The 17 Best College Applications Books Ever Written

Getting into college is the biggest challenge a high schooler will ever face. When you send in your college application, you should be certain that it was the best it could be. With such high stakes, it would be foolish not to consult an expert - someone with insider information, who has been through the process many times before.

Luckily, we live in the futuristic age of You have a generous helping of great college application books to choose from. Many are written by esteemed college counselors, former college admissions officers, and hyper-qualified PhDs.

So, how do you choose from this vast selection of books about college applications? What are the best college applications books ever written?

Well, that’s why I made this list for you. I’m a veteran SAT & ACT prep tutor with perfect scores. And, I went to one of the most selective colleges in the world (Pomona College). But, it took a lot of hard work and preparation to get there. In fact, my family was once a lot like yours, probably: just a teenager and his parents trying to navigate to victory through the difficult college applications process.

College applications are what it all leads up to in high school - the school, the sports, the SAT & ACT scores. Parents could read these books a decade in advance to be fully prepared for college apps. Teens can wait until Junior and Senior year.

Collect and read all of the best college applications books that interest you. Gradually apply their wisdom to your own college applications process. As long as you’ve got the time to keep refining, you can keep learning and improving. (But if you have to cram, you should probably start by choosing from the Comprehensive books listed below.)

Note: We receive a (very) small commission if you purchase through our Amazon links. Just wanted to let you know!



Quick-List of the Best College Application Books

Here’s a quick list of the 17 best college application books in this article, for your reference.

I put these books into careful order – so start at the top, and work downwards.

Click any book name to instantly see a more detailed description!

High School Time Management Tactics

This book shows teens how to get everything done - from college applications to SAT & ACT prep, sports to leadership positions.

Best Comprehensive Books on College Applications

These books are comprehensive guides to the complete college applications process, each with a unique spin and approach.

Best Books for College Application Essays

These books offer detailed breakdowns, tips, tricks, and strategies for crafting and writing better college application essays.

Best Books of College Application Essay Examples

These books provide collections of sample college application essays from real students who were accepted into top colleges.

Best Books on Applying to Ivy League & Other Elite Colleges

These books provide an elite edge for college applications: secrets of getting into the Ivy League & other highly selective colleges.

Now, time for more details about these great college application books. Here we go…



Ultimate Time Management for Teens and Students

Ultimate Time Management for Teens and Students

Ultimate Time Management for Teens and Students, by Christian Heath (that’s me!)

Time management is one of the overarching challenges facing teens as they complete their college applications. Obligations like school courses, sports teams, and fine arts projects… leadership positions, extracurricular activities, and SAT & ACT testing… they’re all crushing down on you every week! Not to mention, everyone needs some time for personal freedom!

That’s why I wrote this book: Ultimate Time Management for Teens and Students. It’s a foundation for all the rest of the college application books on this list, and it’s great for both high school students and parents.

Just to establish a bit of credibility here: in high school I was one of the top AP students in my class. I played varsity lacrosse, piano, and guitar. In Senior year, I was accepted to my first-choice college, Pomona - one of the most-selective colleges in the US. Four years later, I graduated with three awards in my department. Now I’m one of the highest-rated SAT & ACT prep tutors in Austin, Texas. I have perfect scores on both of those tests. All the while, I’ve kept myself very busy, working on my passions without burning out or falling apart at the seams.

Most importantly, I truly freakin’ care about helping my students succeed! I have this weird belief that if I help my tutoring students, it will come back to me and make my life better. And time management for students is something I know a lot about. That’s why this book contains hundreds of time management tips you can use get more done in high school and get into the college of your dreams.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



College Admission: From Application to Admission, Step-by-Step

College Admission: From Application to Admission

College Admission: From Application to Admission, by Robin Mamlet & Christine Vandevelde

College Admission: From Application to Admission is a nearly perfect-rated team effort between a three-time college Dean of Admissions and a journalist + parent. Co-Author Robin Mamlet has even been the dean of Stanford University! It would be an understatement to say this book is a window into the real demands of college applications.

This book is one of the best college application books because it’s a well-balanced blend that covers all angles of the college admissions process. It covers your essential questions, from finding a college to optimizing your application. And, it answers plenty of questions you might not have thought of. It even covers related topics like financial aid, “helicopter parenting,” and much more.

At 432 pages, this is a comprehensive and complete book on college applications and admissions. In fact, it’s one of the longest books on this list. Its elite, insider status makes it a top contender for your home library or college counseling office. These guidelines will work for any college and any student. And, with a professional journalist on the team, the book is well-organized and readable for both parents and high school students. Read it straight through, or use it as a reference manual for your college applications!

