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

This is one of my favorite books of all time, full of hijinks, comedy, and satire. Written between 1928 and 1940 during Stalin’s time in power, it is full of allusions mocking the Soviet Union, and you can get a great sense of life during those times if you can see past the comedy. It’s one of the greatest books in Russian literature, as well as one of the best books of the entire 20th century, which is why it’s one of the must-read books for college students.

“From the first page I was immediately beguiled, leading me to my year of reading Bulgakov, drawing me to venture to Moscow to seek out the landmarks in the book, and the author’s grave, which is steps away from the grave of Gogol.” Patti Smith, The New York Times Book Review

14. Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life by Gary John Bishop

This book is an all-around great read, for college students, high school students, and just anyone suffering from self-doubt. In fact, it even made it onto our list of the best business books to read for entrepreneurs and aspiring startup founders.

In Unfu*k Yourself , Gary John Bishop becomes your personal drill instructor for expanding the boundaries of your self-imposed limits. This book aims to get rid of the toxic self-doubt, lack of motivation, and negativity keeping you down so you can “get out of your head and into your life.”

“If you like your self-help without any BS, look to Gary John Bishop’s Unfu k Yourself, [which] aims to help readers who feel f cked up work through their challenges. You’ll get advice and tools to combat negative self-talk and feel more empowered.” Bustle

See the book on : Goodreads • Amazon • Audible

Related Read : When to Apply for Scholarships? How to Find the Best Time (w/ Tips!)

15. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In This Side of Paradise , the first novel by American literary icon F. Scott Fitzgerald, Amory Blaine is a college student enrolling into Princeton with big dreams and a love interest. It’s a perfect book for college students to read, as most university students will be able to sympathize with the main character, even if it was written 100 years ago.

Those were our top 15 best books to read in college. 

That’s not all! 

Here are more great books for college students to read throughout university:

16. Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School? 99 Personal Money Management Principles to Live By by Cary Siegel

Especially useful if you’re applying for an unpaid internship !

Related Read : 10+ Best Test Anxiety Tips & Advice to Reduce Quiz and Exam Stress

17. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

18. educated by tara westover, 19. lean in for graduates: with new chapters by experts, including find your first job, negotiate your salary, and own who you are by sheryl sandberg, 20. half of a yellow sun by chimamanda ngozi adichie, 21. extremely loud and incredibly close by jonathan safran foer, 22. predictably irrational: the hidden forces that shape our decisions by dan ariely, 23. brave new world by aldous huxley, 24. never let me go by kazuo ishiguro, 25. blink: the power of thinking without thinking by malcolm gladwell, 26. norwegian wood by haruki murakami.

In this 1987 book from the Japanese master, Toru is a college student facing challenges in love and tragedy. As a classic coming-of-age story with Murakami’s signature magical realism twist, it’s a perfect book to read during college years.

27. The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV

Related Read : How to Choose a College: 7 Considerations for Finding the Right University

Well, that’s our list of the best books for university students to read!

Got any feedback, questions, or other great books for undergrads? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

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The 12 Best Books for College Students to Read in 2023

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Preparing yourself for the future can be daunting. In a 2020 College Pulse survey , nearly 40% of graduating college seniors felt unprepared for their careers and life after college.

Whether you want a break from required reading or advice on how to succeed personally and professionally, the following books offer ways to help you navigate these paths. From practical guides, to novels, to memoirs, these 12 best books for college students can help you through your higher ed years and beyond.

$ = Under $10 | $$ = $10-$25 | $$$ = $26-$50

1. The List That Changed My Life

By olivia beirne.

books university students should read

This witty and uplifting 2022 novel follows Georgia, a couch potato who never takes risks. After doctors diagnose her sister with multiple sclerosis, Georgia finds herself thrown far outside her comfort zone while she helps her sister complete her "Before I Turn 30" bucket list.

Balancing a serious topic with irreverent humor, "The List That Changed My Life" will inspire you to make your own bucket list and, more importantly, seize the day.

2. 175+ Things to Do Before You Graduate College

By charlotte lake.

books university students should read

Author Charlotte Lake's unique tips can help make your college years truly memorable.

In this book, you'll learn how to get the most out of your college experience and balance work and play . The short sections walk you through common topics like dorm life, campus activities , exploring your college town, academics, personal growth, and living your senior year to the fullest.

3. The Greatest College Health Guide You Never Knew You Needed

By jill and dave henry.

books university students should read

Brought to you by high school coaches Jill and Dave Henry, this award-winning book should be at every college student's side. "The Greatest College Health Guide" helps you manage your physical and mental health .

With engaging graphics, this quick read equips you with the tools needed to live your best life in college and form healthy habits.

4. The People We Keep

By allison larkin.

books university students should read

Book Riot praised "The People We Keep" as one of the best books of 2021. This inspirational novel follows protagonist April Sawicki as she moves from life in a motorless motorhome to life on the road in a "borrowed" car. Landing in Ithaca, April meets people who feel like home to her — something she's never felt before — and documents her experiences in song.

College students may easily relate to April's experience being out in the world on her own as she forges her identity.

5. Life Beyond College: Everything They Didn't Teach You About Your First 10 Years After Graduation

By kevin p. coyne.

books university students should read

Written by business professional and senior teaching professor Kevin P. Coyne, "Life Beyond College" (2020) helps students understand what to expect in life after graduation. In this book, Coyne explores real-life issues you may face once you move on from college life.

Many graduates feel unprepared for the financial, legal, and personal issues they may face after college. This book provides practical advice to help you succeed and avoid the early mistakes recent grads often make.

6. Educated

By tara westover.

books university students should read

In this bestselling memoir, author Tara Westover takes you on her journey from living with survivalist parents in Idaho to finding a home in higher education. Her quest for knowledge transforms her socially and academically, inspiring those who may struggle with similar obstacles that often seem insurmountable.

"Educated" (2018) embodies grit and is a testament to how you can push forward to achieve your dream.

7. Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

By brené brown.

books university students should read

Written by New York Times bestselling author Brené Brown, "Atlas of the Heart" (2021) walks you through understanding emotions and how to make connections with others . Brown provides the language and tools for developing strong interpersonal relationships — something all students should have so they can forge meaningful relationships in college.

Learning to connect with others is also an invaluable skill when interviewing for jobs and applying for internships .

8. The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us

By paul tough.

books university students should read

A New York Times Book Review editor's choice, "The Years That Matter Most" (2019) navigates the highs and lows of higher education, from choosing to go to college to how to complete your degree.

The book also challenges college's accessibility and affordability and contains relatable anecdotal stories to inspire social change.

9. Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

By dr. julie smith.

books university students should read

Readers agree that psychologist Dr. Julie Smith's international bestseller is a must-have for college students. "Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?" (2022) teaches you how to find motivation, grow confidence, cope with disappointment, and build your grit.

Full of practical solutions, this book can help you develop the self-confidence and resilience you need to survive the ups and downs of college.

10. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

By david epstein.

books university students should read

In this New York Times bestseller, author David Epstein challenges the current philosophy that everyone should be hyper-focused on their studies, skills, and field of study. His research found that top performers, athletes, and even Nobel laureates all began as generalists.

According to Epstein, success from specialization is the exception, not the rule. "Range" (2021) highlights the creativity and agility of generalists, who often enjoy more long-term success in their endeavors than specialists.

11. Indistractible: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

By nir eyal.

books university students should read

Do you have difficulty concentrating in our ever-changing world? Then you'll likely love this book. In "Indistractible" (2020), bestselling author and behavioral design expert Nir Eyal exposes the reasons behind our distractibility and how swearing off technology altogether doesn't work.

The book goes over a four-step, research-backed model readers can use to successfully detangle themselves from constant distractions and to increase meaningful productivity.

12. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

By cal newport.

books university students should read

In "Digital Minimalism" (2019), bestselling author Cal Newport proposes a solution to finding peace in our postmodern, fast-paced world. The book discusses how technology has infiltrated much of our everyday culture. And while it's led to progress, it also comes at a cost: peace.

College students in particular may find this book helpful in rethinking their relationship with social media and technology while reading Newport's 30-day "digital declutter."

Explore More College Resources

10 books to read before college that’ll set you up for success.

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8 Banned Books Every College Student Should Read

The 10 best college essay books to help you write a killer personal statement. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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College Info Geek

Essential Books for Students

books university students should read

I’m big into reading, and since you’re on this page, I’m guessing you like reading at least a little bit as well. This page is an ongoing log of books I find to be awesome or useful.

If you’re looking to create a well-rounded, successful college experience, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

Yep, I put my own book on the list. There might be a bit of hubris involved here, but I'm extremely proud of how this book turned out. Initially, I set out to write a book on how to study efficiently, defeat procrastination, and stay organized - as I wrote, the project became much grander. The final product is a 100+ page book covering 10 different topics that factor into your grades. In addition to the topics I already mentioned, you'll learn how to read textbooks effectively, take better notes, write great papers, eliminate distractions, and more Also, it's completely free.

10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less)

If you're going to college - especially in the U.S. - you need to read this book. I may have graduated with no debt , but the average college graduate these days is coming out of school with around  $30,000  of it. Having that amount of debt will limit your options when it comes to jobs, where you can live, etc. This is  not  how it should be. This is not how it  has  to be. Debt-Free U  will show you how you can go to college and  avoid debt -  even if your family isn't loaded.

Debt-Free U

I love this book like a son. Ok, maybe that's a bit hyperbolic - I'm not cooking dinner for it if it suddenly becomes sentient and tells me it's hungry. But still - this book is absolutely amazing and I'd consider it essential reading for anyone who falls under the category of "human". As it turns out, habits shape much more of our behavior than we realize. The habits we do have largely determine the progress (either good or bad) we make in life. Luckily, the way habits are formed can be understood - which means they can be changed - and The Power of Habit is the best overview of how habits work that I've ever read.

The Power of Habit

Nick Winter is a crazy dude who did a 120-hour workweek , built two successful startups, learned to throw knives, and pledged $7,290 in order to force himself to write this book (and jump out of an airplane). He doesn't really subscribe to the whole, "willpower is a limited resource" ideal - instead, he looks for ways to summon massive amounts of motivation so he can achieve anything. This book is an account of his quest to achieve several crazy goals in a very short amount of time, and it also details his methods for hacking motivation.

The Motivation Hacker

It's over 15 years old now, but Cal Newport's How to Win at College is still one of the best primers for college success I've ever read - especially when it comes to things beyond your grades. It's a short read (I read it in about four hours), split into 75 "tips" that each take up 1-4 pages. I read this book as a freshman, and it's one of the biggest reasons I was so focused on success in college; the book provides a great foundation for becoming a remarkable student and doesn't weigh you down with idle words.

How to Win at College

Whereas How to Win at College is a general, tip-based overview on ways you can become successful in college, this book gets its hands dirty by giving you an in-depth, well thought out method for pulling epic grades in all of your classes. The book is based around that fact that there are many college students who get straight A's, yet don't study for more than a couple hours a day and still have plenty of other things going on in their lives. It lays out effective strategies for note-taking, quizzing yourself, writing papers, and more. If you want to be like one of the aforementioned students, get this book.

