The College Info Geek's essential books for students

by Thomas Frank, The College Info Geek
I’m big into reading, and since you’re on this page, I’m guessing you like reading at least a little bit as well. This page is an ongoing log of books I find to be awesome or useful.
If you’re looking to create a well-rounded, successful college experience, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

Debt-Free UDebt-Free U

Students, high school students, and parents: This is the MOST IMPORTANT BOOK you can possibly read in preparation for college!
I may have graduated with no debt, but the average college 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.
You can attend a public state school (or even an community college) and still have all the same success you’d get at a private university. The key is to remember that it’s your own effort that counts, not the name of your school.
Debt-Free U will show you how you can go to college and avoid debt – even if your family isn’t loaded.
Please read this book. I have no affiliation with it, and Zac Bissonnette probably doesn’t even know who I am, but I will still firmly say this book is more important to students than any other.

10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less)

First off, yes, I did put Debt-Free U above my own book. I think it’s that good. Study skills are mega-important, but if I can impact your life in only one way on this page, I’d choose helping you avoid student debt as much as possible. So please, read Zac’s book.
That being said, 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less) is a book I’m extremely proud of. 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. Grab your copy here.

The Power of HabitPower of Habit

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. Bad habits are hard to break, and good ones are hard to form.
Luckily, habits can also be understood – which means they can be changed. The Power of Habit is the best overview of how habits work that I’ve ever read; in it, you’ll learn about the “habit loop” – the standard structure of every habit.
This book, in addition with my use of HabitRPG, literally changed my day-to-day life in profound ways. Now that I know how habits work, I’ve built over 20 new ones – waking up early, drinking more water, doing 40 pull-ups a day, etc. I’ve also broken bad habits – including nail-biting, which I’ve been doing since I was a kid.
I found this book so good that I actually took in-depth notes on it – which spurred me into a habit of doing the same thing with other books I read.

Motivation HackerThe Motivation Hacker

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.
The Motivation Hacker 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. From this books, I learned about and implemented:

  • The “burnt ships” strategy (which I use to wake up early every day)
  • Success spirals – engineering the difficulty of your habits to boost your confidence and spiral into more success
  • How to be more deliberate in my relationship

I’m writing my own book on productivity, and of course I want you to read it when it’s out. But I also think you should read this book as well. It’s short, it’s only $3, and it’ll change the way you think about motivation.

how to win at college

How to Win at College

It’s 7 years old now, but Cal Newport’s How to Win at College is still probably the best primer book for college success there is. 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’ve been 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. A must-read for any student, but especially recent high-school grads and college freshman.

how to become a straight-a studentHow to Become a Straight-A Student

Whereas How to Win at College is a general, tip-based overview on ways you can become successful in college, How to Become a Straight-A Student 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.

7 habits of highly effective peopleThe Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I listened to this book during a six-hour drive to my roommate’s hometown last year, and I honestly think it changed my life. The habits Covey describes in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People seem obvious at first, but you’ll probably notice that you aren’t following all of them. I know I wasn’t.
I was already diligently following Habit 1 – Be Proactive – at the time (my life was literally full of work), but the I knew I needed to work on the others. I also realized that doing so would make my life way better. 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’ve worked hard to reverse this habit, and to get more in line with Habit 5. Covey is right – understanding others is so important and seeking to do so genuinely will result in you being understood without you even having to try.

confessions of a recruiting directorConfessions of a Recruiting Director: The Insider’s Guide to Landing Your First Job

No book has helped me more when it has come to getting jobs and internships than Confessions of a Recruiting Director. I was introduced to this book when the professor in one of my introductory business classes played a YouTube video made by Brad Karsh, the author. Unfortunately, they didn’t make this book required reading in that class – they really should have (it was a class on getting jobs, for crying out loud).
In this book, 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.

