As a college student, I understand the tremendous expectations faced by undergraduates. We need to get good grades in a challenging subject while expanding our network, making memories to last a lifetime, padding our resumes, and, for many, working a job to finance the whole process.
At first, I struggled with maintaining a balance and keeping up in every category, but that all changed once I started reading. In my first year of school, I read the following five books and can say without a doubt that I would not have achieved a fraction of my goals without them.
Start with any one of these books and the way you approach college will mature to something light years ahead of what it is now.
Do Your Work Faster and More Effective Than Ever
“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy.” (Cal Newport, Deep Work)
College doesn’t need to be stressful nor should it be.
Through intentionally developing skills and practices to work and study more intensely, or as Cal Newport puts it, deeply, you will be able to achieve massive loads of meaningful work on a consistent basis.
Deep Work teaches you how to work without distraction and informs you of the innumerable benefits of developing that skill. There is no book I recommend more highly for achieving academic success.
Develop a Fundamental Understanding of Business
“If you’re thinking about plunging yourself into debt to get an MBA, this book will challenge you to your core. Are you more interested in becoming a better businessperson, or having a document to hang on your wall to impress people?” (Josh Kaufman, The Personal MBA)
No matter what your major is, learning the basics of sales, accounting, finance, etc. will be useful for job interviews and being able to contribute to whatever project you are working on.
This book opens with a scathing review of MBA programs and follows it with a brutally simple introduction to almost every topic I can think of in business, and although Kaufman oversimplifies a lot, he recognizes that and provides recommendations for further learning on every subject on his website and in his book list.
The book moves very quickly as each chapter is separated into short modules that keep it fresh and interesting.
I read this book while I was teetering between staying in an accelerated MBA program or dropping it to graduate earlier, spend less and have more flexibility with my academic schedule.
After reading this, I became more comfortable moving forward without the program. I would highly recommend this book to anybody interested in getting an introduction to business ideas, but definitely don’t expect to be an expert just by reading this book.
Your business education shouldn’t stop with this book, but it is absolutely an amazing place to start.
Take Control of Your Habits
“This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.” (Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit)
The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a comprehensive introduction to habits.
In this book, you will learn what habits are both socially and neurologically, why they are more important than you think, and how to leverage your knowledge of them to make positive habits and break old ones.
This book covers a number of thought-provoking case studies about the power of habit formation and will give you concrete blueprints to work on the habits of your choosing.
Free More Time and Space in Your Schedule
“HALF OF THE TROUBLES OF THIS LIFE CAN BE TRACED TO SAYING YES TOO QUICKLY AND NOT SAYING NO SOON ENOUGH. — Josh Billings” (Greg McKeown, Essentialism)
There are so many things in your life that not only do you not need, but that you are actually far better without.
From excess belongings such as clothes you never wear to time sucking commitments to add a line or two to your resume, its shocking how many unnecessary things we allow to occupy our time, space and attention.
Greg McKeown poses his solution to this ever growing problem in his book Essentialism.
Internalize the mantra that in so many ways, less is better, and find practical advice on how to divert your attention to your most critical tasks.
Get Better Grades
“I don’t feel like it — but I’m going to do it anyway.” (Thomas Frank, 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades)
Thomas Frank is the founder of an amazing online resource called College Info Geek. In his book, 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades, he organizes his most important advice for students into 10 actionable and proven tips to increase your academic success.
If you haven’t already, check out College Info Geek. When I was first starting out, CIG was the strongest influence on my thoughts and actions out of all other blogs/ YouTube channel/ and podcast.
Thomas Frank is dedicated to helping students achieve success and be more effective and his website is a treasure trove of amazing free resources for students. There is not a site that I recommend more highly than his.
I can not overstate how positive of an impact reading any of these books will make on your life. Pick whichever resonates with you most and you will be well on your way to new levels of academic and personal achievement.
(Written July 2018, Modified June 2019)