I decided that today’s snow day would be the perfect time to recommend some “winter reading” in preparation for college essays, because summer will be too late!
Unless there are some major changes over the next few months, it’s likely that students applying to UVA, Emory, Wake Forest, Columbia, Davidson, Princeton and others will need to write an essay or at least reference a recent book read - in some cases, multiple books! Questions about books are very common in college interview settings.
What’s the best kind of book to pick for this purpose? Well, for starters, make sure it’s something that you’d actually enjoy reading. One common misconception is that it is better to pick a book that sounds “academic.” I actually think that this is the worst kind of book to pick! Any college admissions officer worth her salt is going to know that a 17-year-old did not sit on the beach reading War and Peace or Atlas Shrugged for fun. That will be perceived as extraordinarily inauthentic at best and a lie at worst.
Instead, my personal favorite type of book for this purpose would fall in the “popular non-fiction” category. Definitely geared towards a mainstream reader and easy enough for a beach read, but still relevant and important for an intellectually curious person. Bonus points if the book is somewhat related to a hobby, passion, or potential area of study.
Here are some ideas:
Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy. This is great for anyone, because the opioid crisis is an enormous problem facing our society right now. However, I’d particularly recommend it for anyone interested in public policy, political science, medicine, public health, sociology or psychology.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. Another text that’s great for anyone, and it got so much press this year. A particularly good choice for education or social science majors.
American Prison by Shane Bauer. A good option for those interested in law (particularly criminal justice reform) and race relations. This is a little less mainstream than the first two and may be a harder sell for someone that has no demonstrated interest in anything related.
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Another popular selection that anyone would like, but definitely good for those interested in technology or psychology.
Check out the New York Times for more ideas!