Prefrosh Preview: A guide to buying your textbooks
Textbooks are perhaps the biggest first-year expense that students can control. Yet at the beginning of every year, a Disneyland-sized queue of freshmen—and upperclassmen—inevitably winds around the upper floor of the bookstore.
After handing over shrink-wrapped copies of Accounting and Econ textbooks, students can find themselves paying well over $1000 dollars for books. When the semester ends, they’ll be lucky to sell those books for a fraction of what they paid.
To help you cut down on books’ costs, we’ve got a list of suggestions after the jump. (Feel free to add your own in the comments!)
Didn’t you read the introduction? Avoid the bookstore at all costs! It can be hard to track down some of the more obscure books, but with a bit of extra planning, you can avoid rushing to the bookstore to buy that out-of-print edition of some obscure novel.
That said, I do love the bookstore’s search-by-class online ordering feature. Figure out which books you need, add ‘em to your cart, print out the list, and then—BAM!—delete the items from your cart. I like to add a “Ha! Take that!” for emphasis, but that’s just me.
eFollett, which runs the bookstore, will also offer rentable textbooks this year, but it’s a new service so I’ll reserve judgment until I hear reactions this winter. If you do rent, don’t lose those bundled CDs and forget about using your highlighter.
Before they started selling computers and groceries, Amazon.com was a simple online bookstore; it’s still one of the easiest ways to buy college textbooks. The textbook store features an easy to use search interface, free book previews, and deliver to your door (erm … dorm) shipping. They’ll even buy your book back at the end of the semester.
One feature I love about Amazon is Prime shipping. Students get a free one-year trial of this swanky service (free two-day shipping on thousands of items) with their .edu email address. A year’s worth of free deliveries can save a boat-load of trips to Target in Columbia Heights or the CVS on Wisconsin Avenue.
U.S. Textbooks are crazy expensive. When publishers try to resell their books abroad, they have to reduce prices—a lot. These International Edition textbooks, which are commonly sold in places like India and Thailand, are $10 copies of the $200 textbook sitting on your roommate’s shelf. The only difference is often the cover, with its “not for sale in the United States” sticker affixed to the front.
Thankfully, it’s not illegal to buy international editions. It is illegal to sell them—but that’s the other guy’s problem. Search around Amazon, Ebay, Abebooks.com, Half.com and other sites for some deals on pretty respectable books. Gray Market! Woo!
Although I don’t recommend renting textbooks (aggressive highlighting is usually a no-go). the option is out there for those of you who treat books like treasured heirlooms. There are a ton of textbook renting sites springing up all over the internet that offer rentals at about half the price of new books. If the Bookstore Renting option doesn’t do it for you, the most respectable option is probably Chegg (others include Valore and Campus Book Rentals). For those of you with eReaders and iPads—or just don’t mind assigned reading on a computer screen—CourseSmart offers textbooks (and chapters of books) for download as protected PDFs.
The Georgetown Library or DC Library System are great resources for tracking down a not-brand-new textbook. If that fails—and though I’d never suggest that you should do it—you probably will have access to both a friend in the MSB with more prints (read: copies) than he knows what to do with and another friend with a legitimately purchased edition of your textbook. This option is illegal, so don’t give any federal agents my name when they bust down your door. But hey, free is free.
Thankfully many professors are realizing that assigning up-to-date articles posted on Blackboard is an economical and timely alternative to textbooks that are outdated within a year. It not only saves students’ money, but also saves about 800 pages of paper.
I know what you’re going to say: “I can’t plan ahead because my professors haven’t gotten around to releasing which books they’ll be using in the fall.” Here’s a tip for all you aspiring overachievers, which is most likely the lot of you. After investigating the bookstore site, MyAccess, Blackboard, and any other resource you can think of to discover the identity of your textbook, send a polite e-mail to your professor asking her which book she’ll be using in the fall. This’ll show that you’re eager, and your professors will probably understand your pain—they were students at some point, after all.
Photo by Flickr user wohnai used under a Creative Commons license.