5 Books for Troubled College Students

By Brandon Sasserson on June 30, 2019

College represents one of the most important transitional periods in most people’s lives. Entering a four-year program as a high school teenager with the expectation of becoming a fully functioning adult upon completion, can seem like a daunting task. Consequently, many students struggle academically, socially and/or mentally through this period of change as a result of the immense pressure to succeed. The high cost of tuition and living expenses, along with the expectations of family members, are all factors that make attending college a make-or-break, pressure-infused journey. Along the way, college students may run into crises that exacerbate the stressors of attending and can make the idea of earning your diploma seem like a hopeless dream. Troubled college students need help, but many times the solutions to their problems can only be achieved on your own. Therefore, setting time aside to meditatively read a self-help book may be a beneficial first step for a troubled college student to take. If you or a loved one are going through a difficult time in college, here are five books that can help a troubled college student get back on track!

“The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now” by Meg Jay 

Jay’s book encompasses mental health, finding employment, young love and many other situations that are implicit to the lives of twenty-year-olds. Unlike other books on the list, “The Defining Decade” is not strictly applicable to college students but seeks to help anyone in the early stages of adulthood. The author is a clinical psychologist who weaves her book with accounts and situations from actual twentysomethings she has counseled, which makes “The Defining Decade” such a realistic and actionable read.

Jay’s self-help book quiets the growing notion of “30 being the new 20,” and illustrates how and why a person’s twenties are massively important to their later success. There are several valuable tips and pointers in Jay’s book that explain how twentysomethings can take control of their future by adopting a new mindset and forming positive habits in their day-to-day lives.

“How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country’s Top Students” by Cal Newport

While “The Defining Decade” may be more of a defensive outlook on self-improvement with a focus on getting readers to survive or maintain, Newport’s “How to Win at College” provides a more offensive approach that focuses on getting its young readers to thrive. By taking accounts of the country’s most admirable college students, Newport is able to provide troubled college students with several habits and routines that could increase their chances of success.

However, Newport is known to employ what many consider to be extreme tactics in order to achieve a desirable end. For instance, Newport is a proud non-partaker in social media who has never held an account on any of the major social networking sites, and he believes his absence online has been a contributor to his success. Thus, “How to Win at College” would be best suited for a student willing to make drastic changes in order to improve their lives.

If you are someone who likes to take smaller steps or be more conservative with your approach to improving as a college student, then Newport may not be the best option for you. Newport has also written a similarly offensively-geared self-help book for college students called “How to Become a Straight-A Student.” Aside from his work as an author, Newport is also an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University so students in that field may gain an extra advantage from reading his work.

“The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything In Between” by Bill McGarvey and Nora Bradbury-Haehl

The Freshman Survival Guide” takes a more general view of the life of a college student in its approach. McGarvey and Bradbury-Haehl’s book is also written in a more fun and casual manner so it is a more entertaining read than other options. Unlike Newport’s self-improvement book that is solely concerned with academics, “The Freshman Survival Guide” penetrates the behind-the-scenes factors that decide whether a student drops out or earns their diploma.

The book is split up into five sections, and the first component of college life McGarvey and Bradbury-Haehl tackle is “relationships.” So if you or a loved one are mainly struggling to adjust to college socially, “The Freshman Survival Guide” may be the ideal choice, even if you aren’t a freshman.

Along with their broader outlook, one factor that separates “The Freshman Survival Guide” and “The Defining Decade” from “How to Win at College,” is that Newport’s book was published in 2005, while the other two were published in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Therefore, “The Defining Decade” and “The Freshman Survival Guide” are more in sync with the present and “How to Win at College” may have some slightly outdated content.

“A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)” by Barbara Oakley

Oakley is a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, MI. Similar to “How to Win at College,” Oakley’s “A Mind For Numbers” is strictly concerned with academics. The adjustment from high school level Math and Science to the college level can represent a major leap for many students.

Even if a student’s major isn’t related to math, many times there will be requirements to take a math course so improving your skills with numbers is almost imperative to everyone’s college experience. If you are struggling to pass a math class that is required for your major, Oakley’s book can present you with new learning strategies that will help you overcome any dreaded math and science courses.

“How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between The Lines” by Thomas C. Foster

How to Read Literature Like a Professor” will help troubled college students who are struggling with English courses comparable to how “A Mind For Numbers” can help students with Math and Science. Foster studied at Dartmouth College and was a professor of literature and writing for the University of Michigan-Flint for several decades. In his book, Foster seeks to simplify many of the common archetypes and concepts in literature in order to evolve his readers’ analysis and interpretive skills.

Another benefit of reading “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” is that you will gain a greater sense of what your literature professors are looking for in your essays or group discussions, which will highly benefit your final grade. Foster’s book will be extremely beneficiary to any college student who struggles with literary analysis or other English related assignments.

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