Preparing for College

More College Knowledge Q&As

Question: A friend of mine got a summer reading list from the college he'll start in the fall.  What books should I be reading while I'm still in high school?

Answer: Not many high school students ask that question.  College involves much reading.  I'll answer your question on two levels:  Books to read for first-year English classes and books to read for helpful general knowledge.  Let's start with English class.


You have probably read some classics for your high school English courses.  You won't know the exact titles for college until you see the course reading lists.  Continue to read, in your spare time, titles that are in the standard literature.  I'm thinking of the works of such authors as D.H. Lawrence, Herman Melville, Anderson, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Nabokov, Bellow, James, Twain, Dickinson, Norris, Dreiser, Crane, Frost, Wharton, and Cather, to name just a few.

Poetry is important too.  Put poets such as Eliot, Pound, Williams, Stevens, Hart Crane, and Marianne Moore on your list.  Reading both novels and poetry at this level has other positive side effects besides giving you a jump on first-year English.  You'll also build your vocabulary.  Remember, you build vocabulary over many years not by cramming a week or two before the SAT.

Reading good books leads to better writing too.  You may get writing help from any number of sources.  Good writing is clear and easy to understand.  If you want to read easily accessible samples of good writing, look up some essay writers like Andy Rooney, the late Erma Bombeck,  George Will, and the late Mike Royko.  These syndicated authors offer their observations on the elements of everyday life.  Their statements can be humorous, controversial, or touching.

Try to emulate their style.  It will serve you well when it comes time to write your college application essay or that first composition for college English.

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.