Have time this summer for some light reading on the college admissions process, college preparation strategies, or how to get over college rejections? Below are the books I recommend! You can also find them on my Amazon storefront (purchases made through the links in this post will generate a commission that helps support the free content on this website!).
College Admissions Books
Note that I excluded books containing information that directly contradicts how the UCs evaluate applicants. For example, I excluded one book that talked extensively about the importance of AP exam scores, which is not the case for the UCs, and another book that claimed colleges know how difficult individual teachers grade students at each high school, which is likely NOT the case for most colleges, and certainly not for the UCs. I also only picked the books I could find at my local public library systems, which hopefully translates to availability at other public libraries.
Keep in mind that NOT all advice applies to all colleges! Don’t take the advice you get from a book as infallible truth. Even advice I give out, as much as I try to qualify everything I say with well-known exceptions, is general by nature. Remain skeptical at all times.
Remember that ALL essay writing advice you get from these books is applicable ONLY to private colleges and maybe out-of-state public institutions (unless otherwise noted). The answers you compose for the UC Personal Insight Questions are NOT essays! Treat them as written answers to interview questions.
Don’t forget that UCs are TEST-FREE going forward. Ignore ALL advice related to standardized tests in these books.
How to Prepare a Standout College Application: Expert Advice that Takes You from LMO* (*Like Many Others) to Admit by Alison Cooper Chisolm and Anna Ivey is an absolute must-have for anyone applying to college (or anyone helping students apply to college). The book avoids the traditional advice-giving format and, instead, focuses on teaching the reader how to think about the college admissions process from a college’s perspective. While there are some sections that don’t apply to the UCs, such as demonstrated interest or ability to pay (and do NOT add a resume in Additional Comments!), the book is the BEST one I have seen so far and I highly recommend it. Advice in Chapter 10 is applicable to the UC Personal Insight Questions (NOT Chapter 11). Although a bit sparse, the information for homeschooled and international students is very helpful (such as how to handle school reports and recommendation letters for colleges that require them).
Soundbite: The Admissions Secret that Gets You Into College and Beyond by Sara Harberson is another must-have for students and parents (or anyone helping students apply to college). The book essentially explains the importance and the process of developing a compelling elevator pitch (“soundbite”) that would distinguish the student from other applicants (and describes how students can build out different components of college applications from that soundbite). Rather than focusing on college admissions or college applications as tasks to tackle, the book focuses on helping students self-reflect and self-assess, and teaching them how to self-advocate, which is really the best way to approach the process (an approach I employ when I work with students on the UC Application). Be sure to ignore the anecdotes and admission quirks specific to Penn as those are not applicable to the UCs.
The Secrets of Picking a College (and Getting In!) by Lynn F. Jacobs, Jeremy S. Hyman, Jeffrey Durso-Finley, and Jonah T. Hyman is a great beginner’s guide and covers the college application process from beginning (developing a realistic college list) to end (choosing which college to attend). There are lists for EVERYTHING and the application advice (Chapter 5) is generally applicable to the UC Personal Insight Questions.
What Colleges Don’t Tell You (And Other Parents Don’t Want You to Know): 272 Secrets for Getting Your Kid into the Top Schools by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross offers common sense advice that I give out on the daily basis. The advice comes in small doses (each “secret” is usually less than 2 pages in length) and great for those who have to read while on the go.
On Writing the College Application Essay, 25th Anniversary Edition: The Key to Acceptance at the College of Your Choice by Harry Bauld is an exceptional book on how to write well in general, not just for college essays. Look past the dated references (such as VCR) and this book is a must-have (very useful for getting through college English classes too)!
Preparing for College
What High Schools Don’t Tell You (And Other Parents Don’t Want You to Know): Create a Long-Term Plan for Your 7th to 10th Grader for Getting into the Top Colleges by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross offers excellent advice and resources to help parents guide their children to become the most competitive college applicants they can be, with how-tos on developing a game plan, working with the school, and helping students find the right summer programs that fit their interests.
Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni is a great book to help both students and parents embrace the concept of choosing a college based on fit rather than brand name. Aside from some serious griping about brand name schools (particularly the Ivy League) in Chapters 2 through 4 (safe to skip), Bruni makes a compelling argument for focusing on attending college as a way to gain life changing experiences rather than bragging rights (often for the parents) or a guarantee of success (there is no such thing). The book is chock-full of survey results and analyses comparing brand name vs. non-brand name college grads, from job prospect to earning potential to measures of success (such as Fortune 500 CEOs and MacArthur “Genius Grants” recipients). Bruni also spends Chapters 8 and 9 discussing what students should expect to get out of their college experience. I highly recommend students and parents read this book at the start of the college planning process (while making a college list) and again before the students head off to college (planning ahead to get the most out of their time in college).
Study Like a Champ: The Psychology-Based Guide to “Grade A” Study Habits by Regan Gurung and John Dunlosky describes available learning techniques, explains their level of effectiveness, and teaches students how to leverage the techniques in different academic subjects to become more effective learners.
Outsmart Your Brain: Why Learning is Hard and How You Can Make It Easy by Daniel Willingham explains how the brain processes information in a variety of academic situations, such as listening to a lecture, taking notes, or studying for an exam, and describes approaches students can take to effectively study and succeed in school.
Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni analyzes the college admissions craze and explains the flaws in the “my future depends on the college I attend” logic. Bruni argues that success comes from the students themselves, not the brand name colleges on their diplomas. He gives plenty of examples, with long lists of “non-Ivy school” graduates who reached the apex of success, becoming top CEOs or MacArthur Genius Grant recipients. Take Bruni’s advice and make the best of your college experience, instead of relying on the college to give you the best experience. (There was some serious griping about brand name schools, particularly the Ivy League, in Chapters 2 through 4 that’s safe to skip!)
Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection by Jia Jiang tells the story of Jiang’s journey through “Rejection Therapy” to overcome his fear of rejection. But the book is more than a documentation of his experiences; it meticulously explains what Jiang discovered about rejection along the way: rejection often says more about the rejecter than the rejectee; rejection is an opinion that is subject to change; and how you react to the rejection can have profound effects on the outcome of the rejection. Jiang gives great advice, not only to help you look at your unfavorable admission decisions objectively, but to help you face rejections you may encounter in the future.
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