Thursday, April 18, 2024

12 Best Books for College Students: 2024 Must-Reads

Find life hacks and out-of-the-box ideas in these pages.

What’s the shortest way to absorb the wisdom that took others years to gain? Reading books, of course. 🤓

Book authors, especially of the self-help genre and thought-provoking fiction, are often subject matter experts hashing out tried-and-tested insights. As such, their books become handy go-to gurus for your questions about life, career, and everything else in between. 

Itching to fill your bookshelf with the keys to your success in college and beyond? Explore the pages of these 12 best books for college students and check out our top tips to easily create a reading habit that sticks. 💯

1. Deep Work by Cal Newport 🧑‍💻

A yellow cover of Cal Newport's book entitled, "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World"
Learning how to gain the superpower of focusing without distractions makes this one o the best books for college students. Photo: Cal Newport

The biggest obstacle you’ll face in college may not be a terrifying professor but the hundreds of distractions around you. That’s where Cal Newport’s Deep Work comes to the rescue.  

Packed with principles and strategies for different lifestyles to do their best work efficiently, this book can take you from average to A+ status. Plus, mastering the skill of laser focus sets you up as an exceptional employee or entrepreneur after college. 💯 

💡 Best for: Students struggling to focus, students juggling multiple responsibilities 

2. Atomic Habits by James Clear ⚛️

Your college years can shape your direction in life, so learning about how habits work during this time can be your golden ticket to achieving your goals.

Sticking to your student budget or getting in shape becomes easier with James Clear’s Atomic Habits wisdom. The book is an ideal guide to help you embody ideal traits and make small yet steady steps toward your goals. 🪜

One of the best books for college students, this nonfiction gem is full of easy-to-understand scientifically backed concepts on building and breaking habits.

💡 Best for: Students who are committed to improving their personal and professional lives

3. A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley 🔢

Dr. Barbara Oakley explains how she went from flunking math and science to getting a PhD in engineering in this nonfiction guide, making it one of the best books for college students sharing the same struggle.

Think you’re hopeless at math? Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers will make you rethink and realize that you’re not so slow after all — you just practiced the wrong learning approach. 

This is a must-read because it teaches you the right way to learn numbers-based subjects, outlines how the brain remembers new concepts, and prescribes varied study strategies like chunking and spaced repetition. It’s not a purely academic book, though; Oakley recommends prioritizing fun and rest, too. 😴 

Good to know: This book also has an online course version called “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” on Coursera. 😄

💡 Best for: Students struggling with STEM courses and learning tough concepts

4. Discipline is Destiny by Ryan Holiday 🏇

Mastering self-discipline can make success flow easier, and that’s what happens after reading one of the best books for college students written by Ryan Holiday.

Wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice — these are Stoic values taught in Ryan Holiday’s stories of popular and historical figures. 

His book Discipline is Destiny is perfect for students aiming to strengthen self-control based on understanding how discipline (or lack of it) shapes their future. For example, having friends who slack off isn’t an excuse for you to do the same. Becoming better requires you to keep showing up daily, even when it’s hard. 💪

💡 Best for: Students who want to become self-disciplined

5. Educated by Tara Westover ✏️

Reading the best books for college students can speed up the transformative power of education. 

College comes with a set of challenges: new complex concepts to learn, peers with different worldviews, and financial concerns. But the pressure is amped to a hundred when you’re a first-generation student coming from a fundamentalist survivalist family just like Educated’s author, Tara Westover. 

Her memoir offers solace to students juggling family trauma and higher education challenges, guiding them to empowerment through college. After everything she’s been through, she completed her Ph.D. in Cambridge — standing as a powerful reminder that despite hardships, life can take a turn for the better. ✨

Good to know: This book is a multi-award winner recommended by former US President Barack Obama and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. 🏅

💡 Best for: First-generation college students 

6. 1984 by George Orwell 👁️

A paperback book of 1984 by George Orwell resting on a wooden table
Reading 1984 can give college students the opportunity to learn empathy and exercise creativity. Photo: Depositphotos

Treat your shelf with one of the classics — George Orwell’s 1984 was published in 1949, but its warnings about totalitarianism, language manipulation, and herd mentality are timeless. 

