Tips for Saving Money on College Textbooks

Updated on August 29, 2016
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Ah, the campus bookstore…where dreams are made and wallets are emptied. Before you succumb to the extremely high prices of required textbooks, make sure you do your research early. Contact your professors as soon as possible to find out what textbooks they will require for their courses. If you do prefer the convenience of picking it up at the campus bookstore, they will often have used copies available for early shoppers. However, if used copies are not available, or you would like to find out how to save as much money as possible, consider the following tips.

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Library Copies and Interlibrary Loan

This might seem obvious, but as soon as you know your required reading, try to be the first to check out any library copies. If there are none in your own academic or local library, keep Interlibrary Loan in mind and learn how to use it. Most colleges and universities have Interlibrary Loan accounts, which allow students borrow books from any participating library in the United States (or possibly elsewhere in the world). If there is a copy out there, the Interlibrary Loan staff will find it for you and send it directly to your library. Simply familiarize yourself with the online system of searching and ordering books, and then you will receive an e-mail when your books have arrived and are ready to pick up at your campus library. Make sure you allow time for the books to arrive as some may take a few weeks depending on the distance it needs to travel. Most common books, though, should not be far away and will only take a few days to get to you. Lastly, while it certainly saves money, be aware that all Interlibrary Loan books will have strict due dates, and they are harder to renew than your typical library books.

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Library Desk Copies on Reserve

One important question to ask your professors as soon as you can is if they will keep copies on reserve in the library for class use. These are textbooks that your professor can set aside for use by his or her class only. They can be borrowed at the front desk and read in the library. Do keep in mind, however, that there will be a limited supply, so they might not be available when you go in to read them. If you do not mind keeping odd hours, such as early in the morning, late at night, or on the weekend, you might have a better chance of getting your hands on the library copies. You must remain in the library to read them and return the books before leaving each time. The best part, though, is that you won’t have to pay a dime (and it might also save you the strain of lugging around a bunch of books).

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Buying Online

Always check to see if any of your required textbooks are available online. You may be able to find used copies, or even new copies much cheaper than at the campus bookstore. Barnes & Noble, eBay, and Amazon are a few classic used book hotspots. On Amazon.com, for instance, you may have the option to purchase the same book in a variety of used conditions depending on how much you want to pay and how much you care about the book’s condition--from the falling-apart and highlighted everywhere books to the pristine or gently used copies. Plan to look for a bunch at once as you might be able to qualify for free shipping that way.

Sharing the Textbooks and the Cost

Many students might be able to collaborate and share the cost of textbooks by buying one copy as a group. The downside, of course, is that you don’t have your own personal copy for reading whenever you like and marking however you want, but you can simply arrange a schedule for who gets possession of the book when. If you have roommates who share some of the same classes, you can easily keep the shared books in your dorm or apartment. It might not be a good idea to put your textbook trust in someone you just met, but this is certainly a cost-saving option for friends. Often, a bonus of book-sharing is that it encourages partner studying and sticking to a reading schedule.

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Selling Your Textbooks

Of course, one way to save money is to get money back when you are finished with the book. You can always try to sell it online through a marketplace like eBay or Amazon, or, if you purchased it through the bookstore, many will also buy it back (for a shamefully low price, naturally). Since incoming students will also need the book, try advertising it for sale around campus or in your dorm. Let your professor know that you will have a used copy available, and he or she may spread the word to next-semester’s students. Before you sell your book companion-for-a-semester, however, make sure that you will not be missing it in the future as it might come in handy as a reference book in your own personal home library.

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