The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A summer reading list from college admissions counselors

Here’s what to read this summer. (Bigstock)

Here is a rather unusual summer reading list. It was assembled by Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at  The Derryfield School in Manchester, New Hampshire, who asked college admissions deans and high school counselors to send him recommendations of books that are great summer reads for parents, students and everybody else. The list includes books about college, other non-fiction and great fiction.

Here is a brief introduction from Barnard and then the 2014  list with nearly 40 books. Last year’s list of 28 books was published by The New York Times, here.

By Brennan Barnard

It was late June 1991, and I sat upright on the edge of the plush chair in the  admissions office, pictures of brick buildings and cheerful coeds adorning the walls.  Nervously I fidgeted with my hands, being sure to make eye contact as my counselor had instructed.  The admission dean fired off softball questions about my high school in attempt to put me at ease.  I was on Day 5 of my first college tour and every campus was starting to look the same.  As I sat in that office, much like the others before, my mind wandered.  Was I in New York or New Hampshire?

I was jolted back to the moment, as the interviewer smiled and delivered the question.  It was the one question that I still remember 20 some years later.  “What is your favorite book?”  A simple inquiry, but one that stopped me in my tracks.  My mind raced.  ‘What does she want to hear?’ ‘Should I go the intellectual route?’  ‘Should I try and be unique?’  ‘ Does this college count a famous author among their graduates?’   ‘Which college am I at anyway?’

I paused for what seemed like an eternity.  “Mama Day” by Gloria Naylor, I offered.  A story of race, family, tradition and relationships, it was the last book we had read in junior year before school let out for the summer, so weeks later it was the only one stuck in my mind.

It is with great clarity that I recall the answer I gave that summer day.  Maybe because it is when I suddenly realized that college would be about books and studying, not just independence and fraternity parties.  Or perhaps it was the first time I started considering what it means to be a thoughtful reader and when I appreciated the opportunity that the space and time that summer provides to explore fine literature.

What follows is a sampling of recommendations from college admission deans and high school counselors.  Some are specific to college admission and others are just great reads.  Everyone is sure to find something that keeps them turning the page this season.  Enjoy and good wishes for a safe and restful summer.


*“I’m Going to College—Not You!: Surviving the College Search with Your Child” by Jennifer Delahunty

Recommended by: Susan Dyment, Director of College Guidance, Sant Bani School, Sanbornton, NH

Recommended by: Michael Sexton, Vice President for Enrollment Management, Santa Clara University, CA

*“Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys” by Michael Thompson and Dan Kindlon

Recommended by: Catherine McDonald Davenport, Executive Director of Admissions, Dickinson College, PA

*“The College Admissions Mystique” by Bill Mayher

Recommended by: Julie Lillis, Co-Director of College Counseling, Hackley School, NY

*“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain<

Recommended by: Courtney M. Skerritt, Associate Director of College Counseling, The Hockaday School, TX

*“How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough

Recommended by: Paul Sunde, Director of Admission, Dartmouth College, NH

*“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck

Recommended by: Kelly B. Richards, Director of College Counseling, St. George’s School, RI

Recommended by: Peter Olrich, Director of College Counseling, Brooks School, MA

*“Let the Journey Begin: A Parent’s Monthly Guide to the College Experience” by Jackie MacKay and Wanda Ingram

Recommended by: Owen Bligh, Assistant Director of Admission, Providence College, RI

*“David & Goliath: underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants” by Malcolm Gladwell

Recommended by:  Jennifer B Warren, Director of College Counseling & CAS, Verde Valley School, AZ


*“Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation” By Parker Palmer

Recommended by:  Brennan Barnard, Director of College Counseling, The Derryfield School, NH

*“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

Recommended by:  Beverly Morse, Associate Dean of Admission, Kenyon College

*“College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step” by Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde

Recommended by:  Jennifer Delahunty, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Kenyon College, OH

Recommended by:  Elizabeth Cheron, Director of Admission, Northeastern University, MA

*“8 First Choices” by Joyce Slayton Mitchell

Recommended by:  Bernadette Condesso, Director of College Counseling, Poughkeepsie Day School, NY

*“How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out)” by Cal Newport

Recommended by:  Sara Ringe, Assistant Director of College Counseling, Whitefield School, MO

*“Going Geek: what every smart kid (and every smart parent) should know about college admission” by John Carpenter

Recommended by:  Anne Shandley, Director of College Counseling, Cannon School, NC


College Admission Related:

*“College Unranked: Ending the College Admission Frenzy”

Recommended by:  Bruce Berk, Associate Director of College Counseling, The Derryfield School, NH

Recommended by:  Dave Schindel Associate Director of College Counseling, Sandia Preparatory School, NM

*“A Hope in the Unseen” by Ron Suskind

Recommended by:  Robert D. Ramey, Assistant Director of Admissions, The George Washington University, DC

*“How College Works” by Daniel F. Chambliss and Christopher G. Takacs

Recommended by:  Susan Zarwell, Director of College Guidance, University School of Milwaukee, WI

*“Higher Education? By Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreyfus

Recommended by:  Matthew Struckmeyer, Co-Director of College Counseling at Dunn School, CA

*“The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities” by William D. Cohan

Recommended by: Betsy Dolan, Director of College Counseling, Phillips Exeter Academy, NH

*“Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude Steele

Recommended by: Susan Weingartner, Director of College Counseling, Francis W. Parker School, IL

*“College (Un)bound” by Jeffrey Selingo

Recommended by: Jonny Nicholson, Director of College Counseling, Breck School, MN


by Alfred Lansing

Recommended by: Peter C. Jennings, Director of College Counseling, Concord Academy, MA

*“Everything Matters!” by Ron Currie, Jr.

Recommended by:  Danielle da Silva, Director of College Counseling, Beaver Country Day School, MA

*“Strengths Finder” by Tom Rath

Recommended by:  Cynthia Williams, Regional Admission Counselor, Ithaca College, NY

Recommended by:  Julie Ramsey, Director of Admissions, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

*“With Love & Prayers: A Headmaster Speaks to the Next Generation” by F Washington Jarvis

Recommended by:  Carrie Brodsky, Associate Director of College Counseling, Westtown School, PA

*“Wonder” by R. J. Palacio

Recommended by:  Michael Carter, Director of College Counseling, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School, VA

“The Examined Life” by Stephen Grosz

Recommended by:  Mimi Csatlos, Director of College Counseling, Virginia Episcopal School, VA

*’”Metamorphoses” by Ovid

Recommended by:  Andy Luther, Assistant Director of College Counseling, Landon School, MD

*“In the Light of What We Know” by Zia Haider Rahman

Recommended by:  Jed Geary, Director of College Counseling, Eagle Hill School, MA

*“The Opposite of Loneliness” by Marina Keegan

Recommended by:  Amy Selinger, Director of College Counseling, Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, MA

Recommended by:  Isthier Chaudhury, Senior Admissions Counselor, University of Rochester, NY

*“Words to Live By: Short Spiritual Readings of Daily Wisdom” by Eknath Easwaran

Recommended by:  Radha Mishra, College Counselor, Hun School, NJ

*“The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World” by Michael Pollan

Recommended by:  Leigh A. Weisenburger, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Bates College, ME

*“Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis

Recommended by:  Carl Ahlgren, Director of College Counseling, Gilman School, MD