Exploring Your Interests Through Reading and Research This Summer

Thursday, March 16, 2023


Summer break is a great time for students to relax, but summer shouldn’t be spent just lounging around! Students should use this break in their academic schedule to pursue their interests and one way to do that is through reading and research.

A productive summer keeps students engaged, fights summer brain drain, and gives them the opportunity to pursue activities that relate to their interests in order to better prepare for the college admissions process senior year. We can’t stress enough the importance of outside reading, especially as part of a productive summer. Reading not only allows students to explore topics of interest, but it also helps expand their vocabulary and can help them become better writers.

Research is also a great way to learn more about your interests and finish the summer with a project or paper that is a finished product of all your hard work. Here’s how to use reading and research to advance your knowledge using your summer college prep.

Summer Reading Benefits: Why Summer Reading Is Important?

It Helps Students Develop Their Interests

Having a specialty or defined interests is extremely important when applying to college. Colleges want to build well-rounded classes made up of specialists, and becoming a specialist means finding your passion and exploring that particular interest, and one of the best ways to do this is through reading. For example, a student interested in economics or finance can read books, blogs, and niche publications to better understand the field and its core concepts. This knowledge can then be used in extracurricular activities, such as functioning as the treasurer for the entrepreneur club or organizing a fundraiser for another student organization.

Reading Can Make You a Better Writer

Those who read a variety of well-written works are more likely to excel in writing achievement. Coupled with enhanced vocabulary, writing styles and devices, including cadence, word usage, sentence construction, and more, can essentially rub off on readers. It’s also important not just to read, but analyze the selection itself including its meaning, themes, and ultimate message.

Colleges Will Ask What You’re Reading Outside of Class

Columbia University, Stanford University, and Wake Forest are just a few examples of schools that ask students what they have read outside of class as part of the application. Colleges want to get to know students and their interests and looking at their outside reading is one way to do it. Not only does outside reading provide insight into your personality, it can also give you material for a compelling college essay.

For example, in Harvard’s Common Application supplement, students are given the opportunity to write an essay from a selection of topics, including “an intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you.”

You Can Become a Matter Expert

Reading is the easiest way to become a specialist in your fields of interest. Start out by reading articles, blogs, and other online resources about a topic you’re really passionate about. Interested in international relations? Read up on the latest news about foreign relationships. Love fashion? Check out some popular fashion blogs to learn about new trends.

Then, branch out. Research relevant books and other publications that can give you a more in-depth dive into the topic. Maybe you want to learn about the history of fashion, or you want to get more granular and read about French fashion houses in the early 20th century. Find books that can give you in-depth information that you can’t find from skimming online articles. Reading doesn’t have to just include physical books. It can also include audiobooks or podcasts that cover the topics you’re interested in.

You Can Enrich Your Portfolio

Now that you’ve done a lot of reading about your interests, put that knowledge to work! Do some research and put together a paper or project that highlights what you’ve learned. For students interested in history, learning how to do historical research can help them really develop their interest. IvyWise counselor Christine says: “Search for good sources, and think critically about the past, perhaps even drawing connections with today’s world. And there is no better way to learn than by working on a research paper, for class, or, better yet, independently.

This BBC handout offers a helpful primer on how to do historical research, and this Harvard Writing Center brief guides students through the process of writing a history paper.” Independent research not only demonstrates your specialty in a topic, but it also allows you to show off your knowledge. This can strengthen your application and give you a final product to add to a portfolio.

Students can submit their independent research papers to publications like The Concord Review to further promote their work.

Reading and research can help students who may not have summer plans still achieve a productive break. Moreover, colleges want to know how students spend their summers, so don’t pass up an opportunity to take on an easy college prep task!

29 Books of Wisdom That Will Make You Wiser

Whether it’s bringing your books to the beach or curling up with your Kindle at home, every student should include independent reading on their agenda this summer. In addition to getting lost in a good story, reading can help students stay academically engaged and better prepared for coursework in the fall.

A summer reading list is an excellent way to diversify the books you’re consuming and broaden your literary tastes. From memoirs to non-fiction, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite books for students to add to their checklist this summer.

#1 The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This text is a must-read for science lovers and history buffs alike. Mukherjee, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, draws on his knowledge to describe the history of a scientific idea. Throughout the book, the story of Mukherjee’s own family is woven in, including a reminder that the science of genetics is not confined to the laboratory but rather relevant to everyday lives. From Gregor Mendel to Charles Darwin to James Watson and Rosalind Franklin, The Gene also traces the scientists and innovators who have shaped today’s understanding of the code of codes.