Click Here to return to the main book list.



Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting Into College

Admission Matters

Admission Matters, by Sally Springer, Jon Reider, & Joyce Morgan

Admission Matters is a comprehensive, multi-author reference book. It’s great for students and parents as they research colleges and develop their applications. It’s filled with expert wisdom for every step of the college application process. From building a college list to obtaining financial aid, you’ll get tips in this book. Now in its fourth edition, this refined college applications book also includes useful questionnaires and checklists. A multi-angled approach to college applications makes this book “the gold standard for books on the college admission process,” according to one former Dean of Admissions.

The team of authors is as perfect as you could ever dream. All of the co-authors are multi-disciplinary veterans of the college industry. One author, Sally Springer, is an associate chancellor at University of California Davis. She has 2 children who have gone through the college admission process. Another co-author, John Reider, worked at Stanford University for 15 years as a professor and admissions officer. Then he became director of college counseling at a high school. The third author, Joyce Morgan, is also a PhD, and a certified educational planner with 20 years of experience in college applications.

At 416 pages, this substantial book is one of several “primary references” on college applications that you might consider for your home library or college counseling office.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



adMISSION POSSIBLE: The “Dare to Be Yourself” Guide for Getting Into the Best Colleges for You

Admission Possible

adMISSION POSSIBLE, by Marjorie Shaevitz

adMISSION POSSIBLE takes a slightly different approach than some of the other best college application books. You can tell starting with the unusual capitalization of the name! The tagline of this book is “Dare to Be Yourself,” and that’s exactly the college application philosophy that is reflected throughout. Instead of trying to check the boxes that say “perfect student,” you’ll craft an honest and passionate college application that shouts “awesome human being!”

The biggest payoff of this philosophy isn’t necessarily a “stronger” application - it goes deeper than that. The “Dare to Be Yourself” approach “leaves students happy about where they are going instead of unhappy about where they are not going,” according to Jon Reider (former Stanford University Director of Admissions, who also co-wrote Admission Matters).

The author of adMISSION POSSIBLE, Marjorie Shaevitz, is the founder of a college admissions program. She’s also a blogger for Huffington Post, and an award-winning author and speaker who has helped thousands of students with the college selection and application process.

Rated a solid 5 out of 5 stars by reviewers on Amazon, adMISSION POSSIBLE is an excellent choice for your library with a unique twist. Add your own color to the college application process with this book! It makes a great partner to a more “conventional” college application book like College Admission.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



How to Prepare a Standout College Application: Expert Advice that Takes You from LMO* (Like Many Others) to Admit

How to Prepare a Standout College Application

How to Prepare a Standout College Application, by Alison Chisolm & Anna Ivey

Despite its rather unwieldy title, How to Prepare a Standout College Application is one of the most highly-praised books on this list. It’s clearly beloved by the parents and students who used it to get into college. Reviewers specifically make mention of “tips they wouldn’t have thought of” and of getting accepted to “reach schools” because of this book.

And the praise doesn’t stop there. In the words of actual readers, this is a “well-organized,” “easy to read,” and “comprehensive” book on the college applications process with “complete” and “step-by-step” instructions to get into selective colleges. Somehow it’s even slightly shorter than many other comprehensive books on this list, at 352 pages. So, it’s a great choice for busy high school teenagers, parents, and college counselors (isn’t that all of us?).

Also, specific mentions were made of this book’s value for the price. But, let’s be honest - if you’re looking at an upcoming four years of college, the difference in cost of a few books is probably just a drop in the bucket. Either way, this complete guide to college apps definitely deserves its place on this list of the best college applications books.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



Acing the College Application: How to Maximize Your Chances for Admission to the College of Your Choice

Acing the College Application

Acing the College Application, by Michele Hernandez

Acing the College Application is a book that’s mainly about highlighting and presenting yourself as a college applicant. It’s less comprehensive about related topics, like the college search. But, it’s highly detailed on the individual components of your college applications - the checkboxes, blank forms, short and long essays - that you’ll have to put together.

This book gives an “insider-style” view of how students can put their best feet forward on their college applications. The author, Michele Hernandez, formerly worked in the admissions department at Dartmouth College. Her solid advice on college applications is backed up by Ivy-League experience. She’s also the author of A is for Admission, which focuses on the Ivy Leagues and other elite schools.

One of the standout elements of this book is its analysis of the Common Application. Student, counselors, and parents all have to deal with the need to “fit into the boxes” of the Common App. This restriction can make it tough to show your true personality and depth of character. Luckily, this book includes a line-by-line breakdown of the Common App.

