15 Titles to Help Students and Families With College Prep

These 15 titles represent some of the most practical, detailed, clear, critical, and diverse perspectives on picking, achieving, and living the dream that is higher education today.

College preparation has become something that parents and students start thinking about in elementary school. The college admissions season now extends through the final two years of high school for most students and their families. Ever-mounting evidence shows that a college degree is one of the primary determinants of future economic success for most young Americans. These realities have caused the college search process and the first-year experience to loom ever larger in our collective consciousness and in our library collections. The COVID-19 pandemic’s upheaval of the higher education system in the United States and the scandals of selective college admissions have only increased the need for clear explanations, wise counsel, and fresh insights into college selection, as well as surviving and thriving in university life. These 15 titles represent some of the most practical, detailed, clear, critical, and diverse perspectives on picking, achieving, and living the dream that is higher education today.



For Students

Brenner, Andrea Malkin & Lara Hope Schwartz. How to College: What to Know Before You Go (And When You’re There). St. Martin’s. 2019. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781250225184.
With sidebars full of helpful fast-facts information; tasks for before, during, and after the college move-in day; and advice from recent freshmen, this is a practical guide to achieving, surviving, and rocking the first-year experience. This book provides tools and encouragement for living the dream once a student achieves the dream of getting into the college of their choice.

Corey, Barry H. Make the Most of It: A Guide to Loving Your College Years. Tyndale House. 2020. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9781496436580.
Addressing the spiritual side of the college experience, Corey advises on staying true to Christian values while relishing new adventures and opportunities. In a time when parts of society seem plagued by a general distrust of academia, this sincere book reminds its readers that college can be a time of profound spiritual growth and of discovering one’s purpose.

Henry, Jill & Dave Henry. The Greatest College Health Guide You Never Knew You Needed: How to Manage Food, Booze, Stress, Sex, Sleep, and Exercise on Campus. Skyhorse. 2021. Tr. $16.99. ISBN 9781510759091.
Despite some rather obvious advice in spots, this engaging, funny, and honest health guide to the college years is recommended for its much-needed, no-holds-barred (almost TMI) approach to talking about safety in drinking and intimacy. The authors address nutrition, self-awareness, and self-respect; healthy sleep and stress management; and enjoying the party that is college without letting the party take over.

LaRoque, Perry. Taking Flight: The Guide to College for Diverse Learners and Non-Traditional Students. Morgan James. 2020. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9781642796063.
In addressing topics such as the concept of disability, self-expression and advocacy, college bureaucracies, roommates, and having fun, LaRoque uses humor, anecdotes, and frank advice to encourage students with learning differences to survive and thrive in college. There is more here than just academic counseling, and the information provided can be useful to many new freshmen who aren’t considered to have special needs.

Lieberman, Susan A. Crack the Code: A Guide to College Success for First Gens. Y Collaborative. 2020. pap. $6.26. ISBN 9781735460505.
Available as a free ebook on the book’s website (firstgencollegesuccess.com) or for a nominal price in paperback via Amazon, this book by accomplished author and professor Lieberman is an accessible guidebook to first-generation college student success that prioritizes the voices of first-gen alumni. From the preface of aphorisms and encouragements described as “The Whole Book Right Here,” to the repeated been-there-done-that personal advice, the enthusiasm here is infectious.

Loucks, Eric B. The Mindful College Student: How to Succeed, Boost Well-Being & Build the Life You Want at University & Beyond. New Harbinger. 2022. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9781684039135.
This is an accessible introduction to meditation techniques and mindfulness specifically tailored to the stresses of living and learning on campus. The information here can be found in similar books, but the author of this one knows and compellingly engages his audience. There is much here that is helpful, beyond the target audience of college students, to any young adult making their way in the world on their own.