How to Become a Straight-A Student

I listened to this book during a six-hour drive to a friend's hometown a few years ago, and I honestly think it changed my life. The habits Covey describes here seem obvious at first, but you'll probably notice that you aren't following all of them. I know I wasn't. Take Habit 5 - Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood - how many of us actually do that? Before reading this book, I would always think very selfishly in my conversations. Whenever I'd listen to someone else speak, I'd listen - but I'd also be actively formulating my (usually self-serving) response and looking for the perfect moment to throw it in.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

No book has helped me more when it has come to getting jobs and internships than this one. In it, author Brad Karsh demystifies the job-hunting process and shows you how to most effectively scout out and land that crucial first job out of college. He goes through writing résumés and cover letters (read: how to make your cover letter not suck ) and even provides a fairly large index full of completed examples of each. Other topics covered are interviews - both job-seeking and "informational" - as well as how to impress gatekeepers, how to follow up an interview the right way, and more. Seriously, read this.

Confessions of a Recruiting Director: The Insider's Guide to Landing Your First Job

Countless teachers, counselors, bloggers, and other people will probably tell you to "follow your passion" - but passion alone isn't going to land you your dream job. Plus, most of us don't even know what our "passion" even is! That's why this book is such a breath of fresh air; Cal Newport counters this "Passion Hypothesis" with what he calls the Craftsman Mindset, which focuses on getting really good at something . Not only will this help you build the career capital you'll need to get hired, but it'll also often lead to true enjoyment in your work.

So Good They Can't Ignore You

I firmly believe that a solid foundation of nutrition, exercise , and sleep will help you succeed in college better than any study hack, which is why I recommend this book. Reading it will educate you on how exercise affects your brain, which in turn will give you more mental ammunition that you can use to shoot down excuses when you're feeling lazy or "busy", and don't want to work out. By the way, how much exercise have you gotten today?

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

I'll come right out and say it; this is hands-down  the best business book I've ever read, and probably the best ever published. It's not because the concepts within are revolutionary or any more detailed than those of any other book - it's because this book is so complete. It is absolutely the place to start when learning about business. Every important aspect of business is covered here - selling, accounting, working with others, individual work strategies, business development, and lots of others. Even if you're not a business major, I'd recommend reading this; you'll get a great overview of how business works and, as a result, become much more valuable to any company you work for.

The Personal MBA

Learning to effectively manage your money should be priority #1 if you haven't done it already. You're most likely in college so you can get a degree and gain access to jobs with greater earning potential; make sure your degree goes as far as it should by learning what to do with the money once you have it. Your Money: The Missing Manual is a fantastic general overview of personal finance, and it'll show you just how to keep those bills in the bank rather than blowing them on random crap.

Your Money: The Missing Manual

This is a great is a great follow-up to Your Money: The Missing Manual, and I'd recommend that you save reading this book until you've read the former. Once you have a solid grounding in personal finance, though, you should start taking the next step and get into investing. The book is a great tool to learn how to do that; it goes over the types of investments - Roth IRA's, index funds, common stock, bonds, the works - and gives a good overview of which ones you'll want to utilize based on your goals and lifestyle.

Personal Investing: The Missing Manual

This is the book that got me into lifestyle design - the idea that we don't have to simply graduate and just get a job, but that we are instead free to pursue the life we want, as long as we can set up the necessary systems to make it work. It also was partly responsible for giving me the confidence to try turning College Info Geek into my full-time job - which worked out 🙂

The 4-Hour Workweek

If you know how the brain works, you'll be better equipped to manage your own and understand the ones contained inside the heads of the people you know and meet. In Brain Rules, John Medina expertly shows us how the brain does things, and lays out 12 rules that form a basis for using that pile of mush more effectively. It's not just an excellent brain book - it's an excellent business book and an excellent college success book as well.

Brain Rules

Companies aren't blowing smoke when they list Communication Skills as the #1 desired quality in college grads - and public speaking is a huge part of that. Confessions of a Public Speaker is a great read if you're looking to increase those vital public speaking skills. Berkun goes over lots of related topics, like gaining confidence as well as using certain tools to help you out (like confidence monitors).

Confessions of a Public Speaker

From the author of The Personal MBA comes a book with... not a single word written by the author. Yep, this book is just a big collection of quotes. That's totally cool with me, though - I think curation is just as important creation . I turn to this book when I need a good dose of inspiration. It also sometimes helps to spice up articles and papers!

Worldly Wisdom: Collected Quotations and Aphorisms

Yes, I'm including this book. Yes, it's essential. Ok, maybe you could argue that it's not - but to me, having a book you can turn to and always get a good laugh is a must. My philosophy on stress management is this: be too stupid to be stressed. That's right, only those who are smart all the time will get really stressed out; taking some time out of the day to turn off your brain and let stupidity take over will keep life fun and stress low.

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth

If you're looking for practical techniques you can use to increase your ability to learn new information effectively, you should read this book. Contrary to what the title would imply, Dr. Barbara Oakley's A Mind for Numbers is applicable to any learning discipline - not just math and science. This book will quickly give you an understanding of how your brain learns and encodes new information, and will also equip you with strategies for learning more while studying less.

A Mind for Numbers

I struggle with having too many interests - and I often fall prey to the temptation to try and tackle them all at once. Of course, this doesn't work; it's as if 15 hamsters in one big hamster ball were all trying to run in their own separate directions. What's more useful is to adopt a philosophy of "Less, but better." Greg McKeown's book Essentialism is an excellent guide to doing just that, and the lessons I took from it have helped me to become a much more focused person.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

This is the best overall introduction to productivity that I've ever read. Other books that you'll see on this list go deeper on specific topics - such as habits or procrastination - but The Productivity Project does an awesome job at giving you practical tips and advice on pretty much all of them. It's a great starting point for becoming more productive.

The Productivity Project

When you have a lot of ambitious plans, it can be really easy to stay constantly future-minded and focused on goals. But as Neil Pasricha points out in The Happiness Equation , the goalposts of our goals often move the moment we achieve them - and the constant pursuit of them can leave us unhappy. This book is a great reminder to prioritize happiness - and it does a great job at serving as a practical manual for becoming a happy person while remaining productive.

The Happiness Equation

One of my biggest daily struggles is focusing intently on my work - and judging by the hundreds of emails I get from students each month, I'm not alone. Deep Work is by far the best and most effective book I've read on this topic, and it's helped me to become much better at resisting the temptation of distractions and remaining concentrated. This is one of my most highly recommended books.

Deep Work

Other Useful Pages:

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17 books you should read before (or at) university – chosen by students

From inspiring novels to frank discussions of sexuality, these are the books students wish they had read to ease the transition to university and prepare for a new stage in their academic and personal lives..

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Carly Minsky

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Forget the piles of textbooks or the long academic reading lists; preparing for university is as much about preparing for a whole new stage of life as it is about broadening your intellectual horizons.

And to help you along your journey of self-discovery, 12 students from Singapore to Germany have recommended the books – both fiction and non-fiction – that they wish they had read to help with their own transition.

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Covering family issues, new friends, mental health, sexuality, study strategies, independence and intellectual inspiration, these are the motivational, provocative and also comforting reads you need on your bookshelf.

Do you agree with this list? Share your opinions or add recommendations in the comments.

17 Books You Should Read Before (or at) University

(Descriptions and student reviews below)

  • What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Teena Seelig
  • The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
  • Picture by Lillian Ross
  • Letters to a Law Student by Nicholas J. McBride
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • Unbecoming by Jenny Downham
  • Sane New World by Ruby Wax
  • I Am NOT Going to School Today by Robie H. Harris
  • How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel
  • The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
  • The Defining Decade by Meg Jay 
  • Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • Before You Leap –  a self-help ‘autobiographical’ book by Kermit the Frog 

Best universities for arts and humanities

1. what i wish i knew when i was 20 by teena seelig.

The executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, Teena Seelig, provides personal stories of people going beyond expectations and challenging the status quo, adding her own advice about how to reach your potential when you transition to a new stage in life.

Recommended by Melisa Junata, a biomedical engineering student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong , originally from Indonesia.

2. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

“I wish I would have read this before embarking on the exciting journey that is studying.”

This collection of personal essays by a recent Yale graduate, published after she died in a car crash, became a best-seller, provoking young people to reflect on what they really want from life.

Recommended by Felix Simon, who is studying for his BA in film and media studies and English studies at Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany.  

3.  Picture by Lillian Ross

“Written in 1952, it is as relevant today as it was in the ’50s and makes you understand how the (Western) film industry really works.”

4. Letters to a Law Student by Nicholas J. McBride

“In this book, the author sets out the various stages in the career path of an aspiring lawyer in the form of answering the letters of a law student. The title of this book is somewhat misleading as he not only answers hard-core law questions but deals with issues prior to the first year at university and explains the transition from A level.

“Much advice is general and so helps aspiring university-goers who will be non-law students. It’s a great book; it taught me organisational skills that are essential to being an independent learner and researcher, taking ‘independent’ to a whole new level of self-motivation.

“The author challenges independent thinking, the reader’s current problem-solving skills and an eye for detail by not just throwing a whole load of theory at him/her, but demonstrating the challenges through exercises at the back of almost each letter. Responses are revealed at the end of the book with detailed explanations as to why the answer is X, not Y. It’s an entertaining read as the language is adapted to a young adult reader, and it departs from otherwise fancy vocabulary associated with adult advice.”

Recommended by Noorin Malik, a law student at the University of Leeds , originally from Germany.  

5. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

“It’s one of the only Young Adult books that covers university life instead of just before or just after! It follows family issues, anxiety and new friendships all throughout the narrator’s first year, and it’s a really easy and fun read. It's a really different view on the typical fiction about university being all drinking and new friends, but is still really optimistic – a must-read for anyone who doesn’t feel like they fit the stereotypical loud, partying university mould!”

Recommended by Katie Hodgkinson, a medical student at University College London.  

6. Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

“It covers so many issues but isn’t an ‘issues’ book; sexuality, dementia, learning difficulties and family issues are all covered sensitively while woven into three beautiful stories from three women in three generations of one family. It gives the holistic view that so many healthcare professionals lose when they’re bogged down in patient statistics and science – that actually, the scientific answer might not actually be the best depending on the personality and history of the person in question.”

7. Sane New World by Ruby Wax

“I’m not big on non-fiction, and I’d never read a self-help book until this one – and I finished it feeling like everyone should have this one their bookshelf. I read it all in one go, but it’s the perfect book to dip in and out of, when you feel like you need it. Going to university, and staying at university, is a really transformative time; and sometimes, we all need a helping hand. This book is really good at offering this in a very non-patronising way, talking about solutions as well as problems. Ruby Wax makes it clear that this book is not just for people who suffer with labelled mental health issues, be it anxiety or depression, but for everyone – because we’ve all felt stressed or isolated or scared, whether it’s about meeting new people, finishing your essay or getting used to a new city with new people. Read it before you go, and then take it with you. A little bit of mindfulness never did anyone any harm.”

Recommended by Laura Warner, studying geography at University College London.  

8. I Am NOT Going to School Today by Robie H. Harris

“I’m pretty sure that my first day at university was far scarier than my first day of school. There was no colouring, no stories, no playtime and no one made me a packed lunch. There was also no one to make me go. We all have memories of telling our parents that, no matter what, we were categorically, absolutely not possibly ever going to school the next day – and then, sure enough, being bundled into the car or on to the bus at 8am the next day. No one’s there making you go to university, you can stay in bed if you want to, and skip the first day. This book that reminds us that the first day is never as scary as we think and that, on the second day, we’ll have friends, we’ll know where places are and what we need to do. It also reminds us that if you need to take a toy monkey with you on your first day, that is OK.”