#2 Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West is the perfect choice for students eager to think big. The novel is set against the backdrop of migrant lives and tells the story of Nadia and Saeed, two people who make a connection in night school and fall in love. As war breaks out throughout their city, they soon find themselves passing through secret doors. Exit West explores what it feels like to be uprooted and forced to “exit” your home to face the unknown. The novel was also recently selected as the University of California, Berkeley’s featured text for On the Same Page 2020, a program designed to spark conversation amongst new students around a chosen book.

#3 Continental Divide by Alex Myers

This novel tells the story of Ron, a Harvard student who has recently come out as transgender, and his journey out West to break his familiar connections and establish himself in a new world. The novel incorporates adventure, including romance, danger, and new friendships, as well as anecdotes that are both exhilarating and humbling. Ultimately Continental Divide is a coming-of-age story in which the protagonist must find the right place within himself to search for truth, happiness, and a sense of belonging.

#4 The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben

The Hidden Life of Trees is captivating for all readers but likely to be of particular interest to those with a passion for the environment. The book captures Wohlleben’s approach to forestry, especially his enduring interest in identifying and tracing the interconnectedness of the disparate living beings of the Black Forest in Germany. The text includes a discussion of how non-human beings are affected by both long and short-term ecological challenges and offers a new way to think about the consequences of California wildfires and the impact of climate change at large.

#5 Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

In his compelling memoir, Laymon tells the story of his early experiences in Jackson, Mississippi, his suspension from college, and his journey to New York. By attempting to name the secrets and lies he and his mother spent much of their lives avoiding, Laymon asks himself and his readers to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.

#6 How to Read Literature Like a Professor Revised: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster

“A thoroughly revised and updated edition of Thomas C. Foster’s classic guide—a lively and entertaining introduction to literature and literary basics, including symbols, themes, and contexts—that shows you how to make your everyday reading experience more rewarding and enjoyable.”

#7 The Harvard Classics in a Year

A Liberal Education in 365 Days edited by Charles Eliot and Amanda Kennedy: “The Harvard Classics in a Year aims to provide a whirlwind tour of classic literature. By reading for just 15 minutes a day throughout the year, you can discover text from “twelve main divisions of knowledge” including History, Poetry, Natural Science, Philosophy, Biography, Prose Fiction, Criticism and the Essay, Education, Political Science, Drama, Voyages and Travel and Religion.”

#8 Middlemarch by George Eliot 

A Study of Provincial Life explores a fictional nineteenth-century Midlands town in the midst of modern changes.

#9 Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

“In Mrs. Dalloway, the novel on which the movie The Hours was based, Virginia Woolf details Clarissa Dalloway’s preparations for a party of which she is to be hostess, exploring the hidden springs of thought and action in one day of a woman’s life.”

#10 The Goldfinch: A Novel by Donna Tartt

“Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.”

#11 The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

“The real story of the crash began in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower–and middle–class Americans who can’t pay their debts.”

#12 Mastering Logical Fallacies: How to Win Arguments and Refute Misleading Logic by Mike Livingston

“In Mastering Logical Fallacies you’ll learn the art of effective rhetoric. This book will cover a variety of fallacies (especially the most popular ones used today) and show you how they operate with real-world examples. You’ll learn the secret structure—or non-structure—of some of the most pernicious and false arguments ever made.”

#13 Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

How do things become popular and why do people flock to certain products and services while ignoring others? This Wharton marketing professor has some insight.

#14 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Joyce’s novel traces the intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening of young Stephen Dedalus as he begins to question and rebel against the Catholic and Irish conventions with which he has been raised.

#15 A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A satire portraying a futuristic, dystopian Western society with a culture of extreme youth rebellion and violence: it explores the violent nature of humans, human free will to choose between good or evil, and the desolation of free will as a solution to evil.

#16 Journalism Next by Mark Briggs

There’s never been a more challenging yet exciting time to be a journalist. But in order to survive and thrive, journalists need to master new tools. Timely, to-the-point, and tested, Journalism Next updates Mark Briggs’ popular online guide Journalism 2.0, and explains how to use the latest software, tools, and concepts, empowering journalists to harness technology and take control of their futures in journalism.

