A Book List for College Students

I didn’t read much my first few semesters in college, even though I thought I would. I brought two stacks of books with me, from dorm room to dorm room as three years passed, every year thinking I’d have the free time to read. Instead, I just kept studying, work, pubbing, and hanging out with friends. Until last semester, that is. I picked up a book over winter break and, with it, the reading began. Here’s a quick list of those books that I would recommend, and a quick description of the plot, specific reasons to read the book, and potential downsides to the books that I saw, just for your own reference. Let’s get going!

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

What it’s about: While not the most optimistic book in the world, it’s a perspective changer. The classic American view of North Korea is abbreviated as such: “They hacked Sony for The Interview,” “The South is lucky we were there to save them from communism,” and “Why not just nuke ‘em?” This book gently nuances those views. The true stories of several North Korean defectors are engaging and heartfelt but not meant to inspire pity. Instead, it is meant to inform its readers of the conditions, past and present, of the small hermit nation. While there is still hope that the two Koreas will be unified, it becomes clear through the book that it will be a long road until reunification can even begin.

Reasons to read this: If you want to expand your global perspective, are interested in Korean culture, and/or want to feel better about living in the free world, this is a book you should consider. It’s also a pretty easy read that you can pick up and put down as needed.

Downside: Some of the people who escaped don’t exactly get the happy ending, because that’s life. And that’s North Korea.

Get it here on Amazon!

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

What it’s about: World War II has just ended. A battlefield nurse goes on a honeymoon with her husband, who she has been separated from since the War. Unfortunately, Claire slips, literally, through a hole in time and is transported to 18th century Scotland. She’s caught between times and struggles with surviving in a new era. Also, Claire’s new bae is pretty heroic. His name is Jamie and he’s the hottest bro at the MacKenzie castle. Trust me, I peaked at the screen caps of the Starz series. By the way, this is a Starz series, for those of you with a subscription.

Reasons to read this: There’s a lot of romance. And, by that, I mean sex. Just a heads up. It’s a wonderful adventure into far away Scotland. I would love to think this is how ye olde Scots lived. I haven’t seen anything yet that screams historically inaccurate.

Downside: The plot doesn’t grab my attention. To be fair, at the time of writing this, I haven’t finished this book. I got bored. It was a wonderful pull, but after 250 pages, I started putting it down for days at a time. I don’t really know what’s at stake, besides Claire ruining her 20th century marriage by marrying Jamie. There’re hints, maybe every 100 pages, about a revolution or some such. But if I have to endure 15 sex scenes (not even of the caliber of 50 Shades) to get to the action, I’d rather not.

Get it here on Amazon!

*Disclaimer: This is the first of a series and, therefore, I do fully intend on getting through it because I hear the rest of the books are bomb. Also, I don’t want to ruin the Starz series for myself.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

What it’s about: Bilbo is a hobbit. You’ve at least seen the commercials for Lord of the Rings, so I’m sure you’re familiar with these creatures. He goes on an adventure, to burgle, get lost in goblin tunnels, play a pivotal role in the slaying of a dragon, and return with a small, but sufficient, share of treasure. If you’ve ever felt small in an unfamiliar place (hello, college!), then this is a perfect story of an unlikely hero helping, even in small ways, to change the world. Heads up, you should definitely read The Lord of the Rings after.

Reasons to read this: You like fantasy. You like Middle Earth. You like reading. You have ever read anything.

Downside: If you’ve only seen the movies, and really liked them, this is probably not going to occupy you. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movies. I usually love seeing my favorite characters coming to life. But The Hobbit is the Bud Light of Tolkien’s works; it’s written so young students can keep up with it. It can be a plus for poolside reading, but if you’re looking for a challenge, go pick up Pillars of the Earth.

Get it here on Amazon!

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

What it’s about: Cheryl lost her mother. She developed a dangerous addiction. She completely trashed her marriage. To walk away from her former life, she had to walk into a new one. Cheryl did this by trekking across the Pacific Coast Trail, by herself, something I would never do even if you paid me. Cheryl’s trials on her journey changed her, deconstructing her identity and healing the wounds left behind by those who had left her.

Reasons to read this: Since we are going through our own identity and life changes, this is a wonderful read for college students. This may be even more touching as we move closer towards graduation. This memoir was heartbreaking and poignant, especially when Cheryl wrote about her mother, and still managed to fit in some sexiness, but it’s ultimately the most uplifting read I’ve had since reading Leo Buscaglia.

Downside: I have to admit that I picked this up because of the movie. I cried so hard watching Wild that I needed to read it. This book obviously grabs the female reader faster than the male reader, and while men can certainly relate to this, this book’s marketing simply isn’t reaching those potential male readers. Hey, the only bad thing I have to say about this book is that the marketing team has typical problems.

Get it here on Amazon!

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

What it’s about: Antoinette was born a white Creole woman in Jamaica. She marries a man, who is never named. Heads up, you will hate him. He’s awful. He’s also Mr. Rochester. Yes, this is a prequel to Jane Eyre. And Antoinette must juggle several social and emotional issues during her tenuous marriage to the English gentleman. With undoubtedly feminist roots, the story of Antoinette meanders through genres of postcolonial and mental illness literature. It will also ruin Jane Eyre for you, in case you actually liked it in high school.

