For some time now, I have published an annual summer reading list assembled by Brennan Barnard. He is the director of college counseling at the private Derryfield School in New Hampshire and college admission program manager of the Making Caring Common project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The list of recommenders is unusual: Barnard asks fellow high school college admissions counselors as well as college admissions deans for recommendations of books for students and parents to read. Some of the several dozen suggestions are related to the education world, and some are not.
Here is the 2019 list. There’s something on it for everyone.
By Brennan Barnard
It has, undoubtedly, been a most eventful year in college admissions.
There was the massive college bribery scandal called Varsity Blues, as well as a lawsuit against Harvard University alleging that the admissions process is rigged against Asian Americans. The College Board released a new tool to inform colleges about adversity that applicants face in their lives, and the Justice Department is conducting an antitrust probe into some early-decision programs.
Those of us trying to guide students of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances through the college search and application experience have needed to cut through the noise and focus on what really matters.
A number of books have helped me maintain perspective this year, chief of which was David Brooks’s “The Road to Character." Through a study of great leaders and activists, Brooks invites us to consider the human condition and focus on aspects of character that really matter. He describes “eulogy virtues,” those qualities that we will always be known for — the contributions we make to others and the joy we bring to life. He contrasts these distinguishing characteristics with “resume virtues,” the list of achievements or awards that we may have won.
Too often, students applying to college focus on stuffing their résumé with a laundry list of activities and courses at the expense of the larger question of whom they want to be as a human. Summer provides a great opportunity to explore these questions and step back from the routine.
What book stood out to you this year? As summer begins, I asked my colleagues in high school counseling and college admission to recommend their favorite books from the year. Some titles can help students and families ask critical questions of character, and others will simply serve as an escape from more academic pursuits. Here are their top picks for you to enjoy in the summer months.
“The Stressed Years of Their Lives: Helping Your Kid Survive and Thrive During Their College Years” by Janet Hibbs and Anthony Rostain — Recommended by: Stacey Cunitz, director of college counseling, the Crefeld School, Pa.
“The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are” by Alan Watts — Recommended by: Morning Naughton, senior associate director of admission, Warren Wilson College, N.C.
“The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults” by Frances Jensen & Amy Ellis Nutt — Recommended by: Amy Baumgartel Singer, director of college counseling, the Wheeler School
“The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt — Recommended by: Fran Swift, director of guidance and school counseling, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, N.J.
“Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely — Recommended by: Matthew DeGreeff, dean of college counseling & student enrichment, Middlesex School, Mass.
“Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” by James W. Loewen — Recommended by: Heath Einstein, dean of admissions, Texas Christian University, Tex.
“Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives” by Rachel Simmons — Recommended by: Courtney Skerritt, director of college counseling, the Hockaday School, Tex.
“The Privileged Poor” by Anthony Abraham Jack — Recommended by: Erica Johnson, vice president of enrollment management, Westminster College, Utah
“What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen” by Kate Fagan — Recommended by: Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admissions, Georgia Tech, Ga.
“Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ” by Daniel Goleman — Recommended by: Art McCann, dean of college counseling, Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences, Calif.
“Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education” Nathan D. Grawe — Recommended by: Catherine McDonald Davenport, vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions, Dickinson College, Pa.
“How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success” by Julie Lythcott-Haims — Recommended by: Tim Neil, assistant director of admissions, Sewanee: The University of the South, Tenn.
OTHER GREAT READS
“Sounds like Titanic: A Memoir” by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman — Recommended by: Lauren Lieberman, director of college counseling, Shady Side Academy, Pa.
“The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life” by David Brooks — Recommended by: Angel Perez, vice president for enrollment and student success, Trinity College, Conn.
“Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica” by Ana Smiljanic — Recommended by: Christopher Chiakulas, college & career counselor, Round Lake High School, Ill.
“Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi — Recommended by: Roland Allen, director of college counseling, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, Calif.
“Born A Crime” by Trevor Noah — Recommended by: Mike Sexton, vice president for enrollment management, Santa Clara University, Calif.
“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari — Recommended by: J. Carey Thompson, vice president for enrollment and communications, Rhodes College, Tenn.
“Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist” by Eli Saslow — Recommended by: Randy Mills, director of college counseling, Greenhill School, Tex.
“Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America” by Ibram X. Kendi — Recommended by: Andrea Felder, assistant vice provost for undergraduate admissions, American University, D.C.
“Waking Up White” by Debby Irving — Recommended by: Diane Campbell, director of college counseling, Liberty Common High School, Colo.
“Rebel Talent” by Francesca Gino — Recommended by: Anthony Franco, associate director of college counseling, St. George’s School, R.I.
“This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women” by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman — Recommended by: Scott Chrysler, academic dean and college counselor, Episcopal School of Acadiana, La.
“Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth” by Sarah Smarsh — Recommended by: Peter Jennings, director of college counseling, Concord Academy, Mass.
“Beartown: A Novel” by Fredrik Backman — Recommended by: Emily Roper-Doten, dean of admission and financial aid, Olin College of Engineering, Mass.
“Us Against You: A Novel” by Fredrik Backman — Recommended by: Matthew Hyde, dean of admissions, Lafayette College, Pa.
“Vengeance” by Zachary Lazar — Recommended by: Jeff Schiffman, director of admissions, Tulane University, La.
“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid — Recommended by: Matt Cohen, senior associate director of admissions, Skidmore College, N.Y.
“Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life” by Susan David — Recommended by: Mike Schell, director of academic & college counseling, Catholic Memorial, Mass.
“It’s All Relative, Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree” by A.J. Jacobs — Recommended by: Logan Powell, dean of admissions, Brown University, R.I.
“Helium” by Rudy Francisco — Recommended by: Kortni Campbell, senior associate dean of admission and financial aid, Davidson College, N.C.
“Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” by Blake Snyder — Recommended by: Don Bishop, associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, University of Notre Dame, Ind.
“Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time” by Susan Scott — Recommended by: Morgan Phillips, director of college counseling, Saint Mary’s School, N.C.
“Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport — Recommended by: E. Whitney Soule, dean of admissions and financial aid, Bowdoin College, N.C.