Book Club: Reads for the Well-Rounded Student

Empowerly Team
Empowerly Team

Our collaborative team of content writers and researchers stay up-to-date on the latest news to help you ace your applications. We hope you enjoy the blog.

Summer is right around the corner. Whether you’re traveling, working, or just staying home, one thing is probably true: you have spare time. You might even find yourself twiddling your thumbs because you’ve ran out of things to do. Weird, right? One of the best and easiest ways to occupy your time is to read. Reading provides an opportunity to enjoy learning, a unique find. Not to mention, becoming well-read introduces innumerate opportunities; new hobbies, conversations, and personal development. With that in mind, this installment in our Book Club series lists out reads for the well-rounded student. 

Reading more books also comes in handy when you’re applying to college. Whether you’re at an interview or filling our your application, colleges will often ask you about the book’s you’ve read in the past. Here are some real examples of how colleges have asked applicants:

  • Harvard:  [Give us] A list of books you have read during the past twelve months (2016-17 supplemental essay option)
  • Stanford: Name your favorite books, authors, films, and/or artists (short answer question 2016-17)
  • University of Chicago: Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.  (2016-17 optional prompt)

Essentially, they’re asking you to shore up some unique and interesting reads for the well-rounded student. So, what to read? What are some books that are both interesting and show colleges you think on a deep level? Well, if you’re asking these questions, welcome.

Here are some books that you’ll love reading and you’ll love talking about with colleges.


The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dark, compelling and amazingly real, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a pre-teen living in Nazi Germany during WWII. In her struggle to find innocence in Nazi Germany, Liesel finds something else: courage. Risking her life, Liesel steals books from Nazi destruction, writes her own stories, and even teaches a man how to read. With 129 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, this book is a great read for those interested in education, strong female characters, coming-of-age stories, and history.

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini

Genre: Drama/History

Published in 2003 by Riverhead Books, The Kite Runner is a historical fiction that tells the story of Amir and his father’s young Hazara servant, Hassan. The story takes place throughout the history of the Middle East: the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy, the Soviet military intervention, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime are all included. As number #1 on New York Times Bestsellers for two years, The Kite Runner introduces students to a new world and a rich, tumultuous history that they may not have known much about. Adventurous and thrilling, this is a great book for those who like more fast-paced, dramatic stories.


Kurt Vonnegut

Genre: Science/Historical fiction

Often cited as Vonnegut’s most influential and famous work of literature, Slaughterhouse-Five tells the story of “time-traveler” Billy Pilgrim. In this seemingly non-heroic tale, Billy travels back and forth in time, visiting his birth, death, time as an American soldier, and everything in between, all out of order. A quirky mixture of both sci-fi and historical fiction, Slaughterhouse Five is a true American classic.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai

Genre: Autobiography

Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region, restricting women from expressing any opinion or from doing many self-expressive activities — even just going to school. Malala, at fifteen years old, fought for right to be educated, and on October 9, 2012, she almost died fighting for her cause: she was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. Written by the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala’s memoir tells firsthand the remarkable story of this courageous girl who changed the world. Malala’s story will surely inspire and empower any young reader to change their community.


George Orwell

Genre: Dystopian fiction, satire

A great modern classic, 1984 is often cited as the dystopian novel. In 1984, Oceania is a place where the “Party” oppresses individuality, criticizes human actions, and watches over every part of your life with the powerful Big Brother. Winston Smith dares to defy the strict boundaries and rules set by the intimidating Party; he expresses his thoughts in a diary and pursues a true relationship of love. 1984 is short, but it’s exciting, thoughtful, and almost unsettlingly realistic. This is a fantastic book for those who enjoy dystopian novels and want a shorter read.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee

Genre: Coming-of-age fiction 

A story of racism, courage, and innocence, To Kill A Mockingbird is a staple to every high school English class. Narrated by young heroine Scout Finch, the reader sees Scout’s father and attorney, Atticus Finch, hopelessly prove the innocence of a black man unjustly accused of rape. To Kill A Mockingbird is a riveting American classic that every student should read. 

Final Thoughts

As we saw above, college interview questions about past books you’ve read is quite common.  Enjoy your summer, but don’t forget to make the best of it! Colleges want to see the person beyond the numbers. So talking about your latest reads shows you are a well-rounded student. While it’s important to read books you actually want to (not just because they seem “impressive” to colleges), you also should also keep in mind that colleges do want to see readers that look for a bit more depth in their books. John Green books may be fun to read… but maybe that shouldn’t be all that you read. 

These are just few of many books that are fun to read and fun to share. Finding other reads for the well-rounded student that you love? If you have any other recommendations or like to give your own review of a book, feel free to comment your thoughts. We wish you all the best on your reading journey! 

Addendum: you can find the complete collection of Book Club picks below. Happy reading, everyone!

1: Critical Reading for Reflection

2. Reading for College Readiness

3. Light Reading for High Schoolers

4. Reads for the Well-Rounded Student (this post)

Questions? Let us know!