9. How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport

“This book is a very straightforward guide to university life. It is brief and gives different, clear strategies for studying, preparing for exams, organising your appointments and how to avoid procrastinating . It does so in an easily readable and funny style. In short, the book offers a few simple but effective strategies to get your studying organised, so that you can also enjoy your social life, sleep and personal hobbies to the fullest extent possible in a full academic schedule.”

Recommended by Melisande Riefler, studying at United World College in Germany. She has applied through Ucas for university in the UK.  

10. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

“ The Marriage Plot tells the story of three Brown University graduates, focusing initially on their life at university and then on their life after. This novel gives a refreshing contrast to the typical romantic ending and lets the reader experience the struggles and adventures of three young people trying to find themselves in a complex world. Written in a gripping and beautiful style, with funny and very serious moments, this is a truly enjoyable novel for readers before and after university, those who read a lot and those who read rarely.”

11. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel

“As a social science student, a book I would really recommend is Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel. It gives a really well-structured, easy-to-read introduction to critical thinking and moral issues, and there’s a lot of content in my lectures that reminds me of this book!”

Recommended by Lu Allan, studying philosophy, politics and sociology at the University of Glasgow , Scotland.  

12. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

“We’re often too afraid to ask for help, because to ask for help is to feel like you’re being ‘weak’. So we bottle all of it inside and get stressed out. Amanda Palmer’s book is an honest and genuine reminder to all of us that sometimes, it’s OK to open up and throw yourself into the embrace of family and loved ones. It is a reminder that people care, and we should give ourselves the opportunity to be surprised when help comes from the most unexpected of places.”

Recommended by Nicolette Tan, studying political science at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. She is originally from Singapore.  

13. The Defining Decade by Meg Jay 

“We are the ‘30 is the new 20’ generation, and we’re told that we should explore and make all our mistakes in our twenties, and that it doesn’t matter. As a graduating senior, I cannot help but meet my ‘adult life’ with trepidation and fear. The Defining Decade draws from scientific studies done on twenty-somethings as well as anecdotes and stories from twenty-somethings, and puts together an assembly of information on how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity and even the brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood – if we use the time wisely. A fun, smart and constructive read.”

14. The Bible

“The Bible – a manual for life. Going through different stories in the Old and the New Testament empowers one to make better decisions. Every single thing and situation we see ourselves in growing out of our parents’ home into independence is there: friends’ betrayal (Judas Iscariot), family hatred (Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery; David and Abesalom), fear of the unknown (Jonah), temptation and sexual immorality (Judah and Tamar); rape (Amon and Tamar, who were brother and sister). But then we also have the beauty of friendship (David and Jonathan), the persistence of becoming great (Jacob), never-give-up spirit (Job), united families (Joseph and Mary) and, above all, true love (the love of Jesus towards mankind). So, everything and anything can be found in the Bible. And I’m strongly convinced, irrespective of your religion, that you’ll enjoy it. It’s fun to read! Personally, being a Christian has helped me a lot through my university years to overcome challenges (ie, family, friends, finance, career goals, relationships). I literally owe God my life!”

Recommended by Deborah Busari, studying for a master’s in economics of international business and finance at the University of Reading , UK. She is originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.  

15. Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

“With university providing many opportunities to spend, spend, spend, Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella is a perfect read for every fresher, male or female. The book focuses on Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist whose idea of managing finances is throwing credit card bills under the bed: out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. This pushes Becky into a world of spiralling debt, bank managers and upset – something not uncommon in our credit-obsessed world. I love this book, not because it’s hilarious and extremely relatable, but because it includes hidden stories and meanings behind the well-humoured print. What on face value appears a comic look at the shopaholic tendencies of women actually delves deep into the tapestry of our society, and this is why I think it's an essential read before university.”

Recommended by Olivia Firth, studying management at the University of York , UK.  

16. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

“This self-help book really allows university students to learn how to manage their time wisely. A timely publication that is universally acclaimed.”*

Recommended by Tobias Jones, studying for a master’s in Middle Eastern studies at Leiden University , the Netherlands. He is originally from the UK.

*For a more reliable description of the book, see here .  

17. Before You Leap – a self-help ‘autobiographical’ book by Kermit the Frog

“One book that is definitely a fun read is Before You Leap , a self-help ‘autobiographical’ book by Kermit the Frog. I received this book as a high school graduation gift, and in turn have gifted it to friends for university graduations. Covering topics from romance, to settling into a career and managing your finances, Kermit offers some fun and fresh advice for anyone going through a transitional period in their lives. An optimistic outlook from the swamp, Kermit’s wit and wisdom is more profound than expected!”

Recommended by Amanda Battistuzzi, studying for a bachelor of education at Laurentian University , Canada.

Read more:  Five tips to make the most of your university experience

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10 Books to Read Before College

From gripping memoirs to page-turning novels, these books can make good summer reading for incoming college students.

Teenage girl reading on hammock

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What incoming college students are reading this summer

The summer between graduating from high school and heading off to college can be a great time to relax with a good book before starting the next chapter. In fact, some colleges ask incoming students to do exactly that, assigning the same book across the entire university or within individual majors. Often known as common reading programs, these assigned works are regularly used in freshman -level classes and offer students a chance to come together for an in-depth discussion on a shared text. While some colleges mandate this reading, others merely provide suggestions for students.

Looking for a good book? Check out these selections from university reading programs. These books, some of which are New York Times bestsellers, deal with weighty issues such as political divides, human rights, acceptance of differences and environmental issues.

books university students should read

All We Can Save

"All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis," curated by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson, is a collection of essays, poetry and art by diverse female artists that addresses climate change. Staking the claim that female voices are often not heard in the conversation, the book highlights dozens of those voices. It's the book of choice for the common reading experience for first-year students at Binghamton University in New York for the 2023-2024 academic year.

books university students should read

Be Different

"Be Different: My Adventures with Asperger's & My Advice for Fellow Aspergians, Misfits, Families and Teachers," by New York Times bestselling author John Elder Robison, offers a vulnerable look at the author's childhood and young adult years as someone navigating life with autism spectrum disorder. Robison shares his personal stories and lessons he's learned as a way to advocate for neurodivergent and autistic individuals or anyone who feels different. "Be Different" is the common read for incoming students at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

books university students should read

Braiding Sweetgrass

"Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants" is a collection of essays by Robin Wall Kimmerer that explores the theme of relationships within nature, coupling the author's scientific understanding as a botanist with her outlook as an Indigenous woman. The New York Times bestseller is part of the common reading experience for incoming students at Washington State University for the 2023-2024 year. It was the first book to be used for two years in a row at WSU, and Wall Kimmerer gave a virtual lecture to students and faculty in February 2023. The book is also part of the common reading experience for students at Marist College in New York.

books university students should read

Brown Girls

"Brown Girls," a debut novel by Daphne Palasi Andeades, follows the lives of several immigrant girls who grow up in Queens, New York, and attempt to make sense of the American culture that surrounds them. In this coming-of-age novel, the girls vow to remain friends for life, but as they get older and life pulls them in different directions, tensions form among them. The story depicts the transition from childhood to adulthood, and explores themes of female friendship and of women of color attempting to find where they fit in with society. All students participating in the first-year seminar at City University New York—Baruch College read "Brown Girls" as part of a common reading experience.

books university students should read

I Never Thought of It That Way

"I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times," by Mónica Guzmán, examines potential causes for increases in polarizing political discussions in recent years. A journalist and advocate for depolarization, Guzmán suggests using curiosity to learn and understand different perspectives rather than living in an echo chamber. With the hope of opening students to diverse perspectives and commentary on relevant social issues, Elon University in North Carolina assigned "I Never Thought of It That Way" to all first-year students for the 2023-2024 academic year.

books university students should read

Made in China

At 15 years old, Anna Qu reported her parents to the Office of Family and Child Services for what she said were years of neglect and abuse due to forced labor in a Queens, New York, sweatshop and tough conditions at home. At one point, her parents decided to send her to China in hopes of teaching her a lesson. Now estranged from her parents for nearly 20 years, she requests the OFCS report and realizes some key details are wrong. In her adult life working to forge a career of her own, she reflects on what she believes is a false narrative and reconsiders what she believed to be true about her life. In "Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor," she unpacks her feelings of abandonment and her experiences with abuse while asking questions about trauma, family dynamics and the meaning of work. It is the assigned common reading book for first-year students at Florida International University .

books university students should read

Now Is Not the Time to Panic

"Now Is Not the Time to Panic," by New York Times bestselling author Kevin Wilson, follows two teenagers, Frankie Budge and Zeke, who bond over their creative interests and perceived social status as outcasts in Coalfield, Tennessee. The two anonymously create a poster together with a provocative phrase on it that gets reprinted and posted everywhere, sending the town into panic. Years later, Frankie gets a call from a journalist wanting to investigate the Coalfield Panic. This coming-of-age novel is the common read for all incoming students at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee for the 2023-2024 academic year.

books university students should read

Parable of the Sower

"Parable of the Sower" is a speculative fiction novel set in the early to mid-2020s that follows the life of Lauren Olamina, a 15-year-old California girl who suffers from hyperempathy, where she intensely feels the emotions of those around her. Often compared to other dystopian stories like "1984" and "The Handmaid's Tale," this 1993 novel by Octavia Butler has become particularly relevant in recent years. Water shortages in California, global climate change, economic crises and social chaos permeate the world within these pages, but those in Olamina's wealthy gated community carry on unaware of the perils around them. A New York Times bestseller, the book has been assigned as the campus-wide common reading choice for students at the University of Kansas for the 2023-2024 academic year.

books university students should read

The Movement Made Us

Journalist David Dennis, Jr., wrote "The Movement Made Us: A Father, a Song, and the Legacy of a Freedom Ride" with contributions from his father, activist David Dennis, Sr. Told through the lens of both the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the modern Black Lives Matter movement, this memoir offers insight into the experiences of those fighting on the front lines for civil rights. "The Movement Made Us" has been chosen for the common reading program at Davidson College in North Carolina.

books university students should read

The Nature Fix

"The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative" by Florence Williams investigates the personal health benefits of spending time in nature. A contributing editor for Outside Magazine, Williams says she wrote the book to show how "being in nature actually makes us more human" and can inspire happiness and creativity. Surrounded by the Palouse, a picturesque geographic region in the northwestern part of the U.S., and mountains in the distance, the University of Idaho chose the book for its 2023-2024 universitywide common reading experience.

young woman choosing book in bookstore

Summer reads for incoming college students

  • "All We Can Save" by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson
  • "Be Different" by John Elder Robison
  • "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • "Brown Girls" by Daphne Palasi Andeades
  • "I Never Thought of It That Way" by Monica Guzman
  • "Made in China" by Amelia Pang
  • "Now Is Not the Time to Panic" by Kevin Wilson
  • "Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler
  • "The Movement Made Us" by David Dennis, Jr.
  • "The Nature Fix" by Florence Williams

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Some sample reading goals: 

To find a paper topic or write a paper;

To have a comment for discussion;

To supplement ideas from lecture;

To understand a particular concept;

To memorize material for an exam;

To research for an assignment;

To enjoy the process (i.e., reading for pleasure!).

Seeing Textbook Reading in a New Light Students often come into college with negative associations surrounding textbook reading. It can be dry, dense, and draining; and in high school, sometimes we're left to our textbooks as a last resort for learning material.

A supportive resource : In college, textbooks can be a fantastic supportive resource. Some of your faculty may have authored their own for the specific course you're in!

Textbooks can provide:

A fresh voice through which to absorb material. Especially when it comes to challenging concepts, this can be a great asset in your quest for that "a-ha" moment.

