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Articles / Admissions / What kinds of books should I be reading to prepare for college?

May 25, 2020

What kinds of books should I be reading to prepare for college?

Question: What kinds of books should I be reading to prepare for college?

College involves a heck of a lot of reading requirements. Your question can be answered on two levels: books to read for freshman English classes and books to read for helpful general knowledge. Let's start with English class.


You have no doubt read a number of the classics for your high school English courses. The exact titles you'll need to cover for college won't be known until you see the course reading lists for the school you attend. You should, however, continue to read in, in your spare time, titles that are in the standard literature. I'm thinking of the works of such authors as D.H. Lawrence, Herman Melville, Anderson, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Nabokov, Bellow, James, Twain, Dickinson, Norris, Dreiser, Crane, Frost, Wharton, and Cather, to name just a few.

Poetry is important too. Poets such as Eliot, Pound, Williams, Stevens, Hart Crane, and Marianne Moore should be on your list. Reading both novels and poetry at this level has other positive side effects in addition to giving you a jump on freshman English. You'll also build your vocabulary. Remember, vocabulary is built over many years. It's not the kind of thing that can be crammed a week or two before the SAT.

More practical knowledge can be had from any number of sources. One problem that persists with high schoolers today is a lack of writing skills. Good writing is writing that is easily understood. If you want to read easily accessible samples of good writing, look up some essay writers. Essay writers appear every day in the local newspaper, people like Andy Rooney, the late Erma Bombeck, George Will, Mike Royko, and those of similar motivation. These syndicated authors offer their observations on the elements of everyday life. Their statements can be humorous, controversial, or touching.

Try to emulate their style. It will serve you well when it comes time to write your college application essay or that first composition for freshman English.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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