The Best Books Set in High School or College For Fall 2023
There are so many amazing books set in college and high school. Some are dark academia and some are literary fiction but all the books included on this list will keep you turning the pages!
With summer coming to an end and back-to-school season on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to delve into a book set in the halls of academia.
If you are looking for a charming high school romance or a sizzling college one, a fantasy story set in college, or some thriller books set in high school, this list has it all!
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Dark Academia Books Set in High School
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Hello Dark Academia. Centered around Devon and Chiamaka, the only black students at an elite private school, this is one wild thriller.
After being chosen by prefects on the first day of their senior year, Devon and Chiamaka quickly become the targets of the mysterious Aces – a dangerous gossip girl-type character out to ruin their lives.
I was on pins and needles as this thriller unraveled, addressing systemic racism in private institutions in the process. If you love dark academia or mystery books, you need to put this dark academia novel on your TBR list.
They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman
At a prestigious private school in New England, a group of kids known as “The Players” rule the school. They get top grades, get into the best schools, and rule the social scene.
But when one of the girls in the group is murdered, her best friend Jill begins to investigate who the real murderer is and just how dark their privileged world really is. As books about secret societies go, this one will definitely make you think and is a must-read from mystery books.
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
I really enjoyed the first book in the Charlotte Holmes Trilogy. I’ve mentioned before that I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan. This story was different from the others because it takes place in modern times and the central characters are the teenage descendants of Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson. I love detective books that take a different look at a favorite character.
The adolescent angle leaves room for error in Holmes’ deductive reasoning skills. Watson is also a more fleshed-out character that has deductive reasoning skills of his own. The novel wraps up nicely and the characters solve the mystery leaving enough open ends to allow for a sequel.
Dark Academia Books Set in College
Party Girls Die in Pearls by Plum Sykes
This book takes place at Oxford University in the 1980s when a socialite is murdered. Ursula Flowerbutton, an English country girl, is trying to investigate the murder for the college paper while trying to befriend the glamorous crowd.
It’s a comedic spoof and the outfit descriptions alone had me giggling. I hope it becomes a series of mystery books because I am totally in to read more of Flowerbutton and her Sloane Ranger friends. The secret societies and prestigious school make this one of our lighter dark academia books.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Quentin Coldwater is a high school student obsessed with the made of world of Fillory. He finds himself admitted to a magical college that is both secret and elite.
The best way I can describe this series is if Harry Potter was admitted to Hogwarts in College. It has a different feel but it is fun, imaginative, and entertaining. I’m a little obsessed with the tv series as well. The magic in this school is definitely a little bit dark and steamy and for this reason, is perfect for a list of dark academia novels. If you love urban fantasy books, you must read this series.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
December 2022 Read with Jenna Book Pick
Richard is one of a select group of six students who have been hand-picked to work under the guidance of a classics teacher named Julian Morrow. Richard is narrating the story and he begins by telling about the death of one of the students named Bunny.
As the story progresses, it is clear that this secret society of students rides the line of morality. The strained friendships and sexual tensions continue to push the edge until Bunny is killed.
This is one of the books about secret societies that was deeply disturbing and difficult to read. It certainly earns its place on our list of dark academia books.
Check out this post if you love dark academia.
Best Books Set in High School
True Biz by Sara Nović
April 2022 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
True Biz is an eye-opening look at the life of deaf high schoolers in boarding school. The ins and outs of deaf society are fascinating and made me realize I knew so little about the deaf community.
I learned about the ASL vs hearing aids debate. I learned about the politics and drama that go into running a deaf school. I learned that there is a black version of ASL and it’s possible to be racist when signing.
And of course, I fell for the romantic entanglements and blooming friendships between the students.
I can’t award it a full 5 stars because too many questions went unanswered at the end of the book. Still, this is the perfect book for your next book club!
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
After hearing a lot about this particular story, I quickly snatched it up, and let me tell you, the hype is real. This story is set in Philly (which I love) and features a Black woman of Caribbean descent who is entering into her senior year of college. Emoni wants to be a world-class chef but struggles with pursuing her passions in the kitchen while balancing the responsibilities of having a toddler. It’s a true coming-of-age story that is as delicious to devour as the many recipes described in the book.
The Hate you Give by Angie Thomas
This fantastic and incredibly relevant young adult novel tackles the Black Lives Matter movement. Starr is straddling a line between two worlds. She attends a prestigious prep school where she is one of 2 black children in her grade but she lives in a poor neighborhood 40 minutes down the road.
She switches her personality so that she can fit in wherever she is, never truly being her whole self. When she witnesses her unarmed childhood best friend get killed by a policeman her entire life changes.
She needs to decide what to tell and to whom because her words can have dire consequences for her family and her community. It’s a truly wonderful thought-provoking book all young adults should read.
Beartown by Frederik Backman
This is a heavy story that also has a lot of heart. It’s about a small-town hockey team, and the fallout when the star player is accused of raping the GM’s daughter.
Frederik Backman is a master story weaver. He doesn’t just tell a story but, he submerges his reader deep in the lives of his characters. This town will follow me for a long time. It’s my favorite of all the Fredrik Backman books.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
I recall reading this book set at a high school boarding school back when I was a recent boarding school graduate. My school was nothing like the competitive, snobby school this story is set at, but I loved it just the same.
The Massachusetts school seemed to be a Yale wanna-be with rich, preppy kids who have the world at their feet. I avidly followed Lee’s story of trying to find her place in the halls. This is one of the books set in high school that is a total must-read!
Girls with Bright Futures by Tracy Dobmeier
Girls with Bright Futures was gifted to me by @bookmarked and it is a total page-turner! What happens when a group of entitles parents are all fighting to get their kids into the most prestigious universities? Backstabbing, jealousy, and doing anything to get their kids ahead.
