How Classic Literature Can Get You into College

Studies show that almost all graduates of elite universities like Harvard and Cambridge have one common characteristic: their parents read books to them when they were children. Additional studies show that reading to children daily engenders them with a love of literature that will last their entire lifetime.

It’s no surprise then that kids whose parents read to them grow up to be high school students with a well-worn copy of The Iliad tucked under their science text book and an Ivy League acceptance letter in their hand. To make things simple: reading makes you smart.

Not only do avid readers score higher on the SATs than anyone else, but they also tend to be better at critical thinking. In turn, this makes them more interesting conversationalists. Nothing will make a university interview go better than if you can both bond over your love for Charles Dickens.

If you’re aiming for the top, you should start imitating these kinds of students as soon as possible. Start reading the classics of world literature now. If nothing else, they’ll give you great material to write about in your college applications. Plus, if you’re reading them in English (which you should be), you’ll wake up one day and realize, “Hey, I speak fluent English. When did that happen?”

So put down Hong Lou Meng and pick up Shakespeare. If you can’t think of any classic world literature that you’re interested in, here is a cheat sheet of the books that EVERY intelligent student at a Western university must read. If you can check off five or more of these books, you’ll be well on your way to stimulating conversation and a great college experience.

1. The Iliad & The Odyssey – Homer, Ancient Greece

2. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens, 19th century England

3. The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri, Pre-renaissance Italy

4. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Konrad, 20th century Poland/England

5. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe, 20th century Nigeria

6. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte, 19th century England

7. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy, 19th century Russia

8. Hamlet – William Shakespeare, 16th century England

9. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes, 17th century Spain

10. Dubliners – James Joyce, 20th century Ireland

Also, do yourself a favor and read this “bonus” classic: Lord of the Rings, by J.R. Tolkien. More than a super-cool movie, this lengthy book includes enough linguistic creativity to make it a great conversational piece with both literature graduate students and video game-loving nerds.

One more thing, when those snotty New England students start discussing their favorite books, don’t be afraid to mention the work of Zhang Aili. Trust me, it makes you cooler.

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