Textbooks 101 for College Classes

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Outside of tuition and living costs, there is one expense no student wants to think about – textbook costs. And when it comes to textbooks, there is much more to know other than where the campus bookstore is located and what you will need for each class. Here’s a breakdown on how to make your textbook purchases easier on your time and your wallet.

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Prepare Ahead

By now, you’ve probably heard plenty of horror stories about course books costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each semester. It’s true that the costs can add up—but it’s important to remember these are horror stories, not the typical experience. What many of these stories fail to mention is that the pricier textbooks are usually only found in a few choice majors, mainly in sciences, where data is essential. For example, while a biology student’s book bag may be full of traditional textbooks, an English major will often be purchasing smaller, less-expensive paperbacks. Knowing if your subject area is text heavy can help you budget ahead.

You can also prepare by contacting the professor or teaching assistant in advance. Professors have to order their textbooks several months ahead of time to give booksellers advance notice. That means you don’t have to wait to receive a syllabus or for the seller to update their listings. Instead, just shoot a quick email to the professor or even check in with an admin in the department. They can fill you in.

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Yes, You Need Them

One of the most common mistakes college students make is believing that they really do not need the textbooks. Unless it is “suggested” or “recommended,” do not show up on the first day empty-handed. You may be surprised at just how quickly your professor assigns you a project or reading—oftentimes, this will happen on the first day. Running to the bookstore only to find a text on backorder or sold out can create a nightmare situation.

Another grey area is ordering an older edition of a book in order to pay less. This is a great money-saving strategy, but it may not work if the text was overhauled or the information has changed. Before you go this route, check with your professor to see if there are significant differences you need to know about in older versions.

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Five Ways to Save on Your Textbooks

  1. Rent – Many bookstores and online sellers (such as Amazon) now have rent options where you pay less and return after the term is up. Use this method for classes that are not applicable to your major where owning the text may come in handy for your career.  
  2. Checkout – College and local public libraries often have textbooks available to borrow for students without the budget for books. Call in advance as these copies go fast and you may only have a limited amount of time in which to use them.
  3. Buy Used – Used books definitely cost less, but beware damage to the spine that makes the pages fall out or notes in the corners that can create a distraction (or even give you a wrong answer)
  4. Share – If your friend is taking the 9 a.m. section of a class and you’re in the 12 p.m. with the same professor, consider splitting the book. You’ll have to coordinate and find a trustworthy person in which to collaborate with, this works great and cuts the price in half.
  5. Download – eTexts are all the rage in connected classrooms. Plus, these online texts cut down on how much you have to lug from class to class. Check out e-book stores to see if your textbook is available and then work with the professor to ensure you can use it for their assignments and readings.

Upcycle and Profit

Textbooks are not all about spending. You can also make some money back by upcycling your books at the end of the semester. Sell them online (where you’ll only pay shipping costs), start a social media group where you and others can sell them to those taking the course next, or take advantage of your college’s buyback program. Even older texts you’ve held on to can make you some money if you can find the right buyer!

Purchasing books for courses is never a fun shopping trip, especially when the bill comes in. But by knowing the market and doing what you can to cut costs, your textbook buying can get you what you need without damaging your wallet.

How will you plan to save on textbooks? Which classes are requiring the most textbooks this fall? Let us know!

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Katherine Carpenter

Katherine Carpenter

Hi I'm Katherine! I love DIY projects, especially ones that I can use to make my dorm room pop! My favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chocolate chip, especially when it's on a cone. I love hanging out with my sorority sisters and giving back to the community. Always remember to live, laugh and love!