Where the bookstore is your worst enemy, the Internet is your best friend.
For the first day of class, don’t come prepared. Just bring a pen and a notebook.
Every course you take is going to have a list of required textbooks that your college’s registrar will claim you cannot pass without. Don’t buy any of them until you get a feel for your professor. That’s the first lesson of Purchasing Textbooks 101.
The professor’s curriculum may be entirely focused on lecture or presentation, with the textbook serving only as a “guide” that will never be opened. If this is the case, hold out from buying the book as long as you can.
If it turns out the curriculum relies heavily on reading the textbook, then buy it, but evaluate all of your options first.
Buying from the bookstore is nearly always a bad move. The bookstore is part of the school, and the school wants your money. Five classes of textbooks purchased in full from the bookstore could cost well over $500 per semester at face value. Sometimes, they even try to eclipse a textbook’s face value by requiring a university-customized edition.
By comparing alternative markets for textbooks, you can typically save more than 60% from the bookstore price. It takes a little more time, but it’s well worth it.
First, know that professors are usually on your side. They want you to save money, so don’t be surprised if they offer that alternative option to you on a silver platter. They don’t care where you get the textbook or even what edition it is as long as it serves their purpose. The exception is when professors author their own class’ textbook and they reap royalties, so watch out for that.
Where the bookstore is your worst enemy, the Internet is your best friend. It’s kind of obvious, but don’t run out to the closest Barnes & Noble to buy textbooks. Book.ly is a hidden gem. By typing in a textbook’s ISBN (which colleges are now required to give you), Book.ly will present you with the cheapest options available on the Web.
With smaller textbooks, your best bet is typically to buy them used. Websites such as Half.com, eBay.com and Amazon.com are the most popular used textbook markets. However, you are buying the books from other consumers, so you have to keep one eye out for legitimacy. Always be sure of the following: a) the book is the right edition, b) it’s in acceptable condition, c) the price plus shipping is reasonable and d) the shipping and handling period amounts to only a week or two.
It is often wisest to rent larger textbooks if you don’t intend to use them as reference in the future. Ecampus.com, Chegg.com, Campusbookrentals.com and Bookrenter.com are all solid choices. It’s a bit of a hassle because you have to return them almost immediately after finals, but there are no purchasing variables since you’re buying from a secure company rather than a stranger.
And even though it is rare, school bookstores will occasionally offer used and rental options at the best price, so keep that in the back of your head during the search.
Textbook costs will always pale in comparison to tuition, so that extra $500 may seem trivial in the long run. But especially for students whose parents don’t buy their textbooks, $500 over the course of a year is a bona fide fortune.
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