If you’re going to university – especially in Ghana – you need to read this book. I may have graduated with no debt, but the average university graduate these days is coming out of school with around $30,000 of it. Having that amount of debt will limit your options when it comes to jobs, where you can live, etc. This is not how it should be. This is not how it has to be. Debt-Free U will show you how you can go to college and avoid debt – even if your family isn’t loaded.
Yep, I put my own book on the list. There might be a bit of hubris involved here, but I’m extremely proud of how this book turned out. Initially, I set out to write a book on how to study efficiently, defeat procrastination, and stay organized – as I wrote, the project became much grander. The final product is a 100+ page book covering 10 different topics that factor into your grades. In addition to the topics I already mentioned, you’ll learn how to read textbooks effectively, take better notes, write great papers, eliminate distractions, and more Also, it’s completely free.
I love this book like a son. Ok, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic – I’m not cooking dinner for it if it suddenly becomes sentient and tells me it’s hungry. But still – this book is absolutely amazing and I’d consider it essential reading for anyone who falls under the category of “human”. As it turns out, habits shape much more of our behavior than we realize. The habits we do have largely determine the progress (either good or bad) we make in life. Luckily, the way habits are formed can be understood – which means they can be changed – and The Power of Habit is the best overview of how habits work that I’ve ever read.
One of my biggest daily struggles is focusing intently on my work – and judging by the hundreds of emails I get from students each month, I’m not alone. Deep Work is by far the best and most effective book I’ve read on this topic, and it’s helped me to become much better at resisting the temptation of distractions and remaining concentrated. This is one of my most highly recommended books.
If you’re looking for practical techniques you can use to increase your ability to learn new information effectively, you should read this book. Contrary to what the title would imply, Dr. Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers is applicable to any learning discipline – not just math and science. This book will quickly give you an understanding of how your brain learns and encodes new information, and will also equip you with strategies for learning more while studying less.
No book has helped me more when it has come to getting jobs and internships than this one. In it, author Brad Karsh demystifies the job-hunting process and shows you how to most effectively scout out and land that crucial first job out of college. He goes through writing résumés and cover letters (read: how to make your cover letter not suck) and even provides a fairly large index full of completed examples of each. Other topics covered are interviews – both job-seeking and “informational” – as well as how to impress gatekeepers, how to follow up an interview the right way, and more. Seriously, read this.
Countless teachers, counselors, bloggers, and other people will probably tell you to “follow your passion” – but passion alone isn’t going to land you your dream job. Plus, most of us don’t even know what our “passion” even is! That’s why this book is such a breath of fresh air; Cal Newport counters this “Passion Hypothesis” with what he calls the Craftsman Mindset, which focuses on getting really good at something. Not only will this help you build the career capital you’ll need to get hired, but it’ll also often lead to true enjoyment in your work.
I firmly believe that a solid foundation of nutrition, exercise, and sleep will help you succeed in college better than any study hack, which is why I recommend this book. Reading it will educate you on how exercise affects your brain, which in turn will give you more mental ammunition that you can use to shoot down excuses when you’re feeling lazy or “busy”, and don’t want to work out. By the way, how much exercise have you gotten today?
Nick Winter is a crazy dude who did a 120-hour workweek, built two successful startups, learned to throw knives, and pledged $7,290 in order to force himself to write this book (and jump out of an airplane). He doesn’t really subscribe to the whole, “willpower is a limited resource” ideal – instead, he looks for ways to summon massive amounts of motivation so he can achieve anything. This book is an account of his quest to achieve several crazy goals in a very short amount of time, and it also details his methods for hacking motivation.
It’s 12 years old now, but Cal Newport’s How to Win at College is still one of the best primers for college success I’ve ever read – especially when it comes to things beyond your grades. It’s a short read (I read it in about four hours), split into 75 “tips” that each take up 1-4 pages. I read this book as a freshman, and it’s one of the biggest reasons I was so focused on success in college; the book provides a great foundation for becoming a remarkable student and doesn’t weigh you down with idle words.
Whereas How to Win at College is a general, tip-based overview on ways you can become successful in college, this book gets its hands dirty by giving you an in-depth, well thought out method for pulling epic grades in all of your classes. The book is based around that fact that there are many college students who get straight A’s, yet don’t study for more than a couple hours a day and still have plenty of other things going on in their lives. It lays out effective strategies for note-taking, quizzing yourself, writing papers, and more. If you want to be like one of the aforementioned students, get this book.
