Must Reads for College-Bound Students

Female student sitting on library floor at college campus
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Your high school English class introduced you to the classics, but there's a lot more to college life than the literary canon. Before you begin your college career, take the time to read books that will prepare you for all aspects of the journey ahead, from new roommates to difficult assignments to major life decisions. Not sure where to begin? Start with this list.

The Naked Roommate, by Harlan Cohen

The Naked Roommate book cover

The Naked Roommate is the most obvious selection for any pre-college reading list. Harlan Cohen's exhaustive guide to every aspect of college life addresses everything from passing classes and forming good friendships to doing your laundry and cleaning your dorm room, and doesn't shy away from tough subjects like mental health and STIs. The book is full of bite-sized tips and stories from current students that emphasize the most important advice to remember.  Unlike other college guidebooks, Cohen offers unvarnished truths about the college experience and writes from the perspective of an irreverent relative a few years your senior. Plus, it's a fast, funny read that you can skim in a weekend or flip through all year long. It may well become the most valuable reference book on your shelf.

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman

The Idiot book cover

Elif Batuman's The Idiot captures, with incredible precision, the specific oddities and small victories of life as a college freshman. The novel begins with narrator Selin's move-in day at Harvard and spans her entire freshman year, down to the most minuscule details. "You had to wait in a lot of lines and collect a lot of printed materials, mostly instructions," she says of her first few moments on campus. After attending an introductory meeting at the student newspaper, she describes, with some surprise, the aggressive attitude of one of the editors: the newspaper is "'my life', he kept saying with a venomous expression." Selin's deadpan observations and occasional genuine bewilderment will be relatable and reassuring to any current or soon-to-be college student. Read The Idiot to remind yourself that college culture shock is totally normal.

How to Be a Person in the World, by Heather Havrilesky

How to Be a Person in the World book cover

For most students, college marks a period of major identity development. You arrive on campus and suddenly, you're asked to make weighty decisions – what should I major in? What career path should I choose? What do I want out of life?  – while simultaneously navigating an intense new social environment. Even though so many students struggle with these challenges, it's not uncommon to feel totally isolated in your stress, sadness, or anxiety.  How to Be a Person in the World, Heather Havrilesky's collection of letters from her smart, tender-hearted advice column, will remind you that you're not alone. Here's what she tells a reader who worries about choosing the wrong career: "No matter what you do for a living, the only thing you’ll get more and more and more of is hard work. So figure out what kind of hard work feels satisfying to you." From bad breakups to big career decisions, Havrilesky applies her style of thoughtful reality checks to every issue you might face in college. Consider this one required reading.

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West book cover

Set in an unnamed country closely resembling present-day Syria, Exit West follows the blossoming relationship between Saeed and Nadia as their hometown falls to a brutal civil war. When the young couple decides to make an escape, they enter a secret door and land, magically, on the other side of the world. A slightly fantastical journey around the globe begins. As refugees, Saeed and Nadia fight to survive, build new lives, and nurture their relationship while coping with the near-constant threat of violence. In other words, Exit West tells the story of two young adults whose experiences in no way resemble life on a cloistered college campus, which is exactly what makes it such a valuable pre-college read. College campuses are often insular, and while it's important to immerse yourself in college life, it's equally important to step back from your immediate surroundings and look outward. The situations in Exit West may be so different from your own that they seem to take place in another world, but they don't – lives like Nadia's and Saeed's are being lived now, in our world. Before you go to college, you should get to know them.

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

The Elements of Style book cover

Whether you plan to major in English or engineering, you will have to write a lot in college. College writing assignments differ significantly from typical high school coursework, and your college professors may have higher expectations for your literary abilities than your former teachers. That's where a trusted style guide like The Elements of Style comes in. From constructing strong sentences to making clear arguments, The Elements of Style covers the skills you'll need to ace your writing courses. In fact, students have employed tips from The Elements of Style to improve their writing and raise their grades for more than 50 years. (The guide is regularly edited and re-released, so the content is up-to-date.) Want to get ahead of the game? Read it before your first day of class. You'll impress your professors and everyone at your school's writing center.