Reasons to read this: If you hated Jane Eyre as much as I did, you’ll love this. It’ll give you reasons to back up how much you hated Mr. Rochester and how blind Jane was to his nastiness (Get it? Blind?). That said, Wide Sargasso Sea is an excellent starting read to get into postcolonial literature, since most of us had to read Jane Eyre in high school. It tackles issues beyond abusive relationships, like racial and gender inequality and the problems that come with adjusting to a new culture. Not to mention severe mental illness. The crazy attic lady that sets Rochester’s mansion on fire could have had plenty of reason to do so, and if you’re curious, pick up this book.

Downside: It’s an understandably tough read if you can, in any way, relate to Antoinette—even if it’s just to the extent of a friend giving you a horrible nickname, like Bertha. A somewhat depressing read, Antoinette’s story won’t leave you with much to feel happy about besides Antoinette, by the end, finally taking a role in her own destiny.

Get it here on Amazon!


Hopefully, this abbreviated list is somewhat helpful to you and you find something to read when you’re avoiding your finals, capstones, or other end of the semester projects! Maybe these books will even entertain you into the summer, too. It’s good to pick up a book or two outside of school. Keeps you literate.

Enjoy the rest of your spring and summer McDaniel!

Cari, Peer Tutor

Taking Breaks (That Aren’t an Hour Long)

Now that we’re almost done with the semester, there’s a glazed look in every McDaniel student’s eyes. It can only mean one thing: we’re burned out. We’ve all had four tests too many, not enough paper extensions, and way too many Starbucks Doubleshots. But you know what? There’s still another paper, another test, another cup of coffee. And in a few weeks, we’re going to have finals. Whenever someone mentions finals, there’re a few phrases you’ll hear:

“I’m going to drop out.”

“C’s get degrees.”

“Grandma said college was a waste of money.”

from Flickr Commons

from Flickr Commons

Now, before you drop out, resign yourself to an average grade, or start believing Grandma, who still thinks you look best with your shirt buttoned up to your neck, take a break. That’s right. I said take a break.

The best thing to do when you’re feeling burned out after a 3-hour study session or a 4-hour paper-writing binge is to take a break. Not a 5 hour Orange is the New Black break. A 30-minute maximum break. That’s the limit I’m going to give you. From personal experience, after those 30 minutes are over, you have a better chance of catching a foul hit at an O’s game than getting straight back into your paper-writing mode.

from baltimore.orioles.mlb.com

from baltimore.orioles.mlb.com

Accept it, you’re not as lucky as the Oriole Bird. Instead, follow these suggestions for 30-minute breaks to take during your finals week:

1. Clean your study space.

You might laugh, but it’s a good way to still feel productive. Part of why it’s so hard to get back to work after a break is that you’ve lost your desire to continue being productive. That break to read the next chapter of your fifth reread of The Goblet of Fire will quickly dissolve into a nap until dinner. And boom! You’ve lost 4 hours of work. So grab the Clorox wipes, vacuum, or dust rag and clean around your laptop or desk before sitting back down and getting the rest of your study guide typed.

2. Watch a TED talk.

Instead of YouTube, where you can get lost watching every Jenna Marbles video she’s uploaded over the past two years, go ahead and check out TED.com. These videos are between 5 and 20 minutes and the library offers a selection of educational lectures on just about anything you can think of. They’re entertaining but will keep you thinking, just so it’s easier for you to get back to work.



3. Fix yourself a good study break snack.

Make it something tasty. Don’t bother with bird food or rabbit food, but don’t just grab a bag of Doritos. Try an apple with caramel or crackers and peanut butter. Make it a reward for working so hard. Make sure you eat it away from your laptop; you don’t want to associate things you do during break time with where you do work.

from kraftbrands.com

from kraftbrands.com

4. Go on a walk.

Stretch your legs. Make it a lap around the school, but not much more. Getting too far, literally and figuratively, from your work will only make it that much harder to get back to it.

5. Play 8 rounds of Mario-cart.

If absolutely none of these options are going to happen for you, play a video game. Not Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Something you can time and actually stick to the time you set up. Something like Mario Cart. According to Writing Center polls, it takes about 8 games of Mario Cart to fill a 30-minute slot.

Rather than catching up on your Hulu queue that you’ve been neglecting for two weeks, try one of the above options. Do your best to avoid the Internet; you’re going to want to cry when you realize you spent 3 hours of your study time watching Cat Man Do videos on YouTube. You really will. I’m not speaking out of personal experience. Really.

Best of luck on finals!

–Cari, peer tutor

Presentation Nerves

Giving presentations is a part of almost every class we have in college. Back in high school, they were final assignments and cumulative experiences. But now, it’s entirely possible that you’re taking a class that requires multiple presentations through out the semester. Senior seminars may require giving a final presentation to an entire auditorium for half of your grade. Summer researchers must present to family, friends, and local press. Students doing independent research will probably present at a conference. And as an audience member and conference goer, I’ve seen some terrible presentations.

