Ten Alternates to Buying Text Books at Your University Bookstore

Buying text books each semester can feel almost like paying for a small scale wedding. Unfortunately, while weddings typically occur once (sometimes twice) in a lifetime, buying text books happens 2-3 times a year. If you average $500 per semester, you can plan to spend about $4,000 in books alone JUST for your undergraduate career. Buying text books at the university or college's campus bookstore is the kiss of death. Not only are the book prices marked up but the lines are long enough to make you think you may just still be standing in that same spot until the following semester. Here are some tricks to spending less money on text books:

  1. Check out the community around the college. There is often a less expensive bookstore that caters to university students. Teachers are sometimes requested by their departments NOT to tell these bookstores which texts they are using, BUT even if they don't know, chances are they have done the sleuthing on their own to find out. If not, find out which text the professor is going to be using (check it out right at your campus bookstore) and ask the local community bookstore to order it. They will most likely be thrilled for the business and often offer great discounts.
  2. E-mail the professor several weeks prior to classes starting. There is a good chance they will have already selected the text they are using and can tell you ahead of time the titles and authors of the books. Order them through amazon.com or another reputable internet ordering site and more often than not, you will find the prices MUCH cheaper than the university bookstore. As an added bonus, you will have already made contact with your new prof. and start the semester out looking like an eager student. You may even be able to get a copy of the syllabus ahead of time and can find out when certain readings are due, which leads me to the next tip…
  3. Go in with a friend on buying texts for your class if you can (especially if you are not planning on using the text anytime in the near future once the course is over). Having the syllabus in hand ahead of time can aid in planning for the readings and you and your friend can get the first week or two of readings divvied up before the work load gets too heavy. This is not a bad idea, even if you buy the book solo.
  4. Check with students who have taken the course before. They may be willing to sell the book to you. The university or college usually has a system set up where students advertise the texts they are selling. Check this out early and you are more likely to get the book you need at a discounted price and avoid those university bookstore line's.
  5. Ask the professor if they will be putting a book on reserve. Many professors are willing to do this to help students with the expenses of college. Then you can read the book in the library as you go and not worry about buying it.
  6. Check with the department or professor who taught the class before or who teaches it currently. They may have extra copies of the text they are willing to lend or give to students. Teachers get tons of texts through the mail and very often order an extra copy or two just for this purpose.
  7. Many times online you can get a very cheap copy of the text you are going to be using BUT it is an older version. I don't recommend asking the professor if it is ok to use edition 1 when the author is on their 10th edition. However, if you are required to have edition 10 but you can get edition 9 at a much cheaper price, talk to the professor about this and inquire if they think this could pose a problem for you. Professors may even be willing to look the older version over to see if there are any big gaps that could hinder you keeping up with the class or may not think this is a big deal at all. You could also look over a classmate's text to check out differences. As a professor, when you order a text, you are automatically given the newest (more expensive) version of the text, and therefore, your students are expected to buy this version. Most often professors are familiar with the texts they use as we tend to use them repeatedly if they are good and will know that there are probably not any huge changes between editions. Unless you are in a very rigorous research program this should not make too much of a difference.
  8. If you are an upperclassman and are friends with someone who teaches, they may even have a copy of a text you need or can give you theirs to borrow if they have taught that course or have been sent a copy by the publisher. Professors are sent many text books to review for possible future use. You most likely however can not get them yourself from the publisher as you need to be associated with a department (and they do check with the secretary of the department).
  9. Check with someone who has taken the class before with the same professor. Do they even use the book at all? Sometimes professors require books and then never even use them, follow up with homework etc. Don't order all the texts you need for one class at once. Chances are if you have a number of books for one class, if the professor spends too much time with one text, you will never even get to the last one or two on the syllabi. Again, a previous student may have an idea if this tends to happen with that professor.
  10. Sell back any book you don't need. Especially if the professor is going to use the book again next semester, you will get money back for it at the bookstore. The local bookstores may also buy back your book (and give you more money for it!)

Whatever you do, try not to buy the text at the university bookstore as first course of action. Your pocket book will thank you for your creativity and the extra leg work you did in planning for purchasing your texts.

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