Top 15 Books Every College And High School Student Should Read

college student reaching for a book on a bookshelf

Compiling this list of books for college and high school students was much harder than I thought it would be. There are just so many impactful books it was hard to narrow them down. So, I’ve decided this will be an ongoing list of books.

1. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

Rich Dad Poor Dad was required reading in my household as soon as I turned 13. My parents wanted to teach me how mindset affects personal finance and how I could achieve my own financial goals. This book will teach you to find opportunities to get out of the rat race. It focuses on mindset, and theory, and suggests the next steps rather than being a “do this” book. Ultimately your financial journey is up to you. Personally, I got a lot out of this book, and I have purchased numerous copies and given them away as gifts.

“There is a difference between being poor and being broke. Broke is temporary. Poor is eternal.” – Robert Kiyosaki

2. The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker

When I was creating the list of books for college and high school students, this book had to be on it. Personal safety on campus is vitally important. I recommended this book in Student Safety: How To Stay Safe On Your College Campus because it contains good solid tips to listen to your instincts, to process your surroundings, and put yourself and your personal safety first. There are signs that we should learn and acknowledge because they have the power to change the outcome of a potentially violent situation. I recommend this book to everyone but especially young women. You must put your safety first, ahead of the feelings or wants of any stranger regardless of how nice they seem.

“Only human beings can look directly at something, have all the information they need to make an accurate prediction, perhaps even momentarily make the accurate prediction, and then say that it isn’t so.” – Gavin de Beck

3. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Art of War is a classic book of military strategy based on Chinese warfare and military strategy and tactics. These teachings have been adapted for use in politics, business, and everyday life. As a Sensei, this was required reading for me and as a martial artist, I’m not going to turn down reading about Chinese philosophy.

The Art Of War is an excellent book for those who want to become managers and leaders. The book is required reading for Harvard Business students because it teaches students the subtle art of leadership. Here are 5 Tips For Students Planning To Become Managers.

This book has several different translations, some of them are better than others. However, the main messages are captured by each translation.

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” —Sun Tzu

4. The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

This book is important for myth-busting what a millionaire looks like and how a millionaire behaves. When you think of millionaires what comes to your mind? If you think the lifestyle of millionaires is about lavish spending, dream homes, luxury travels, expensive cars, or yachts then you need to read this book to change your perception. Frugal and modest are likely not the first two words that you think of, yet many millionaires’ lifestyles are both frugal and modest. This book will teach you the difference between income and wealth. 

5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

If you are looking to excel in your career, especially in a management or corporate position, then this book is a must-read. This book covers aspects of human interaction, personal habits, responsibilities, and actions. The most important lesson I took away from the 7 Habits was that “How you see the problem is the problem!” You must change your perspective on the problems you’re faced with. Your mindset controls and influences your emotions and affects your stress level. Changing your mindset will allow you to control your emotions and reduce or minimize your stress.

6. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements tops the list of books for college students. This book explores philosophy and linguistics. Consider how language is used in cultures to create belief systems. These belief systems create a foundation of instructions for you to live your life. Our brains are wired to believe that our belief systems are accurate, but they aren’t always accurate. Miguel Ruiz reveals the self-limiting beliefs, beliefs that many of us have believed.

The Four Agreements are these:

  • 1. Be impeccable with your word
  • 2. Don’t take anything personally
  • 3. Don’t make assumptions
  • 4. Always do your best

7. The Millionaire Mind by Thomas J. Stanley

I love this book for the same reason I love The Millionaire Next Door. It shows that most millionaires are much different from the stereotypical idea of what a millionaire is and what they care about.

Millionaires are far more thrifty, stability-oriented, and marriage-oriented. It may surprise many that millionaires do NOT rate overly high on standardized tests. Instead, they tend to work a lot harder than their overly intelligent counterparts (excluding lawyers and doctors). Therefore, it’s important not to get caught up in SAT or ACT scores, those scores do not control how successful you can become.

8. Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life by Stuart Diamond

This is the best book on negotiation that I have read. It is crucial to acknowledge that negotiation is not just for lawyers. Negotiation techniques can and should be used in all aspects of life. The reason this is the best negotiation book I’ve read is that it combines negotiation, social psychology, interpersonal communication, and personal growth concepts. All of these concepts are based on common sense. They are simple to understand and easy to implement.

9. Three Feet From Gold by Sharon L. Lechter and Dr. Greg Reid

This book is a must-read for anyone that feels like quitting, it is not only inspirational but uplifting. Quitting is something you do when you don’t believe in yourself or what you are doing. Sometimes we all need a reminder that we are worth believing in. Quitting is an excuse, it’s a way to opt-out of doing the things you need to do to be successful.

