10 Personal Development Books Every Student Should Read


It’s safe to say that personal development books have a bit of a bad reputation. What comes to mind are diet books that promise you’ll lose 25 pounds in 2 weeks without having to exercise. Or perhaps spiritual or relationship books that’ll help you find love in 17 easy steps. Sure, there are books like these filling entire shelves in bookstores and libraries, but not all self-help or self-development books are created equal.

In school, we are encouraged to read the great literary classics—Shakespeare, Orwell, Austen, etc. While these are absolute must-reads for any avid reader, there’s also a case to be made for reading books that encourage you to live a fuller, richer, and more meaningful life. After all, personal development books are just that: books that help you to develop into the person you want to be. There’s no better time to start reading books that help you become the best, happiest, most successful version of yourself than while still at school.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 personal development books every student should read. Even if you read just one of them, you’ll take away a few lessons that could stay with you for the rest of your life.

1. Small Move, Big Change

by Caroline Arnold


Have you ever promised yourself that this school year you won’t leave writing your term paper until the last minute, just to forget about your resolution as soon as term started? Why did you struggle to stick to your new resolution?

Caroline Arnold dives into this question in her book, Small Move, Big Change, discovering that most of us fail at keeping our resolutions because they are too vague and too big.

By incorporating ‘microresolutions,’ tiny behavioural modifications, into our daily habits, we can achieve lasting change in virtually any area of our lives. It all comes down to identifying our habits and external cues that can be linked to tiny resolutions that stick because they are so easy to achieve. This is an essential read for anyone wanting to change their habits.

2. The Last Lecture

by Randy Pausch


What would you talk about if you knew you only had a few months left? That’s the question Professor Randy Pausch had to answer a month after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

This booked is based on his now iconic lecture, called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” and challenges his students and readers to think back to their own childhood dreams, and what their biggest hopes and desires for their life were then.

While he doesn’t suggest you join the circus or try to become an astronaut, he urges you to pursue the life you truly desire, without limiting yourself to the constraints of society or what you’re “supposed to do.”

The book complements the lecture with added stories from Pausch’s own childhood that he wanted to pass on to his children.

3. The Happiness Project

by Gretchen Rubin

Since publishing this bestselling book, Gretchen Rubin has become known as somewhat of a happiness expert. Most people agree that the most important thing in life is to strive for happiness, and most parents would even say their biggest hope for their kids it that they are happy. So how come prioritising our own happiness is so often seen as selfish in today’s world?

After realising that she wasn’t as happy as she should be, considering her life was going pretty well, Rubin decided to study happiness and dedicated a whole year of her life to her “happiness project.” She focused on 12 different areas of her life and methodically tracked habits and behaviours that increased her happiness. While “everyone’s happiness project will be different,” Rubin gives readers a blueprint to create their own happiness.

This is essential reading for everyone who wants to actively understand what makes them happy and how they can improve their life according to their values of happiness.

4. Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success

by John C. Maxwell


We are taught early on to avoid failure at all costs. You don’t want to be a loser, right? But the truth is that everyone fails at some point in their life. The question isn’t whether we will fail, but how we will deal with our failures? John C. Maxwell writes: “When achievers fail, they see it as a momentary event, not a lifelong epidemic.”

Only by owning up to and learning from our failures can we grow as people, in business and in relationships. The most successful people have failed over and over again. James Dyson invented 5,126 prototypes before he built his first commercially successful vacuum cleaner. He used his failures as stepping stones towards success. This book will teach you to observe your failures, analyse them, and learn from them.

5. The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind

by Alan Wallace


Never have we been surrounded by more technology fighting to grab our attention than now. Smart phones, social media, notifications, the average attention span of a human has shrunk to that of the notoriously unfocused gold fish. There are even apps created to helping us with our lack of focus, adding another layer of distraction to our everyday lives.

In The Attention Revolution, Wallace shares some techniques to attain the highest form of Shamatha, a Buddhist meditation state of mind. While it’s near impossible to achieve in just one lifetime, using some of the lessons shared, you will be able to take control of your attention again, to focus on anything you set your mind to, whether you’re studying for an exam, or practicing a hobby or sport.

6. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

by David Allen


Granted, the title of this book might not capture your imagination, but if you read one book about productivity in your life, then make it this one.

The basic principle behind the Getting Things Done, or GTD method, is the idea that you should get all your thoughts and tasks out of your mind so they don’t clutter your headspace. First, apply the 2-minute rule. If a task takes less than 2 minutes to complete, do it now. If it takes longer, follow a simple five-step workflow: capture, clarify, organise, reflect, and engage. By following these two principles you can virtually take control of all projects and tasks in your life. Sound simple? That’s because it is. You can start applying it to school work, hobbies, and any other projects right away.