At 288 pages, this book is a little slimmer than many of the other “comprehensive” college application books on this list. This reflects its narrower focus on simply filling out the college applications themselves. But, within that domain, it’s quite thorough. It includes advice for in-person interviews, recommendations for “optional” application supplements, and tips for getting your teacher and counselor recommendations. An excellent source of ideas for polishing your written college applications.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



Surviving the College Application Process: Case Studies to Help You Find Your Unique Angle for Success

This book, Surviving the College Application Process, stands out on this list for one main reason. Like most of the books on this list, it’s written by an extremely qualified author and veteran of the college applications industry. And, she’s the mother of three children - two of whom have already gone through the college application process successfully.

But that’s not what stands out. No, the most interesting part of this book are the case studies of student-applicants. “Imagine following eleven students’ journey’s in-depth”, the book asks you. Try “getting into their heads” to “think about your own [college application] process in a more strategic way.”

This book has a “choose your own adventure” feel. Jump straight to the example students that seem most similar to you, or read each student’s story to get a comprehensive picture of their college applications. You’ll see different strengths and weaknesses on display through the personalized approaches of these real students.

It makes the list of best college application books not because it gives cookie-cutter “step by step” instructions, but because it offers a lively window into the variety of different ways that individual students can apply - and be accepted - to top colleges and universities.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay

College Essay Essentials

College Essay Essentials, by Ethan Sawyer (aka “The College Essay Guy”)

College Essay Essentials is organized around an encouraging central concept: “There are only four types of college admission essays.” And, author Ethan Sawyer (aka “The College Essay Guy”) claims there are only two questions to answer before you decide which type to write…

  1. Have you experienced significant challenges in your life?
  2. Do you know what you want to be or do in the future?

From a foundation based on your answers to these questions, this book guides you every step of the way towards a finished and polished college application essay.

The structure and tone of this book clearly comes from an author with vast experience in this field. When it comes to writing college application essays, it’s hard to imagine someone more specialized and experienced than Ethan Sawyer. The book also includes 24 real essays written by actual students, so it overlaps a bit with some of the books later in this list like Heavenly Essays.

At 256 pages, it’s a significant but not overwhelming read. In other words, it won’t be a waste of your time to order this book, read it and take notes - before you start a single word of your own college application essays. Great for students, parents, and college counselors!

Click Here to return to the main book list.



On Writing the College Application Essay, 25th Anniversary Edition: The Key to Acceptance at the College of Your Choice

A true classic in the college application field, On Writing the College Application Essay has been popular for almost 3 decades now. And, its popularity all those years speaks to its place on this list of the best college application books.

Author Harry Bauld worked in the admissions department at elite schools Brown and Columbia, where he was able to see what prospective applicants did wrong in their essays. This book helps you avoid these common essay mistakes and more. You’ll also get ideas for imaginative, authentic college essays - even if you feel like you’re writing about the most basic, boring, common topics.

You might think that this book, being about college essays, would be dry, old-fashioned, and pedantic. Actually, it’s quite entertaining. Even high schoolers have been reported to read it without complaining! This classic college essay wisdom has lasted for over 25 years because it’s filled with humor, sarcasm, and personality. It’s a college essay book that you simply can’t go wrong with.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps, Third Edition: Crafting a Winning Personal Statement

Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps by Alan Gelb is one of the highest-rated and best-selling college essay books on, and with good reason. It’s methodical but inviting; rigorous but creative. Best of all, it gives a clear, standardized blueprint that any student can use to produce - to actually get results - and end up with a finished essay, simply by working the 10 steps.

This is an ideal book for high school kids who like step-by-step instructions for major projects, like their college essays. The author is vastly experienced and the book’s tone is encouraging and personal; parents and students give it rave reviews. Put together, you’ve got a book that everyone can learn from.

In step-by-step detail, you’ll identify potential essay topics and use creative writing techniques to produce standout college application essays that are vivid reflections of your individuality. In other words, your essays will stand out and be remembered! The book is also revised with additional information on supplemental college essay topics, which reflects its up-to-date feel. At 240 pages it’s a medium-sized handbook that’s accessible to all - it’s easy to read, and to get useful results from. A great book for any college readiness library.

Author Alan Gelb is actually as much a writer & author as he is a college-essay consultant. This gives him an interesting, unique, and powerful perspective compared to most other authors on this list. His writing tips are particularly valuable, since he’s spent much of his career writing fiction and non-fiction. His native talent is also partially why his book is such a successful book and an easy read. But don’t worry, he’s a deep specialist in college essays as well - basically the perfect professional to study from. Get this book today!

