Relive Your College Glory Days With These Novels Set On Campus

A college campus is many things: Stimulating, picturesque, teeming with intelligent life. One thing it’s not? The real world. In this way, the college campus is the perfect place to set a novel.
Within the confines of the ivory tower, characters get into situations that might not exist in the outside world. Fast friend groups form during the pressure cooker of orientation, and then alter upon reaching adulthood. Romance blossoms on strolls through quads. Conversations about ideas learned in classrooms have reverberations in changing the campus dialogue. Nutty professors provide ample comic relief.
If you're heading off for another semester of college, these books will make you excited for the academic and social adventures you're sure to encounter in the campus bubble. And if you're like me, years out of college but still nostalgic, relive the years in which your biggest priorities were discovery, exploration, growth — and, of course, having fun.
Each of these campus novels will have you itching to reread your old notebooks.
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If you had an influential professor, read:

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzter (2018)

When Greer Kadetsky is a freshman in college, she runs into Faith Frank, an influential feminist thinker, in the bathroom. After a warm exchange, Faith hands her a business card. Greer lets it sit in her room for years, until she's a college grad seeking purpose. Then, her brief encounter with Faith becomes the start of a mentorship. Wolitzer conjures up the liberal arts ecosystem expertly. Greer and her roommate are on the front lines of a campus sexual assault dialogue, going up against a system that forgives perpetrators.
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If you had a crush on your teacher, read:

Indecent by Corinne Sullivan (2018)

All right, you got us — Indecent is technically set in a high school. But the campus atmosphere is so lush that one could mistake it for college. Imogene Abney, the college grad who just took a teaching position, makes a similar error. She overestimates the maturity of her handsome, alluring student, Adam Kipling — and overestimates own ability to navigate the boundaries between teacher and student. In the idyllic atmosphere of the Vandenberg School for Boys, Imogene begins an affair with Adam and spirals into a cycle of desire and danger.
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If you were a teacher's pet, read:

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie (1984)

If idiosyncratic professors and the quirks of academia are what you miss most from college, then you'll adore Foreign Affairs. In this charming novel, two American professors travel to England for the summer. Unmarried and middle-aged Vinnie Miner leaves Corinth University (a Cornell spin-off) to further her studies of children's playground rhymes, and becomes enmeshed with a cigar-smoking, overly friendly American's project to trace his family roots. Vinnie's handsome colleague, Fred Turner, goes to London to research John Gay and enters a corner of high society through his sudden friendship with the TV actress Lady Rosemary Radley.

Foreign Affairs is a delightful convergence between England and America, and between academics of all sorts.
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If you were an idealistic English major, read:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)

During the last semester of college, it's not uncommon to feel completely lost in the cosmos. In this novel about an English major torn between two men in the months after her graduation, Eugenides takes that feeling of being unmoored and stretches it over 300 pages.

While in college, Madeleine Hanna wrote about love as she learned of it in British literature. She gets a real-world education when she meets the intense and enigmatic Leonard Bankhead, and then reconsiders her longtime friend Mitchell Grammaticus in a new light.
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If you traveled through four years with a very tight clique, read:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

By the time Jude gets to Yale, he has had a rough time of it — so rough, in fact, you might want to throw A Little Life across the room. Before you find out the extent of Jude's struggles, first, enjoy the blissful descriptions of his campus days with his best friends: Malcolm, Willem, and JB. A Little Life traces the toll adulthood takes on a group of friends.
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If you look back at your old self and laugh, read:

The Idiot by Elif Batuman (2017)

Meet your extremely enthusiastic, hyper-analytical, totally amped self from freshman year. Selin starts her freshman year at Harvard, and is plunged into a world far more mentally stimulating and excited than her home in New Jersey or her trips to visit her Turkish family ever were. In this book — really, a collection of thoughts — Selin bounces around ideas with her sharp best friend, becomes swept away by schoolwork, and most importantly, starts an epistolary romance with an aloof Hungarian math major who's about to graduate.
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If you were on the frontline of the culture wars, read:

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006)

No one can interweave class, race, gender politics, marriage, and Rembrandt with as much humor and intelligence as Zadie Smith. In On Beauty, Howard Belsey, a working class Englishman turned Rembrandt scholar, lives with his wife Kiki, a black Floridian, and their three children in a small New England college town. When Howard's rival, a vocal conservative Christian and Rembrandt scholar, moves with his family to teach at the same university, the Belseys' lives become much more complicated. Between Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps, Smith explores two marriages, five kids, and lots of philosophical differences.

Culture-changing conversations originate on college campuses — and these conversations are never as readable as they are in On Beauty.
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If college was the wildest time of your life, read:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Sorry to burst your bubble, but there's no way your frat house partying was as crazy as what Richard, a transfer student to Hampden College, gets involved in after he joins Julian Morrow's Latin class. There, he meets the small campus' most enigmatic group of friends. Richard is pulled into his new clique's attempts to forge a new way of life derived from the classics, one that exists beyond the structures of conventional morality. But one day, in the woods, it goes way too far. The group's leader, Henry, is prepared to take it further.
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If college opened up a whole new world for you, read:

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945)

The charming and sensitive and slightly mischievous Lord Sebastian Flyte comes from a far more privileged world than our protagonist, Charles Ryder. When they become best friends while studying at Oxford, Charles is more in love with Sebastian's lifestyle (and perhaps Sebastian — up for debate) than he ever will be with school.
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If you studied abroad, read:

Changing Places by David Lodge (1975)

Lodge made a career out of the campus novel genre. In this novel, the first of a trilogy, a British and an American professor change places, resulting in one very eventful year. Expect a biting, amusing portrayal of academic life.
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If you had your fair share of professor crushes, read:

My Education by Susan Choi (2013)

As a graduate student, Regina Gottlieb knows to watch out for the notoriously flirtatious professor, Nicholas Brodeaur. But she's completely unprepared for Brodeaur's charismatic, entrancing, and pregnant wife, with whom she begins a charged affair. 15 years on, Regina looks back on the choices that would alter her life forever.
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If your grandma told you to graduate with an MRS degree, read:

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2015)

Lotto and Mathilde meet at a party during the last week of college. If you see the party through Lotto's eyes, it was fate, it was romance, it was the best day of his life. Mathilde remembers that evening as something entirely different. Luckily, in this fascinating portrait of a marriage over the years, Groff provides both sides to the story. The first half of the book is told through Lotto's perspective, then pulls a Gone Girl when it gets to Mathilde.
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