24 great books for recent college grads to guide them through their next chapter

  • There are many routes you can take for college graduate gifts— practical gifts, gift cards, and more.
  • If you’re looking for something that’ll inform and inspire, you can’t go wrong with a book.
  • We rounded up 21 books that any recent college grad would love to read, from memoirs to self-help.

Finding the right gift for a recent grad can be tough. Should you get them some decor to liven up a new apartment? Could you chip in for a big trip they’re planning? Would they be better off with just a gift card or some cash?

As the college-aged contingent transitions from students to alumni, their lives will become occupied with all new kinds of challenges, excitements, and memories. Transitioning from the college bubble to the real world can be difficult, so why not impart some wisdom on your recent grad to guide them through all these changes?

Books make great gifts for college graduates, especially ones that can help them kickstart their careers, better understand the industry they’re entering, supply them with lifelong lessons, or just tell them everything will be fine. We rounded up 21 of those books, from engaging memoirs to self-help books and guides.

Popular Reviews

Keep reading for 21 inspiring books that recent college grads will want to read:

Captions are adapted synopses from Amazon and Bookshop.

"The Defining Decade" by Meg Jay

“The Defining Decade,” available at Bookshop and Amazon, $11.99

Drawing from a decade of work with hundreds of 20-something clients and students, “The Defining Decade” weaves the latest science of the 20-something years with behind-closed-doors stories from 20-somethings themselves. The result is a provocative read that provides the tools necessary to make the most of your 20s and shows us how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity, and even the brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood-if we use the time wisely. 

"Ask a Manager" by Alison Green

“Ask a Manager,” available at Bookshop and Amazon, $13.95

There’s a reason Alison Green has been called “the Dear Abby of the work world.” 10 years as a workplace advice columnist have taught her that people avoid awkward conversations in the office because they simply don’t know what to say. Thankfully, Green does — and in this incredibly helpful book, she tackles the tough discussions you may need to have during your career. 

"Congratulations, By the Way" by George Saunders

“Congratulations, By the Way,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, $10.44

Three months after George Saunders gave a graduation address at Syracuse University, a transcript of that speech was posted on the website of “The New York Times,” where its simple, uplifting message struck a deep chord. Within days, it had been shared more than one million times. Why? Because Saunders’s words tap into a desire in all of us to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives. Powerful, funny, and wise, “Congratulations, By the Way” is an inspiring message from one of today’s most influential and original writers.

"Get Good with Money" By Tiffany Aliche (The Budgetnista)

“Get Good with Money: Ten Simple Steps to Becoming Financially Whole,” available at Bookshop and Amazon, $13.99

Tiffany Aliche was a successful pre-school teacher with a healthy nest egg when a recession and advice from a shady advisor put her out of a job and into a huge financial hole. As she began to chart the path to her own financial rescue, the outline of her ten-step formula for attaining both financial security and peace of mind began to take shape. These principles have now helped more than one million women worldwide save and pay off millions in debt, and begin planning for a richer life.

"What I Know Now" by Ellyn Spragins

“What I Know Now,” available at Bookshop and Amazon, $10.16

If you could send a letter back through time to your younger self, what would the letter say? 

In this moving collection, 41 famous women write letters to the women they once were, filled with advice and insights they wish they had had when they were younger. Their letters contain rare glimpses into the personal lives of extraordinary women and powerful wisdom that readers will treasure.

"Now What" by Ari King

“Now What?!” available at Amazon, $14.95

This book features over 60 interviews with recent college graduates (22-26 years old) and older, more established graduates (27-75 years old) about their experiences transitioning from college students to the real world while looking for work, applying for graduate school, and trying to figure out what to do next. From the budding marine biologist who studied abroad in Saint Croix to the driven journalist who graduated early for a newspaper job, “Now What?!” is packed full of advice for students and alumni alike.

"What You're Really Meant to Do" by Robert Steven Kaplan

“What You’re Really Meant to Do”, available at Bookshop and Amazon, $15.86

Robert Steven Kaplan, leadership expert and author of the highly successful book “What to Ask the Person in the Mirror,” regularly advises executives and students on how to tackle these questions. In this indispensable new book, Kaplan shares a specific and actionable approach to defining your own success and reaching your potential.

