A College Student's Guide to the Textbook Market

Okay, so you've registered for your all your classes for next semester. Maybe you've dropped by the campus bookstore or logged onto their website and looked up what textbooks you need, or at least what they say you need. If so you're probably staring slack-jawed at a total cost of $400 – $500 for the lot of them. Well fear not, with a few simple tips you can cut this cost down by more than half.

The first mistake most college freshmen make when it comes to textbooks is that they take the bookstore's word on what they need and don't need. Most bookstores have a website where you can type in a course and section number and they will tell you what books are required or recommended. However, as class sections are shuffled around, new professors come in and others retire, and new editions of textbooks are released, these book lists can change dramatically. So absolutely don't buy anything until you've heard the words straight from the professor's mouth, "You need this book."

Then that begs the question "Do you REALLY need it". You might want to take a look at the book and see if your professor's name is on the cover. It's not unheard of for professors to write their own textbook and then line their pockets with their student's hard earned cash. Even if they didn't write it, many professors just use the book as a reference material and a student who pays attention in class may get along just fine without it. So you may want to wait a week into classes and see if the professors starts assigning homework or reading assignments from the book before you buy.

The second mistake most students make is that they actually buy from the campus bookstore. Never buy from the campus store unless that is the only place the book is sold, sometimes lab books may be tailored to a specific school or professor and you'll have no choice, but otherwise you should avoid that place at all costs. Campus stores are notorious for their exorbitant mark-ups and horrible buy back rates. You are much better off buying online. Half.com is an excellent place to try. You can save as much as $30 or $40 per book there, and they're a division of Ebay so if you have an Ebay account your already set to go. Amazon and Overstock are also good sites to check although their prices are usually a little higher.

Most professors will give you a week or two before they expect you to have the book so that should give you time to place your order and wait the 4-5 days for shipping. When they come in, you're good to go for this semester, but that's not all the savings to be had.

When the semester ends you may find yourself with a closet full of useless books. Most textbooks are only good for one class, a few math and science books may be the exceptions that prove the rule, but typically when a class is done so is the book. Assuming you haven't marked all over them you can usually sell back the books for most of what you spent. It's even possible to turn a profit. Once again, you should steer clear of any brick-and-mortar stores. Online is always the way to go, and again Half.com would be my first suggestion. Unlike Ebay, a Half.com listing will sit until they sell, and you don't have to pay any listing fees until that time. So you can list every old book and just let them sit there as long as it takes. If you price your books competitively you can usually sell them all when the new semester rush hits.

If you follow these basic tips you can escape the bookstore textbook racket and save yourself a lot of money. Just remember to play it cool and not let campus bookstore's or pushy professors bully you into buying something you don't need, and when you do buy make sure your getting the best deal you can.

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