The best books about the experiences of underprepared college freshmen

Who am I?

Having worked on college campuses for 25 years as a professor, administrator, and first-year experience program designer, I’ve seen first-hand how freshmen are increasingly failing at “adulting” because they are unprepared for the realities of campus life. I take on this needed preparation as co-author of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There) and as the creator of the Talking College™ Card Deck, discussion prompts for college-bound students and their parents/guardians. I share my insider knowledge with college-bound students and their parents at talks and workshops throughout the U.S. My goal is to help both groups thrive as they prepare for the upcoming transition.


I wrote...

How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

By Andrea Malkin Brenner, Lara Hope Schwartz,

Book cover of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

What is my book about?

The only book of its kind that guides first-year students to thrive in the transition after high school graduation and throughout their first year on campus, emphasizing the student’s ultimate self-reliance. It draws on the authors’ experiences teaching and working with thousands of first-year college students over decades. The book is filled with important resources needed to set the foundation of success at the collegiate level including lessons and activities on money; time and self-management; co-curricular and civic-engagement experiences; navigating relationships with family and friends back at home and roommates and peers on campus; exploring new college identities; finding one's voice inside and outside of the classroom; health, wellness and safety; and the importance of finding mentors for support in this life transition.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

Andrea Malkin Brenner Why did I love this book?

Anthropology professor Rebekah Nathan made the bold decision to do what anthropologists do best: live amongst those of a misunderstood culture. After fifteen years of teaching at a large university, she left her faculty position and went undercover as a freshman. Nathan moved into a dorm, ate off the student meal plan, and enrolled in courses as a full-time student. The book is filled with thoughtful insights about the challenges first-year students face, including academic stressors, looming student debt, and an increasingly disengaged student culture. My Freshman Year exposes a realistic view of the new transactional-cultured university campus, while simultaneously offering a compassionate peek into the daily struggles of new students.

By Rebekah Nathan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Freshman Year as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After more than fifteen years of teaching, Rebekah Nathan, a professor of anthropology at a large state university, realized that she no longer understood the behavior and attitudes of her students. Fewer and fewer participated in class discussion, tackled the assigned reading, or came to discuss problems during office hours. And she realized from conversations with her colleagues that they, too, were perplexed: Why were students today so different and so hard to teach? Were they, in fact, more likely to cheat, ruder, and less motivated? Did they care at all about their education, besides their grades?Nathan decided to put…


Book cover of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

Andrea Malkin Brenner Why did I love this book?

Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Students and Admissions at Stanford University, offers an exceptional parenting book that encourages parents to do less, not more for their children. The book takes on the negative outcomes that “helicopter parenting” has on children as they reach adulthood. The author backs up her messaging with solid research and personal interviews. She explains where students fail to thrive in college, and discusses the role that parents play by shielding their children from college-readiness, including learning to make mistakes and solve their own problems. This is a guidebook that encourages parents to allow their children independence and the ability to contemplate the young adults they want to be in college and beyond.

By Julie Lythcott-Haims,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked How to Raise an Adult as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Across a decade as Stanford University's dean of freshmen, Julie Lythcott-Haims noticed a startling rise in parental involvement in students' lives. Every year, more parents were exerting control over students' academic work, extracurricular, and career choices, taking matters into their own hands rather than risk their child's failure or disappointment. Meanwhile, Lythcott-Haims encountered increasing numbers of students who, as a result of hyper attentive parenting, lacked a strong sense of self and were poorly equipped to handle the demands of adult life. In How to Raise an Adult, Lythcott-Haims draws on research, on conversations with admissions officers, educators, and employers,…


Book cover of At the Intersection: Understanding and Supporting First-Generation Students

Andrea Malkin Brenner Why did I love this book?

The editors and contributing authors present research and theory interspersed with unique personal experiences of the journey taken by first-generation students as they move through college. The volume provides the reader with up-to-date data on two- and four-year colleges, and discusses the intersection of first-generation status with varied student identities including LGBT, low-income, African-American, Latinx, Native American, and undocumented. The last section of the book offers an introduction to practices, policies, and programs across the U.S., and directs educators, policymakers, and administrators to make campuses inclusive for diverse first-generation college students. At the Intersection is a resource for understanding and effectively responding to first-generation students’ divergent, shared, and intersectional identities in order to understand and alter their access, retention, learning, and well-being on the college campus.

