What is a College Summer Reading Program?

Explore summer reading lists and how they are linked to freshman orientation.

Photo: Thinkstock

If you thought summer reading programs were just for kids, think again.

Many colleges across the nation have a summer reading program, usually as part of the freshman orientation process.

At some schools, summer reading is class-based, with professors giving out lists of books they require students to have already read before class begins.

General Info About College Summer Reading

The college library usually initiates summer reading programs, either as a program unto itself or as part of a freshman orientation or special seminar.

At some schools, summer reading is class-based, with professors giving out lists of books they require students to have already read before class begins.

Other schools simply wish to give all incoming students a common intellectual experience that can begin their experience at the college.

Popular Reading Lists

Interestingly enough, most college reading programs choice of books include modern bestsellers, rather than classic novels that have long been tied to the canon of academia. The bestsellers may be either fiction or nonfiction, and are designed to engage students' minds for discussion when school begins. However, some schools recommend a combination of both.

Although bestsellers might seem like an unusual choice, the subject matter they contain is often full of themes that students can relate to or learn from. Popular topics include diversity and different cultures, which stimulate discussion on values and morals. To explore the most recent bestsellers, check out the NY Times Bestsellers list.

Barbara Fister, a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, says summer reading programs help bridge the line between discussing books in a non-critical way and academic reading.

The Harvard Summer Institute has a college admissions reading list with an extensive array of contemporary and classic literature, as well as a list of periodicals faculty and staff think students should read on a weekly basis.

Reading List Titles

Although each school picks their own books for summer reading programs, there do seem to be a lot of commonalities. Popular summer reading list books include:

  • "The Things They Carried," by Tim O’Brien
  • "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," by Mark Haddon
  • "The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini

The staff of the college store at Bates College offers a “'Non-required Reading List,' or 'Good Reads for Leisure Moments,'” compiled from a variety of members of the Bates community. Past versions of the list include such well-known titles as "Cutting for Stone," by Abraham Verghese, "The Road," by Cormac McCarthy and "Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe." To view the 2013 reading list, visit the campus bookstore website.

The University of California – Berkeley offers a yearly themed summer reading list. For 2013, the list is called, "What Would Seniors Read?" and it includes titles like: "The Outliers: The Story of Success," by Malcolm Gladwell. In 2012 it was "Revolutions," whereas in 2011 it was "Social Media," with titles including, "You Are Not A Gadget," by Jaron Lanier and "I, Robot," by Isaac Asimov.

Many colleges further engage students by showing a film that might be based on the book or directly linked to it. Or they invite the author to speak at the school.

Common Themes in Summer Reading Programs

“We’re trying to provide our large first-year class with a common intellectual base, and promote certain values about leadership, ethics and service,” said Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president of the division of student affairs at the University of Florida.

Fister, librarian from Gustavus Adolphus, noted a trend in summer reading programs, with more schools choosing materials that move away from "self-understanding and individual growth" toward "global understanding."

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

College Classes: A New Student’s Guide
How Should I Pick My Freshman Year Classes?
Setting Up Your College Class Schedule
Getting Into College Classes

See All College Classes and Academics Articles

Quick Search: Find the College that's Right for You!



Visit Our Student Center

Get on track!

Visit our Student Center

And find out everything you need to know about planning for college.