Drawing on his years of experience, Kaplan proposes an integrated plan for identifying and achieving your goals. He outlines specific steps and exercises to help you understand yourself more deeply, take control of your career, and build your capabilities in a way that fits your passions and aspirations.

"Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar" by Cheryl Strayed

“Tiny Beautiful Things,” available at Bookshop and Amazon, $15.59

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills — and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar — the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir “Wild” — is the person thousands turn to for advice.

“In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It” by Lauren Graham

“In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It,” available at Bookshop and Amazon, $10.45

In this expansion of the 2017 commencement speech she gave at her hometown Langley High, Lauren Graham, the beloved star of “Gilmore Girls” and “Parenthood,” reflects on growing up, pursuing your dreams, and living in the here and now. In her hilarious, relatable voice, Graham reminds us to be curious and compassionate, no matter where life takes us or what we’ve yet to achieve. Grounded and inspiring — and illustrated throughout with drawings by Graham herself — here is a comforting road map to a happy life.

"Trick Mirror" by Jia Tolentino

“Trick Mirror,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, $8.99

“Trick Mirror” is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly through a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Tolentino writes about a cultural prism: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the advent of scamming as the definitive millennial ethos; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the punitive dream of optimization, which insists that everything, including our bodies, should become more efficient and beautiful until we die. 

Gleaming with Tolentino’s sense of humor and capacity to elucidate the impossibly complex in an instant, and marked by her desire to treat the reader with profound honesty, “Trick Mirror” is an instant classic of the worst decade yet.

"How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life" by Heather Havrilesky

“How to Be a Person in the World,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, $14.99

Should you quit your day job to follow your dreams? How do you rein in an overbearing mother? Will you ever stop dating wishy-washy, noncommittal guys? 

Heather Havrilesky is here to guide you through the “what if’s” and “I don’t knows” of modern life with the signature wisdom and tough love her readers have come to expect. Whether she’s responding to cheaters or loners, lovers or haters, the anxious or the down-and-out, Havrilesky writes with equal parts grace, humor, and compassion to remind you that even in your darkest moments, you’re not alone.

"Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed

“Wild,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, $12.99

 At 22, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.

Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, “Wild” powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

“Becoming” by Michelle Obama

“Becoming,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, $11.89

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her — from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. Warm, wise, and revelatory, “Becoming: is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations — and whose story inspires us to do the same.

"The Beautiful Chaos of Growing Up" by Ari Satok

“The Beautiful Chaos of Growing Up,” available at Amazon, $14.99

With humor and insight, “The Beautiful Chaos of Growing Up” takes you into the turbulent world of young adulthood. Capturing the newfound freedoms of college life and the dizzying adventure of the years that immediately follow it, this poetry collection reflects on the ups, downs, and in-betweens of the journey towards independence.

In poems that explore the thrills and anxieties of college friendships and graduation, internships and job interviews, first dates and first apartments, lies a warmhearted, powerful examination of what it means to grow up.

"The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need" by Andrew Tobias

“The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, $13.26

For nearly 40 years, “The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need” has been a favorite finance guide, earning the allegiance of more than a million readers across America. This completely updated edition will show you how to use your money to your best advantage in today’s financial marketplace, no matter your means.

Using concise, witty, and truly understandable tips and explanations, Andrew Tobias delivers sensible advice and useful information on savings, investments, preparing for retirement, and much more.

"I Will Teach You to Be Rich" by Ramit Sethi

“I Will Teach You to Be Rich,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, $7.41

Buy as many lattes as you want. Choose the right accounts and investments so your money grows for you — automatically. Best of all, spend guilt-free on the things you love.
 
Personal finance expert Ramit Sethi has been called a “wealth wizard” by Forbes and the “new guru on the block” by Fortune. Now he’s updated and expanded his modern money classic for a new age, delivering a simple, powerful, no-BS six-week program that just works.
 