The chance to “preview” lecture material, priming your mind for the big ideas you'll be exposed to in class.

The chance to review material, making sense of the finer points after class.

A resource that is accessible any time, whether it's while you are studying for an exam, writing a paper, or completing a homework assignment. 

Textbook reading is similar to and different from other kinds of reading . Some things to keep in mind as you experiment with its use:

Is it best to read the textbook before class or after?

Active reading is everything, apply the sq3r method., don’t forget to recite and review..

If you find yourself struggling through the readings for a course, you can ask the course instructor for guidance. Some ways to ask for help are: "How would you recommend I go about approaching the reading for this course?" or "Is there a way for me to check whether I am getting what I should be out of the readings?" 

Marking Text

Marking text – making marginal notes – helps with reading comprehension by keeping you focused and facilitating connections across readings. It also helps you find important information when reviewing for an exam or preparing to write an essay. The next time you’re reading, write notes in the margins as you go or, if you prefer, make notes on a separate sheet of paper. 

Your marginal notes will vary depending on the type of reading. Some possible areas of focus:

What themes do you see in the reading that relate to class discussions?

What themes do you see in the reading that you have seen in other readings?

What questions does the reading raise in your mind?

What does the reading make you want to research more?

Where do you see contradictions within the reading or in relation to other readings for the course?

Can you connect themes or events to your own experiences?

Your notes don’t have to be long. You can just write two or three words to jog your memory. For example, if you notice that a book has a theme relating to friendship, you can just write, “pp. 52-53 Theme: Friendship.” If you need to remind yourself of the details later in the semester, you can re-read that part of the text more closely. 

Accordion style

If you are looking for help with developing best practices and using strategies for some of the tips discussed above, come to an ARC workshop on reading!

Register for ARC Workshops

  • Assessing Your Understanding
  • Building Your Academic Support System
  • Common Class Norms
  • Effective Learning Practices
  • First-Year Students
  • How to Prepare for Class
  • Interacting with Instructors
  • Know and Honor Your Priorities
  • Memory and Attention
  • Minimizing Zoom Fatigue
  • Note-taking
  • Office Hours
  • Perfectionism
  • Scheduling Time
  • Senior Theses
  • Study Groups
  • Tackling STEM Courses
  • Test Anxiety

23 Books to Read This Summer

We asked, and boy, did they answer! Library staff share 23 of their favorite summer reads — including novels set all around the world, translated memoirs, history deep-dives, and even children's books — most of which are available through HOLLIS.

Photo of red book 'A Burning'

Immersive International Fiction

A burning by megha majumdar.

"I think the best summer reading is totally immersive, and that’s exactly the word I’d use to describe A Burning. Set in India, it shows how easy it is to get caught up in turbulent forces beyond our control. Cracking it open was like being caught in a swiftly moving stream—the story pulled me along, and I loved every minute of it. (And, the author is a Harvard alum!)"

- Clare O'Keeffe, Editor and Content Strategist

Apeirogon by Colum McCann  

"The story of a friendship between a Palestinian man and an Israeli man who lose children to violence. The narrative is complex and engaging, reflecting on the article’s title, a shape with a countably infinite number of sides, and will pull the reader in many different directions. I enjoyed the many perspectives and different ways the story branched into many spaces, from the story of the fathers to reflections on birds and many other topics."

- Debbie Ginsberg, Faculty Services Manager

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

"A friend recommended this novel, so I thought I’d pay it forward and offer this recommendation too, because I absolutely loved this story about a Japanese American writer on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest, who finds herself drawn into the diary of a Japanese girl in Tokyo when the diary washes up on the beach."

- Jonathan Paulo, Online Learning and Reference Librarian

Woman holding book Eight Lane Runaways

Graphic Novels and Manga

Eight-lane runaways by henry mccausland.

"Even though it’s less than a hundred pages, I still think about this graphic novel often almost a year after I read it. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated surreal story about journeys, about letting go, about taking responsibility, about friendships and relationships, and choosing your own path. I envy anyone who gets to read it for the first time!"

- Katarzyna Maciak, E-Resources Unit

She and Her Cat by Makoto Shinkai (creator) and Tsubasa Yamaguchi (illustrator)

"A simple, beautiful story of Miyu and Chobi, as Miyu learns how to navigate the world as a young adult, and Chobi tries to help, best he can. Much of the story is from the point of view of the cat – a very fun character to follow. The art is light, but suits the story well."

Series of three books

Mysteries and Page-Turners

Bruno, chief of police (series) by martin walker.

“A mystery series focused on Bruno Courrèges, the chief of police (in fact, the only police officer) in the small town of St. Denis in the Périgord region of southwestern France. Walker brings his knowledge both as a journalist and as a resident of St. Denis to these pages, as he explores the culture and socio-economic changes occurring in contemporary rural France. A great way to learn about French culture, and just a good ‘summer read.’”

- Edward Copenhagen, Reference Archivist

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

"The book I'm enthusiastically recommending to nearly everyone I know (and meet). It's an entertaining, 'wait, what?!' page turner to the very end."

- Jane Skoric, Serials Acquisitions and Management

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

"A fun summer beach read that centers topics as diverse as identity, neurodivergence, social status, and family, all without losing sight of what makes a good romance novel."

- Kai Fay, Collections Digitization Assistant

The Girl in the Boston Box by Chuck Latovich

"A well-written, fast-paced mystery with two sympathetic central characters whose stories intersect (hence the subtitle, "A Mystery Times Two"). Part of the enjoyment of the book comes from the way it combines contemporary Boston and Harvard locations with local history, both real and imagined."

- Steve Kuehler, Research Librarian

Woman holding book 'Land of Aeolia'

Land of Aeolia by Ilias Venezis, translated by Therese Sellers

"The author writes of his idyllic childhood summers in Anatolia, before the horrors of WWI, the Greco-Turkish war, and the ultimate loss of his homeland. This is a beautiful novel that transcends language and country and evokes nostalgia for a lost world. I have found some English translations of modern Greek literature wanting in their ability to express the nuances of the richness of the Greek language, but Sellers captures in English Venezis’ playful and magical language beautifully. This is a joy to read!"

- Rhea Lesage, Librarian for Hellenic Studies

The Tender Bar: A Memoir by J.R. Moehringer

"One that I recommend to everyone because I enjoyed it so much. I actually just heard they’re making it into a movie. (We’ll see how that goes!)"

- Samantha DeWitt, Resource Sharing

Histories, Large and Small

The ball: discovering the object of the game  by john fox.

"A light but fascinating read on the history of the ball and its role across many cultures."

- Clayton Scoble, Multimedia Specialist

The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War by Louis Menand

"Menand looks at mid-century America through the lens of the Cold War and how transatlantic thinkers, writers and artists shaped mid-century America. In a dizzying synthesis of intellectual and cultural history, the book hopscotches between George Kennan and the Beatles, Jean Paul Sartre and Bob Dylan, James Baldwin and Betty Freidan, with lively biographies, anecdotes and explanations of even the most obscure concepts (existentialism, anyone?) And my search for traces of our collections at Widener was amply rewarded!"   

- Carol Chiodo, Librarian for Collections and Digital Scholarship

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

"I've read a lot of the information in this book in other places, but this really puts together what the United States looks like from the perspective of many Indigenous people. An important read."

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Non-Fiction on the Modern World

The premonition: a pandemic story by michael lewis.

“A gripping narrative with highly personal stories of committed professionals who passionately pursue the science of communicable diseases and navigate the politics of public health to save lives, sometimes at the peril of their own careers and livelihood. It’s inspiring to see the impact of single individuals, as well as the change that can be achieved when small groups of people come together for common purposes.”

- Michelle Durocher, Metadata Management

Living in Data: A Citizen’s Guide to a Better Information Future by Jer Thorp

"Thorp is a data artist who is probably best known for designing the algorithm to place nearly 3,000 names on the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan. Unlike the breathless urgency that journalists bring to data science, or the dry as dust prose of many data scientists, his thoughtful reflections on our current obsession carry you along like a raft along a slow moving river, reminding you that data representation of any kind is first and foremost a human act with human choices."

Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay

"A really thought-provoking volume that challenges us to recognize and refuse the imperial violence inherent in museums and archives, with a particular emphasis on photographs – not just the content itself, but in the way collections are created, managed and preserved, classified and shared."

- Sarah Demb, Senior Records Manager and Archivist

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Non-Fiction on Nature

Gathering moss: a natural and cultural history of mosses by robin wall kimmerer.

“Creates a beautiful rendition of the world of moss. Kimmerer’s experience as a teacher, scientist and writer of Native American heritage comes through in her writing. Her clarity and enthusiasm are inspiring!”

- Anne Corrsin, Conservation Technician for Special Collections

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

"A treasure trove of practical, heartfelt Indigenous wisdom and insight. I wish everyone hoping to start a home garden could read the chapter 'The Three Sisters.' The subject is the marvelous trio of corn, beans, and squash. The author, an authority on plant biology amongst other topics, describes how the three work and play together. She expertly conveys a sense of the mystery and beauty of the everyday. And in a caring, empathic way, she reminds readers how much we could all still learn from our Indigenous sisters and brothers."

- Steve Shutt, Bibliographic Assistant

Woman holding up book 'Olive, Mabel, and Me'

Olive, Mabel and Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs by Andrew Cotter

"A hilarious telling of how a sports commentator turned his two labs into internet sensations during lockdown. If you’ve seen any of the videos of these dogs, and laughed your butt off, the book provides the same deadpan humor, along with wonderful pictures of dogs and the Scottish highlands. Let’s face it, who doesn’t need a good belly laugh, and pictures of labs?"

- Isabel Quintana, Technical Services Librarian

Family Read-Alouds

Eragon by christopher paolini.

"Beautifully written dragons and magic fantasy, probably appropriate up to mid-teens. Highly recommended by my nine-year-old!"

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

"We lost Eric Carle this year, but his sweet stories accompanied me and my own little caterpillars in their journey to butterflies. This summer I am now reading the board book to a new generation of caterpillars, and at the end of each reading, I thank Eric Carle for brightening our journey."

- Carol Chiodo, Librarian for Collections and Digital Scholarship

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

"An incredibly moving and lovely tale. My kid did not cry – but I sure did."

12 Books Set at University That All Students Should Read

To get you ready for the next three years at uni, here's some books that should be on your reading list...

Billy Picard

How many books have you read that are set at university? Not enough, that’s how many. There’s actually a whole sub-genre (known as the ‘Campus Novel’) that focuses on the lives of both students and professors, ranging from the comic and the bizarre to the more realistic (and even the downright disturbing).

Below are 12 highlights. For each one we’ve included a quick summary of the plot and a bit about why it’s worth a go...

1) Starter for Ten (David Nicholls)


Image via Hodder Paperbacks

What’s it about? Nicholls’ book takes us to an unnamed British uni in the 1980s, where we meet Brian Jackson – a fresher who joins the school’s University Challenge team. We track his journey through first year and the various challenges he faces (not just the ones posed by the Question Master).

Why should you read it? Reading this, you feel a real sense of pride for the national pastime that is University Challenge, but even if you’ve never scored a single point when watching the show (seriously, who has?) Starter is still an incredibly entertaining read. 

2) The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach)


Image via Back Bay Books

What’s it about? A deliciously all-American affair about a college baseball player destined for big-league stardom; we follow Henry Skrimshander through his first year at Westish College on Lake Michigan, where an incident involving a wayward throw threatens both his self-confidence and his future career.