While the original book was published in 2001, Allen has kept it updated and relevant to today’s busy and noisy world of multi-tasking, email, and social media.

7. The 4-Hour Workweek

by Tim Ferriss


Since its publication in 2007, The 4-Hour Workweek has been heavily criticised by some, while becoming something of a business and lifestyle bible for others. The main premise is that the traditional concept of retirement, deferred gratification, and the 9-to-5 is outdated and that there’s no reason to wait until you’re old to enjoy yourself, especially in these difficult economic times.

While the title can be somewhat misleading, there are many valuable lessons to be learned. Ferriss shares how he managed to reduce his working hours to just 4 per week by automating and outsourcing large chunks of his business, while increasing his income from $40,000 per year to $40,000 per month.

Even if you’re not interested in becoming an entrepreneur, you’ll learn about productivity, time management, and learning techniques—and most importantly, the concept of lifestyle design and how you can take control over what your life looks like.

8. Lean In

by Sheryl Sandberg


Celebrated as a modern feminist manifesto, Sandberg’s book Lean In should be essential reading for both female and male students. The chief operating officer at Facebook and former Google executive shares her own experiences as well as those of other women in high corporate positions, encouraging women to “lean in” and claim their seat at the table. Instead of simply bemoaning the current state of affairs, she gives concrete advice on how women can break the limiting patterns they face in the working world. Don’t check out of your career early just because you’re planning to have kids, find a partner who is willing to support your career, forget the unrealistic concept of “having it all,” and start taking more risks. Both men and women will find invaluable lessons in leadership that will help you maneuver your future career.

In her latest book, Lean In for Graduates Sandberg has added a few chapters specific to job applications and salary negotiations.

9. How to Win Friends and Influence People

by Dale Carnegie


Originally published in 1936, the lessons of Dale Carnegie’s classic self-help book still ring true to this day. No matter if you’re in high school, college or at any stage of your career, understanding how to connect with other people is one of the greatest lessons you can learn. This book will teach you how to navigate relationships, have meaningful conversations with anyone you talk to, and win over people who think differently to you. Especially in today’s world of online influencers and social media, it’s more important than ever to learn how to be influential in your career and social life.

10. Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids about Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!

by Robert T. Kiyosaki

One of the most neglected areas in the traditional schooling system is financial education. According to a 2016 study, nearly two thirds of Americans are financially illiterate, meaning they can’t answer simple questions about money, debt and investing.

In Rich Dad, Poor Dad Kiyosaki shares his experience growing up with two father figures who had virtually opposing views on finances and money. Although both dads earned well, one managed to invest well and leave an inheritance for his kids, while the other struggled with money his whole life. Kiyosaki narrows down what he learned from his “rich dad” to six fundamental lessons about money that everybody should know.

This book will transform the way you think about and handle money for the rest of your life.

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These 10 personal development book will help you actively work on your mindset, happiness, career, relationships and finances. It’s never too early to start working towards creating a life you truly want to live.

Is your favourite personal development book missing? Please share it with us in the comments.

About 

Jennifer is a freelance writer for Open Colleges. She earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at Imperial College and now travels and works location independently. Her interests lie in travel, personal growth and development, and the future of work. You can follower her @nomadgirls or at http://digitalnomadgirls.com

5 Responses

  1. Great list Jennifer – I may not want to jump into each one right away, but the list itself is an energizer! Dale Carnegie is of course a classic, and one book you can re-read multiple times. Some of these I’ve not heard of and promise to grab at least on! Hopefully they’re on Kindle and audiobook!!

  2. Excellent selection. Some of the books mentioned above like ‘Last Lecture’ are used in my lectures and i encourage parents and students to have their personal copy of the book.
    Thanks.
    @EconomicsClub

  3. Vivian says:

    Thank you so much for this list. I’ve read 7 Habits of Highly Effective people. which is also a great book for personal development.

  4. Mark says:

    Nice list Jennifer,

    I have read two books from this list. 8 more to finish. I think these books are good for every person not only for student.

  5. ade says:

    Thank you Jenny,

    What a mindset, i love all books suggested, I have read Rich dad, Poor dad it worked for me so well, I had become wealthy by putting all advise to pratise.
    I will pick up the small move, big change on amazon asap, expect my reviews on this within 10 days.

    Thanks for being courageous.
    I am open to corrections if you spot any error in my typings.

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