The 16 Best Books for Students: From Middle School to College

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What are the best books for students to read? What types of books are recommended for middle school students vs. college undergraduates?

School can be tough to get through. With all the papers, tests, and subjects to pass, a few books outside of your curricula may come in handy, no matter what grade you’re in.

We’ve compiled a list of the best books for students of middle school, high school, and college levels.

Books for Middle School Students

Reading is particularly crucial in middle school when you’re developing core skills and learning about important events in history. You also grow socially during school hours, so you could use advice on how to befriend fellow students and deal with conflict. Here are the best books for students at a middle school level.

Surviving Middle School

Middle school isn’t easy to navigate. Your peers are divided into cliques, the school work is harder, and your body is changing. With veteran teacher Luke Reynolds’s Surviving Middle School, you’ll walk through those school doors with your chin up, ready to face any challenges coming your way. This hilarious guide to surviving middle school employs Reynolds’s real-life experiences as a student and teacher to cover topics like peer pressure, bullying, academics, and young love.

10 Days to Faster Reading

Do you have a pile of reading material you’ve been assigned at school? Do you feel you could learn more if only you could read faster? In 10 Days to Faster Reading, Abby Marks Beale and the Princeton Language Institute offer a variety of strategies to help you reach your reading goals. By practicing their speed-reading techniques, you can learn new information more efficiently, rid yourself of unhelpful reading habits, and understand the things you read on a deeper level. 

Hidden Figures

Middle school students would benefit from learning about women’s roles in the US space program and the battles Black women had to fight to achieve these roles. Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race tells the story of a group of African-American women who, over a period of over 25 years, made major contributions to the US space program. Working in the American South during the Civil Rights Era, they overcame both race- and gender-based discrimination to launch brilliant and storied careers as mathematicians and engineers. These women were the unsung protagonists who shaped America’s destiny, playing a major role in the great drama of the nation’s history. 

The Diary of a Young Girl

The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most acclaimed works of the 20th century. Written by Anne Frank from 1942 to 1944, the diary reveals the humanity of those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis during their occupation of the Netherlands. Anne wrote about her experiences with anger, love, puberty, and fear as she and her family hid from an occupying force that wished to see her and her Jewish counterparts dead. Tight quarters, limited food, and the inability to go outside took an emotional toll on Anne and her fellow residents. This led to tensions that reflected the raging war taking place outside of their hiding place.


Middle school is a confusing time: the mounds of homework, the excitement of crushes, and the changes of puberty. Imagine that, on top of all of this, a face-first tumble onto the pavement has lodged your two front teeth higher into your mouth and you’ll need years of dental work to correct it. This is what happened to comic artist Raina Telgemeier, who recounts her middle school years in her autobiographical graphic novel, Smile. Through her exploration of adolescence, self-consciousness, and the horrors of dental work, Telgemeier sends an uplifting message to children: You can achieve confidence by focusing less on your appearance and more on your interests.

Books for High Schoolers

During high school, teenagers become more independent and are preparing for the real world. Some students are also working hard to get into a good college that will help them with their future careers. These are the best books for students who want to get the most out of their high school experience.

The Only Study Guide You’ll Ever Need

School is one of the biggest stressors that young people face. Receiving good grades impacts career success, and, as a result, the education system expects school to be students’ top priority despite their non-academic obligations. This pressure often makes young people chronically overwhelmed, and they consequently struggle to perform well in school. However, in The Only Study Guide You’ll Ever Need, Jade Bowler explains that school doesn’t have to be this way. If you learn how to effectively manage your mindset, study habits, and time, you can minimize your stress and live a balanced life while excelling in school.

Excellent Sheep

Elite colleges and universities in the US typically accept less than 10% of applicants, but their influence stretches far beyond this small group. In Excellent Sheep, author and former Yale professor William Deresiewicz makes the case that these institutions’ influence is negative. He argues that they’re so selective and profit-oriented that they contribute to social inequality and deprive students of high-quality learning. This book explores how governments, schools, and parents can collectively overhaul US higher education so students can fairly get into the college they deserve. By reading this book as a high school student, you can take away important information that will help you narrow down colleges, especially when it comes to the elite Ivy League schools that are incredibly selective.