Why should you read it? This character-driven story opens our eyes to the complex world of college friendships as bonds form and deteriorate over and over again. 

3) The Secret History (Donna Tartt)


What’s it about? Protagonist Richard Papen quickly becomes charmed by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, when he first arrives at Hampden College, Vermont. Seduced by their worldly, self assured behaviour, he’s drawn (perhaps a little too far) into their inner-circle, and uncovers some secrets the scholars thought were ancient history...

Why should you read it? A very dark take on the campus novel, this is an exciting read which hopefully won’t be a reflection of your time at uni! 

4) The Rules of Attraction (Brett Easton Ellis)


Image via Picador USA

What’s it about? A whirlwind of everything 80s American, Rules invites us into the drink, drug and sex-fuelled lives of three students at a fictional college in New Hampshire. Morality and modesty go out the window as this dark and funny book leads the reader along an increasingly winding, crooked path.

Why should you read it? Ellis’ book doesn’t let up and is almost a caricature of student life, so it’s pretty fun to see if you can spot people you know reflected in some of the characters. 

5) Changing Places (David Lodge)


Image via Penguin Books

What’s it about? This novel’s all about a six-month academic exchange of lecturers between two fictional unis (which are pretty much based on UC Berkley, California, and the University of Birmingham ). A witty look at two different styles of campus living on both sides of the pond, Lodge’s send-up of academic life and those living it will keep you entertained no matter where in the world you’re studying.

Why should you read it? If you’re finding that life on campus is getting you down and you need a bit of comic relief, Changing Places will cheer you up and get you picturing your own lecturers flung into ridiculous scenarios. 

6) Brideshead Revisited ( Evelyn Waugh )

Brideshead Revisited

What’s it about? Set before the Second World War, Waugh’s classic novel tells the story of Charles Ryder and his infatuation with the fast-changing world of one aristocratic family. The opening part of the novel is set at Oxford University , where Charles studies History (and where he meets the younger son of the family, Lord Sebastian Flyte).          

Why should you read it? This book has received a lot of praise over the years, getting into top 100 lists all over the shop. It’s one that requires a bit of concentration, but it's worth it.

7) Zuleika Dobson (Max Beerbohm)

Zuleika Dobson

What’s it about? Another surreal offering on this list, Beerbohm’s story follows the romantic escapades of conjurer Zuleika Dobson, who causes chaos after entering the all-male domain of Judas College, Oxford.

Why should you read it? The story immerses you in an odd little bubble of Edwardian Oxford; it’s another classic (albeit less well known) novel on our list.

8) Porterhouse Blue (Tom Sharpe)


 Image via Pan Books

What’s it about? Sharpe’s novel takes place in Cambridge University and takes a sly look at the tug-of-war between reform and tradition, when a college master is the first in over 500 years to fail to name a successor on his deathbed. The book takes its slightly disturbing name from the college master’s condition – a stroke induced by overindulging in the college’s legendary cuisine.

Why should you read it? A brilliant look at some the pomposity of old-school academics, this laugh-out-loud novel will keep you looking at your uni experience with fresh eyes.  

9) This Side of Paradise (F. Scott Fitzgerald)


Image via Sribner

What’s it about? This semiautobiographical novel explores the idea of love becoming twisted by greed. The story revolves around handsome and self-assured Princeton University student, Amory Blaine (whom many see as being based on Fitzgerald himself).

Why should you read it? This Side of Paradise makes for an interesting insight into Fitzgerald’s own time at university. Another classy novel from the 20s which throws you into a grand world of academia.

10) Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee)


Image via Disgrace

What’s it about? Set in a technical university in Cape Town, Disgrace sees the life of an English professor fall apart after he forcibly seduces a student. One of the more serious novels on the list, Coetzee’s book is more an exploration of violence than of university life.

Why should you read it? If you want something a bit weightier, Disgrace will certainly be a change of pace from the more light-hearted novels on this list.  

11) The Unseen Academicals (Terry Pratchett)

Unseen Academicals

Image via Doubleday

What’s it about? An utterly bonkers tale from Pratchett (would you expect anything less?) about the un-athletic wizards of The Unseen University, who are forced to put together a football team or face a depleted food budget.

Why should you read it? Unseen Academicals gives readers an escape from the reality of coursework and a window into a much more magical academic world, inhabited by some pretty outlandish characters. 

12) Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)

Norweigan Wood

Image via Vintage Books

What’s it about? Set in Tokyo in the late 60s, Norweigan Wood is a poignant tale of love and loss set against a turbulent backdrop of student protests and civil unrest. At the centre of the story is a love triangle between main character Toru, his outgoing classmate Midori, and Toru’s damaged childhood friend Naoko.  

Why should you read it? Although it’s not the cheeriest novel in the world, Norweigan Wood is a great read (it’s widely regarded as one of Murakami’s best). It also offers an interesting window into what the life of a Japanese student would have been like nearly 50 years ago. 

Like reading? Why not check out these English Literature degrees ?

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5 Books You Should Read As a Student

Posted: May 21, 2021 | Author: Sayre Davis | Read Time: 3 minutes

Books you should read as a student

As Dr. Seuss said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” As a student, you should take this to heart and open your metaphorical bookshelf and start stocking it.

Five Books Students Should Read

Into the wild.

The first book that every college student should read is the novel titled “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer . This book is a true story of a recently graduated college student who most agree is looking for enlightenment. As many of us are looking for something more, so was the main character, Chris McCandless. He went on a journey many of us wish we could, blowing his life savings on a camping van, changing his name, and driving all over the country searching for something more.

As the author, Jon Krakauer, takes us through Chris McCandless's journal, what he learns teaches us all something different. Whether that's what kind of journey you want to take or what is most important to you in your life, this book is inspiring to all.

The Art of Happiness

“The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama is essential not only for college students but for everyone looking to better their life. The Dalai Lama discusses common problems everyone faces such as anxiety, insecurity, anger, and discouragement. Through the Dalai Lama’s difficult life he is never seen without a smiling happy face. He discusses how this is possible in this book and gives simple tips to allow everyone to find this level of happiness.

Through 2500 years of Buddhist techniques and philosophies he gives a simple but helpful condensed version of what he has learned. As a college student finding what makes you happy can be difficult at times. This book has been one that has been proven to help you through those hard times.

The Alchemist

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho is a tale of perilous adventure in a magical world. It is a fiction novel about a young boy who is in search of a treasure that pops up in his dream. After making many great friends and having adventures he arrives at the place in his dreams to find out where his treasure truly is. This book is a fun read and taken literally it means little but when taken in the way the writer intended it teaches us valuable lessons. One of the main ones is to follow your dream even though that journey will not be easy. College students more often than not can always afford a little encouragement and this great read does that.

Green Lights

A book by famous movie star Mathew McCanoughey, “Green Lights” is a book about understanding when you have an opportunity and when to take it. Throughout his entire life, McCanoughey has learned valuable lessons from his father, mother, brothers, and mentors. He shares these valuable pieces of knowledge in a fun and quick read. He speaks to those who are looking to find their true place in the world and no one could need that more than a college student. Reading “Green Lights” gives you a sense of understanding of what makes one's life successful and what it takes to find what is most important. College students reading this book will gain a better understanding of what they want from life.

Reading can be a huge benefit in the life of those who pursue it. If you are a college student looking to find motivation, start with one of the five books above.

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books university students should read

Failure to Disrupt

Failure to Disrupt

Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education

Justin Reich

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ISBN 9780674089044

Publication date: 09/15/2020

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A leader in educational technology separates truth from hype, explaining what tech can—and can’t—do to transform our classrooms.

Proponents of large-scale learning have boldly promised that technology can disrupt traditional approaches to schooling, radically accelerating learning and democratizing education. Much-publicized experiments, often underwritten by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, have been launched at elite universities and in elementary schools in the poorest neighborhoods. Such was the excitement that, in 2012, the New York Times declared the “year of the MOOC.” Less than a decade later, that pronouncement seems premature.

In Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, Justin Reich delivers a sobering report card on the latest supposedly transformative educational technologies. Reich takes readers on a tour of MOOCs, autograders, computerized “intelligent tutors,” and other educational technologies whose problems and paradoxes have bedeviled educators. Learning technologies—even those that are free to access—often provide the greatest benefit to affluent students and do little to combat growing inequality in education. And institutions and investors often favor programs that scale up quickly, but at the expense of true innovation. It turns out that technology cannot by itself disrupt education or provide shortcuts past the hard road of institutional change.

Technology does have a crucial role to play in the future of education, Reich concludes. We still need new teaching tools, and classroom experimentation should be encouraged. But successful reform efforts will focus on incremental improvements, not the next killer app.

As the pandemic forces so many school systems and learning institutions to move online, the desire to educate students well using online tools and platforms is more pressing than ever. But as Justin Reich illustrates in his new book, Failure to Disrupt , there are no easy solutions or one-size-fits-all tools that can aid in this transition, and many recent technologies that were expected to radically change schooling have instead been used in ways that perpetuate existing systems and their attendant inequalities. —Kanwal Singh, Science
In a few dozen pages, Reich lays out the embarrassing cycle of copied ideas, massive hype, enormous wasted funding, and the unmet promises of edtech—why so many innovations and companies find only dramatically downsized and incremental uses, leaving education fundamentally not disrupted over and over again…A must-read for the education-invested as well as the education-interested. —Derek Newton, Forbes
I'm not sure if Reich is as famous outside of learning science and online education circles as he is inside. He should be…Reading and talking about Failure to Disrupt should be a prerequisite for any big institutional learning technology initiatives coming out of COVID-19. —Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Ed
Helps readers understand the systems operating through ed tech over the last 60 years: how venture capital backed technologies fall short of disruption; why people prefer incremental changes in how we learn, rarely transforming pedagogy; that tech—even when it’s free—favors those who already have privilege. —Ki Sung, KQED
His account of digital technology, neither utopian nor dystopian, offers ‘a tinkerer’s guide to learning at scale,’ to fit—not disrupt—the complex system of school and university education. —Nature
Reich is to be congratulated on writing an important corrective to our public fascination with ‘disrupting’ higher education. It is all the more devastating for its even-handedness. There is no cheap online solution to delivering world class higher education that meets our nation’s ideals and needs. Anything proposed to do so runs roughshod over closely held values: rigor, access, equality, and justice. This is a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in the present and future of higher education. —Tressie McMillan Cottom, author of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy
This magisterial book offers a remarkable account of the different approaches to online learning and what can be expected of them. Comprehensive, wide-ranging, and incisive, this book offers a definitive account of the past, present, and future of technology-assisted learning. If you had to pick one book to learn about all things online learning, this would be the one. —Jal Mehta, coauthor of In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School
If you have already decided that educational technology is a utopia or a dystopia, there’s no need to read this—or, indeed, any—book. But if you desire a clear, balanced, and insightful evaluation of the range of educational technologies, Justin Reich’s book will inform and delight you. —Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Technology in learning carries a high cost economically and culturally. In a game of trade-offs between efficiency and human development, research remains the critical lens to guide decisions. This exceptional book is the best resource currently available to guide readers to understanding the failure of technology in classrooms, what needs to be done to make a real impact, and the critical importance of education as community. —George Siemens, Executive Director of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge Research Lab, The University of Texas at Arlington
  • Justin Reich is Mitsui Career Development Professor of Comparative Media Studies and Director of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT. He is the host of the TeachLab podcast and has written about education and technology for Education Week, New Yorker, The Atlantic, Washington Post, and Science .