This is one of the best books for college students that can help you spot similar issues in real life, such as harmful propaganda in the form of deceptive news. This dystopian masterpiece sharpens your critical thinking, a handy skill for navigating both Orwellian nightmares and everyday life. 👍

💡 Best for: Political science students, English literature students, and people of voting age

7.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey 💯

A yellow and white book cover of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
When shopping for the best books for college students, get at least one guide on the must-have character traits to help maximize your potential. Photo: FranklinCovey

You don’t have to scour every interview or biography written about the most highly effective people to learn from the greats. Instead, read Stephen Covey’s book that explains the whats, hows, and whys of the habits of successful people. 

Despite its publication in 1989, this classic still applies to modern times as it covers must-have principles. You’ll learn about the habits of being proactive and starting with the end in mind, along with many other lessons that have withstood the test of time. ✨

💡 Best for: All students, especially those in student leadership roles

8. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman 🧠

Your selection of the best books for college students must have at least one that discusses the psychology of decision-making that can help you stay focused on your goals.

Do you still remember how you decided to choose your college major and made other big life decisions? 🤔 Psychologist and Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote about people’s thought processes in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

You’ll discover the brain’s two modes of thought and the mental shortcuts, fallacies, and cognitive biases affecting your ability to make decisions. Awareness of these can set you up to get an A+ on research projects and secure the best scholarship deals. 😄

💡 Best for: All college students

9. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

College prepares you for certain careers, but it’s up to you to create a lifestyle that you’re contented with by reading the best books for college students and learning from the lives of other people.

A four-hour workweek may not be achieved with back-to-back classes, extracurriculars, and a part-time job, but reading this book can teach you a thing or two about efficient systems that allow you to hustle and still enjoy your life. 🥳

Core lessons like eliminating distractions and creating your idea of success can save you the heartache of living a career and lifestyle that doesn’t feel right. Remember, the book’s title is just a guide that can help you identify and take action on the things that truly move the needle toward your goals. 💯

💡 Best for: All students, especially aspiring entrepreneurs

10. I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi💰

You can combine entertainment and financial education when you watch the Netflix version of Ramit Sethi’s bestselling book. 

Budgeting, saving, and investing can seem too scary or tiring, but Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich gives you a system and actionable advice to make money management easy. 💵

You’ll learn money lessons that aren’t taught in school, like the smart and responsible use of credit cards, making the most out of your bank accounts, and investing made easy. Plus, this New York Times bestseller adds a timeline of six weeks to apply these lessons. 

💡 Best for: All kinds of students, especially those studying business and finance 

11. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 🌄

“The Alchemist” initially failed to sell, but gained traction and was eventually translated into 80 languages and found its way into lists of the best books for college students curious about how to live their lives.

Ever noticed how your big ambitions from childhood tend to disappear as you reach adulthood? Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist explores that and related themes about your life’s purpose through a shepherd’s journey to finding his treasure. 

The protagonist’s story of persisting in adversity and observing the highs and lows of his path can inspire college students to enjoy each lesson and experience that comes with completing their degree. 🧑‍🎓

💡 Best for: Students seeking inspiration and direction in life

12. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 🕯️

The best books for college students give you the lowdown on reality and equip you with the right tools to grow through it all. 

Keeping up with college demands and finding a suitable career can have you feeling like your back’s against the wall. If you’re feeling stuck with self-defeating thoughts, you might find valuable insight from the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.

His memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, highlights how your mindset determines whether you stand or fold, especially during tough times. This book reminds you of your power to choose your response to external events and come out stronger. 💪

💡 Best for: All students, especially those studying history and psychology

5 Top Tips to Build a Reading Habit

A female sophomore reads one of the best books for college students on her bedroom floor beside her bed stacked with four other books
Aside from supporting your personal development, reading books can also help you relax after tiring back-to-back classes. Photo: pvproductions/Freepik

1. Schedule It 📅

Creating a habit requires consistency, so carve out at least 15 to 30 minutes daily for reading. It can be before you start your day or before your bedtime. Don’t sweat if you can only read for five minutes or less at first — you’ll get better over time. 