I listened to this book during a six-hour drive to a friend’s hometown a few years ago, and I honestly think it changed my life. The habits Covey describes here seem obvious at first, but you’ll probably notice that you aren’t following all of them. I know I wasn’t. Take Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood – how many of us actually do that? Before reading this book, I would always think very selfishly in my conversations. Whenever I’d listen to someone else speak, I’d listen – but I’d also be actively formulating my (usually self-serving) response and looking for the perfect moment to throw it in.
I’ll come right out and say it; this is hands-down the best business book I’ve ever read, and probably the best ever published. It’s not because the concepts within are revolutionary or any more detailed than those of any other book – it’s because this book is so complete. It is absolutely the place to start when learning about business. Every important aspect of business is covered here – selling, accounting, working with others, individual work strategies, business development, and lots of others. Even if you’re not a business major, I’d recommend reading this; you’ll get a great overview of how business works and, as a result, become much more valuable to any company you work for.
Learning to effectively manage your money should be priority #1 if you haven’t done it already. You’re most likely in college so you can get a degree and gain access to jobs with greater earning potential; make sure your degree goes as far as it should by learning what to do with the money once you have it. Your Money: The Missing Manual is a fantastic general overview of personal finance, and it’ll show you just how to keep those bills in the bank rather than blowing them on random crap.
If you know how the brain works, you’ll be better equipped to manage your own and understand the ones contained inside the heads of the people you know and meet. In Brain Rules, John Medina expertly shows us how the brain does things, and lays out 12 rules that form a basis for using that pile of mush more effectively. It’s not just an excellent brain book – it’s an excellent business book and an excellent college success book as well.
Companies aren’t blowing smoke when they list Communication Skills as the #1 desired quality in college grads – and public speaking is a huge part of that. Confessions of a Public Speaker is a great read if you’re looking to increase those vital public speaking skills. Berkun goes over lots of related topics, like gaining confidence as well as using certain tools to help you out (like confidence monitors).
I struggle with having too many interests – and I often fall prey to the temptation to try and tackle them all at once. Of course, this doesn’t work; it’s as if 15 hamsters in one big hamster ball were all trying to run in their own separate directions. What’s more useful is to adopt a philosophy of “Less, but better.” Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism is an excellent guide to doing just that, and the lessons I took from it have helped me to become a much more focused person.
This is the best overall introduction to productivity that I’ve ever read. Other books that you’ll see on this list go deeper on specific topics – such as habits or procrastination – but The Productivity Project does an awesome job at giving you practical tips and advice on pretty much all of them. It’s a great starting point for becoming more productive.
When you have a lot of ambitious plans, it can be really easy to stay constantly future-minded and focused on goals. But as Neil Pasricha points out in The Happiness Equation, the goalposts of our goals often move the moment we achieve them – and the constant pursuit of them can leave us unhappy. This book is a great reminder to prioritize happiness – and it does a great job at serving as a practical manual for becoming a happy person while remaining productive.
This is a great is a great follow-up to Your Money: The Missing Manual, and I’d recommend that you save reading this book until you’ve read the former. Once you have a solid grounding in personal finance, though, you should start taking the next step and get into investing. The book is a great tool to learn how to do that; it goes over the types of investments – Roth IRA’s, index funds, common stock, bonds, the works – and gives a good overview of which ones you’ll want to utilize based on your goals and lifestyle.
This is the book that got me into lifestyle design – the idea that we don’t have to simply graduate and just get a job, but that we are instead free to pursue the life we want, as long as we can set up the necessary systems to make it work. It also was partly responsible for giving me the confidence to try turning College Info Geek into my full-time job – which worked out 🙂
From the author of The Personal MBA comes a book with… not a single word written by the author. Yep, this book is just a big collection of quotes. That’s totally cool with me, though – I think curation is just as important creation. I turn to this book when I need a good dose of inspiration. It also sometimes helps to spice up articles and papers!
Yes, I’m including this book. Yes, it’s essential. Ok, maybe you could argue that it’s not – but to me, having a book you can turn to and always get a good laugh is a must. My philosophy on stress management is this: be too stupid to be stressed. That’s right, only those who are smart all the time will get really stressed out; taking some time out of the day to turn off your brain and let stupidity take over will keep life fun and stress low.