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The Sentinel State

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  • Must read books for economics students

books university students should read

If you’re curious about the world around us and want to know more about the production, distribution and consumption of wealth, you may be thinking about studying economics.

But before you enrol on an economics course to learn more, it’s a good idea to get a head start on your reading. Not only will this help you decide whether economics is a subject you really want to take, but if it is, you’ll have an advantage over your peers from day one.

From pocket-sized overviews to thousand-page tomes, there are countless books on economic theory and economic history to suit all academic abilities and curiosity levels. But if you’re struggling to know where to begin, this article on the best economics books might help.

What are the top books for economics students?

Some of the best books on economics include ‘The Armchair Economist’ by Steven E. Landsburg, Michael Lewis’ ‘The Big Short’ and ‘The Undercover Economist’ by Tim Harford.

Books like ‘Economics: A Very Short Introduction’ by Partha Dasgupta and Levitt and Dubner’s ‘Freakonomics’ are ideal for beginners, while one of the best-known economics books, ‘An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith, delves into the subject in much more detail.

Read on for our full list of must-read books for people studying economics.

Ten of the best economics books for students

1. ‘an enquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations’ by adam smith.

It may have been written way back in 1776, but Smith’s classic is still widely read and held in high regard today.

As the very first scientific argument for the principles of economics, his book paved the way for all subsequent economic theory – and it continues to be recommended by many economists, historians and entrepreneurs.

While it may not be the easiest read, it’s the go-to book for students who want to understand the early theories relating to the basic mechanics of economics.

By giving theories of capital accumulation, secular change and growth and breaking down the interactions among labour, stocks, commodities, trade and taxes, Smith provides insights into 18th-century economics that remain influential in modern economics.

2. ‘Economics: A Very Short Introduction’ by Partha Dasgupta

As the name suggests, this book is ideal for those who are just looking for a brief introduction to economics.

Much lighter than Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’, Dasgupta’s book is more accessible, describing the lives of two children who live completely different lives in very different parts of the world – the American Midwest and Ethiopia.

Combining examples from everyday life with a global approach, he provides an accessible introduction to key economic concepts, such as national policies, individual choices, equity, sustainability, efficiency, development, markets, property rights and public goods.

This pocket-sized economics book forms part of an Oxford University Press series called ‘The Very Short Introductions’, which aims to make challenging, yet interesting topics highly readable. Some of the other ‘Very Short’ economics books you might find useful are: ‘Microeconomics’ by Avinash Dixit and Robert C. Allen’s ‘Global Economic History’.

3. ‘The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine’ by Michael Lewis

You may have seen the film adaptation of this book, which was met with critical acclaim when it was released at the end of 2015. Starring Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, the film won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

This follows on from the success of the book, which spent 28 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list, was shortlisted for the 2010 Financial Times Business Book of the Year Award and received the 2011 Robert E. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Book Award.

‘The Big Short’ is about the build-up of the United States housing bubble during the 2000s. It describes how several individuals, who believed the housing bubble was going to burst, bet against the market and ended up profiting from the financial crisis of 2007-08, making millions when the market crashed.

4. ‘The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations’ by Jacob Soll

In this book, historian and winner of the MacArthur Foundation’s ‘Genius Grant’, Jacob Soll, charts the development of economics from the dawn of accountancy – with a focus on Western finance.

Rather than giving a technical historical account, it’s more about the social and political side of things, meaning it’s entertaining and accessible for casual readers, while still being of use to scholars and industry professionals.

He writes about the role accounting plays in global affairs, covering periods like the Italian Renaissance, the French Revolution and the financial crisis of 2007-08.

5. ‘Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything’ by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Another one to read if you’re still unsure as to whether economics is for you, ‘Freakonomics’ is amusing, while inspiring you to see the world through an economic lens.

A controversial New York Times Best Seller, it’s sold more than four million copies, making it one of the most popular economics books of all time.

It tells the stories of drug dealers, real estate agents, and covers issues such as abortion and parenting, exploring why people do what they do and how their actions have an impact on the world around them.

The authors’ intent is to encourage readers to consider the data below the surface and look beyond what they’ve been brought up to believe is true about the world around them.

Like ‘The Big Short’, it’s been made into a film, thanks to its relatability with data, human behaviour and lack of business terminology.

6. ‘The Undercover Economist’ by Tim Harford

If you’ve ever wondered why the gap between the rich and the poor is so great, then this book is for you. It reveals how instrumental economics is in our lives and will help you to understand the world around you slightly better.

Relatable and engaging, Harford highlights the relevancy of economics in everyday life, from buying a cup of coffee to sitting in a traffic jam. He exposes coffee shops, supermarkets and airlines from all over the world for the ways in which they convince us to part with our money.

Covering a wide range of economic concepts, such as limited resources, market power, market failure and inside information, this book sheds light on how what’s going on in different industries can shape our everyday lives – without us even realising it.

7. ‘The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life’ by Steven E. Landsburg

Again, this book explains the economics of everyday life in a relatable and amusing way, making it another one of the must-reads for those who want to study economics.

It goes further into the reasoning why certain things are happening in our day-to-day lives, yet manages to remain easily digestible.

Landsburg highlights the laws of human behaviour, explaining why corporations give failed executives huge pensions and why concert promoters increase ticket prices even when they know the gig will sell out months in advance.

Some of the other issues he covers include why cinema popcorn is so expensive and why drivers of safer cars have more crashes. The average person may find this fact surprising, but he explains how airbags cause accidents because drivers who believe they have safer cars take more risks. Economists understand that this is because people respond to incentives.

8. ‘Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist’ by Kate Raworth

If you feel despairing about the world and how economics has failed to play its part, then Oxford academic Raworth might help you to feel a bit more optimistic.

While she acknowledges that mainstream economics, and its outdated theories, have permitted a world in which the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, she sets out a roadmap for how things can be rectified.

Breaking down what really makes human-beings tick, Raworth highlights the far-reaching implications of ignoring the role of energy and nature’s resources.

Ambitious and radical, this book reframes what economics could be to a new generation of learners.

9. ‘Good Economics for Hard Times’ by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

Imploring readers to end polarisation and make informed decisions based on data in order to combat the challenges faced by the world we live in, Nobel Prize-winning economists Banerjee and Duflo upend many traditionally-held thoughts, covering subjects like inequality, immigration, climate change and slowing growth.

As well as covering economic efficiency, some of the other topics they tackle include bigotry, extreme political rhetoric and the fluidity and logic of diverse preferences.

The authors demonstrate how we could have the answers to the problems we so often ignore due to our ideologies. They encourage readers to think from a new perspective, which considers the needs of the individual as well as the good of the whole, in appropriate proportions.

Building on cutting-edge research in economics and years of exploring solutions for how to alleviate extreme poverty, their book makes a convincing case for a society built on respect and compassion.

10. ‘23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’ by Ha-Joon Chang

Chang’s revelatory book identifies some of the biggest myths in society today and turns them on their head, showing us an alternative view of the world.

Some of the concepts he puts forward are that there’s no such thing as a “free” market, poor countries are more entrepreneurial than rich ones, globalisation isn’t making the world richer and higher-paid managers don’t produce better results. He also explains how we don’t live in a digital world, because the washing machine has changed lives more than the internet.

Note that this isn’t an anti-capitalist text, though, with Chang himself stating at the beginning of the book that he believes “capitalism is still the best economic system that humanity has invented.”

Whether you want to dip your toes into the subject before you decide to enrol on a course, or you’ve always known you wanted to be an economics student, there are countless books on economic theories to choose from.

From brief introductions to in-depth volumes, you might feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading material available, but we hope our list of top ten books on economic thought provides you with a good starting point.

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books university students should read

Some books are meant to be reread. Here are 22 that I would turn to again.

Why bother with books that are new — or new to you there’s so much value — and joy — in returning to old favorites..

books university students should read

Most books we read just once. Excepting students of popular culture, who cares about yesterday’s bestsellers? Our thrift stores are awash in unwanted copies of “The Da Vinci Code.” A few books, however, become lifelong companions, works we regularly turn to for comfort, solace, inspiration.

Novelist Ruth Rendell once said that she reread Samuel Butler’s “The Way of All Flesh” every year — until finally switching her annual attentions to Ford Madox Ford’s “The Good Soldier.” Every December more than a few people pick up Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” There are devotees who have practically memorized Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim” or Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”

Yet between the books we read and those we reread periodically, there exists another category: the books we find ourselves crazy about and hope to revisit someday. While these can be recognized classics such as Plato’s “Symposium” or George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” many are lesser-known, even slightly eccentric works that nonetheless spark in us an almost inexplicable delight.

What follows is a list, annotated more or less from memory, of 22 books that enchanted me when I first encountered them and that I look forward to rereading. So take a look — perhaps it includes a favorite title or two of your own.

‘Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse,’ by Hugh Trevor-Roper

Known (and feared) for his intellectual rigor and scathing wit, historian Trevor-Roper gradually unravels the truth about a distinguished British scholar and old China hand, who turns out to have been an inveterate rogue, cheat and forger.

‘Nights at the Circus,’ by Angela Carter

The misadventures and loves of Sophie Fevvers, an aerialist with real wings, deliciously related by England’s greatest magic realist.

The unconventional life of Angela Carter — prolific author, reluctant feminist

‘The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst,’ by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall

An amateur enters a solo round-the-world sailboat race in his trimaran the Teignmouth Electron, begins to cheat and then, somewhere off the coast of South America, goes mad. A gripping and harrowing journey into darkness, reconstructed from Crowhurst’s log by two ace journalists.

‘Death of a Citizen,’ by Donald Hamilton

As a teenager, I devoured the Matt Helm spy thrillers. In this first of a long series, Helm — a former OSS agent now married and working as a professional photographer — must abandon his safe, civilian life when figures from his past call him back into action.

‘On the Shoulders of Giants: A Shandean Postscript,’ by Robert K. Merton

An otherwise serious professor of sociology at Columbia, Merton here goes on a learnedly humorous spree as he traces, with footnotes, the origin and afterlife of Isaac Newton’s famous remark, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

‘Eros the Bittersweet,’ by Anne Carson

Learned, poetic and freewheeling, this philosophical meditation on love and desire established Carson as the most innovative and original classicist of her generation. “On the surface of it, the lover wants the beloved. This, of course, is not really the case.”

‘Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,’ by Richard Hofstadter

When, back in the 1990s, I first read this enthralling, crisply written history of our country’s dismal attitudes toward learning, it seemed to illuminate every aspect of our politics and national character. My guess is that it still does.

‘Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould,’ by Kevin Bazzana

Besides being a great pianist, Gould was deeply neurotic about almost everything, preferred to eat just one meal a day — steak and potatoes — and enjoyed reading serious philosophy. Bazzana’s biography is utterly mesmerizing. As Gould used to say, “One does not play the piano with one’s fingers, one plays the piano with one’s mind.”

‘The Pyrates,’ by George MacDonald Fraser

An over-the-top comic romp sending up every nautical swashbuckler ever published or filmed. Its dramatis personae includes that paragon of English manhood, Ben Avery, the likable scoundrel Colonel Blood and, not least, Sheba, the ultrasexy pirate queen who, anachronistically, favors Gucci thigh-high boots. Written by the author of the racy adventures of Flashman, the Victorian soldier, cad, ladies man and survivalist.

‘Life of Rossini,’ by Stendhal

In another life, I wrote a dissertation on Henri Beyle, a.k.a. Stendhal. Of that endearing author’s lesser-known works, I remember being especially charmed by this hodgepodge of biography, reminiscence and travel guide, a factually unreliable but utterly delightful love letter to Italy and music.