2. Get a Buddy 👥

What’s the best way to make lessons stick after reading one of the best books for college students? Share it with others! Schedule discussions with your book club or find someone equally curious as you about the same topics to keep you on track. 😄

3. Set a Goal 🎯

This one’s straightforward: set a target number of pages or books to read for a specific period. Join reading challenges or gamify your habit with progress bars, time pressure, or feedback loops to make it more active and sociable. 📊

A male freshman reads one of the best books for college students he found in the library
Visit libraries, bookshops, or your friends’ bookshelves to find something that piques your interest. Photo: Freepik

4. Read Books You Actually Like 📙

There’s no need to feel ashamed if classic novels like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice put you to sleep. Instead, find a genre you find enjoyable. Browse discount bookshops or your campus library or watch Booktubers like Jack Edwards and The Book Leo for recommendations. 

5. Eliminate Distractions 🙅

Design your environment to reinforce your budding interest in reading. Make a cozy sitting space, brew coffee or tea, and avoid social media notifications to dedicate the time and space to reading a book. 📲

7 Benefits of Reading Books

An Asian female sophomore reading one of the best books for college students while sipping coffee during breaktime
Taking the time to read books puts you in a relaxed state that helps you become a better college student. Photo: pressfoto/Freepik

Reading Strengthens Your Brain 💪

Just like how muscles need to be exercised, your brain can benefit from some heavy lifting. Reading turns the gears in your mind as it processes and interprets the meaning from texts, opening up your mind to new perspectives or strengthening knowledge. 💡

Reading Improves Communication Skills 🗣️

Books are a goldmine of varied sentence structures, new words that can better capture what you mean, and different angles toward a topic.  These can help you write tighter sentences in your college essays and become a more effective storyteller. 💎

Reading Improves Your Focus 🧐

One minute of scrolling through social media can have your brain easily consuming (and forgetting) hundreds of different topics. On the other hand, well-written books zeroing in on one topic can keep you engaged for longer periods, give your brain the space to properly digest new information, and make you more likely to remember them. 🧠

Redheaded male reading one of the best books for college students from his e-book reader while seated on the communal sofa
Want to make reading a habit? Put all the best books for college students in a handy e-book reader you can bring anywhere and store without the hassle. Photo: Freepik

Reading Helps You Gain In-depth Knowledge 🤔

Discovered a fun fact on social media and want to dig deeper? Books and scientific journals are your best friends that can give you comprehensive and contextual information. Plus, these publications have gone through meticulous editing and are fact-checked for reliability. 😄

READ MORE: 8 Best Tips to Evaluate a Website’s Credibility (And Ace That Paper!)

Reading Relaxes You 😌

Bright lights, colors, and sounds every few seconds from your phone — you won’t find that when you read books. Research shows that reading can lower your heart rate, ease tense muscles, and boost mental health. Plus, another study claims that reading reduces stress levels by 68 percent. 😲 

Reading Boosts Empathy 🫂

Whether it’s thinking like a CEO, a wartime survivor, or a fictional shepherd, books help you empathize as you put yourself in another person’s shoes. That skill of understanding others comes in handy to form good relationships that improve your well-being. 😄

Reading Prepares You for a Good Night’s Sleep 🛌

Ditch your phone at least an hour before bedtime for quality rest so you won’t fall asleep in class the next day. Instead, help your brain unwind by reading a good book (preferably fiction) after a long day of responsibilities — just like the 42 percent of people who reported improved sleep after reading. 


Don’t limit your knowledge to your major — explore the best books for college students to get to know yourself better, build expertise in your interests, or simply relax after a long day of classes. 

Remember, it’s not a competition on who read the most books, but it’s all about who took action from what they’ve read. 💪

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