MEGA UPDATE: I took the idea from this post and turned it into a full-blown section of College Info Geek. Visit the new Essential Books for Students page to find an updated, ongoing list of my recommended reads.
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison
It’s true that we have to read a lot in college. If you’re anything like a typical student, you’re assigned so much reading that you have to skip much of it just to stay sane. However, reading is a great thing to do, and it’s not something that should be placed by the wayside. Video games, TV shows, and parties take up much of the free time we allot ourselves, and as a result we seem to find no time to read outside of classes.
While those activities are fun, I think you should make time to read. Reading material outside of your classes can broaden your horizons and have positive effects that video games and parties could never have. However, there are so many great books out there, and it’s hard to choose which ones to read. In light of that, I’ve compiled a list of the five books that I consider to be “must-read” material for college students. I won’t say these are the best books ever, but in my mind they are the five books that have helped me the most in college.
There’s a reason this book is required reading at many universities (but not mine): It teaches you how to effectively deal with people. I say “deal with people”, not in a condescending way, but in a manner that addresses the fact that most of us are either too busy or too uncaring to be empathetic or effective in our dealings with people. One of this book’s concepts is the “emotional bank account” – it explains that with each interaction with a person we either make a withdrawal or a deposit in the emotional bank account – providing praise, companionship, and help to people can be deposits, while asking for favors or hurting feelings can be withdrawals. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that has relationships with other people! It really changes the way you think about those relationships.
This is easily the quickest read on the list, but it doesn’t skimp on great content. How To Win At College provides 75 tips on how to make the most out of your college experience. You might not agree with some of them – for example, the book recommends that you take an astronomy course while in college in order to get a good foundation in science. While I agree with the premise, I tried taking an astronomy course at the beginning of this semester and promptly fell asleep. Still, the book holds a lot of tips that I loved. Some of them might not be stunning revelations, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t follow them. These include tips like never napping during the day – so many people do it, but when you think about it, it’s a huge waste of time. Other tips – like finding a secret study spot on campus that you use ONLY for big, dreaded projects – were things I had never thought of and have helped me out. The book is also inspirational – the tip, “Always be working on a big project,” inspired me to start this blog. All in all, this is a great book on making college more than just a path to a degree.
The second Cal Newport book on the list, this entry goes into detail on how to be a straight-A student. While How To Win At College provided 75 tips for college success in many different categories, this book is focused solely on time management, study strategies, and writing great papers. The time management strategy laid out in the book is very, very good, although I’ve worked to digitize it a bit as detailed in my first post. The book then goes into strategies on how to study and read effectively by using skimming techniques, the quiz-and-recall method of studying, and taking good notes. Lastly, it details methods on how to research and write great papers. While you may not follow the methods of the book to the letter, it can really help you out when it comes to your actual schoolwork.
- Buy it: How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less
I’m not going to try to construct a “if you read one book…” argument, since I believe that there are plenty of incredibly important books out there; however, I will say that this is undoubtedly the book to read if you’re looking for a job. Many other books will focus on skill development and refining your character, and while those are good, they aren’t as immediately applicable. It will teach you how to look stellar throughout the entire job hunting process. This book goes over revamping your resume and cover letter, how to handle behavioral questions during interviews, how to follow up after an interview, and how to go through best channels when looking for a job in the first place. It also contains an index of “before and after” example of resumes and cover letters from lots of different industries. If you are a college senior, this is the one book on the list you can’t afford NOT to read.
I’m not a programmer, so I’m not sure why this book from the Pragmatic Programmer series initially stuck out to me. However, when I read its description, I immediately wanted to read it. Looking back, I wasn’t disappointed in the least. This book is a gold mine of strategies for learning and retaining information more effectively, and also for learning how to come up with more ideas of your own. A lot of the tips are unorthodox, but they can really work. One such tip I am excited to try is the concept of creating “morning pages”; that is, waking up every morning and immediately writing 2-3 pages, bringing forth whatever is on you mind on the time. The idea behind this is that, when you are asleep, the idea-rich R-mode of your brain is more active than the logical, methodical L-mode that drives most of our routine processes in waking life. When you wake up, that R-mode is still somewhat active for a short time before being stifled by the mundane processes of the L-mode. Morning pages can help document some of the innovative ideas or thoughts that would have otherwise been stifled by the L-mode process of getting a shower and pouring coffee. This is just one of many eye-opening strategies. If you want to learn and think better, read this book and follow its strategies.
There you have it; my list of must-read books for college students. I have a lot more reading on my plate, and I’m sure that I’ll want to change or expand this list in the future. You can check out what I’m reading at my Shelfari page. Add me as a friend if you have an account, and comment on this post if you have any recommendations!