10 Books to Read While You’re Applying to Colleges

BREAKING: It’s college application season. Which means making any last minute road trips with your parents to check out worthy college campuses, digging into the depths of your soul in order to craft a poignant personal statement, figuring out how to send 15 colleges your AP and SAT scores, and waiting until November 30 to hit “send application.”

It’s kind of stressful. And by “kind of,” I mean, “I don’t ever want to be a high school senior again because that whole process was emotionally and physically draining.” I mean, you’re essentially sending a school a digital form of papers about yourself that will determine your future forever. You have every right to be panicking.

So, in honor of freaking out about college, I present you a list of books you should be reading. I know what you’re thinking. How could you possibly fit in literature at a time like this? Well, I say: Find some time. Reading is an awesome way to de-stress and to discover things about yourself that you never knew. This self-awareness, can, in turn, totally guide you as you are writing your dreaded personal essays. Or maybe you just need a break from all the typing and clicking and deep breathing. Included in this list are books that are — yes — about college. However, most are about growing up and finding yourself. Enjoy and good luck, my college-bound darlings.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings teaches readers about the intricate dynamics of friendship groups and how innate talent doesn’t always reward you with success. This is something I wish I had read in high school, because when you’re 17, you think everyone with straight As and 2400s on the SAT is going to end up as CEO of Apple or whatever. I mean, some of these people will. They’ll do better than you. But talent, fate, and the willingness to go far are three very separate forces, and time does not treat everyone equally.

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The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

You know after you’ve read an emotionally harrowing book and you need at least two days before starting a new book because you are so hungover with feelings? The Girls of Corona del Mar did that for me. This book focuses on two girls who grow up very close in a beach town called Corona del Mar in Southern California. The beginning kind of reminded me of my teenhood, which was spent in Encinitas, a fellow Southern California beach town. The premise: after high school, Mia and Lorrie Ann’s close friendship twists and turns and suffers from polar opposite lifestyle choices. Know this: Once you go off to college, you will see your friends change. Sometimes for the worst, sometimes for the better.

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Cherry by Mary Karr

Karr’s memoir is filled with sexual discovery, a growing ardor for poetry, and the absolute need to get away from her suffocating hometown. Sound familiar? Maybe? I know the reason why I left my town (for another small town, but whatever) for college, was so that I could allow myself exposure to new surroundings, new people, and new adventures. Even though most of these adventures were just drinking really cheap blueberry vodka in dorm rooms.

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I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

This satirical novel, which is set in Dupont University (probably a nod to Duke, knowing Tom Wolfe) plays with character tropes and the loss of identity when an individual is forced conform. Charlotte Simmons, a naïve, sheltered girl, is accepted into a prestigious university on a scholarship. Of course she’s an outcast, since her fellow students are incredibly privileged and unkind to interlopers. This book is important because it emphasizes on the ability college (or any major institution) has to force you into doing things you don’t want to do. Don’t lose your sense of self, guys.

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How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran is a literary hero and friend I wish I had when growing up. I, like Moran's protagonist, lways wanted so badly to be cool and untouchable. In How to Build a Girl , 14 year-old Johanna completely reinvents herself, Sandy style à la Grease. Is this something you did in high school, too? I don’t blame you. It’s hard being a young woman in a patriarchal society that is disturbingly obsessed with perfect size 2 bodies and excellent grades and straight hair, isn't it? How to Build a Girl is quasi-autobiographical, so you feel closer to a real peron who experienced a really rocky adolescence. It’ll also make you feel great about leaving all that high school BS behind.

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America Pacifica by Anna North

America Pacifica actually has nothing to do with college, or anything related to college, because in America Pacifica, college doesn’t exist. After North America freezes over, a small group of citizens survive by inhabiting a small island. Like most dystopian novels, most of the characters are poverty stricken and struggling to survive. The protagonist, an 18-year-old girl named Darcy, must solve a mystery: the disappearance of her mother. If you’re a high school senior, chances are, you’re reading 1984 or Brave New World (the grandpas of dystopian novels), but you might feel more of a connection with Darcy and her terrible, new world.

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Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo

This novel is about three cousins, Lizzie, Elyse, and Isobel, who grow up and embody disappointment. Lizzie’s career in soccer has been jeopardized due to her sports injuries, Isobel is a failed child actor, and Elyse is just helplessly wandering. The three come together to restore an old family house, and ironically, an entity that is falling apart helps them rebuild their own lives. What should you take away: College acceptance isn’t everything. One job isn’t everything. One essay is certainly not everything. You will find your way, and you will be brilliant. Even if it takes some rebuilding.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Twin sisters Cath and Wren are obsessed with fan fiction. More specifically, Simon Snow fan faction. Their super-tight relationship that revolves around their sisterly bond and their obsessive obsessions is broken when Wren decidedly cuts the chord and says she doesn’t want to be roommates with Cath. Cath is heartbroken. Lessons to be learned: 1) Don’t live with your best friend or your sister in college. Trust me (and Fangirl), it's better this way. 2) You will learn something new from the roommate you do have, even if it’s to never have roommates again, and 3) College is a scary experience for everyone! It’s emotionally jarring and alienating and strange. But you will most likely learn to totally love it.

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The Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty

There are five Jessica Darling books Megan McCafferty wrote and they are all so, so amazing. I first read Sloppy Firsts in middle school, and polished off the very last one in my first year of college, fittingly enough. I recommend reading all of them, because the series is just the epitome of what it’s like to be a teenage girl who has no idea what she wants to do. Plus, Marcus Flutie will always and forever be my YA literary husband (I love you, boo).

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Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham's first book, Not That Kind of Girl, just came on Sept. 22 (just in time for college application season!) and it's important. Dunham discusses self-awareness, being kind to yourself, working up the bravery to love your body, and what it's like to be an outspoken girl in an industry filled with men. It's the kind of book every woman should read, regardless of how they feel about Dunham. Because her words are powerful. They will make you extrapolate that power within yourself. And I think we need a reminder once in a while that we are capable of anything. Including applying for college.

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