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15 Summer Reads 2021-2022 for Incoming College Students

15 Summer Reads 2021-2022 for Incoming College Students

College readiness is an important part of the transition from high school to college. To set incoming college students up for success, it's important to develop essential skills and prepare the mind for a new learning environment. One great way to do this is by reading! Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, reading can help students gain new knowledge and cultivate critical thinking skills. This blog will explore 15 summer reads 2021-2022 perfect for incoming college students to prepare them for the upcoming semester.

For summer reads 2021-2022, we’re including books from Boston University, Princeton University, the University of Maryland, and Northwestern University’s reading lists. Learn more about the favorite books chosen by each school’s faculty and staff members. Below, we have included short summaries of these books from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Top 3 most popular books chosen by more than one university:

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
Read by students at The University of California, Berkeley, University of Maryland
Isabel Wilkerson introduces the caste system—the hierarchy of human rankings—and how it influences people’s behavior and a nation’s fate. By exploring America, India, and Germany’s caste systems, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Read by students at The University of California, Berkeley; Bryn Mawr College.
Paulo Coelho tells the story of Santiago, a young boy from Andalusia who goes on a magical adventure to find treasure. On his journey, he meets new people and embarks on exciting adventures that help him broaden his horizons and gain wisdom about his life. With its inspirational messages and timeless wisdom, The Alchemist is sure to leave readers feeling hopeful and empowered.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Read by students at Spelman College, Northwestern University
The story of the “Great Migration” of Black Southerners in the 20th century is told through the lives of three people who migrated to Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles. It tells the story through first-hand accounts, tracing six decades of struggle as these individuals tried to build better lives for themselves and their families. The book is both a sweeping narrative about the Great Migration and an in-depth exploration of some of its most important stories.

1. Boston University

To read a short description of all 15 books, please refer to Boston University’s Summer Reading List.

  • The Guncle by Steven Rowley

The Guncle is a moving tribute to the power of love, patience, and family in even the most trying of times. The novel stars a once-famous gay sitcom star whose unexpected family tragedy leaves him with his niece and nephew for the summer. With the help of his friend Jack and an LGBTQ support group, Michael learns what it means to be an uncle in this modern world while also coming to terms with his own identity. The Guncle offers readers a touching insight into the complexities of family life and finding one’s place in it.

  • King Richard: Nixon and Watergate—An American Tragedy by Michael Dobbs

The novel brings us back to when Richard Nixon was inaugurated in 1973, linked with the Watergate scandal. King Richard is the intimate, utterly absorbing narrative of the tension-packed hundred days when the Watergate burglars and their handlers in the administration turned on one another, revealing their direct connection to the White House. Drawing on exhaustive research to trace the origins and consequences of the Watergate conspiracy, Dobbs offers an insightful look into the mindset of Richard Nixon, from his White House years to his resignation in 1974. Through compelling narrative and careful analysis, Dobbs paints a vivid picture of a president who was willing to risk everything for absolute power.

  • Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

Somebody’s Daughter displays the growing-up journey of a poor Black girl in Indiana with a family fragmented by incarceration. Readers follow Ashley in the journey to find who she is and what she was born into. With her signature wit and wisdom, Ford weaves together stories of her upbringing, her dreams of motherhood, her encounters with racism and misogyny, and the complexities of being both black and queer. Combining memoir with investigative journalism and insights from experts in the fields of criminal justice reform and mental health, Somebody’s Daughter offers readers a powerful examination of our society today—and a call to action.

2. Summer Reads 2021-2022: University of California, Berkeley
For this year’s summer reading, the University of California, Berkeley has released a new reading list under the theme of “Lift Our Gazes.” Despite the global pandemic, people are enduring and working hard every day. And to acknowledge this difficult period, the school invites students to “lift their gazes” and look forward into the future with hope, purpose, and resilience. These books “might help you to lift your gaze as you come to campus in the fall to embark on the next stage of your life’s journey.” To read a short description of all the books, please refer to the University of California, Berkeley’s Summer Reading List. Let’s see what this unique and powerful list has to offer:
  • The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Karla documents the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans in this deeply personal and groundbreaking portrait of a nation. Through these stories, we understand what it truly means to be a stray. An expendable. A hero. An American. Whether it’s immigrant workers in Florida, entrepreneurs in Texas, or asylum seekers in the nation’s capital, Villavicencio gives a voice to those too often silenced by circumstance and policy. Illuminating the struggles and triumphs of people from all walks of life, The Undocumented Americans is an urgent reminder that we are all connected, no matter where we come from.

