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7 Books About the College Experience

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Applying to and heading off to college can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it often comes with a fear of the unexpected. For many college students, starting out at a college or university is their first taste of freedom. They might encounter the stress of difficult coursework and new social environments as they attempt to navigate drama with roommates or friends. These seven books about the college experience dive into these topics and may help students prepare for or deal with the occasional difficulties of college life.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

During freshman year, students might try to figure things out and wonder how to fit in. In this book, Selin Karadag is a second-generation Turkish American dealing with her first year at Harvard University. The story takes place in the 1990s, so some of the references are dated, but you can still empathize with her as she struggles with her living situation, peers, and school.

Selin throws herself into the whole college experience while befriending a Serbian girl named Svetlana and developing a crush on an older mathematics student named Ivan. Over the summer, Selin travels to Europe to teach English in Hungary, and during this time abroad, she comes to grips with who she is and what she wants out of life.

Freshmen by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Phoebe cannot wait to finally head off to college. She yearns to be free and to have a life without a curfew. It just so happens that the only person from her high school heading off to the same college is Luke, her longtime crush. Luke, on the other hand, didn’t set out to reinvent himself. Instead, he finds himself dumping his long-distance, long-term girlfriend. This change causes him to rethink who he is as well.

Just when Phoebe and Luke start connecting, drama ensues. Rumors start circulating about a Wall of Shame, which is a text chain created by Luke’s soccer teammates, along with compromising photographs. As the women on campus seek to find out who is behind the chain, Luke and Phoebe grapple with their feelings and how this will affect them.

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

Born and raised in the South, D’aron endures a culture shock when he goes to college at the University of California-Berkeley. He feels like he’s in over his head, as he was only used to small-town life before and now has to acclimate to a more cosmopolitan lifestyle in California. He ends up befriending three students including Louie from California, Candice from Iowa, and Charlie, an inner-city Black kid from Chicago. They call themselves the Four Indians.

Their friendship changes when D’aron accidentally mentions in his history class that his hometown does an annual Civil War reenactment. Armed with their misguided views about the South, the Four Indians head to Braggsville and decide to hold a protest, which doesn’t turn out how they planned.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

College is all about relationships, whether romantic or friendly, and this book highlights the familial ones. Cath and her twin sister Wren are gearing up for life in college together, but Wren confides that she doesn’t want to room with Cath.

While Wren is thriving, making numerous friends, and enjoying a partying lifestyle, Cath feels alone thanks to a surly roommate, who spends much of her time with her boyfriend, and a professor who loathes the writing that Cath enjoys. She also worries about her father’s health and wishes to have her sister by her side. To help her cope with things, Cath retreats to writing Simon Snow fan fiction and wonders if she can get through everything.

Again, but Better by Christine Riccio

After being in college for a while, Shane realizes that she’s not getting the full undergraduate experience. Sure, she has excellent grades and is pre-med, and her parents are extremely proud of her. However, she doesn’t have any friends because she spends every weekend back at home, and she doesn’t have any romance, either.

Shane needs a change, and fast, so she signs up for a semester abroad in London. She decides that she’s going to make friends, go on dates, and find adventure. These goals are easier said than done, however, and soon enough, she must confront living outside her comfort zone as self-doubt begins to creep in.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Nobody knows how much relationships and people will change when they head off to college, and this book covers how its characters face this particular dilemma head-on. At the start of the novel, Marianne and Connell are still in high school. Marianne is a quiet loner from a wealthy family that employs Connell’s single mom as its housekeeper.

Despite these different circumstances, Marianne and Connell start dating, but they pretend not to know each other when they both go to Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne becomes very popular, leaving Connell alone. During their collegiate years, they foster an on-and-off relationship, which gets further confusing when Connell’s future looks up while Marianne’s takes a dark turn.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Almost like hitting a refresh button, going to a campus far from home is a perfect way to get rid of high school stigmas. That’s just what Richard does when he transfers to Hampden College. The desire to reinvent himself is prevalent, especially since he’s embarrassed by his working-class family back home. He ends up telling anyone who will listen that he comes from a wealthy family and that he attended boarding school.

Richard ends up joining a group of students who appear extremely intellectual and worldly, and he is soon welcomed into their clique. This group pulls him into a world of late-night parties that causes him to question his new life, and he wonders if this dangerous world is worth it.


As these books reveal, college can be overwhelming at times, but it can also be immensely rewarding: it can help students understand who they are and what’s important to them. Hopefully, these books can alleviate some trepidations potential college students might have about furthering their education while pointing to the world of possibility that awaits them in their undergraduate years. To help them make those possibilities a reality, our world-renowned college consultants at Spark Admissions can answer any questions about college you might have and what potential college students can expect. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

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