There’s the standard list of must-read books for high school and college — and I get that — but there are a ton of books beyond the standard literary canon that college students should delve into.

Some are contemporary fiction, others are inspiring nonfiction, and all are going to make you think a little bit harder about those college decisions. Here is a short list of books to read before college; they’ll affect the way you treat others, update your own expectations about education, and even inspire you to treat yourself a little better.

Related: The Summer Reading List for College Students

I Am Charlotte Simmons

This Tom Wolfe novel is written primarily about Charlotte Simmons, a nerdy runner with a poverty-stricken background, in her first year of college at fictional Dupont University.

Wolfe’s depiction of the trials and tribulations of a small-town girl in the big college world ring true, and highlight some of the common and more ridiculous cultural aspects of freshman year. Regardless of your demographic, there is a character for everyone to love and hate in this coming-of-age novel. Every student should read this early on in their collegiate career.

I Am Charlotte Simmons on Amazon

Anna Karenina

Are you intimidated by big, fat, boring-ish books like War & Peace? You probably never delved into the world of Leo Tolstoy in high school, and a good way to see what you’re getting yourself into in the college world is by starting with something like Anna Karenina.

Intricately woven with passion, excitement, depression, and spirituality, this book also incorporates painstakingly boring descriptions for dozens of pages at a time. The ride on this manic roller coaster is precisely what you’ll experience in your college career, but you’ve got to learn to get through the boring parts if you want to make it to the excitement.

Anna Karenina on Amazon

Lean In

This book, written by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, is a short trip through the challenges of gender equality in the workplace. It shares things from a CEO admitting to hiring women because he can pay them less and get away with it, to teaching men and women to figuratively lean into their chosen paths.

Be it education, careers, or parenthood, this book compiles statistics and personal experiences to teach us all how to lean into our lives with gusto, all while remembering to consider gender equality.

Lean In on Amazon

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Many would technically consider this book to be in the literary canon, but I never read it in high school. In fact, as an English student, it was never assigned to me in any college classes either.

This book gives you a different understanding of the many different kinds of racism and prejudice behaviors out there, while forcing you to harness your own judgment of your own race and others. It’s a good reminder that doing the right thing for you is not necessarily the right thing for anyone else.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Amazon

The Giver

One of the most advanced books of its time, The Giver is written about a kind of alternate universe — void of passions, emotions, and even color.

Although this is a young adult novel, which you might have read in fifth grade, it’s a humbling way to be reminded of the important things in life and the sacrifices made by and for others.

The Giver on Amazon

BONUS: The Places You’ll Go

Dr. Seuss. Enough said, right? This book is often quoted at high school and college graduations, but it’s really an excellent book to keep on your desk. It’s great for the days when you can’t manage to get through the next 45 pages of boring text (or Anna Karenina), and you need a little straightforward encouragement.

The Places You’ll Go on Amazon


Image: Marquette LaForest