The 13 Best Books for College Admissions and How to Pay for College (2021)

Weighted GPAs. Unweighted GPAs. AP scores. Dual Enrollment grades. Essays. Recommendation letters. SAT scores. ACT scores. PSAT scores. Composite scores. Writing Scores. Volunteer requirements. Extracurriculars.

College admissions has ALWAYS been challenging and now, as we emerge from the pandemic, it seems even more complex as some things about the process have changed for good…or have they?  

These 13 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.

Note: We are a reader-supported site and receive compensation from purchases made through some of the links on this page.

Best college admissions books

1. Fiske Guide to Colleges (2022)

The Holy Bible of college rundowns, the Fiske Guide has been rating and reporting on all things post-high school education for over 38 years. When you don’t know where to start, start here.

Fiske Guide 2022

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 really goes on when decisions are made about the students to admit, and which ones to deny.

This insightful book offers families guidance on helping their teen discover fit on every level.

who gets in and why

3. The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Roadmap for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make (2021) 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. He provides readers with a roadmap to better understand merit and financial aid and make sensible choices for finding affordable schools for their teens.

the price you pay for college

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.

college admissions book

5. The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education (2020) by Eric J. Furda and Jacques Steinberg

Eric J.Furda, Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, and bestselling author Jacques Steinberg, provide guidance to 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.

college conversation

6. College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay (2016) by Ethan Sawyer

The college application essay is the most difficult part of the college process, for many students. Ethan Sawyer, AKA The 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!)

College Essay Essentials

7. 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 in admissions trends and also includes guidance for veterans, students with learning differences, LGBTQ+ students, students interested in women’s colleges, and HBCUs.

8. Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges (2012) by Loren Pope (Author) and revised by Hilary Masell Oswald (Editor)

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 game and keg parties, and need a comprehensive and regionally targeted list of options and their academic offerings, don’t let this one get by you.
Best college admissions books

9. 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.

Best college admissions books

 The Grown and Flown Book (2020) will support you through your teen’s high school years including the college admissions process and beyond. Now, in paperback!

Grown and Flown paperback

10. 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, too. Authors and Horn and Moesta created a research-based approach to help families better understand what’s motivating their student to attend secondary education and how to find the best match that includes not only traditional 4-year colleges but also community college, vocational training, and more.

college admissions book

11. College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You (2019) 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 helps you find what college guidebook is right for you.

college match

12. Paying for College, 2021 Edition: Everything You Need to Maximize Financial Aid and Afford College (Princeton Review)

Including the latest FAFSA forms, guidelines, and help for the 2021-2022 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.”

paying for college

13. The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2022: Billions of Dollars in Scholarships, Grants and Prizes (14th edition) by Gen Tanabe and Kelly Tunable

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.

Ultimate Scholarships book

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.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Dear Parent of High School Junior — Here is our best advice for parents who want to help support their teen through the college admissions process.

Want to save this post? Pin it!

Weighted GPAs. Unweighted GPAs. AP scores. Dual Enrollment grades. Essays. Recommendation letters. More essays. SAT scores. ACT scores. PSAT scores. Composite scores. Writing Scores. Volunteer requirements. FAFSA. There is so much to know for the college admission process and these 11 books are the best. #collegeapplication #collegeadmission #books

About Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. Find her on Facebook 
and on twitter at @melissarunsaway

Read more posts by Melissa

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates straight to your inbox.