Mora, Jessica Ilayalith. Spread Your Wings and FLI: How to Effectively Navigate College as a First-Generation Low-Income Student. New Degree. 2021. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781636769158.
Developed from the author’s dissertation, this in-depth look at first-generation low-income student experiences at elite universities offers both anecdotal inspiration and practical advice for success that students can implement from their first day on campus. Mora emphasizes the diversity of the FLI experience but also encourages these young adults to develop communities based on their common concerns and priorities.

Sabky, Becky Munsterer. Valedictorians at the Gate: Standing Out, Getting In, and Staying Sane While Applying to College. Holt. 2021. Tr. $24.99. ISBN 9781250619037.
This book is yet another insider’s view of the college admissions process, but the author uses her experience as an admissions officer at highly selective Dartmouth to provide a balanced and student-focused perspective, offering advice to tailor applications to colleges that are a good fit, rather than approaching applications as checklists to acceptance.

Selingo, Jeffrey. Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions. Scribner. 2020. Tr. $28. ISBN 9781982116293.
After the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, how selective college admissions really work has been on the minds of many. This best seller breaks down the history of today’s admissions frenzy, probes into admissions at selective institutions, and reveals the candid thoughts of students going through the ordeal. The author is an award-winning journalist with a long history of reporting on the subject of higher education.

White, Kristin M. The Complete Guide to the Gap Year: The Best Things to Do Between High School and College. Nota Bene. 2019. pap. $13.95. ISBN 9780578603117.
An updated second edition of this classic guidebook arrived just in time for the COVID-19 crisis. With many first-year students deciding to take a pause, this book provides a much-needed introduction to the possibilities and the realities of choosing a gap year, as well as advice on the different options for gap year experiences and a smooth transition to college afterward.


For Families

Fields, Timothy L. & Shereem Herndon-Brown. The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions: A Conversation About Education, Parenting, and Race. Johns Hopkins Univ. Sept. 2022. pap. $21.95. ISBN 9781421444895.
Focusing on the what, the why, and the how of college selection for Black students and their families, the authors provide advice from both the high school and college admissions perspective of the process. This exceptional book addresses issues of race as they intersect with the choice of Historically Black Colleges and Universities or predominantly white institutions and explains the selective college admissions process for high-achieving students of color.

Furda, Eric J. & Jacques Steinberg. The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education. Viking. 2020. Tr. $28. ISBN 9781984878342.
This manual for parents about the college search process is packed with details on how the process works, as well as practical suggestions for supporting young people in discerning their own best path along the road beyond high school. It addresses both function (what a student wants out of college) and finances as components of the ultimate individual goal of college fit.

Lieber, Ron. The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make. Harper. 2021. Tr. $27.99. ISBN 9780062867308.
Lieber addresses the knotty issue of what college is really worth when a flagship state university can cost more than $100,000 for four years of on-campus living and private colleges often charge much more. This book does more than answer the hard questions of college costs and values. It provides a view of the economics of the college search that is penetrating, detailed, and clear.

Petree, Chelsea, ed. College Ready 2021: Expert Advice for Parents to Simplify the College Transition. Wise Action. 2021. pap. $15.29. ISBN 9781736918203.
With chapters that repeat the theme of balance between the college-bound high school graduate and their parents, this book covers the important time after the college choice has been made through the first visits home. This anthology, whose contributors include student success coordinators at a variety of universities, provides advice for the whole family as they embark on the college years.

Walter, Elizabeth & Debra Thro. Pay Less for College: The Must-Have Guide to Affording Your Degree, 2022 Edition. College Admissions HQ. 2021. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781735602936.
Specifically addressing the practical side of paying less for college through mastery of the financial aid process, this new edition details college costs, the FAFSA and financial aid awards, money-saving advice, and communication about who pays and why. This book goes beyond the usual scholarship advice tailored to high achievers and provides checklists with specific action items for a variety of approaches to college affordability.

Kelly Kingrey-Edwards is a reference and instruction librarian at Central Louisiana Technical Community College in Alexandria, LA.

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