Buying College Textbooks

It has taken me four years — my entire college career — to learn an expensive lesson about the world of textbooks. If you're a freshman and this is going to be your first time experiencing the world of college bookstores, get ready, because you're going to see what college kids have been complaining about. If you're a bookstore vet, like myself, you know all too well, the pain of hauling books to the checkout counter and wincing as the cashier totals your purchase.

It's painful to buy just a few books and have a huge bill when as a student you are already strapped for cash. This past semester I made a huge mistake and bought $800 worth of books. Just one book cost me over $300. It was for a class that did not even pertain to my major. We've all said it: College bookstores are a ripoff. They mark up their books by about 30%, which translates to a lot of extra money that you're handing out, that could be used elsewhere.

So how do we beat the bookstore? Simple: Planning. Oh! I just heard you moan in agony at that word. Planning, when money and price checking are involved, is usually not a fun task. But think about it as a quest for saving money that can be spent on that new purse you've been ogling, or saving it for a great spring break road trip! Everyone enjoys having extra money in their wallet, which makes all of the torturous planning worth it!

Okay, so the first rule of thumb: ALWAYS GO TO CLASS FIRST! I can't begin to tell you how many people make the mistake of being eager beavers and trying to look like the good student by hitting the bookstore the week before classes begin. This is almost always a massive mistake. If you've had a college course before, you'll realize that very few professors will dive right into the material, and usually take the first few classes to explain the syllabus and introduce the material. Even if they do start cracking out books, you can always survive the first week with good note-taking skills. Write down key phrases and ideas, and make sure to note any textbook pages that your professor references so that you can take a look at them after you've made your purchase.

Second rule: Scout out your bookstore. Bring a notepad and pencil, and look at the books that are recommended or required for your course. Write down the new price, the used price, and the ISBN number (an example of where to find the ISBN is available at http://www.amazon.com/gp/seller/asin-upc-isbn-info.html ). This will be important in comparing prices online and locally. If there is a textbook rental store nearby campus, swing by and check out their rates and policy. A local textbook rental store where I live charges 50% of the textbook retail price to rent the textbook for the semester. Honestly, I've never rented my textbooks, since I feel like I'd be throwing away money to rent a book. They also have rules about highlighting and writing in the books, which would be irritating to me ( I love my highlighters!).

Third rule: Check the internet! If you can get a list of your textbooks before the semester begins, start looking then! The sooner, the better, since the good deals get scooped up early, and prices increase with the demand for the books. It saves a lot of time to use price comparison websites like Campusbooks.com . For example: Let's say you wanted to purchase Biology by Reece and Campbell. This book retails at my university's bookstore for $197 new and $148 used. I used Campusbooks to do a price compare and I found prices as low as $53.69 including shipping from a site called textbooksrus. That's less than 1/3 of the new price at the bookstore! Yes, it does mean that you will have to have the item shipped to you which means waiting possibly as long as two weeks and having an address that can accept the shipment. Some university postoffices will accept USPS media mail, but to my knowledge none will accept a UPS or FedEX shipment for you (which I assume is because these services require a signature).

Secret rule for the brave: Don't buy the book at all. You read that right, don't buy it. If you have a laptop or access to a computer and printer (which the computer and printer are available on nearly every campus for free), you can access the information via internet for free. This is usually the case for English classes in classical literature, poetry, or writing. For example, I had a class in British literature which required about six books. I grabbed my syllabus and googled several of the books to see what was available online. If I had trouble finding the whole book, I just googled the individual section, short story, or poem that we were scheduled to cover. Turned out, that I found everything except for one book, online. It saved me nearly $150! Also, classes are becoming more and more intergrated with web-based material. Online sources like moodle and blackboard are being used by schools to assign homework, issue handouts, and distribute powerpoints. This information alone could get you through a biology course! There are so many resources on the internet, that I've vowed to not purchase one book, during my final semester (though don't be decieved, I do have several books purchased throughout my college career that are still laying around and are great resources).

Follow these tips, and don't be bullied into the bookstore after your first class! Remember that with a little research and effort, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars that will be better spent rewarding yourself for all of your hard work!

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