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

Thinking is the key to improvement in all areas of your life—but what if it’s your thinking that needs to be improved? In The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, award-winning educators Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird provide a guide for maximizing your thought process to achieve the greatest success possible in the classroom, the workplace, and your personal life. 

Limitless Mind

If you believe that some people are naturally smarter, that you’re born with inherent aptitudes and weaknesses, and that, if you struggle to understand a subject then you’re not cut out for it, then everything you know about learning is wrong. In Limitless Mind, math educator Jo Boaler shows that the brain is capable of learning new skills and incorporating new ideas throughout our lives and that struggling to learn and making mistakes are integral parts of cognitive growth. 

On Writing Well

Writing is a crucial skill in high school and helps students prepare for all the essays they’ll write in college. No matter your current skill level, William Zinsser believes anyone can practice the craft of writing. On Writing Well offers a back-to-basics approach, focusing on honing essential writing skills rather than trying to employ complex stylistic techniques. More often than not, you’ll find yourself in a position where you’ll need to express an idea with words. And, whether you’re crafting an email, a paper, or a college application essay, you can apply Zinsser’s principles of simple, clear, and engaging writing.

Books for College Students

There’s a lot at stake for college students. You have to pick the right major, you’re expected to know what type of job you’ll have after graduation, and there’s even the option of an internship. It sounds stressful, but these books for college students can put you at ease in your toughest courses.

How to Become a Straight-A Student

Getting good grades in college opens up your world: It can help you get into better graduate schools and even get better jobs. But, how do you do well in college? Most students assume they must study endlessly to do well. However, in How to Become a Straight-A Student, professor and productivity expert Cal Newport argues that there’s a better way: With the right study techniques, you can ace your college courses with just a few hours of studying each day. 

The Pyramid Principle

What if you could write so clearly that your reader could perfectly understand your main ideas within the first 30 seconds of reading your prose? In The Pyramid Principle, writing expert Barbara Minto claims this is possible. She argues that the secret to clear, effective writing is beginning with your conclusions. She envisions strong writing to be structured like a pyramid, with conclusions at the peak and supporting evidence branching out beneath. 

Public Speaking for Success

In college, students will more than likely have to give presentations, so public speaking skills will put them ahead of the crowd. According to author and lecturer Dale Carnegie, public speaking is the one skill that can bring you more success, opportunity, and fulfillment than any other. In Public Speaking for Success, Carnegie argues that, as a skilled speaker, you’ll be able to change people’s hearts and minds, inspire action, improve your relationships, and advance your career. Most people fear speaking in public, but that’s only natural. And, with Carnegie’s time-tested lessons, you can learn to overcome that fear, take the stage, and speak with confidence and poise.

The Memory Book

What do a magician and a former NBA basketball player have in common? In Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas’s case, it was an affinity for memorization techniques. Together, they wrote The Memory Book, a collection of strategies intended to teach anyone how to improve their memorization skills and recall nearly any kind of information. 

Learn Like a Pro

Whether you’re a student, professional, or lifelong learner, Learn Like a Pro by Barbara Oakley and Olav Schewe can help you become a more effective learner. Drawing on the latest research in cognitive psychology and education, they provide proven techniques for mastering new skills and knowledge quickly and efficiently. With practical strategies for improving your memory, increasing your focus, and managing your time, this comprehensive book will help you unlock your full learning potential. 

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

As a college student, it can be difficult to prioritize your well-being, but it’s important for both your health and your academic success. In Barking Up the Wrong Tree, peak performance expert Eric Barker explains why context is king—in other words, why the rules for success depend on who you are. He helps you examine interpersonal relationships and understand the importance of kindness, networks, and your attitude towards success. Barker also shares his views on persistence and hard work, namely why you need to stick to some things and quit others and how you can achieve the ideal balance of work and play.

Final Words

Students are some of the hardest-working people around. They’re juggling several hours of classes, homework outside of the classroom, a social life, and extracurricular activities. It’s no wonder so many students crack under the pressure. If you sit down and take the time to read the best books for students we’ve shared here, then you’ll have a better chance of graduating with good grades and your head held high.

Do you have any recommendations for our list of the best books for students? Let us know in the comments below!

The 16 Best Books for Students: From Middle School to College

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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