15 Books to Read Before College for High School Students and Graduates 📖

As you're entering college, you may be sick of books at the moment. However, these books to read before college are sure to change your mind!

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You probably had to read a lot of books during high school. 

From massive textbooks to literature classics to proofreading essays, you could probably use a break from reading. 😫

Here we’ve gathered a list of books to read before going to university, but you’ll enjoy reading these, for sure. 

Below are modern classics, science made fun, and other titillating stories to consume. 🤪


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So, whether you’re a high school student or freshly graduated— 

Here are the best books to read before college:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is mandatory reading by high school in most of the US public school system, but if you haven’t yet explored this 1960 classic, don’t put it off any longer!

Atticus Finch remains one of the foremost heroes of racial equality and justice, and this book has some disturbing instances of racial bigotry and rape. In a 2006 survey of British librarians, this book also came in as the #1 must-read book of all time. PBS’s The Great American Read voted it as “America’s Best-Loved Novel.”

Find this book on: GoodreadsAmazonAudible

2. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

In Naomi Klein’s multiple award-winning book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, she argues that the biggest enemy to climate change progress and reversal isn’t carbon—it’s capitalism. 

The Western World’s love and reliance on bigger this and better that is bringing about global warming faster than ever before. If we want to properly fight the effects of climate change, she contends, we’ll need to fundamentally alter the way we, as businesses and consumers, operate.

Definitely one of the most important books for high school students to read.

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Related Read: Scholarships 101: Everything Students Need to Know About Getting a Scholarship

3. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is a book by Yuval Noah Harari with a historical timeline of humanity from the “birth” of Homo sapiens to now in the twenty-first century.

Our guide, Harari walks us through our history as a species, but it goes beyond that. He also argues that we may never be able to fully escape social biases, as well as that many distinctly human inventions, such as trade, religion, and politics, owe their existence to our “distinctive cognitive capacity for fiction.”

A compelling book that is as much philosophy as it is science and anthropology.

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4. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

This book may be a memoir, but it’s one of the most captivating, must-read books to read before college.

Tara Westover tells of her story growing up in a paranoid Mormon household with parents suspicious of public school systems for fear of their brainwashing of children. As such, she was homeschooled throughout her childhood until she finally enrolled in BYU.

It’s a story of great psychological suffering, but inspirational for the way that Tara overcomes these various adversities. It’ll definitely make you appreciate the chance to go to university that much more!

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Related Read: 25+ Studying & Working From Home Tips for Productivity and Success

5. 1984 by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel, often written simply as 1984, is the ultimate dystopian novel. Written just over 70 years ago, this novel uses science fiction to contemplate the ruinous effects of totalitarianism, surveillance, and the lack of privacy.

As our world has taken a step back from progress in recent years, 1984 is a good book to scare us straight. Newspeak seems to be a common political rhetorical device these days, and Big Brother seems to be more present than actual biological family members.

Find this book on: GoodreadsAmazonAudible

6. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Written over 30 years ago, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a novel about inexplicable sacrifice, pain, and strength. 

Set after the Civil War in the United States, it’s the story of a woman escaping slavery in Kentucky for Ohio, a free state. However, she gets captured, and, so as her child wouldn’t have to be raised in slavery, she kills her offspring.

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Related Read: How to Use Goodwall’s Web Profile to Score a Scholarship & Get Into Uni

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian book about a world where books are outlawed. “Firemen” burn any books that are found at 451 ℉ or greater, the temperature at which pages can ignite.

This book offers a great philosophical pondering about the suppression of knowledge and ideas. It also provides a compelling argument for the value of free-thinking, liberal-minded friends in our lives, ones such as Clarisse McClellan in this book.

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

As you enter college, you’re most likely also just entering adulthood.

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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Related Read: 25+ Books for College Students to Read in University (2020 Edition)

9. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

As a high schooler going into college, The Catcher In The Rye is a perfect book for dealing with familiar teenage topics such as loneliness, anger, identity, rebellion, sex, and superficiality, among others.

Though Holden Caulfield, the book’s protagonist, goes through a lot of pain and trouble in a short period of time, there is some redemption and happiness at the end. A powerful coming-of-age book which is a must-read for any new adult entering university.

Find this book on: GoodreadsAmazon

10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Britain, where it was first published, this is the first in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Essential reading for its pop culture importance alone, this book sees the poor orphan boy leave his adoptive family for a new world at a new school with new friends and learning about new abilities and the responsibilities which come along with them. Certainly a book every prospective college student can relate with!

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Related Read: 15+ Easy Ways on How to Save Money in College (Tips & Advice for 2020)

11. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Though Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison addresses the issues of African Americans, it is essential reading for everyone for its unique perspective.

In this book, Ellison talks about many issues African Americans faced at the time it was written, 1952, such as black identity and nationalism. Though it was written decades ago, readers will easily be able to apply the lessons and questions in it to the modern day problems and concerns that African Americans, and all minorities, really, face.

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

You might not have reached your twenties yet, but why not get a head start?

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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Related Read: Internships 101: Everything You Should Know About Internship Programs

13. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Often compared to 1984 by Orwell, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is also a dystopian novel about a possible future society (World State) where society is grouped by intelligence and many scientific advancements in reproduction and education abound.

Written in 1931, it seems almost prophetic in nature (which is part of the reason for its comparison to 1984). Many of the technologies and inventions in the book have either become reality or are very close to being so. 

His book offers us a great thought experiment on why we feel as if, though we’re making so many advancements as humans, we’re sliding further from a utopia. A must-read book for anyone in their lifetime, but surely a great book to read to prepare yourself for college!

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14. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace can write. This isn’t just a statement of his ability, but also about how the man doesn’t tire putting one word after another. At well over 1,000 pages, it’s a challenging read, to say the least!

However, it’s also really not challenging at all. As one part comedy and another part philosophy, Infinite Jest is quite enjoyable. You may even wish he continued on!

This book, though fiction, is great for making us question the value of various life pleasures, from entertainment to personal connections.

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Related Read: 25+ Types of Internships to Understand Before You Make Your Choice

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

As a prospective college student, you’ll likely leave 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 on how to make friends or talk to strangers.

However, he does give excellent insight into why some communication works while other forms 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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Well, that’s our list of important books to read before college, and we hope you found it useful and enjoyable! How many have you read? Got any questions, comments, or other must-read books for high school students to add to our list? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

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Christian Eilers
Written By Christian Eilers
is a writer and expert on the topics of education, entrepreneurship, career advice, travel, and culture. On the Goodwall Blog, 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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