More reviews by Michael Dirda

‘The New Apocrypha: A Guide to Strange Sciences and Occult Beliefs,’ by John Sladek

Revered as science fiction’s most adept satirist and parodist (see his sendup of Philip K. Dick, “Solar Shoe-Salesman”), Sladek here surveys various crackpot cults and pseudo-sciences, outlining their nonsense in a tone alternating between wryly amused and deeply appalled.

‘The Tale of Genji,’ by Murasaki Shikibu

Is this the greatest novel in the world? I pretty much thought so as I read — 30 years ago — the six volumes of Arthur Waley’s pioneering translation, first published in the 1920s and admired ever since for the beauty of its prose. When I eventually return to “The Tale of Genji,” though, I’ll probably switch to Royall Tyler’s more scholarly and accurate version in two fat volumes.

‘Feasting With Panthers,’ by Rupert Croft-Cooke

A sassily irreverent, but informed and informative, survey of the Uranian (homosexual) milieu around Oscar Wilde in late Victorian England. Like the archetypal wit and aesthete, Croft-Cooke also spent time in prison for what was once called “gross indecency.”

‘Invisible Cities,’ by Italo Calvino

In one- or two-page vignettes, Marco Polo describes some of the more fantastic cities of Kublai Khan’s empire. A marvelous prose-poem of a book, William Weaver’s translation is now available in an elegant Folio Society edition that enhances Calvino’s imaginative chinoiserie with illustrations by Dave McKean and an admiring introduction by Jeannette Winterson.

‘Another Part of the Wood: A Self Portrait,’ by Kenneth Clark

Ever wonder about the ultracivilized host of that classic 1969 television series “Civilisation”? Scholar, connoisseur, museum director, television personality, aristocratic socialite, Clark here recalls his early life and those who shaped his mind, including Bernard Berenson. An irresistible memoir.

‘Four Studies in Loyalty,’ by Christopher Sykes

In the best of this book’s four portraits, Sykes affectionately memorializes Robert Byron, author of that seriocomic travel masterpiece “The Road to Oxiana,” which records the journey undertaken by these two friends through 1930s Persia and Afghanistan to research ancient churches and monuments.

‘A Preface to Chaucer: Studies in Medieval Perspectives,’ by D.W. Robertson Jr.

The past is often stranger than we imagine, which is why we need guides like “A Preface to Chaucer” to understand allegory, biblical symbolism and the nature of love in the poetry and art of Europe’s Middle Ages. Similar books include C.S. Lewis’s “The Discarded Image,” Erich Auerbach’s “Figura,” E.M.W. Tillyard’s “The Elizabethan World Picture” and Ernst Robert Curtius’s “European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages.” I could happily reread them all.

‘The Poisoned Chocolates Case,’ by Anthony Berkeley

Who was the intended victim of the deadly box of candy? The stymied police consult the six members of the Crimes Circle, each of whom proffers a different, increasingly more sophisticated solution to the murder. A dazzling tour de force.

‘Paris Journal: 1945-1965,’ by Janet Flanner

Here, in effect, is the you-are-there cultural and political history of post-World War II France, as chronicled by the New Yorker’s legendary correspondent. My copy of the book once belonged to one of Flanner’s friends, the novelist Glenway Wescott, who in an inscription calls it “required reading” for any Francophile. Over the years I’ve occasionally dipped into this National Book Award winner but really should reread it — and its companion, “Paris Journal: 1965-1970” — from start to finish.

‘The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe,’ by Charles Nicholl

The playwright who gave us “Dr. Faustus” — “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?” — underwrote his poetry and plays with a shadowy second career as a spy. Did an argument over a bar bill, the so-called “reckoning,” lead to his death? Or was it a contract killing? The whole world of Elizabethan espionage is brought to blazing life in this true-crime masterpiece.

‘Collector’s Progress,’ by W.S. Lewis

The editor of Horace Walpole’s voluminous correspondence looks back on the fascinating and eccentric people he met — and the books he acquired — as he pursued material by the great 18th-century letter-writer and author of the first Gothic novel, “The Castle of Otranto.”

‘Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man,’ by Thomas Mann

Mann’s last, incomplete novel recounts the adventures of a handsome young charlatan, a non-murderous Tom Ripley, who works as an elevator operator in a grand hotel and seduces and charms his way to success. It’s as effervescent as a bottle of Krug champagne.

More from Book World

Join Book Club: Delivered to your inbox every Friday, a selection of publishing news, literary observations, poetry recommendations and more from Book World writer Ron Charles. Sign up for the newsletter .

Best books of 2022: See our picks for the 23 books to read this summer or dive into your favorite genre. Look to the best mysteries to solve as you lounge by the pool, take a refreshing swim through some historical fiction , or slip off to the cabana with one of our five favorite escapist reads .

There’s more: These four new memoirs invite us to sit with the pleasures and pains of family. Lovers of hard facts should check out our roundup of some of the summer’s best historical books . Audiobooks more your thing? We’ve got you covered there, too . We also predicted which recent books will land on Barack Obama’s own summer 2023 list . And if you’re looking forward to what’s still ahead, we rounded up some of the buzziest releases of the summer .

Still need more reading inspiration? Every month, Book World’s editors and critics share their favorite books that they’ve read recently . You can also check out reviews of the latest in fiction and nonfiction .

  • Main content

I'm a history professor. Here's what students need to know about choosing a major so they succeed in college.

  • I'm a history professor who teaches a careers class for history majors.
  • I've found students are focused on the belief that your major and your future career are linked.
  • Students should choose a major with classes they enjoy and can excel in.

Insider Today

As a college professor , I spend a lot of my time helping young people explore their interests, hone their skills, and prepare for the future. As a professor of history, I also spend a lot of time reassuring students — and their parents , indirectly — that choosing a non-STEM major won't condemn them to a life of poverty. Though I know that's true, this often feels like a losing battle.

Several years ago I created a class at my regional public university in the Midwest for history majors to explore career options. To my surprise, students in the class talked less about future careers and more about the psychological weight of choosing a college major.

After countless discussions about the stress of picking a major, I now emphasize a few things I think college students — and their parents — should keep in mind when choosing a major.

Your college major and your career are less connected than you may think

Much of the pressure and anxiety about choosing a major comes from feeling like you have to decide on a career path at an age when you're still learning who you are. This pressure is unnecessary and often counterproductive. But I understand strong currents are pulling students to think about a college major strictly through the lens of a future career.

Many colleges push for "direct entry" programs where students enroll in a specific major when they apply. Colleges want students in a degree program as quickly as possible because studies suggest this can increase a student's sense of belonging and even their likelihood of graduating. That says more about what's good for colleges than what's best for students — but it also makes 17-year-olds feel like they need to choose a career path at the same time they're picking an outfit for their high-school homecoming.

I'm a good example. I've devoted my career to teaching and writing about history. But at 16 I was planning to study chemistry and become a food scientist. No disrespect to food scientists, but I would've been profoundly unhappy clocking into a lab every day to work on new kinds of margarine.

Choosing a major need not be so stressful. The key is to accept that there's less connection than you might think between a student's major and their long-term career path.

I require students in my career-planning class to ask family and friends with college degrees about their majors and subsequent career paths. Inevitably, students find serendipity in real-world routes through the workforce after college — for example, someone majored in pharmacy science but found they enjoyed working in human resources.

Free from the idea that you're choosing a career when you're choosing a major, you can choose based on your interests and the classes where you excel.

Choose a major with classes you can excel in

Avoid choosing a major that could increase your risk of failing out of college. Leaving college with no degree and a lot of debt is the worst-case scenario; you would've been better off never going to college. But, of course, you can't predict failure.

You do control your major, though, and it's worth thinking about choosing one that minimizes your risk of ending up in the "some college, no degree" category.

Many students focus solely on the average starting salaries for graduates with a particular major. But if chasing a high salary leads you to a major where you struggle in classes, you increase your risk of joining the group of students who begin college but never graduate.

The reasons students leave college without graduating vary. Some are tragic and unavoidable: A parent gets sick and someone needs to drive them to dialysis. Some are silly: A student quits school to focus on getting on a reality-TV show. These are real — but rare — cases.

More common, in my experience, is something like this: A student is joylessly struggling through organic chemistry or intro to computer science. Having been pushed toward a STEM major since middle school, they see failing the class as not just a setback but an existential crisis.

Nonvocational or non-STEM majors are described as risky because you risk low earnings after college. But another way majors can be risky is if they put you at risk of failure before graduation. By choosing a major based on your interests and skills, you lower this risk.

books university students should read

Watch: College is wasting time and money, according to George Mason University economics professor

books university students should read


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9 Books Every Student Should Read Before Starting University

  • Created on July 30, 2021
  • Blog , Lifestyle & career

College and university is a different world from primary, secondary and tertiary school. In college, you will meet people from all walks of life. You will meet people older, younger, smarter than you. University is essentially preparing you for the future workforce. Here are 9 books for students to read before they enrol in college or are in college right now. 

Here are 9 books for students to read before they graduate from college. These books are classified into 2 main categories: Self Help and Novels . Now sit back and let’s go through book by book! 

Self-help books for students 

1 – the power of habit.

This book, written by Charles Duhigg, explores the science behind habit creation and reformation. This book takes you through how to form new habits, and rewrite old habits. You can make dreadful chores become light and easy with the power of habit. Learn how to form new habits and overwrite bad habits. Habits are the reason why some of us can operate certain tasks on autopilot. 

This is extremely helpful for university students who are constantly in a race against time. Forming healthy habits as a student can make everyday life less overwhelming and manageable. 

Read also: How to Cultivate A Good Studying Habit

2 – Make Time: Focus on what matters the most 

‘Make Time is essential reading for anyone who wants to create a happier, more successful life.’ – Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project

This book talks about making small shifts in your environment to liberate yourself from constant busyness and distraction. 

This book can help inspire our college students to learn to ‘make time’ for what matters the most at that point in time – essentially helping you to organise your life and time. 

3 – Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World

Build your dream network , this book will help you to: 

– Determine the most effective ways to connect with others so you don’t clutter your calendar with dead-end coffee dates and informational interviews

– Synchronize IRL networking efforts with your digital outreach

– Turn “closed door” conversations into strong personal relationships and business opportunities

– Eliminate FOMO by keeping your networking efforts focused

Hoey presents innovative strategies for forming strong relationships—the genuine, mutually beneficial, long-lasting kind—using all of the social tools at your disposal. 

As a college student, socialising is an important skill to harness before entering the workforce. This book can give you a headstart in life! 

4 – The Art of Happiness

The Art of Happiness shows readers how to defeat day-to-day anxiety, insecurity, anger, and discouragement. Together with Dr. Howard Cutler, explores many facets of everyday life, including relationships, loss, and the pursuit of wealth, to illustrate how to ride through life’s obstacles on a deep and abiding source of inner peace.

5 – Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

This book is more than just teaching readers how to time-manage. It is a systematic discipline for realising what is absolutely essential and eliminating everything else that is not. This in turn will help us to achieve the highest contribution possible towards the things that truly matter. 

Being college students, we sure have so many things that get in the way of our studies, how do we learn to eliminate the fewer essentials for the more essential? This book might just have all the answers you are looking for. 

Read also: Essentialism: The BEST way to study better before examinations

6 – When Things Fall Apart Heart: Advice for Difficult Times

We understand that being a college student, things may become tougher, stressful and darker for you. You might think, keeping yourself busy and ‘neglecting’ your feelings so you don’t feel the pain, the stress and discomfort, you might want to think twice. 

Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. In this book, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy. If you need something reassuring, here’s the book for you. 

Novel books for students 

For students who are more into fictional books, here are the 3 most popular novel books that you have to read before you graduate from university. 

7 – The Great Gatsby 

You must have heard of The Great Gatsby many times, but have you actually read the book? Do you understand the main point of the Great Gatsby?

The moral of The Great Gatsby is that the American Dream is ultimately unattainable. Jay Gatsby had attained great wealth and status as a socialite; however, that’s not Gatsby’s ultimate dream… 

Read the book to find out more. 

8 – To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird – A very interesting novel, this novel surrounds its theme around the good and evil concept. This book is about a conflict between good and evil. The writer deals with the idea of good and evil by highlighting the transition of Jem and Scout from the perspective of innocence. They believe that people are good because they do not realize the evil side of human nature.

9 – One Hundred Years of Solitude 

A more lighthearted book – One Hundred Years of Solitud e that does not have a deep life lesson to teach you at the end. 

It has a dominant theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude is the inevitable and inescapable repetition of history in Macondo. The protagonists are controlled by their pasts and the complexity of time. Throughout the novel, the characters are visited by ghosts.

In a nutshell, here are 9 books for students to read before they graduate from university. Books are a great way to gain new knowledge and perspective in life. Start reading today! 

I am currently a full-time student studying at a local university in Singapore while freelancing as a writer. I enjoy writing and sharing useful education-related tips with my fellow studying peers. During my leisure time, I enjoy doing creative arts and volunteering work. I am passionate about sharing my experience as a student! ☺

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5 Ways Students Can Boost Their College Applications Over Winter Break

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College Application Essay

Winter break is not just a time for festive celebrations and relaxation; it also presents a valuable opportunity for high school students to make significant strides in building their college admissions profiles. While the holiday season is a well-deserved break from classes, extracurricular activities, and other commitments, strategic planning can set students apart and enhance their college applications. Whether a freshman or senior, high school students should take advantage of their weeks off from school to take stock of the past year and get ahead before the start of the coming semester.

Here are five ways students can use their time during the holiday break to enhance their admissions profiles:

1. 9th-12th Grade: Reflect And Set Goals

Students should begin the break by reflecting on their academic and extracurricular achievements thus far. They can identify their strengths and weaknesses from the fall semester and set realistic goals for the remainder of the school year. Whether it's improving their GPA, pursuing leadership roles, or diversifying their extracurricular involvement, setting clear objectives will guide how they spend their winter break and their spring semester.

2. 10th And 11th Grade: Prepare For Standardized Tests

If a student is planning to sit for the SAT or ACT in the spring, winter break provides an ideal opportunity for focused test preparation. Increased free time and lack of schoolwork can afford students the time to take a diagnostic test to gauge what they need to improve. Sitting for a diagnostic test is time-consuming, but it is the best way to track one’s progress, assess areas for improvement, and build confidence in the testing format. Students should use their results to create a study schedule, find relevant online resources, and decide whether or not they need to enroll in a test prep course. Consistent, targeted preparation during winter break can lead to improved scores and increased confidence.

3. 10th And 11th Grade: Research Colleges And Plan School Visits

The best time for students to tour colleges tends to be in the spring. So, as students narrow their list of schools, they should also work with their parents to plan their upcoming college visits. Students can use the downtime to research potential colleges and universities, considering factors such as academic programs, campus culture, and location. If students are unsure of whether they want to visit a certain college on their list, they can use the break to attend a virtual visit or online Q&A to critically evaluate whether they want to see a campus in person. Engaging with the campus community, even if remotely, can provide valuable insights into a college's atmosphere and offerings. Prospective students can also reach out to current students or alumni in their area for insights.

Best High-Yield Savings Accounts Of September 2023

Best 5% interest savings accounts of september 2023, 4. 11th and 12th grade: research financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

Winter break can be a critical time for students to investigate financial aid options and scholarship opportunities available at the colleges on a student’s list. Students and their parents should familiarize themselves with deadlines and requirements for financial aid—posting a calendar in a visible spot in the house can help families stay on top of dates and deadlines.

5. 12th: Finalize essays

Winter break is the last opportunity for students to polish their personal statements and supplemental essays, as many top schools such as Emory, Columbia, and Princeton require applications to be submitted on or before January 1. Therefore, students should complete initial drafts of their essays at the beginning of their break. Then, they should work with a trusted friend, older sibling, or parent to edit their essays for grammar, coherence, and overall impact. Essays should be written in an applicant’s distinct voice and show a unique personality and perspective. Students should consider reading their essays aloud to their friends or family members to evaluate the flow of ideas and ensure that their voice shines through in a compelling way.

As high school students embark on their winter break, strategic planning will help them use their time wisely and continue to build their application profile. By balancing academic pursuits, personal development, and self-care, students can make the most of this valuable time and boost the strength of their candidacies at their dream schools.

Christopher Rim

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Jesse Wegman

How Are Students Expected to Live Like This on Campuses?

Demonstrators, some holding Israeli flags and wearing the flag’s blue and white. One holds a sign reading, “Empathy on our campus now.”

By Jesse Wegman

Mr. Wegman is a member of the editorial board.

It was a relief to learn of the arrest last week of a 21-year-old Cornell University student for threatening to rape and murder Jews on campus in reaction to the Israel-Hamas war. It was also an easy case: Violent threats against specific people are illegal, and they are dealt with by the justice system, not school administrators.

Easy cases are hard to come by these days, especially at colleges and universities, where the divisions over the Middle East conflict are starker than in any other sector of American society. Examples abound of abhorrent speech by students and faculty members, mostly aimed at Israel, Jews and even Jewish students — and yet abhorrent does not equal criminal. How should a university respond when members of its community express sentiments that are at odds with the values the school is trying to inculcate, not to mention with human decency?

There are answers, and they won’t make everyone happy. They start with a core value that too often gets lost in the heat of these debates: Speech should be presumptively allowed, as a basic principle of free inquiry and academic debate. The details of achieving that may get messy fast, but the goal is fundamental on campuses. While schools have faced challenges like these before, more recent developments in campus politics and civility can help ensure that colleges don’t lose their way or make themselves vulnerable to partisan attacks and regulations.

Unfortunately, the universities themselves have done their part to add to the mess. By taking public positions on some high-profile political issues but not others in recent years, they have exposed themselves to charges of inconsistency and bias. By imposing speech codes that ban what they deem offensive speech without clearly defining it, they have encouraged illiberalism in an environment designed to cultivate the liberal arts. And by relying increasingly on an ever-shrinking number of ultrawealthy donors, they have put themselves at risk of losing huge amounts of money if the donors decide they don’t like what is being said (or not said) in the university’s name.

As a result, many schools have flailed, some more than once, in their attempts to navigate the storms of speech, activism and vitriol that have consumed their communities over the past month. Administrators continue to face intense pressure to make statements and take sides, whether from students, faculty members, donors or lawmakers.

One solution is to say nothing or as little as possible. This is known as the University of Chicago approach, after that school issued a report in 1967 urging neutrality in response to student protests against the Vietnam War.

“The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity,” the university said in the report , named after its principal author, Harry Kalven Jr. “It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.”

That’s easier said than done, as the report admitted. Universities are not sealed off from the wider culture, nor should they be. Still, every institutional foray into politics comes with risks.

“There’s no answer that will please everybody,” Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the Berkeley School of Law and an expert on free speech, told me. “I put out a statement, the first sentence of which said I’m horrified by the terrorism that occurred in Israel. I got called a racist for that statement, because it labels it as terrorism.” He pointed out, however, that silence can speak just as loudly. “I didn’t issue any statement condemning students who defended Hamas. I got criticized for that.”

Mr. Chemerinsky wasn’t complaining about the criticism — he’s heard far worse — but even he was shocked by the degree of antisemitism he has been seeing on campus in recent weeks, much of it without meaningful pushback from university administrators.

At public universities like Berkeley, the First Amendment provides broad speech protections. At private universities, that permissiveness is not constitutionally required, but it is (or should be) part of the academic culture. All schools are obligated to follow Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color or national origin. The trick is in balancing a commitment to open, uninhibited debate with ensuring that students do not fear for their physical safety from those who disagree with them.

That’s why a university’s primary role should be to create a haven — a safe space — for open debate that emphasizes listening and mutual respect, if not agreement. “To be open to both all people and all ideas,” as Suzanne Nossel, who leads PEN America, put it. “The imperative is to make room for vigorous debate, airing ideas that are offensive or make people uncomfortable. That’s imperative in a moment like this. The answer can’t be to shut down that debate.”

True, and yet Jewish students can be forgiven for wondering why they must endure their professors referring to a terrorist slaughter of Jews as exhilarating and their fellow students calling to get rid of the Zionists. In an age of heightened sensitivity to the real harm that speech can inflict, it seems Jewish students are expected to take it on the chin.

The bottom line is that universities undermine their basic purpose if their students feel in physical danger. Administrators can and should speak out in defense of the safety of their students and the values of their academic community, even if doing so means weighing in on a larger political debate.

As colleges and universities have been discovering, a culture of basic respect and listening doesn’t appear magically. It is unreasonable to expect that students barely out of high school, not yet fully grown in body or mind, should just know how free-speech culture works, even as they are entering what for many of them is the most pluralistic environment they’ve ever encountered. “It’s work!” Ms. Nossel said. “It’s the work of democratic citizenry, how we live together and make space for one another’s ideas.”

That’s why it’s important to make it a mandatory part of first-year education, at the least, akin to the way students are trained to spot and prevent sexual harassment and assault.

The point isn’t to engender some vague idea of civility but rather to instill the importance of building a pluralistic society.

Obviously there are legal red lines to a culture of free speech: threats, intimidation and harassment, to name the obvious ones. But universities can add their own limits — for instance, no targeting of specific students or of groups because of identity.

The rules and limits are likely to be different based on regions and varying campus cultures, but they should err toward permissiveness, and they should be clear and consistent and be communicated in advance. That will give students the opportunity to learn while at school and to consider the ramifications of their speech not just in the school environment but also in their lives after graduation. (The recent warning by a group of top law firms that they will not tolerate a history of antisemitic or anti-Islamic behavior from applicants for jobs should stand as a reminder to students of the real-world consequences of their campus behavior.)

Schools must also make it clear to donors that their contributions cannot have political strings attached. Two recent cases in which donors or lawmakers objected to the hiring of Black journalists as tenured faculty members — one at the University of North Carolina and the other at Texas A&M — illustrate how corrupting it is to a university’s core mission when outsiders with money or power control academic decisions.

Finally, lawmakers who control the budgets and agendas of state universities need to respect the same educational goals that academic leaders do, especially because these institutions educate far more students than elite private schools do. This year, to cite one prominent example, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed three bills that restrict certain topics from being taught — including theories of racial history — and prohibit campuswide diversity statements. Several Republican members of Congress have introduced a misguided bill in the House to cut funding for colleges that allow what is loosely defined as antisemitic speech on campus, including claims that Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own nations.

Lawmakers — no less than donors, administrators, educators and students — have a role to play in fostering the sort of culture that universities are uniquely suited to embody, and that is a building block in the maintenance of a free, pluralistic society.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram .

Jesse Wegman is a member of the editorial board , where he has written about the Supreme Court and national legal affairs since 2013. He is the author of “Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College.”


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