5 Tips to Help You Save on Textbook Costs

It’s the week before classes start. You just received your syllabus for one of this semester’s many courses and are flipping through the pages to get a sense of how much time you’ll need to devote to attending class and studying each week. Everything looks reasonable and you’re feeling confident that you’re going to have a successful semester — that is, until you get to the dreaded literature section and realize how many textbooks you’ll need to buy for your full course load. 

You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the price of textbooks. In fact, the American Enterprise Institute reports that textbook prices have increased faster than tuition and inflation and they now cost 812% more than they did three decades ago. The good news: By thinking outside of the box — and by box, we mean the “new” section of the campus bookstore — you can save on this costly part of your tuition. 

1. Check with former students before you invest

Before you make any purchases, check with a student who previously took the course to ensure you need to have a copy of the book to bring to each class. Note that it may be a bit tough to figure out who took the class depending on the size of your school. If you do happen to know someone who has taken the class — preferably within the past year with the same professor — ask them the following questions:

  • Did the professor ever use the book in the class?
  • How did the student acquire the book?
  • How much did they make when they resold it at the end of the semester? 
  • Are the books used in the course available in open-source format?

Not only will the insights of your peers give you a chance to save money, but networking in your department will help you throughout your studies and maybe even after when you’re looking for a job in your field.

2. Consider your rental options 

Services that loan textbooks out have been around for about a decade now. Students who rent textbooks usually do so for prerequisite classes not related to their major, since they don’t see much value to having the physical text for future reference. Explore these textbook providers before you decide to purchase a brand new copy of the book: 

Since your school bookstore may also offer a rental option, comparison shop to determine which company offers you the best deal.

3. Share books with friends

Knowing someone taking the same course gives you someone to lend you notes when you miss a class, someone to rely on for group projects and someone who can split the costs of required textbooks. To determine if this is a viable option for your situation, gauge your friend’s reliability in keeping the book clean and available for you to use. If you trust your friend’s responsibility level, build a schedule in order to plan your joint custody of the book. After the semester ends, one of you could buy the other out or you can pay it forward by selling the book at a cheaper price to other friends/peers.

4. Participate in a book exchange

Maybe someone needs a book you have and that same person has the book you need. Try using a Facebook group if there is one created by students on campus to see if this is an option. Take a look through Student2Student for a more expansive network. Both options allow you to work with others on your campus to find the best deals and help each other out for the semester.

5. Use the library 

The library is an obvious option, but one that’s sadly often overlooked! Some professors will keep an edition of required textbooks in the library’s course reserves. Be sure to reach out to your librarian or professor to see if this option is available. Access to the library and its services are included in the tuition that you’re paying so take advantage of the wealth of resources available through the library during your time in college. The physical library space can also serve as a quiet place to study and focus when your apartment, house or dorm room is too distracting.

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