I was shocked by what people were willing to do but not so shocked that every page of this book could not be true! However, this book is more than just a fast-paced race to the finish. It has heart, and emotion and had me rooting for the underdog. I couldn’t put it down! My favorite read of this year so far!
Best Books Set in College
My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan
I picked this up to help combat my Royal Wedding withdrawal. I assumed it was going to be a light and fluffy romance — I had no idea I was going to be sobbing my eyes out with what is essentially the newest JoJo Moyes.
Ella has moved to Oxford to study for one year before heading back to America to work on a political campaign, fulfilling a lifelong dream to study in the famed English school. But then she falls for her professor and must decide what she wants from the future.
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Look no further than this royal romance. If you haven’t read this romance loosely based on Wills and Kate’s love story, read no further. This is the end-all, be-all of Royal Reads.
This novel spans from the time Bex and Prince Nick meet in college until the night before their wedding. It goes through the ups and downs of the relationship and ends on a cliffhanger. But do not worry. The Heir Affair is already out and you can read that one next. Of all the royal reads, this is the one we recommend most often.
Zodiac Academy: The Awakening by Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
Whew. I have found my newest YA Fantasy series addiction. Orphan twins Tory and Darcy find out they are actually Fae after their 18th birthday. And not just any Fae, they are the heirs to the throne and they only need to graduate from Zodiac Academy to claim their throne.
The problem comes in the form of the 4 Heirs – The boys in each elemental order who have been raised to share the throne and rule Solaria together in the Twins’ absence.
They aren’t planning to give up their claim anytime soon and they use their considerable magic in the air, fire, earth, and water elements to put these girls to the test.
This urban fantasy series is on fire hot, with lots of steam, bullying romance, and deadly situations. Don’t read this one if you are under 18, but if you are looking for books like ACOTAR, you’ll devour this one too!
Literary Fiction Books Set in College and High School
Vladimir by Julia May Jones
Vladimir is the hot new professor at a rural college. A recent literary success, he quickly becomes the obsession of a 58-year-old tenured female professor at the same school.
Said professor is our narrator and her inner dialogue was expertly crafted. She’s on the edge of scandal after her husband is accused of multiple affairs with students prior to those types of relationships being banned.
She knew about these affairs, had some of her own even, but she doesn’t want to be caught up in the fall-out. Instead, she fixates on Vladimir, a man 20 years her junior.
The subjects this dark academia novel explores are expertly navigated by Jonas, whose gifts as a writer shine in this debut. I would love to discuss this one with my book club!
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
The story revolves around four families as they work to get their children into the new public charter school for gifted children in their wealthy Colorado neighborhood. There are lots of family secrets to unravel and drama galore, but there is a message at the heart of this book.
How much of our wishes and lives are we pushing on our children? Is being the very best what they should be striving for? I found myself contemplating my own children and how I’m raising them. Isn’t that the best part of a good book?
When the story hits so close to home it leaves you contemplating your life, your children, and your purpose in the world. I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s highly entertaining and, quite frankly, a must-read for the parents of the world.
Normal People by Salley Rooney
Here’s the thing about Normal People – on the surface it seemed like it might be boring. The housekeeper’s son secretly befriends the daughter of the owner of the house his mother cleans. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a coming-of-age tale. It’s a story of how love really is; how it hurts, how it disappoints, and what unsaid things and miscommunications can do to a relationship.
It felt really real. And the way the story was told… it was almost clinical in its telling, leaving the reader to pick up on the undercurrents and tensions without having them slammed in your face. I didn’t know whether I wanted them to be together or apart, but I was enthralled the whole time.
Romance Books Set in High School
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
This LGBTQ YA Romance is a refreshing and sweet romance about Shara Wheeler, her academic rival Chloe, Smith, her quarterback boyfriend, and Rory her neighbor before disappearing and leaving clues for the three to find her.
The scavenger hunt is both a literal and figurative search for Chloe, Smith, and Rory to find Shara and themselves in the process. This smart book had me listening nonstop.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Imagine if all your past crushes found out you liked them all at once. EEK! That’s what happens to the heroine, Lara Jean Covey when the love letters she wrote get mailed! While this is a romance novel, the series works for our books about sisters post too!
I love Lara Jean – she is quirky, cute, and totally reminds me of me in high school – except she gets to date the most popular boy at school. But their relationship is fake —- or is it? While not necessarily enemies by the strict meaning of the word, we wanted to include this in our enemies-to-lovers books. And you can check out Best YA Romance Books to Indulge in Now for more books like it.
For more books like these, check out our list of High school Romance Books
Romance Books Set in College
How to Date A Douchebag: The Study Hours by Sara Ney
This series is laugh-out-loud funny. Each book is a stand-alone featuring a dedicated bachelor from a University’s Wrestling team. They are each tamed by a woman in a totally predictable way, but these books are hysterical.
For starters, the author has funny pick-up lines between chapters that are utterly hilarious, but the dialogue between the characters is witty too.
The Deal (Off-Campus #1) by Elle Kennedy
The first in a series about college hockey players is also the series that got me hooked on the college romance books sub-genre!
This one features a bunch of bachelor hockey players who are the campus hotshots. It’s very similar to the How to Date a Douchebag series, but it has a bit more heart and a little less humor.
Beautiful Disaster: A Novel by Jamie McGuire
Travis is the ultimate bad boy. Self-destructive, Tattoo-covered, but man, when he falls your heart will explode! If you like standoffish boys like Edward Cullen, Christian Grey, or Reid Royal, this is a great series for you.
It’s going to become a movie later in 2023 as well! When Travis meets Abby, he has met his match. Travis tricks Abby with a bet. If she loses, she must move into his apartment. If he loses he must stay abstinent. This romance set in college is unforgettable and steamy.