10 books we wish we read before freshman year

Kathleen Escarcha, staff writerKathleen Escarcha, staff writer

Summer reading isn't just for high school students. Many colleges ask their freshmen—or entire campus—to read and reflect on the same book before fall classes begin. 

And at a time when student activism is at record levels and debates about free speech erupt on campuses, many schools have stocked their reading lists with works that emphasize themes of diversity and tolerance.

We turned the complicated question of first-year reading suggestions onto our own team of higher education experts.

Their recommendations ranged from writing manuals, to stress management tips, to stories about self-discovery.

Read our top ten picks below.

What book do you wish you had read? Email us at EABDailyBriefing@eab.com and we’ll publish our favorite responses in an upcoming article.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Ed Venit, Senior Director Ed Venit, Senior Director, Student Success Collaborative
Alma Mater: Duke University

Zen is one of those wonderful books that opens your mind to a new way of perceiving the entire world, yet is still very accessible to those without a PhD in philosophy.


The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom

David Attis, Managing Director David Attis, Managing Director, Strategic Research
Alma Mater: University of Chicago

I read this book as I headed off to start my freshman year at college, and while I did not agree with all of its arguments, I was inspired by its belief in the fundamental importance of education to leading a good life.


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Peter Farrell, Managing Director Peter Farrell, Managing Director, Royall & Company
Alma Mater: St. John’s University

College is about a great journey. A journey inward - where you learn about yourself. And a journey outward - where you learn to contextualize the world more broadly. Just like Bilbo does in The Hobbit.


Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams

 Michael Koppenheffer, Vice President Michael Koppenheffer, Vice President, Marketing
Alma Mater: Williams College

This book is the best manual on writing well I've ever read, and I return to it again and again. It's not an easy read, nor is it particularly charming, but students who read this book closely and take its lessons to heart will amaze professors with the quality of their essays.


Getting Things Done by David Allen

Kristin Tyndall, Editor Kristin Tyndall, Editor, EAB Daily Briefing
Alma Mater: Mercer University

This book changed my life—no, really! After experimenting with a few of the strategies, I realized that time management and stress were deeply connected. Improving my time management (a life-long project, to be sure) makes everything feel easier and has helped me devote more energy to the people and projects I care about most.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Gelsey Mehl, Analyst Gelsey Mehl, Analyst, Enrollment Management Forum
Alma Mater: University of California, Los Angeles

I first read this novel in high school, but it’s a must-read for any college freshmen who may have missed out. The Western canon of literature often overlooks the voices of minorities, and Hurston’s work offers an essential picture of the American experience.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

 Isabel Laterzo, Analyst Isabel Laterzo, Analyst, Independent School Executive Forum
Alma Mater: Claremont McKenna College

Solnit poignantly sheds light on the world that young women of our generation enter when they become adults. Although the essays can be hard to stomach, moving forward hinges on understanding the unfortunate experiences women often face. As an 18 year old entering college, I think this book would have further empowered my young female self to speak up in the classroom and among my peers.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Bethany Black, Senior Director Bethany Black, Senior Director, Strategic Marketing
Alma Mater: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The author remembers her little brother panicking over a book report on birds that was due the next day. Their dad told him, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." Lamott's book is a quick (and fun) primer on great writing, a skill that will pay dividends for any college student.

Lean in for Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell

Seren Snow, Staff Writer Seren Snow, Staff Writer
Alma Mater: University of Maryland

Although this book is meant for recent graduates, its lessons can be helpful to learn early in one's college career as well. For example, the chapter on finding and maintaining a healthy mentee-mentor relationship was helpful for me post-graduation, but could benefit freshmen as well.

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Kacper Coulter, Research Associate Kacper Coulter, Associate, Market Research
Alma Mater: Trinity College Dublin

This quick read illustrates the power of a person's circumstances and the consequences of decisions made throughout life. The novel also reminds readers that getting involved in the community can make a tangible difference in the lives of those around us.

What book do you wish you had read? Email us at EABDailyBriefing@eab.com and we’ll publish our favorite responses in an upcoming article.

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