Click Here to return to the main book list.



Escape Essay Hell!: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Narrative College Application Essays

Escape Essay Hell

Escape Essay Hell!, by Janine Robinson

Escape Essay Hell is a popular book by author Janine Robinson, who’s been a major newspaper journalist, magazine editor, and English teacher. Now she’s a blogger and well-known coach for college applications. A mastery of personal college essays and narrative writing style perfectly reflects her career.

This college essay book focuses on “narrative” essays, which means you’ll be telling a story about your life. It’s actually kind of fun, and it works. Colleges love these type of essays, and this book shows you exactly how to produce them - truthfully - from your own life.

At only 76 pages, his book is short! That’s actually a good thing - it’s very direct and doesn’t have extra stuff unrelated to the essay. But, to account for everything else on your college application, be sure to supplement this book with one of the comprehensive college app books like College Admission or Admission Matters.

If you want to go even deeper on the narrative essay approach, the author has written a supplemental book - Heavenly Essays - which gives 50 examples of successful student essays that used this method.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



Write Your Way In: Crafting an Unforgettable College Admissions Essay

Write Your Way In is a solid choice for students and busy parents who need essential advice on writing an outstanding college application essay. This book may be lesser-known, but it’s still a good choice.

To be honest, there’s nothing “new” in this book about college essays, but this one’s particularly good for high school students to read. It’s a well-rounded guide to college essays by an experienced writer who knows the college admissions industry. Best of all, it’s direct and to-the-point: at 164 pages it’s a shorter read than most other best college application books on this list. That makes it great for busy high schoolers who already have enough on their plates.

Author Rachel Toor is a creative writing professor and a former college admissions officer at Duke University. It’s not her first time writing about the subject, either. She’s the author of Admissions Confidential: An Insider’s Account of the Elite College Selection Process and a young adult novel about college admissions, On the Road to Find Out.

Get this book particularly if you need a targeted guide to college application essays, but don’t want a whole bunch of extras or non-essential theory.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



Heavenly Essays: 50 Narrative College Application Essays That Worked

Heavenly Essays is one of several books on this list that are collections of actual, successful college application essays that other high school students have written. Of course, your plan isn’t to copy other people’s college essays. Rather, it’s to draw creative inspiration from students who have overcome this challenge already.

In this book’s case, all fifty of the collected college essays were written in a narrative or “storytelling” style. This author believes that’s the approach that’s best for college apps. In fact, these fifty essays go with the method she teaches in Escape Essay Hell. The essay system works for almost every student, and the near-perfect customer ratings of both books speak to their usefulness as two of the best college application books out there.

Author Janine Robinson has worn many hats as a journalist and editor for major publications. She’s also a specialized college essay guru, with one of the most popular independent blogs on the subject. And, these essays come from her own students - including kids accepted to Harvard, UCLA, Brown, Boston College, and more.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice

“Harvard University” - the very name inspires awe in college-bound high schoolers. Even in the real world, just mention that you’re a Harvard grad, and most people will give you increased intellectual respect just because of the school’s reputation.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays includes fifty college application essays and profiles from students who were successfully accepted into Harvard. There’s also a brief review paragraph of the essay that offers a bit of insight into what made the essay stand out.

Each essay includes a brief profile of the student beforehand. I like this feature of the book - as reductive and stats-based as it may be, you still get an “admissions-officer-eye-view” of each applicant. This quickly forces you to realize just how little space and time you have to make your own case to the admissions officer. “You should pay attention to me. You want me at your college.” It’s not that easy to catch their attention with only a few lines of accomplishments! Still, you need to be realistic about the game, and this book provides an eye-opening experience.

For some reason, the reviews for the newest edition of this book on Amazon are extremely contradictory. I suspect foul play from someone with a personal grudge, but if you “Look Inside” the book for yourself, I think you’ll instantly recognize its value even before you order. Also, the older editions of the book have the high reviews that I would expect. The 5th Edition is currently the most up-to-date, FYI.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



100 Successful College Application Essays

100 Successful College Application Essays

100 Successful College Application Essays, by The Harvard Independent

100 Successful College Application Essays is about as straightforward as the name suggests. It’s one of the best college application books because it includes a huge collection of sample college essays for you to browse through. The collection includes 100 student essays with a huge variety of styles, student personalities and colleges. What’s more, each of these students was successfully accepted to a top college. And, each student’s essay is followed by expert commentary from college counselors, admissions officers, and more.