“Before great success comes, you will surely meet with temporary defeat. When people are overtaken by these feelings, the easiest and perhaps most logical thing to do is to quit. Quitting is exactly what the majority of people do.” – Three Feet From Gold

One thing that is interesting about this book is that it’s written as a novel. Therefore, it’s a story that you can learn from rather than being a dry informational non-fiction book. This will keep your attention if you’re not a fan of non-fiction books. Read this book and you will get that extra push, encouragement, and strength to turn any obstacle into an opportunity.

10. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

I agree with this book’s tagline, “Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown.” Most will agree that many talented people are dedicated and work very hard to be good at their talent. This book shows you how to grow talent with Coyle’s 3 key elements, regardless of the talent you intend to grow.

  • 1. Deep Practice. Everyone knows that practice is a key to success. But Coyle takes it further, specific kinds of practice can be far more effective and grow your skills quicker.
  • 2. Ignition. Coyle believes to be really talented there must be more than motivation. There must be more commitment and the ability to ignite passion for your talent.
  • 3. Master Coaching. What are the secrets of the world’s most effective teachers, trainers, and coaches? Discover the four virtues that enable these “talent whisperers” to fuel passion, inspire deep practice, and bring out the best in their students.

When these 3 key elements work together, they form myelin, a microscopic neural substance, in your brain. Myelin adds great speed and accuracy to your movements and thoughts. The amazing part is myelin can be nourished and it can continuously grow. There are a lot of books that talk about how to develop talent, but this book will change how college students view talented people.

11. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Combining magic, mysticism, wisdom, and wonder into an inspiring tale of self-discovery, The Alchemist has become a modern classic, selling millions of copies around the world and transforming the lives of countless readers across generations.

Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, following our dreams.

When you are adding books to your bookshelf don’t leave out The Alchemist, it’s perfect for college and high school students to give them the inspiration to follow their dreams.

12. Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Think and Grow Rich has been called the “Granddaddy of All Motivational Literature.” It was the first book to boldly ask, “What makes a winner?” The man who asked and listened for the answer, Napoleon Hill, is now counted in the top ranks of the world’s winners himself.

The most famous of all teachers of success spent “a fortune and the better part of a lifetime of effort” to produce the “Law of Success” philosophy that forms the basis of his books and that is so powerfully summarized in this one.

13. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Orwell uses an Animal Farm to explain what humans do to other humans. The farm is taken over by its overworked and mistreated animals to be ruled by the animals not the horrible people. The animals start a revolution seeking progress, justice, and equality. This book criticizes politics and totalitarian rule.

“All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.” – Animal Farm

Animal Farm portrays how a revolution can become the very thing it was fighting against. The only difference is the person who is in charge.

14. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?

His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way, he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

15. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Developing good habits in college is priceless. Good habits are fundamental to physical, psychological, and emotional wellness. They also allow you to live your best life long after you graduate.

Many college students struggle to develop good habits. Knowing how to develop good habits while in college will not only ensure your academic success but success in other aspects of your life including personal, financial, and career.

No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving–every day.

Learn how to:

  • Make time for new habits (even when life gets crazy)
  • Overcome a lack of motivation and willpower
  • Design your environment to make success easier
  • Get back on track when you fall off course


Sensei Side Note:

Being a martial artist I have an entire shelf dedicated to books that help me understand the art. Here are two of my favorites. I think the below books are good reading for college and high school students as you don’t need to be in martial arts to understand the teachings and wisdom.

1. The Life-Giving Sword by Yagyu Munenori

As a martial artist, Life-Giving Sword is required reading. There is great wisdom that can be obtained from martial arts philosophy even if you are not a martial artist. Munenori teaches how to overcome opponents mentally by achieving the state of No-Mind. By freeing your mind from attachments. Even in modern times, we constantly struggle with freeing our minds and reaching a state of Zen.

“It is the very mind itself that leads the mind astray.”

Munenori teaches the mind must be kept free from attachment and fixation to protect yourself from the opponent’s sword. If your opponent lifts their sword, your mind shifts with the sword. If the sword moves to the left or right, your mind shifts accordingly. A mind that stops will be defeated in the martial arts. A mind must release the mind so that it does not stop moving. If you keep a released mind, your movements will always be free. This is true in martial arts and life. 

2. Bushido The Soul Of Japan by Inazo Nitobe

I have written about Bushido before in a Sensei Side Note for The Perks Of Living At Home During College.

Bushido is the code of honor and morals developed and passed down by Japanese samurai meaning “warrior way” or “the way of the warrior.” This should be your basic code of conduct, leading with righteousness, courage, compassion, respect, truthfulness, honor, loyalty, and self-control. Bushido is deeply ingrained into martial arts training but extends to all aspects of life.

I want you to read this book so that you can implement bushido in your personal life as well as your academics and career. Be compassionate and respectful to your family, friends, peers, professors, and coworkers. Maintain your honor and loyalty with truthfulness, this directly corresponds with maturity and dependability.