What You Need to Know About College Textbooks

What You Need to Know About College Textbooks

Save money on college textbooks by knowing what all of your options are when you shop for textbooks.

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Many states like Washington and California, along with nonprofit organizations like the Gates Foundation, are finding ways to launch electronic libraries of books for digital textbooks and open education resources.

Everyone knows the cost of college can be expensive, but did you know that college textbooks cost about about $600-1200 per year? It's true; the National Association of College Stores (NACS) found that the average college student will spend $655 on textbooks each year, but new textbooks can cost $300 a piece. Many college planning sites like College Board will tell you to budget for $1,168 since the cost of textbooks varies so much depending on your course schedule. Thankfully, there are many ways you can save money on the cost of your college textbooks.

Why are college textbooks so expensive? the price of textbooks has spiked 812% since 1978, which is higher than the increase in costs for health care, homes and more obviously, inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor's consumer price index data. Many textbook publishers blame the high price of textbooks on manufacturing costs. While there's nothing you can do about that, there are better ways to think about how you shop for textbooks.

Just follow our advice below and you will decrease the expense of your textbooks with a little thriftiness and research. In fact, it may help to look for books in this order.

Find Free Versions of Textbooks

Many colleges and nonprofits are trying to find ways to make the cost of going to college cheaper. One way they are handling this is by helping students access textbooks for free. There are several ways you can find free textbooks.

  • Library: While this may seem like an obvious way to use a textbook for free, many student neglect to use the library for textbooks. Check early on in the term for the textbooks you need. Some libraries will run out of copies of textbooks for the more popular classes. (And, don't forget to return it on time, you don't want to pay any late fees.)
  • Online/Digital: Many states like Washington and California, along with nonprofit organizations like the Gates Foundation, are finding ways to launch electronic libraries of books for digital textbooks and open education resources. Schools like Rice University provide online textbooks for free for the five most popular courses, which they estimate will save students $90 million over the next five years. Check your school's library or student learning center to see if your campus offers one of these programs.
  • Borrow From Friends: Do you have any friends who took the same class as you last term? Ask around! If one of your friends has taken the class (or is taking it at the same time) see if you can borrow (or share) the book. Just make sure you take care of it. (Some students sell books back If there are any chapters that are more difficult, you could make a copy of it in the library.
  • Go to a Book Swap: Check your campus' event listings for book swaps. These types of events are great because you can often bring books you don't need in exchange for some that you do.

Buy Used Textbooks

Next to finding a free textbook, buying used textbooks is the next best option to save money. Be sure to visit the campus bookstore early to check the prices of used textbooks. Then, quickly compare what the rates are on sites like Half.com and Amazon.com. Scoping out the used textbook prices in the store and online will ensure that you get the best priced books that are in the best condition.

Rent Textbooks

There are a few sources online that allow you to rent textbooks for a rental fee. For example, if you rented a chemistry textbook it would cost about $55 for three months. Companies like Chegg are most well-known for this service. Just keep in mind that you cannot damage the book in anyway and you'll need to return it on time like a library book to avoid late fees and additional charges.

Check for Course Readers

Some professors post subject material online or create course readers for students. A course reader is often used in humanities classes where you may need to purchase 20 books and read dozens of articles. Professors will instead choose the most important aspects of the reading and include it in the course reader. Course readers are a lot cheaper than buying every single book and they great because you can write, highlight and take notes in them. Most course readers cost anywhere from $15-80.

Caring for Textbooks

The last thing you need to know about textbooks: Take care of them. As you know from reading this article, there are many uses for textbooks after the term, whether you're going to sell it back to the bookstore, swap it for another book, sell it online or let someone borrow it. The better condition you keep your textbook, the more options you'll have for its next reader.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

Digital and Online Textbooks
Renting, Buying, and Selling Your College Textbooks
Taking Notes in College
How to Write College Papers

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