For most students, graduation day can’t arrive any faster. The last day of school, whether it’s high school or college, is highlighted on nearly every soon-to-be-grad’s calendar.
Yet, once the big day finally arrives and all the caps have been flung into the air, many graduates find themselves questioning their next steps. Without the rigid structure and routine of school life, the sudden freedom can be daunting and the infinite possibilities overwhelming.
Fortunately, millions of adults have been there and know exactly the feeling, and many have written practical, witty, and utterly relatable books to help new graduates navigate the real world.
Best Books for Graduates
Below are 12 books for graduates. Read these if you’re a recent graduate yourself, or if you’re looking for the perfect gift for a grad in your life.
1. In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It by Lauren Graham
You may know Lauren Graham as everyone’s favorite mom from Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. This book is an expansion of the commencement speech Graham first gave in 2017 at her hometown high school.
Diverging from the typical graduation speech that offers practical career advice or tells graduates they can do anything they set their minds to, Graham reassures new grads that it doesn’t matter what they do in the world or what they become. What matters most is finding joy.
2. I Just Graduated… Now What? by Katherine Schwarzenegger
Practically all graduates know the pressure of being asked “What’s next?” after graduating high school or college.
To alleviate the anxiety of post-diploma uncertainty, Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt interviewed over 30 highly successful people working in a variety of fields, including Anderson Cooper, John Legend, and Meghan McCain, to illustrate how there is more than one road that can lead you to success and fulfillment in your work, relationships, and life.
3. Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven
In 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven addressed the University of Texas at Austin’s graduating class and shared 10 simple principles he learned in Navy Seal training that helped him overcome challenges throughout his long Naval career, but also his life.
In this book, McRaven builds on the core tenets laid out in his speech that went viral, recounting stories from his own life and people he met during his service who overcame challenges and made difficult decisions with determination, compassion, honor, and courage.
4. Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson
After meeting with a highly successful entrepreneur who was genuinely convinced he was surrounded by idiots (a feeling that young, slightly arrogant recent grads might know), communication expert Thomas Erikson set out to learn how people function and understand why we struggle to connect with certain types of people.
Erikson’s research led him to write this book, which offers a simple method for determining the personalities of people you communicate with based on four personality types (Red, Blue, Green and Yellow), and provides insights into how you can adjust your interactions accordingly.
5. The Financial Diet by Chelsea Fagan
In her her 20s, author Chelsea Fagan found herself in a financial mess of her own making. Realizing she was tired of being broke, she decided to become financially literate, finally set a budget, and stop living paycheck to paycheck.
Using the lessons she learned along the way, Fagan wrote this book to arm readers with the tools they need to be informed, get organized, and finally get a hold on their finances, making it a perfect read for recent graduates so they can avoid common mistakes and start making wise money decisions.
6. Advice From My 80-Year-Old Self by Susan O’Malley
Artist Susan O’Malley asked more than 100 people in the San Francisco Bay Area one question: What advice would your future 80-year-old self give to you today?
Tragically, O’Malley’s own life was cut short at age 38, but not before she gathered inspiring and heartwarming answers, including an 8-year-old boy’s advice to “listen to your mom” and “be friendly to people,” to an 85-year-old woman’s counsel to “stay in touch with your friends.” Everyone, but especially recent grads, will find invaluable and uplifting wisdom for those days they need it most.
7. The Real Simple Guide to Real Life by the editors of Real Simple
This is one book that should have been assigned reading back in school, because it’s full of helpful tips to answer those questions that just never seem to stop coming once you enter the “real” world.
Featuring original essays from best-selling young writers and practical advice from expert contributors, the Real Simple Guide simplifies and demystifies things like landing a job, finding an apartment, cooking for one, dressing for interviews and work, managing 401(k)s, and even handling epic hangovers and messy breakups, this is a must-have for everyone who ponders “adulting.”
8. Make Trouble by John Waters
This book makes the perfect gift for creative grads who want to forge their own paths. Filmmaker and artist John Waters’ inspiring commencement speech at the Rhode Island School of Design went viral, and here he turns the lessons from that speech into an illustrated book.
Waters argues that to live a truly creative life, you must reject what you’ve been taught at school (which is to always pay attention and follow directions). Instead, he encourages new graduates to “make trouble” in their lives: to imagine and bring to life crazy new ideas, to listen to and work with their enemies, and to always dream big.
9. Whatever You Are, Be a Good One by Lisa Congdon
Inspired by a famous Abraham Lincoln quote, this charming hand-lettered book shares 100 inspirational quotations from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Marie Curie, Stephen King, and Walt Whitman.
Reach for this colorful read whenever you need a pick-me-up or a little nudge to get out there and make the most of your day.
10. The Road to Character, by David Brooks
In life, there are what David Brooks calls “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” In this book, the New York Times columnist aims to help readers distinguish between skills that might look good to potential employers, and values that help us grow and form relationships.
Using anecdotes, interviews, and studies from psychology, Brooks encourages everyone to focus on the second type of virtues, and gives readers the tools they need to develop a more “moral character.”
11. What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were 20 years old? As head of Stanford University’s Technology Ventures Program, it’s Tina Seelig’s job to dish out that wisdom as she guides students in their transitions from the academic to the professional world.
In this book, she shares with readers the same insights she often gifts to her students, ranging from provocative stories to inspiring advice, all with abundant humility and humor.
12. Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss
This classic is a staple among graduating students of both high school and college (shoutout to Mrs. Jennings for making my whole environmental science class cry when she read it on the last day of school).
Yes, the suggested age range on the book description is 4–8 years old, but, really, what do they know about preparing to face the real world? This short but deeply sentimental Dr. Seuss tale is perfect for graduates and anyone about to start a new chapter in their life: Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!
Inspiring Books for Grads
Life after school can be a confusing and overwhelming time, but it’s one that’s also full of opportunity.
Reading books by people who have been there will reassure you that, no, you don’t need to have everything figured out, and no, you don’t need a perfect answer for every aunt or well-meaning professor who asks, “What’s next?”
Instead, try to embrace the uncertainty and stay open to all the exciting possibilities that come your way.
Are there any books you’d recommend to graduates? Share your picks in the comments below!
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As a blog writer for TCK Publishing, Kaelyn loves crafting fun and helpful content for writers, readers, and creative minds alike. She has a degree in International Affairs with a minor in Italian Studies, but her true passion has always been writing. Working remotely allows her to do even more of the things she loves, like traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.