#17 Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott

Flatland is one of the very few novels about math and philosophy that can appeal to almost any reader. Published in 1880, this short fantasy takes readers to a completely flat world of two physical dimensions where all the inhabitants are geometric shapes, and who think the planar world of length and width that they know is all there is.

#18 The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

The Soul of a New Machine chronicles the experiences of a computer engineering team racing to design a next-generation computer at a blistering pace under tremendous pressure. The work environment discussed in this book offers a different approach to what is taught in business schools– instead of top-down management, many of the innovations are started at the grassroots level.

#19 Letters to Young Filmmakers: Creativity and Getting Your Films Made by Howard Suber

Letters to aspiring directors, producers, screenwriters, and other creatives from one of the world’s leading teachers of film. Suber emphasizes that what is required of a professional in the world of film is not just technique, but an understanding and ability to deal with the realities of how films get made.

#20 Saving and Investing: Financial Knowledge and Financial Literacy That Everyone Needs and Deserves to Have by Michael Fischer

By understanding saving, investing and the financial markets, anyone can be empowered to make consistently better financial decisions, understand the world of finance and the investment choices that surround them, and move toward fulfilling their investment dreams.

#21 The Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius

The oldest and most influential book ever written on architecture, this volume served as a guide to Bramante, Michelangelo, Palladio, Vignola, and countless others. It describes the classic principles of symmetry, harmony, and proportion as well as the ancients’ methods, materials, and aesthetics.

#22 The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever by Teri Agins

Written by the Wall Street Journal’s longtime fashion reporter, this book explains how conglomerates like LVMH and red carpet fashion changed the industry forever.

#23 Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

This national bestseller, which was included on UMass Amherst’s most recent summer reading list, explores the author’s life and discoveries as a geobiologist. While students with a diverse set of interests will be captivated by the author’s storytelling, Lab Girl is a must-read for nature lovers and aspiring scientists.

#24 Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

This captivating novel, Ward’s second text to receive a National Book Award, is an intimate portrayal of three generations of a family and the ongoing struggles they face. A special edition of the coming-of-age tale was mailed to incoming freshmen in Duke University’s Class of 2022.

#25 Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

Yuri Herrera’s book about the border between the United States and Mexico is a full-blown exploration into the crossings and translations people make in their minds and language as they transition from one nation to another, often without any possibility for return. This novel was also part of Stanford’s Book Salon in 2018.

#26 The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Another must-read for science lovers and aspiring researchers, The Gene chronicles the history of the gene and genetic research from Aristotle to Watson, Crick, & Franklin and then to 21st-century scientists who mapped the human genome. Additionally, The Gene provides an in-depth look at the power of genetics in determining people’s well-being and traits. The book was included in reading lists for USC and the author was also the institution’s commencement speaker in 2018.

#27 Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

Learn more about the legendary author, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston through her autobiography, which is equal parts bold, poignant, and funny. Students who fall in love with her writing may wish to consider picking up some of her other texts, including Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Their Eyes Were Watching God.

#28 Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith

Students with an infinite curiosity for all things futuristic should take note of this fascinating book, which investigates how technological innovations such as cheap space ships and 3D organ printing will impact society. The book, which was part of Washington State University’s required reading for the 2018-2019 school year, also includes fun illustrations and is co-authored by the creator of the webcomic “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”.

#29 How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

This captivating book takes readers on a journey as the protagonist rises from his rural and impoverished childhood to a full-blown corporate tycoon. The novel is written entirely in the second-person perspective and takes place in an unnamed country that resembles the author’s native Pakistan. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia was required reading for Occidental College students.

Popular Blogs You Can Learn a Lot From

It’s also important to remember summer reading isn’t just limited to books! Follow popular blogs and online publications that match your interests in order to stay abreast of the latest developments in the fields you want to pursue in college and beyond.

Freakonomics Blog

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a 2005 non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. The book has been described as melding pop culture with economics, but has also been described as “amateur sociology.” Their blog expands upon the themes presented in their book and offers insight into timely topics and current events.

Progressive Engineer Magazine

Progressive Engineer is an online magazine and information source covering all disciplines of engineering in the continental United States. Its in-depth profiles and features portray engineers in an easy-to-read, personal editorial style and promote sustainability in the profession.

Ready for the next chapter? Learn how to plan a productive summer break.


Related Topics

Outside Reading, Summer Planning
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