Citing books in college essays can be beneficial. But it all depends on how you do it (show, don’t tell) and citing books that are required reading can sometimes backfire. Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, and Atticus Finch are all noteworthy characters in American fiction. “The Great Gatsby,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” are, after all, seminal books of American fiction. They are among the most famous and circulated books in America, and they are read in classrooms across the nation. But does that mean that you should write about these books in your college essays? Does that mean that you should cite these books when asked your favorite books in college interviews? Well, if “The Catcher in the Rye” really is your favorite book, then absolutely tell the truth. But that doesn’t mean you can’t expand on your answer by citing a few more books and explaining why you love these books.
And with the additional books, be sure to cite books that aren’t required reading in classrooms across the nation. If you’re uncertain if the book you’re citing is generally considered mandatory reading at most high schools in the United States, go to your local Barnes & Noble. Go to the classics section (it’s often on one table on the first floor). If the books you like to write and talk about are all on this classics table, then you have your answer. If there is a “SparkNotes” for the book, that’s generally a good indication that the book is a classic as well.
There’s nothing wrong with loving classics. It’s just very important in the highly selective college admissions process to demonstrate a love for learning. If all of your books that you love are required reading, what does that say about your passion for reading on your own? It doesn’t say that you like to read before you go to bed. It doesn’t say that you have an insatiable appetite for learning. It doesn’t say much at all in fact because most of your classmates can cite those books as well. Dare to be different. Be a reader and figure out what books move you. Then, write about them in your college essays and discuss them in your college interviews.