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7 Books That Give You a Glimpse Into What College is *Really* Like

As college students, there are plenty of TV shows and movies that detail the ups and downs of college life. However, like the majority of media, it’s often glamorized and full of an abundance of love interests fighting over the main character *cough* Rory Gilmore *cough*. Books, on the other hand, can paint a better picture of what’s really in store for college. Here are seven favorites that realistically feature the everyday college worries, while also delivering some awesome drama! 


American Panda by Gloria Chao 
American panda
Photo by Kayleigh Shaw

American Panda follows the story of Mei, a 17 year-old freshman at MIT who has her future completely mapped out by her parents: become a doctor, marry a Taiwanese scholar and then become a baby-making machine. However, she doesn’t have the heart to let her parents down and admit that she hate germs, despises her biology class more than anything and is crushing on her non-Taiwanese classmate, Darren Takahashi.

Things become even more complicated when she reconnects with her brother, who became estranged after he started dating a girl who wasn’t family-approved. Can she find a way to come clean before her web of lies becomes even more tangled at her feet?

Bookshop.org, $12; shop now

I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin 
I hate everyone but you
Photo by Kayleigh Shaw

I Hate Everyone But You is a book composed strictly of emails and text messages exchanged by Ava and Gen, two best friends who are separated upon getting accepted into colleges that are across the country. The book gives realistic depictions of first loves, those roommate horror stories you always hear about, heartbreak, self-discovery, coming out and mental health.

One of my favorite things about the book is how it’s so primarily focused on friendship – most YA stories use romance as a driving force for the characters. It’s also really nice to see how the characters grow as individuals at their respective colleges despite the two of them having spent so much of their lives together! You can really tell that they deeply understand each other, love each other and are fairly supportive of what the other choses to do. However, they aren’t perfect. They have their moments where they argue, but it’s okay, because at the end of the day, they’re best friends who love each other!

Bookshop.org, $11; shop now

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Photo by Kayleigh Shaw

Cath is a fan of the fictional world of Simon Snow, and it’s something that she’s devoted her whole life to – ever since she and her twin sister, Wren, were abandoned by their mother. Things start to get rocky for Cath when her sister says that she doesn’t want them to room together at college.

Now, Cath is on her own with a boyfriend-obsessed roommate, a fiction-writing professor who doesn’t believe in fanfiction and a crush on a guy who is only concerned about literature. To add to her stress, she also can’t get who mind off of her dad who’s never been alone before. How will she be able to handle all of this? As someone who has spent the past six years of my life writing fanfiction, I definitely relate to Cath!

Bookshop.org, $11; shop now

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour 
We are okay
Original photo by Kayleigh Shaw

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left. She carries secrets about her last weeks back home that nobody — not even her best friend, Mabel — knows. However, she can’t outrun what happened in California while at college in New York. When Mabel comes to visit Marin over winter break, Marin is finally ready to let go of her past and tell the truth. 

Nina Lacour truly is a gifted writer when it comes to expressing the emotions that the characters go through. You can really feel Marin’s grief, heartbreak and agony throughout the story. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from an author where emotions come off as powerful and authentic as they do in this novel. Definitely a must-read if you’re looking for something to get you in the feels!

Bookshop.org, $11; shop now

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Chop
Emergency contact
Photo by Kayleigh Shaw

Penny Lee lived a very laid-back life while in high school. She wasn’t necessarily popular, but she had a stable friend group and decent grades. She even had a boyfriend that she brought to college with her. However, she realizes that her relationship with her boyfriend isn’t as perfect as she thought it was. Now, she’s in college as an English major and ready for a fresh start.

There’s also Sam, who’s going through a rut in his life. He’s currently living at the cafe where he works. However, he’s hoping that his luck will turn around when he becomes a professional movie director. The two cross paths in the most random way possible and from there, become each other’s emergency contacts. Their relationship develops as they begin to no each other in ways that no one else has before.

Much like Fangirl, I appreciated this book because I’m an English major and it’s always nice to see protagonists that are studying English as well. I also liked that Sam and Penny started their relationship out as friends, and it wasn’t too insta-lovey!

Bookshop.org, $11; shop now

Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed 

While this story mainly takes place in high school, it features situations that seniors may face when thinking about what they want to do after high school. Maya Aziz is conflicted on whether or not she should follow her heart and go to film school in New York, or follow her parents’ wishes and go to a college close to Colorado. However, the lives of both Maya and her parents are turned upside down when everyone blames Maya and her family for a terrorist attack that is committed at the state capital just because they’re Muslim.

This is a good read for students that don’t want to let their parents down, but know that they shouldn’t have to sacrifice their own happiness.

Bookshop.org, $11; shop now

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke 
Nice try Jane sinner
Photo by Kayleigh Shaw

Nice Try, Jane Sinner follows Jane Sinner after she’s expelled from her high school. In hopes of getting her back on track, her parents push her to enroll at the local community college. She agrees, as long as she’s able to move out.

As perfect as that sounds, Jane is unsure of how to pay for it. Luckily, though, the college has a reality TV show, House Of Orange, in which students are eligible to win prizes and could be just what she needs to get housing. I was a huge fan of this book, because it featured a character that was going to a community college, whereas most books take place at a university, which isn’t always an option for some people – which is nothing you should be ashamed of! 

Bookshop.org, $10; shop now

These books are perfect to read before you embark on your college journey, offering a more realistic idea of what to expect of your coming years. Happy reading to all you bookworms out there!

The Her Campus National Editors write about products we love and think you’ll love too. Her Campus has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase. All products are in stock and all prices are accurate as of publication.

Kayleigh is a Fine Arts major with an emphasis in English and Cinema Studies. Along with writing for Her Campus, she is a Campus Trendsetter. When she is not writing, you can find her watching Netflix and crying over fictional characters.
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