By Robert Longwell-Grice (editor), Hope Longwell-Grice (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked At the Intersection as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The experiences of first-generation college students are not monolithic. The nexus of identities matter, and this book is intended to challenge the reader to explore what it means to be a first-generation college student in higher education. Designed for use in classrooms and for use by the higher education practitioner on a college campus today, At the Intersections will be of value to the reader throughout their professional career.

The book is divided into four parts with chapters of research and theory interspersed with thought pieces to provide personal stories to integrate the research and theory into lived experience. Each…


Book cover of Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities

Andrea Malkin Brenner Why did I love this book?

High school graduates with disabilities are often unaware of today’s new and rapidly developing options and limitations to postsecondary educational resources. This comprehensive guidebook provides excellent strategies for students who will be requesting disability access in preparation for the transition from high school into two and four-year colleges. Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities includes an array of this information for both college-bound students and disability support staff. These include user-friendly campus resources, lessons for understanding and requesting access to campus accommodations, support for applying for financial aid, and strategies for meeting professional expectations.

By Meg Grigal (editor), Joseph Madaus (editor), Lyman Dukes III (editor) , Debra Hart (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities provides effective strategies for navigating the transition process from high school into college for students with a wide range of disabilities. As students with disabilities attend two and four-year colleges in increasing numbers and through expanding access opportunities, challenges remain in helping these students and their families prepare for and successfully transition into higher education. Professionals and families supporting transition activities are often unaware of today's new and rapidly developing options for postsecondary education. This practical guide offers user-friendly resources, including vignettes, research summaries, and hands-on activities that…


Book cover of The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids

Andrea Malkin Brenner Why did I love this book?

In the year of her tenth reunion, journalist Alexandra Robbins returns to her former high-pressure public high school in Bethesda, MD. For the next year, she follows eight intelligent, motivated, and overachieving high school students through their daily lives. The author presents a host of complicated issues plaguing high-achieving suburban high schools including intense stress amongst students in AP courses, an epidemic of cheating, parental pressures to perform, unprescribed ADD drug use, and a cutthroat college admissions process. Although this is a nonfiction book scaffolded by investigative journalism, it reads like a novel. Robbins presents a clear warning to students as they navigate the pressures of achieving at peak levels and to parents about how serious the “Ivy-league obsession” is in American culture.

By Alexandra Robbins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Overachievers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling author of Pledged returns with a groundbreaking look at the pressure to achieve faced by America's teens

In Pledged, Alexandra Robbins followed four college girls to produce a riveting narrative that read like fiction. Now, in The Overachievers, Robbins uses the same captivating style to explore how our high-stakes educational culture has spiraled out of control. During the year of her ten-year reunion, Robbins goes back to her high school, where she follows heart-tuggingly likeable students including "AP" Frank, who grapples with horrifying parental pressure to succeed; Audrey, whose panicked perfectionism overshadows her life; Sam, who worries his…


You might also like...

Anatomy of Embodied Education: Creating Pathways to Brain-Mind Evolution

By E. Timothy Burns, Jim Brown,

Book cover of Anatomy of Embodied Education: Creating Pathways to Brain-Mind Evolution

E. Timothy Burns

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The vast mysterious terrain explored in this book encompasses the embodied human brain, the processes through which humans grow, develop, and learn, and the mystery of consciousness itself. We authors offer this guidebook to assist you in entering and exploring that terrain.

As parents and educators come to understand this terrain and these vital processes more fully, we also begin to see how we have been unnecessarily hampered by erroneous assumptions and flawed educational practices common to our culture. Then, seeing those impediments, we can create ways to move beyond them, allowing our children’s growth, development, and learning to proceed more freely and naturally.

Anatomy of Embodied Education: Creating Pathways to Brain-Mind Evolution

By E. Timothy Burns, Jim Brown,

What is this book about?

Imagine that you have obtained a guidebook for exploring a vast, mysterious forest that you have heard of, but have never known how to approach-a forest so intricate and lush that most people feel reluctant to enter it without an experienced guide, and yet so alluring that you long to wander its paths, follow its streams to their source, gain access to its panoramic views of terrains that have barely begun to be mapped.


What makes this terrain so alluring is that it enfolds largely untold knowledge of the processes through which humans grow, develop, learn. And as explorers understand…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in higher education, parenting, and Christianity?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about higher education, parenting, and Christianity.

Higher Education Explore 29 books about higher education
Parenting Explore 325 books about parenting
Christianity Explore 583 books about Christianity