25+ Books for College Students to Read in University (2020 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.

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.

However— 

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

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

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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

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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.  

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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 Unfuk Yourself, [which] aims to help readers who feel fcked up work through their challenges. You’ll get advice and tools to combat negative self-talk and feel more empowered.”

Bustle

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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.

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

But—

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!

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17. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

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18. Educated by Tara Westover

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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

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20. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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21. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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22. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

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23. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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24. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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25. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

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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.

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

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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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Christian Eilers
Written By Christian Eilers
Christian Eilers is a writer and expert on the topics of education, entrepreneurship, career advice, travel, and culture. At Goodwall, he covers topics including self-improvement, social impact, college preparation, career development, climate action, and more. Christian is originally from New York City and now resides in Warsaw, Poland. At his desk, you're sure to find Pickwick, his Devon Rex cat, either attacking his fingers as he types or the monitor as the mouse pointer moves around.

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