Books Look Good on College Applications

Reading is probably the most important thing that you can do for your college applications.

We stand by that statement. And no, the book you’re reading for U.S. History doesn’t count. Every single one of our students is always reading a book that specifically addresses one or more of their particular academic interests. Reading is what sets a great student apart from a sea of mediocre students because it signals motivation, academic and intellectual interest, and most important of all: curiosity.

The most interesting people that we know are those who ask questions, who aren’t satisfied with their understanding of a topic, and who are yearning to understand this concept just a bit more or delve into this iteration of an idea so that they can better understand the complex and nuanced academic niche that they are pursuing.

Not only do we believe that reading is the common thread that unites us with individuals around us despite difference because it sheds light on lived experiences different from our own, but colleges believe this as well. At least, they seem to care enough to ask you directly on their supplements about the books that you’ve read. Columbia and Stanford are just two universities who have historically been known to ask applicants about their book list (even indirectly) with the following questions:

·      When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (Stanford) 

·      List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year (Columbia)

Here’s the thing with these questions: college application readers can smell a generic (or completely unfounded) book list from a mile away. They know that you read The Great Gatsby last year in English and even though it truly did **inspire** you and you really identified with Daisy and WOW the motifs and the symbolism of the green light!…don’t include it. It’s generic. It doesn’t say anything unique about you. Of course you identified with it—that’s why it’s assigned to high schoolers: so that they actually read the classics.

So, how do you avoid feeling like you have nothing but clichéd titles to put as answers to these questions? You read a ton. But let’s not get it twisted: this isn’t really about what to write down on your college applications. It’s about the intellect and depth of understanding about the world that comes with reading a lot of books that you really can’t replicate with any other process.

Reading is good for you, body and soul. It’s been proven time and time and time again. It literally makes you a better person. How many activities can you think of that are free and accessible, as well as acceptable to do pretty much anywhere that literally improve your memory and cognitive abilities, make you a more empathetic and interesting, open-minded, compelling thinker. Because you know what books lead to? Conversation.

It doesn’t matter what you read (well, it does a little), it just matters that you read. It matters that you continue to read books outside of school. It will only help you, not only succeed in the college application process, but for the rest of your life. Trust us.


We come up with a custom booklist for each of our students. Let us know if you want our input or need help coming up with your own. That’s why we’re here.