“But Cari, hold on a second,” you may be thinking. “I’ve done a ton of presentations. My presentation won’t be terrible!”

Sure, experience helps. But thinking that way is dangerous because every presentation you do is different. It’s for a different class, on a different topic, for a different audience. To handle those different classes, topics, and audiences, here’s a list of tips to help you prepare and present to the best of your abilities:

General Tips for Presenting (2-5 minute presentations)

  • Practice the presentation. An obvious tip, but practicing the presentation all the way through several times will help you establish a speech without notecards.
  • Find someone to practice with. Having an actual audience to make eye contact with is great practice.
  • Don’t rely on notecards. They take your eye contact away from the audience. It also makes it look like you didn’t practice (which you totally did!).
  •  Don’t read off the slides. It makes you seem unsure of yourself.
  • Keep eye contact on the audience. It makes you look engaged and confident in your knowledge of the topic. Look at a friend or the professor. Sometimes just picking a spot on the wall in the back can help.
  • Don’t announce that you’re nervous. Fake the confidence if you need to, but announcing nerves won’t improve your grade and could actually make you more nervous.
  • Take a breath between each slide, or section, to slow down. Often, students will talk very quickly during a presentation and the audience will miss an important point from your presentation.
  • Bring a timer. A watch, or a phone on silent, to help you keep track of your remaining time will help you pace yourself.
  • Keep your feet and hands still. Fidgeting or talking with your hands can be distracting to the audience.
  • Dress like a professional. Jeans and a t-shirt are not going to make a good impression. Go for business casual.
  • Ask for questions at the end. This may help boost time to meet the requirement.

From http://blog.loyola.edu/

Long presentations (5-10 minutes)

  • Practice in the room you will be presenting in. Normally, classrooms will be open at night and practicing in a similar setting will help calm nerves and retain memory.
  • Find a friend in the class to practice with. They may have feedback more relevant to the class or professor than a roommate with a different major.
  • Dress up in business attire. At this level, professionalism is probably going to have a factor on your grade.
  • Questions at this level or beyond may become complicated. Do your best to answer the questions as completely as possible, but do not make up any information or research.

From http://blogs.mtu.edu/


Senior Seminars (15-30 minutes)

  • Bring water with you. Your throat will become dry and you coughing in the middle of the presentation doesn’t look good. You can also use water as a tactic to slow down.
  • Book the auditorium, or conference room, wherever you will present, to practice in. Practicing in the exact space will help your memory and calm your nerves. This is the link to reserve spaces: https://www2.mcdaniel.edu/reservation/search/login
  • Just log in with your McDaniel username and password and search for the building where the room is located.
  • Practice around the same time of day that you will be presenting. If you only practice at night but your presentation is at 8 a.m., you’re not as likely to remember everything than if you had practiced at 9 a.m.
  • If using a laser pointer, which is a great way to bring focus to certain bullets, hold the laser pointer gently in your hand and press your elbow to your side. This will help the pointer from shaking.
  • Plant a question or two with the audience. These questions should be relevant, of course, but should help show off how well acquainted you are with the topic.
  • Body language is critical at this level and beyond. Standing with a confident gait will help reduce distracting body movement and help get you into your groove of presenting.

From http://www.flickr.com/commons/


Conference Presentations

  • Do not start talking at an observer if they are passing by. After they stop and look at your poster for 30 seconds, and then if they haven’t said anything, then ask if they have any questions. Let that be the beginning of the oral part of the presentation.
  • Prepare to see and hear experts and other students scrutinize your work. Professors like to ask questions that you won’t be able to answer or that require another level of understanding (e.g. a chemist may ask you a question about the chemical structure of a drug when you are presenting behavioral research). Again, do your best to answer the question with the knowledge you have, but these experts will know when you’re lying. It’s okay to admit you don’t know something.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You will probably be standing in front of your poster for several hours.
  • Make friends with the people with posters on either side of you. It can get pretty boring if no one is looking at your poster.
  • Mark ahead of time posters that you want to look at while the other poster sessions are going on.

From https://pangea.stanford.edu/

Different Formats


  • Stay away from the fancy transitions. They’re distracting and unprofessional.
  • Only include a video if you know the link works. Test it on both Macs and Windows computers.
  • Use bullet points rather than full sentences. Treat these bullets like cues for you to complete the explanation.


  • Keep text large. You want someone standing three feet away to be able to read it.
  • Make sure graphics will be clear from several feet away as well.
  • References or Works Cited sections do not need to be as big as other text on the poster.
  • Again, use bullet points. Nothing is more off-putting than a poster covered with 10-point font.
  • Print the poster at least a week ahead of time. Color errors happen and no one wants a graph with pink and purple bars rather than red and blue bars.


  • Best suited for shorter presentations, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the technology. If your senior seminar is a Prezi, you’re not going to do well. Use Prezis if the presentation is 2-5 minutes.
  • Maintain professionalism when designing transitions. Getting your audience seasick will not get you any points.

If you’ve practiced your presentation, picked out your appropriate clothing, and thought about what you’re going to eat for breakfast, it’s time to go to sleep. Good luck, have faith in your practice, and relax. You’re going to do great!

~Cari, Peer Tutor