Because of the creative variety in these essays, the collection is particularly good for students applying to elite liberal arts schools. Some of these essay responses are quite unique and off-the-wall, but remember: these students were accepted! So, these essays definitely worked. A minority of readers gripe that these essays are too fanciful and not much good for “technical” colleges and engineering programs. It depends on how you use them, in my opinion!

This collection of college essays is now in its 3rd edition. It’s compiled by members of The Harvard Independent, but the essays come from a huge variety of elite schools. Many students, parents, and college counselors would benefit by taking notes on this excellent collection of college application essays.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



A Is for Admission: The Insider’s Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges

A is for Admission maintains an extremely high number of 5-star reviews from actual parents and students who aim at elite and Ivy colleges. It’s written by an Ivy-League insider - admissions author Michele Hernandez, a former admissions officer at Dartmouth. Her “tell it like it is” approach is part of what makes this elite college application book one of the best for high-end selective schools. (She’s also the author of Acing the College Application which focuses on more general advice and “Common-App” style college applications.)

At 304 pages, this is a substantial book, yet it rarely wastes time repeating itself. Readers praise the data-driven and insider-look at the Ivy-level of college applications. There’s an actual formula that the elite admissions officers are using to evaluate your college applications. This college application book goes deep on how you can fit yourself to that formula - without “hoping” or egotistically expecting to be accepted automatically on your merit.

The majority of lower ratings on this book come from readers who worry the advice is out-of-date. The most common criticism is that elite college acceptance has gotten even more selective and difficult than it used to be . However, this recent increase in difficulty only increases the importance of understanding the fundamental and timeless underpinnings of the elite college admissions system described in this book. If you’re applying to the Ivy Leagues or other highly selective colleges, be sure to read this book carefully!

Click Here to return to the main book list.



The Road to Yale: Application, Essays, and Resumes that Wowed Yale Admission Officers

I’ve saved one of the most unique and best college application books for last. The Road to Yale is a perfect for students, parents, and college counselors who are targeting top colleges.

The main content of this book is a set of student profiles, short answers, and essays for students accepted into Yale. In total, there are 30 application essays, 90 short answer responses, 15 resumes and 15 “why Yale” essays. So, you get very specific breakdowns of how students are answering the questions to get accepted. There’s no other book or resource exactly like this one that I know of.

One possible criticism of this book: we don’t know for 100% certainty that these are real students admitted to Yale. The authors don’t spend much time establishing their credentials. Yes, it’s possible these students are fictional creations (although I am fairly certain they are real). Honestly, it doesn’t matter either way. Real or fake, these student profiles are fantastic to use as inspiration, information, and comparison.

This book is valuable for all college applicants, not just for Yale hopefuls. These application profiles and essays are useful for students applying to any elite or Ivy-league colleges.

Click Here to return to the main book list.



The Best College Application Books: Conclusions & Review

As you can tell, there are an enormous amount of college application books to choose from. Ranging from comprehensive “bibles” of college apps to specialized essay-writing and sample essay collections - even to “top-tier college” focused books - this selection of the best college application books will not leave you empty-handed.

The key is to start preparing as early as possible, and begin with a manageable amount of reading at a time. It’s probably best to start with a comprehensive college application book that fits your style, like College Admission or Admission Matters. Then, you could read a contrasting comprehensive book to compare notes with a different author. Finally, follow up with several specialized books on essays and essay samples to tweak your own college essays with.

By the way, both parents and teenagers should be reading these books. Parents can start years in advance, but most teenagers will find these books more useful in Junior and Senior years, when they are more relevant.

Last but not least, a human coach can work wonders. Contact us for a free personalized consultation on your college applications and SAT / ACT scores!



Need Higher SAT & ACT Scores? Contact Us!

No matter how polished your college apps and grades are, your test scores still matter. Your SAT & ACT test scores can count for 25% to 50% of your college applications. With a bit of planning and preparation, you can raise your test scores and significantly improve your chances of winning college acceptances and scholarship money.

Here at Love the SAT Test Prep, our tutors are experienced specialists in the art and science of helping teenagers get higher SAT & ACT scores. We want to help you succeed and beat these tests!

So, contact us today for a free, personalized consultation. We teach 1-on-1 lessons and group classes in Austin, TX and online through Skype. Or, join our college readiness email list for subscriber-only content and tips to get ready for college and raise your SAT & ACT scores.

P.S. Check out our related lists of the 17 best SAT prep books and the 14 best ACT prep books!


Share This