College is an interesting experience where students have plenty of reading material. If you want to prepare yourself, there are plenty of books you can read. Ultimately, the relevance of such books will depend on your particular subject. I will focus on the subjects I know best, which are English, Philosophy, and Political Science. However, I am aware of a few relevant suggestions for other subjects.
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith is probably the most canonical text in the field. While you might not read it specifically, you’re bound to encounter references throughout your economics experience.
The Origin of Species. In college, professors are trying to provide you with the information necessary to succeed in your careers. Unsurprisingly, Darwin provides interesting insights into modern evolutionary theory. However, there is no guarantee you’ll read the original text. Many of the ideas have evolved and become more developed, but there are certainly benefits from to be had from reading the book.
Shakespeare is a cliche, but it’s true. Many writers have some relationship to Shakespeare through the usage of character types, allusion, and various other techniques. Sadly, I’ve yet to find a complete Shakespeare with annotations on every page. If you can find one, or read individually annotated texts, you’ll often get a better understanding of the whole story as it unfolds. Once you get used to reading Shakespeare, he is an amazing writer and storyteller. He’s not the boring old English guy that frustrated students characterize him as.
The Bible relates to other texts, if I had to guess, more often than any other book. I was never particularly religious, and I didn’t get the full experience from reading many books simply because I was unaware of the biblical references that were occurring. To avoid repeating it later, I’d recommend The Bible for Philosophy and Political Science as well. To my disappointment, I couldn’t escape my biblical ignorance as the holy book came up in Kierkegaard and Augustine.
The Odyssey and the Iliad are common in English classes. You’ll be in a small group if you manage to avoid reading one of these texts. Well, given that many students don’t do their readings, you won’t be that alone. But if you should expect to see one or both of them at some point. I read The Odyssey. It’s enjoyable, but you will know a lot of the plot already given how popular it is with television programs.
Plato’s Republic was a required reading in at least four of my philosophy courses, and I’ve also encountered it in political science classes. It’s a great read until about the fourth time. I could probably ace a test on the Republic if someone gave me one. Unfortunately, that isn’t a particularly useful talent these days.
Sophie’s World is a fun story that has philosophical themes. It’s mainstream fiction, but it does appear in the occasional introductory philosophy course. This is more of a leisurely read that provides some interesting philosophical history. If you want an academic history, there are plenty available. The most commonly cited is Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy.” You should note that Russell is notoriously biased so you might want to research the topics he discusses elsewhere for a wider perspective.
Honestly, a lot of philosophy courses use textbooks with selections from famous authors. This is generally the best way to study the general areas of philosophy unless you have time to read many whole texts, which you may or may not in university. There is also a learning curve with more advanced texts. That being said, I would recommend any philosophy textbook by Blackwell Publishing. They are notably one of the best publishers of philosophical textbooks. Many of the most prominent modern philosophers are publish anthologies with Blackwell.
Lastly, philosophy professors know more than a mere philosophy student such as myself. Sending a quick email might get you some suggestions. You can even make up a fake email if you don’t want to seem like a pest (though it might be a good way to meet your professor). If you’re really shy, you can email professors from other universities. A lot of philosophy professors are eccentric and quite friendly. We’re often a weird bunch so it can’t hurt to send a message to someone.
The Communist Manifesto has appeared in multiple courses for me. Now I am studying in Canada so things may be different here. I know there have been some strong historical conflicts in America concerning communism. However, I’d still be very surprised if most universities don’t have multiple courses where this text, or selections of it, are read. It’s not the most thrilling read in my view, from a literary standpoint, but it has interesting ideas, clarifies misconceptions about communism, and is relatively easy to read.
Rousseau’s On the Origins of Inequality and The Social Contract are fairly common texts. I prefer the former, personally. Contract theory is quite prevalent in Political Science courses. Hobbes’ Leviathan is going to show up somewhere. Locke’s Treatises on Human Nature, at least one or two, will probably show up through your political science experience.
Depending on the university, you may be bombarded with classics and deprived of some modern thinkers. I don’t identify as a liberal, who this author is, but John Rawls’ absolutely brilliant. His Theory of Justice revolutionized political science and brought seemingly incompatible ideas together. I rarely read philosophy or political science that impresses me, but this did. There is a libertarian response to Rawls from Robert Nozick called Anarchy, State, and Utopia. It isn’t as good as the Theory of Justice, as a read, but there are plenty of people who support Nozick’s line of thinking. I enjoyed reading him because he approaches libertarianism from a more theoretical and moral standpoint as opposed to the standard economic “yawnfest” (sorry economists) that usually occurs in libertarian books.
So there are so many books you can read before college. In life, there is always another book. Sometimes I try to sit back and comprehend the amount of amazing books that exist. Could I read them all in one lifetime? I doubt it. I guess it depends on your requirements for being an amazing book. If the books listed don’t spark your interest try searching your major on Wikipedia. Discover the major thinkers associated with the subject and look into books they’ve written. Many will be available online, and you can sometimes preview newer books to get an idea of whether or not you’ll enjoy them. Enjoy your reading.