"Lead From the Outside" by Stacey Abrams

“Lead from the Outside,” available at Bookshop and Amazon, $7.99

Leadership is hard. Convincing others ― and yourself ― that you are capable of taking charge and achieving more requires insight and courage. “Lead from the Outside” is the handbook for outsiders, written with an eye toward the challenges that hinder women, people of color, the working class, members of the LGBTQ community, and millennials ready to make change.

Stacey uses her hard-won insights to break down how ambition, fear, money, and failure function in leadership, and she includes practical exercises to help you realize your own ambition and hone your skills. The book discusses candidly what Stacey has learned over the course of her impressive career in politics, business, and the nonprofit world: that differences in race, gender, and class provide vital strength, which we can employ to rise to the top and create real and lasting change.

"Option B" by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

“Option B,” available at Bookshop and Amazon, $13.41

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.

“Option B” combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity. It illuminates how to help others in crisis, develop compassion for ourselves, raise strong children, and create resilient families, communities, and workplaces. Many of these lessons can be applied to everyday struggles, allowing us to brave whatever lies ahead. 

"Earn It" by Mika Brzezinksi and Daniela Pierre-Bravo

“Earn It!” available on Amazon, $10.99

The whirlwind of job applications, interviews, follow-up, resume building, and networking is just the beginning. What happens after you’ve landed the job, settled in, and begun to make a difference? Where do you go from here? What if you feel stuck in what you thought would be your dream profession?

“New York Times” best-selling author Mika Brzezinski and producer Daniela Pierre-Bravo provide an essential manual for those crucial next steps. “Earn It!” is a practical career guidebook that not only helps you get your foot in the door; it also shows you how to negotiate a raise, advocate for more responsibility, and figure out whether you’re in the career that’s right for you. 

"Make Your Bed" by William H. McRaven

“Make Your Bed,” available at Bookshop and Amazon, $12.70

On May 17, 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin on their Commencement day. He shared the 10 principles he learned during Navy Seal training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his training and long Naval career, but also throughout his life; and he explained how anyone can use these basic lessons to change themselves — and the world — for the better.

Told with great humility and optimism, this timeless book provides simple wisdom, practical advice, and words of encouragement that will inspire readers to achieve more, even in life’s darkest moments.

"The Miracle Morning" by Hal Elrod

“The Miracle Morning,” available at Amazon, $18.15

What’s being widely regarded as “one of the most life-changing books ever written” may be the simplest approach to achieving everything you’ve ever wanted, and faster than you ever thought possible.

What if you could wake up tomorrow and any — or every — area of your life was beginning to transform? What would you change? “The Miracle Morning” is already transforming the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world by showing them how to wake up each day with more energy, motivation, and focus to take your life to the next level. It’s been right here in front of us all along, but this book has finally brought it to life.

"This is Marketing" by Seth Godin

“This is Marketing,” available at Amazon, $9.61

Seth Godin has taught and inspired millions of entrepreneurs, marketers, leaders, and fans from all walks of life, via his blog, online courses, lectures, and bestselling books. He is the inventor of countless ideas that have made their way into mainstream business language.

Now, for the first time, Godin offers the core of his marketing wisdom in one compact, accessible, timeless package. “This is Marketing” shows you how to do work you’re proud of, whether you’re a tech startup founder, a small business owner, or part of a large corporation.

"Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari

“Sapiens,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, $11.40

Author Yuval Noah Harari’s fascinating exploration of human history makes for a read that is as thought-provoking as it is captivating. A true history of humankind, Dr. Harari covers the theory of the out-of-Africa movement all the way to developments in CRISPR gene editing. He does so while keeping the information structured, interesting, and easily digestible.

You can read Insider’s review of “Sapiens” here.

"You Learn by Living" by Eleanor Roosevelt

“You Learn by Living”, available on Amazon and Bookshop, $13.89

One of the most beloved figures of the 20th century, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt remains a role model for a life well-lived. At the age of 76, Roosevelt penned this simple guide to living a fuller life. Now back in print, “You Learn by Living” is a powerful volume of enduring common-sense ideas and heartfelt values. Offering her own philosophy on living, Eleanor takes readers on a path to compassion, confidence, maturity, civic stewardship, and more.

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