Weighted GPAs. Unweighted GPAs. AP scores. Dual Enrollment grades. Essays. Recommendation letters. SAT scores. ACT scores. PSAT scores. Composite scores. Test optional. Volunteer requirements. Extracurriculars.
Confused? We understand why. Admissions have only gotten more complicated and college more expensive.
These 15 books on college admissions and how to pay for college are the best guides we can offer to help you think through this complicated and expensive process with your family.
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Best college admissions books
The Holy Bible of college rundowns, the Fiske Guide to Colleges, has been rating and reporting on all things post-high school education for nearly 40 years. When you don’t know where to start, start here.
2. Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions (2020) by Jeff Selingo
Bestselling author and education journalist Jeff Selingo spent months embedded in the college admissions departments of three different universities. He gained a true insider’s view of what happens when decisions are made about the students to admit and which ones to deny.
This insightful book offers families guidance on helping their teens discover fit on every level.
3. The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Roadmap for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make (2022) by Ron Lieber
New York Times “Your Money” columnist and bestselling author Ron Lieber offers families an insider’s look at the factors that go into the myriad ways colleges charge families for higher education. With this New York Times bestseller, he provides readers with a roadmap to understand merit and financial aid better and make sensible choices for finding affordable schools for their teens.
4. The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together (2019) by Rick Clark and Brennan Barnard
Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech, has written this excellent guide, offering families a chance to learn how admissions officers think about the college application process. Written with co-author Brennan Barnard, Director of College Counseling at The Derryfield School, this is THE admission guidebook for families that will take them through the entire college admissions process.
5. The Truth About College Admission Workbook: A Family Organizer for Your College Search (2021) by Rick Clark and Brennan Barnard
Rick and Brennan created a workbook as a companion to their bestselling book to help families through the college admissions search. With activities and exercises for students, this workbook will help teens every step of the way.
6. The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education (2021) by Eric J. Furda and Jacques Steinberg
Eric J.Furda, Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, and bestselling author Jacques Steinberg guide parents about the crucial conversations they need to have with their college-bound teens. Organized in five sections, it covers the Discovery Phase, the Search, the Application, the Decisions, and the Transition to College.
This is a book that parents can keep on their nightstand from their teen’s junior year of high school through freshman year of college, knowing that the advice is from some of the most knowledgable and thoughtful professionals in the world of higher education.
7. College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay (2016) by Ethan Sawyer
For many students, the college application essay is the most challenging part of the college process. Ethan Sawyer, AKA College Essay Guy, is here to help with his comprehensive guide to writing the college essay. Filled with tips, exercises, and essays from students who gained admission to their top choice schools, this book will take the sting out of the essay-writing process for your teen (and you!)
8. College Admission Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Showing Colleges Who You are and What Matters to You (2020) by Ethan Sawyer
Ethan Sawyer’s newest book covers the entire college admissions process and will help students with insight from more than 50 admissions experts. Ethan has worked with millions of students since 2003, when he began helping them with their college essays and applications. This book captures the latest admissions trends and includes guidance for veterans, students with learning differences, LGBTQ+ students, students interested in women’s colleges, and HBCUs.
9. Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges (2012) by Loren Pope (Author) and revised by
Exceptionally researched and written, pick up this title if you’re looking to find the diamond in the rough of colleges. If you’re seeking more than football games and keg parties, and need a comprehensive and regionally targeted list of options and their academic offerings, don’t let this one get by.
10. Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania (2016) by Frank Bruni
This New York Times bestselling book is your first line of defense against the overly competitive and anxiety-laden process. Reassuringly, award-winning journalist Bruni defends the fact that the college your teen ends up attending is anything but the sole determining factor in what kind of successful future they will have.
Download the Grown and Flown College Admissions Timeline (free) that will take you and your teen from ninth grade through acceptance.
11. Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life (2019) by Michael B. Horn and Bob Moesta
Choosing a college is the most complicated process in our teens’ lives and is easily one of the most perplexing and expensive ones for parents. Authors Horn and Moesta created a research-based approach to help families better understand what’s motivating their students to attend secondary education and how to find the best match that includes not only traditional 4-year colleges but also community colleges, vocational training, and more.
12. College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You (2022) by Dr. Steven R. Antonoff
If Tinder wrote a book on finding your perfect college match, this would be it. Recently updated, it is revised and full of worksheets to help students begin the narrowing down process of college choices; this title also enables you to find what college guidebook is correct for you.
13. Valedictorians at the Gate: Standing Out, Getting In, and Staying Sane While Applying to College (2022) by Becky Munsterer Sabky
Former Dartmouth college admissions director, Becky Munsterer Sabky, pulls back the curtain to show families how admissions decisions are made and gives empowering advice and information to teens about the process.
14. Paying for College, 2022 Edition: Everything You Need to Maximize Financial Aid and Afford College (Princeton Review)
Including the latest FAFSA forms, guidelines, and help for the 2022-2023 year, Newsday proclaimed this to be a “first-rate guide to the financial aid maze” and covers everything you think you’re missing when it comes to funding college.”
15. The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2023: Billions of Dollars in Scholarships, Grants and Prizes (15th edition) by Gen and Kelly Tanabe
At a whopping 688 pages and subdivided into more categories than you thought you needed, this is your go-to start book when seeking college funding other than student loans. Jam-packed full of all the info you will need to apply for each of the entries, this is your one-stop-shop for all things scholarship.
One to watch for in fall 2022:
The Black Family’s Guide to College Admission: A Conversation About Parenting, Education and Race by Timothy L. Fields and Shereem Herndon-Brown (9/6/22)
Timothy L. Fields, Senior Associate Dean of Admission at Emory University, and Shereem Herndon-Brown, founder of Strategic Admissions Advice, are both admissions professionals and parents. Their book discusses concerns for Black families in the college admissions process. Available for pre-order now.
Are you looking for advice from experts in college admissions? Do you want to learn more about colleges that offer generous merit aid? Join College Admissions: Grown and Flown membership to ask your questions and get answers in real-time with weekly LIVE sessions.