The College Admissions Process: 10 Highly Rated Books That Will Give You the Lowdown

Expert insight, advice and guidance to make the admissions process so much easier

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: The College Admissions Process: 10 Highly Rated Books That Will Give You the Lowdown

Written By: Marybeth Bock

No, it’s not just you…

If you’re the parent of a high schooler and you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed about starting the college admissions process with your teen, you’re not alone.

According to the Princeton Review’s College Hopes & Worries Survey Report, stress levels among parents AND college-bound kids are higher than ever. 

“How do I help prepare my child for the ACT or SAT? And, what’s considered an acceptable score?”

“When should my child start applying to colleges?”

“How do we know if a college is a good fit for my child?”

“Which colleges should they apply to, how many should they apply to and how involved is the application process?”

“What if we can’t afford my child’s dream school? What if they don’t get in?”

“How can we minimize the cost of college with grants and scholarships?”

So many questions, right? It’s enough to keep any parent up at night. 

The College Admissions Process: 10 Highly Rated Books That Will Give You the Lowdown

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But heads up, parents, you’re not the only one who’s stressed out. Your teen is just as stressed out as you are. According to research conducted by Harvard University, one of the most stressful things about being a teenager is school itself, with a whopping 83 percent of teens identifying high school as a major stressor. The second biggest source of student stress is getting into a good college (or deciding what to do after high school).

Any parent who’s “been there, done that” knows that the college admissions process can be confusing, complex, and overwhelming, especially for first-time parents and those unfamiliar with the process. 

But try not to stress too much, parents. Once you start to break down the process into more “bite-sized” steps, it’s far easier to navigate. It’s all about knowing how to start and the “next steps” to take. 

Thankfully, there are so many wonderful books written by college admissions experts that can enlighten both you and your college-bound teen and guide you every step of the way.

Here are our top 10 highly-rated books to give you the lowdown on the college admissions process.

1. The Truth About College Admissions: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together (2023)

This book covers every crucial step of the process: searching for colleges, creating a list of prospective schools, weighing financial considerations, crafting an application, learning what schools are looking for academically and outside the classroom, and understanding how colleges decide whom to accept. You can also buy the companion workbook with activities and exercises designed to help students find multiple colleges that they can afford and thrive at.


2. The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make (2022)

Written by the popular New York Times “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber, this book offers a deeply reported and emotionally honest approach to paying for college. He explains the process of who pays what, and why and how the college financial aid system became so complicated. Lieber also pulls the curtain back on merit aid, an entirely new form of discounting that most colleges now use to compete with peers. This book will help you through the process of setting financial goals, explaining the system to your student, and figuring out the right ways to save, borrow, and bargain for a better deal. 


3. College Admissions Essentials: A Step-By-Step Guide to Showing Colleges Who You Are and What Matters to You (2020)

Ethan Sawyer (aka the College Essay Guy) offers valuable information along with advice and insight from a team of over 50 counselors, advisors, and deans of admission. This book will help your teen navigate the intricate college admissions landscape, ensuring that they masterfully craft an application that vividly reflects who they are and what truly matters to them. There is also guidance for students with learning differences, LGBTQ+ students, students interested in women’s colleges or HBCUs, (historically black colleges and universities), and more.


4. Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions (2020)

Journalist and higher education expert Jeffrey Selingo dispels ingrained ideas of how to compete and win at the college admissions game and reveals that teenagers and parents have much to gain by broadening their notion of what qualifies as a “good college.” This insightful book presents a more complicated truth, showing that “who gets in” is frequently more about the college’s agenda than the applicant.


5. The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to High Education (2020)

The College Conversation is a comprehensive resource for mapping a path through the college application process that provides practical advice and reassurance to keep both anxious parents and confused students sane and grounded. The book is organized around key discussions and themes that trace the timeline of admissions and financial aid – beginning before the assembly of a list of potential colleges and continuing through the arrival of decisions – with a concluding section that includes advice on the first year of college. 

6. Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania (2016)

A terrific book for students stressed about getting into a top-tier “dream school” written by award-winning journalist Frank Bruni. This inspiring manifesto is about everything that’s wrong with today’s frenzied college admissions process and how students can make the most of their college years, no matter where they go to school. Bruni reminds families that what matters in the end is students’ efforts in and out of the classroom, not the school’s name on their diplomas.


7. How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There) (2019)

The major life transition to college can be stressful. Professors Andrea Malkin Brenner and Lara Schwartz guide first-year students and their families through this transition process, during the summer after high school graduation and throughout the school year, preparing students to succeed and thrive as they adapt to college. The book draws on the authors’ experiences teaching, writing curricula, and designing programs for thousands of first-year college students over decades.


8. College Admissions Cracked: Saving Your Kid (and Yourself) from the Madness (2019)

Author Jill Margaret Shulman, a college admissions coach, application evaluator, college writing instructor, essayist, author, and empathetic parent, is here to be your fiercest ally. She’ll guide you through the entire crazy ritual that college admissions have become, month by month, breath by deep, cleansing breath until you drop your kid off at college where they’ll ignore your phone calls and texts. This book is fun, practical, and easy to follow.


9. Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College (2012)

Colleges That Change Lives remains the definite guide for high school students (and their parents) who are looking for more in their college education than football, frat parties, and giant lectures. Organized by geographic region, every school profile includes a wealth of vital information, including admissions standards, distinguishing facts about the curriculum, extracurricular activities, and what faculty say about their jobs. There is also a chapter on how students with learning disabilities can find schools that fit their needs.


10. Beyond the GPA: How to Give Your Student an Edge with College Admissions (2023)

Written by a college consultant with 30 years of experience, this book explains 20 step-by-step strategies to navigate the college search, choose a college major, and help your teen stand out in a crowded field of college applicants. It utilizes a unique way of dealing with every facet of the college admissions process. providing not just a guide but a companion for families grappling with the highs and lows of the college admissions rollercoaster. No fluff makes this resource practical and straightforward.


The college admissions process doesn’t have to be overly complicated. With the right insight and guidance, you and your teen can get through the process seamlessly and help your teen find the right college for them!

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is a Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


If you enjoyed reading, “Getting Zapped! Permanent Jewelry Is All the Rage: Here’s What You Need to Know,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy!

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