Three great pieces of non-fiction for college-bound students

By Maria Rainier

Now is that time of year when high school seniors make their final decisions about where to apply to college.

Reading an extensive amount of literature can help cultivate a young student’s mind so that he or she can have the “smarts” to get accepted into the college of his or her choice, but literature can also help prepare college-bound students for what their new life will be like once they step on campus. While non-fiction books are fun to read, they are also typically an exaggerated and embellished representation of what “real” college life is like. Thus the non-fiction selections listed below can be some great reads for high school seniors who will be starting college next fall. They may also be able to take off some of the edge—college can be a very daunting experience.

That Book about Harvard: Surviving the World’s Most Famous University, One Embarrassment at a Time
This light-hearted and funny autobiography tells the (mis)adventures of author Eric Kester during his first year at the prestigious Harvard University. Like most incoming freshmen, Kester struggled finding his identity, learned that he actually needed to study to pass college exams, and experienced his first heartbreak. While it may just sound like run-of-the mill college stuff, the book is actually filled with oh-so-many funny and embarrassing moments. It’s definitely a page turner. Kester is also a resident writer at the popular site

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student
If you can’t beat them, join them—that’s what anthropology professor Rebekah Nathan decided to do when she just couldn’t understand why her students acted the way that they did: they refused to participate in classroom discussions, ate breakfast at their desks, and rarely finished reading assignments. So to get in the mind-set of her students, Nathan decided to “become” a student for several weeks. She enrolled in classes, lived in a dorm, and even ate in the dorm dining halls. Soon she discovered that being a student isn’t all that easy in this new day and age.

College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be
Last but certainly not least is College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be–a historical narrative that explains how the idea of “college” first manifested and how it has changed throughout the years. It’ll make college readers appreciative of the opportunities they are given as well as open their eyes to a few flaws of the higher education system. The book’s author, Andrew Delbanco, is a humanities professor at Columbia University.

Maria Rainier is a contributor to, a website that helps alternative learners evaluate their different schooling options. She encourages your comments and questions.


5 thoughts on “Three great pieces of non-fiction for college-bound students

  1. The second book, “My Freshman Year:What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student” is definitely something that I would like to read. Being a junior in college right now, I wonder sometimes if some professors ever put themselves in our shoes and think deeply about what they want us to do in their courses. Because they were once students themselves, they know, going through the education system and courses, what they liked and disliked.

    I feel like the topic of the third book, “College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be” has been discussed numerous times in academic circles. The notion of whether the college education system in the United States is “worth it” is hotly debated. I read an article recently that talked about whether college should get rid of less practical majors such as studio arts, and whether it is economically feasible or economically sound concentrate in a less practical major.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Sam. I too wonder too how often professors really think about students’ lives, and all that is asked of us. As a graduating senior at Brandeis, one of the most challenging things for me the last thee plus years has been the inconsistency of our schedules, and the scatteredness of doing a little bit in so many different dimensions. I take three Brandeis courses, one online class, I have two jobs, I volunteer with two organizations on campus, I’m in a performance group, I’m involved in religious life, and to top it all off, I have friends and family!

    All of us have so much going on, and our lives are SO different from people working full-time jobs, because we are held accountable “part-time” in so many different ways, it’s hard to focus on anything. If one day we appear downtrodden or tired, a professor might interpret that as disengagement from their class – when in fact, we are overwhelmed from all of the intersecting and contrasting demands placed on us. I wish more professors would make it their business to think about everything we have going on – relative youth does not equal irresponsibility, though it can equal confusion (one reason I am beginning to become interested in CLTL).

  3. I am very interested in these books. It never occurred to me to read a book about college life before college. I had only read academic books to prepare for college and looking back, it would have been beneficial to have a “heads up” guide to college life.

    I would also be very interested to read “My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student” because I feel that I often have teachers who think that their class is either the only class I am invested in or the most important class in my schedule. I believe that if teachers were to put themselves in a student’s place every now and then, they could really gain perspective on what it is like to be in college. I also agree with what Rachel said about students being held accountable for many “part-time” commitments. In college, it is not enough to just do well in classes. You also have to have jobs and internships to get practical work experience, be a part of various clubs on campus, volunteer, and continue to have a social life. We are juggling so many things at once between our various commitments and I wish that more teachers took the time to see the whole college experience through our eyes.

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