Summer Reading List (College Admissions Books)

No matter where you are in the college admissions process, these books will help set you on the right path. The list includes some of the most popular college admissions books (as ranked by Amazon) that I could find at the Los Angeles County or Los Angeles City public library system, which I hope translates well to availability at other public libraries. If not, follow the links to purchase the books from Amazon (at no extra cost to you) and help support this blog!

Note that the list below excludes certain books that contain information in direct conflict with UC admissions policy. For example, one book I excluded talked extensively about the importance of AP exam scores, which is not the case for the UCs. Another book I excluded claimed that 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.

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. So always have “this is probably true most of the time, but I should double check from another source to see if this applies to my situation” in the back of your mind as you read.

Remember that ALL essay writing advice you get from these books is applicable ONLY to private colleges (I don’t know about out-of-state public institutions, maybe the advice works for those). The answers you compose for the UC Personal Insight Questions are NOT essays! Treat them as written answers to interview questions.

You can now find all of my book recommendations on my Amazon Influencer Storefront (buy books from Amazon through this link at no extra cost to you and help support this blog!).


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). Instead of giving you advice and expecting you to just understand what you need to do, the book focuses on teaching you 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 put your resume in Additional Comments!), the book is the BEST one I have seen so far and I highly recommend it! Remember that Chapter 10 is appropriate for the UC Personal Insight Questions (NOT Chapter 11). Although a bit sparse, the information for homeschooled and international students was very helpful (such as how to handle school reports and recommendation letters for colleges that require them).


College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step by Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde is also one of my favorites. The content is well organized and the advice is spot on for the UCs. This is one of the few books with a section devoted to transfer students and a section devoted to international students.


Getting in Without Freaking Out: The Official College Admissions Guide for Overwhelmed Parents by Arlene Matthews provides solid, no-nonsense advice for parents, with a little bit of humor thrown in to take the edge off an otherwise stressful topic. I would also recommend the book to high school seniors who are dealing with the college application process on their own, without parental input. The book is easy to read (very short sections) with plenty of tips and coping mechanisms for the various parts of the college application process.


adMISSION POSSIBLE: The “Dare to Be Yourself” Guide for Getting into the Best Colleges for You by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz is a good, one-stop comprehensive guide for high school students (and parents too). There is a timeline for EVERYTHING, including the development of teacher/counselor relationships (an often overlooked aspect of the college admissions process).


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, except her references are slightly outdated (typewriter and fax). The advice comes in small doses (each “secret” is usually less than 2 pages in length) and great for those of you who have to read while on the go.


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.


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. If you can look past the dated references (or maybe you just don’t know what a VCR is), this book is a must have (it’ll get you through your college English classes too).


Get into Any College: Secrets of Harvard Students by Gen Tanabe and Kelly Tanabe offers a good selection of sample essays with comments on why they work or don’t work, and tips on how to “recycle” essays for different colleges (if that’s something you need or want to do).


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 (you can safely skip those), 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).


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