Textbooks can be a student’s biggest expense after tuition and housing. The new textbook assigned for my Microeconomics course would cost $200 if I purchased it through the school. Most classes have a list of required books, as well as a list of recommended books. If I had purchased the list of recommended books for my literature course last semester, I would have spent over $500!
Before looking into buying any books at all, there’s one very important step: talk to upperclassmen who have taken the course about the necessity of a textbook for that particular course. By talking to an upperclassman who has taken the course, a student can figure out how dependent a teacher is on the use of the textbook. The syllabus could hinge on the textbook, or the textbook might just be supplemental material. Figure out how much you’re willing to spend on the book based on the necessity of the book for the course, and if you think it will be useful to have the book on your bookshelf in the future.
The many alternatives to simply buying a new textbook include:
- Borrowing – Some students like to keep their textbooks, but don’t mind lending them to friends for a semester or two. If you can take good care of books, and don’t write on the pages, chances are that you can “get” your textbooks by borrowing them from friends for free.
- Sharing – Is your roommate taking the same course? Split the cost of whatever textbook you end up purchasing and share the book. Lay down some ground rules so the sharing is fair.
- Renting – Many Web sites that sell textbooks now offer the option of “renting” a textbook. Sometimes, this means that you get the eBook, which saves you the weight of a book, but doesn’t always save you as much money as you might expect.
- Buying a used text book – Buy a book off a friend, or ask students if there are organizations around campus that sell used books.
- Buying an older edition – Sometimes it seems like no one has the textbook you’re looking for, because your professor asked you to buy an edition of the book that was recently published. More often than not, these changes are insignificant for the purpose of learning, and you can simply buy the old version. Cross check a few pages/problems with the newest edition to see how they compare.
If you do have to buy a textbook at full price, it’s not the end of the world. You can resell it later (try to do this ASAP, before the teachers start asking for newer editions), if you are not interested in keeping it on your shelf.