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The book is a powerful memoir telling the story of the author’s childhood. She shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. By focusing on the details of her everyday struggles and joys, Woodson creates an intimate portrait full of beauty and sorrow. Brown Girl Dreaming is a powerful testament to our collective history—and one young girl’s struggle to find her place in it.

  • Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom by Tiya Miles

The novel tells the haunting saga of a quintessentially American family. It is the story of Shoe Boots, a famed Cherokee warrior and successful farmer, and Doll, an enslaved African he acquired in the late 1790s. Drawing on archival research and oral history, Miles weaves together the story of an interracial family in the nineteenth century South who were part of the Cherokee freedmen population. Through her exploration of this singular experience, Ties That Bind illuminates a complex web of intertwined stories that are illuminating yet heartbreakingly familiar.

2. University of Maryland

To read a short description of all of the books, please refer to the University of Maryland’s Summer Reading List.

  • The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson

In this novel, the author discusses how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies through the discovery of CRISPR and gene editing. With Isaacson’s masterful storytelling, readers are taken on an engaging journey into Doudna’s life and work as she navigates her way through complex ethical issues and uncharted technological frontiers. An essential read for anyone who wants to understand the potential—and the perils—of this remarkable new science.

  • Quality Shareholders: How the Best Managers Attract and Keep Them by Lawrence A. Cunningham

Cunningham offers an expert guide to the benefits of attracting and keeping quality shareholders, as Warren Buffett called those who “load up and stick around,” or buy large stakes and hold for long periods. Cunningham guides readers through the fundamentals of investor relations management, shedding light on how good management can help create value for both shareholders and corporations alike.

  • Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant

The author examines the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people’s minds, which can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life. With bold ideas and rigorous evidence, he investigates how we can embrace the joy of being wrong, bring nuance to charged conversations, and build schools, workplaces, and communities of lifelong learners.

3. Princeton University

Princeton University’s Office of the President chooses a book that they determine to present new and important ideas for each incoming first-year class. This book is then distributed and sent to incoming students prior to the start of the semester. During Orientation, students can participate in group Pre-read discussions with student leaders, and then continue the discussion, led by President Eisgruber, during the academic semester. For this year’s incoming class of 2025, the chosen read is “Moving Up Without Losing Your Way.” According to President Eisgruber, the book is “a philosophical reflection on the challenges of being a college student which gracefully integrates philosophical insights with common-sense observations and personal stories. It speaks candidly about what makes a college education exhilarating, what makes it hard, and how to navigate the choices it requires.” More information about the book can be found here.

4. NYU

Every year, NYU brings the school community together through a common reading. The reading will be discussed during Welcome Week at NYU. This year, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer was chosen.


Braiding Sweetgrass is a remarkable collection of essays seeking to reconcile science with traditional cultural knowledge. Kimmerer’s book tells us how science and traditional cultural knowledge can complement each other as we strive to better understand the environment in which we live.

5. Northwestern University

To read a short description of all eight books, please refer to Northwestern University’s Summer Reading List.

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist by training and a Nobel Laureate in Economics. In this award-winning book, Kahneman introduces two parts that animate the human brain’s mindset: the conscious and the automatic, and how they are continually fighting over control of your behavior and actions in different situations. It’ll give you insights into errors in your memory, judgment, and decisions, because of, for example, the halo effects. After reading this, you will have a profound understanding of human’s predictably irrational decisions that humans make every day.

  • Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity, Walter Scheidel

Walter Scheidel argues that Rome’s dramatic collapse was the best thing that ever happened, clearing the path for Europe’s economic rise and creating the modern age. Scheidel shows how the demise of Rome and the enduring failure of empire-building on European soil ensured competitive fragmentation between and within states.

6. Duke University

This year, Duke University released its book choice through the Summer Reading Program to encourage discussions and dialogue among students, especially first-year students.


“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid
Such a Fun Age is a big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both. The novel explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” and the complicated reality of being a grown-up.
Incoming college students have a diverse list of exciting books to look forward to this summer! Whether they’re looking for a deep dive into the world of technology, an exploration of ethical dilemmas, or just an escape from reality through fiction, there’s something on this list for everyone. From classics like Wuthering Heights, to contemporary reads such as The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson and Quality Shareholders by Lawrence A. Cunningham, each of these titles is sure to spark curiosity and encourage critical thinking while preparing students for the start of their college life!


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