So Good They Can't Ignore YouSo Good They Can’t Ignore You

Countless teachers, counselors, bloggers, and other people will probably tell you to “follow your passion” when trying to help you figure out what you should do with your life.
As it turns out, this “Passion Hypothesis” is actually bad advice. At the least, it’s unhelpful – and at worst, it can be downright dangerous. The Passion Hypothesis follows a “What can the world offer me?” mindset, which runs counter to how the world actually works.
Cal’s other two books are tremendously helpful for succeeding in college, but So Good They Can’t Ignore You is a book I’d consider essential for career success. In it, Cal explains his Craftsman Mindset, which runs opposite to the Passion Hypothesis. Instead of “follow your passion”, his advice is “get really freaking good at something – so good they can’t ignore you.”
This “What can I offer the world?” mindset is focused on improving your abilities, which in turn open up more opportunities for you.
Even if you don’t read it, learn to live by this simple mindset. Get good at something. The better you are, the more your skills will be in demand.

how to be remarkableHow to be Remarkable

Reading about Colin Wright’s life and learning his mind is like looking at the person I want to be in six years. After running his own company in LA during his early 20’s, Colin decided to leave it all and travel full-time, moving to a new country (voted on by his readers) every four months. During his travels, he’s learned a lot on how to be a “remarkable” person and I think he’s summed up quite a bit of what it takes in this book.
How to be Remarkable isn’t as pretentious as you’d think it would be, and it’s short enough to remain inspirational without getting overbearing. The book is actually laid out in a pretty similar fashion to How to Win as College, doling out a number a 1-2 page tips before wrapping up with a section that profiles some other remarkable people Wright looks up to.

the personal mbaThe Personal MBA

I’ll come right out and say it; The Personal MBA 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.
I’m not the only one who thinks so; Derek Sivers – the founder of CD Baby and one of my biggest heroes, said this of the book:

Wow. A masterpiece. This is now the one “START HERE” book I’ll be recommending to everybody interested in business. An amazing overview of everything you need to know. Covers all the basics, minus buzz-words and fluff. Look at my notes for an example, but read the whole book. One of the most inspiring things I’ve read in years. Want proof? I asked the author to be my coach/mentor afterwards. It’s that good.

Every important aspect of business is covered here – selling, accounting, working with others, individual work strategies, business development, and lots of others. If you’re a business major, or are interested in business, read this as soon as possible. You’ll get an unimaginable leg up on other students. Even if you’re not a business major, I’d recommend reading it; you’ll get a great overview of how business works and, as a result, become much more valuable to any company you work for.

your money the missing manualYour Money: The Missing Manual

Learning to effectively manage your money is 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. This book will save you money.

personal investing the missing manualPersonal Investing: The Missing Manual

Personal Investing: The Missing Manual 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, 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.

4 hour work weekThe 4-Hour Work Week

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.
The 4-Hour Work Week won’t show you a step-by-step method to set up a passive business and then party for the rest of your life, but it will show you how that kind of a lifestyle isn’t as impossible as you’d think, and it’ll point you toward the resources you’ll need to get started.
I didn’t start College Info Geek with this book’s principles in mind, but I’ve been able to build it into what it is today by using them – although I still don’t have my own army of virtual assistants. Still working on that 😛

brain rulesBrain Rules

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. The brain absolutely fascinates me, and that’s why I love Brain Rules so much.
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.

confessions of a public speakerConfessions of a Public Speaker

Public speaking is the most common fear among Americans – and probably everyone – but it doesn’t have to be. By simply practicing, you can build your confidence and work up to being able to speak in public without too much fear. Doing so is important, too – being able to speak competently and confidently in public will open a lot of doors for you. Companies aren’t blowing smoke when they list Communication Skills as the #1 desired quality in college grads.
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 (confidence monitors are the best thing ever).

worldly wisdomWorldly Wisdom: Collected Quotations and Aphorisms

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. How else would we find great works?
Worldly Wisdom is a big collection of quotes from people spanning tons of disciplines and time periods. The quotes are grouped into chapters based on their subjects, including work, change, growth, entrepreneurship, money, and more. Here are a few good ones:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin, naturalist and pioneer of evolutionary theory
“You can’t be normal and expect abnormal returns.” — Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational
“What do you suppose will satisfy the soul, except to walk free and own no superior?” — Walt Whitman, essayist and poet

I turn to this book when I need a good dose of inspiration. It also sometimes helps to spice up articles and papers!

5 very good reasons to punch a dolphin in the mouth5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth

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.
That’s why I keep a copy of 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth in my room. Matthew Inman is one of the funniest comic artists I’ve ever read, and this book is an excellent collection of Oatmeal material that I come back to often.
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