Prefrosh Preview: A guide to buying textbooks

Textbooks will do serious violence to your budget if you don’t plan ahead. Follow these easy tips and you’ll save yourself from the most easily-preventable first-year expense.

Don’t buy from the bookstore… ever

The only thing the University bookstore offers is the dual indignity of high prices and long lines during fall move-in. The only thing you should  ever use this seething den of price-gouging horror for is to look up what textbooks you need.

By law, the University must now post textbooks before classes begin in the fall. These lists can be found on the bookstore website. Copy the ISBN nine-digit code onto a document and use it to search other bookstores.You can also find a link to each class’s textbook list on its MyAccess Schedule of Courses page.

If no books are posted, check to see if there’s a class syllabus on Blackboard. Sometimes professors don’t even use textbooks, preferring instead to post articles in PDF form on Blackboard. If that fails, look up the professor’s name in the directory and send them a polite e-mail asking for the book list. They will understand your pain (they were students once).

Use Amazon or AbeBooks to buy textbooks

Using these two sources, you will save 50-75 percent on bookstore prices. I find AbeBooks has a slightly better selection of editions and ages, while Amazon offers a year of free shipping for students using their .edu e-mail address. In any case, both have book buyback that far exceeds the pauper rates the bookstore gives.

Buy old editions and international prints if you can

Publishers slightly modify books almost every year, often by just jumbling around the chapters or adding a half-paragraph of new information (see: planned obsolescence, evils of capitalism). This tactic allows them to coerce students to buy new books instead of cheaper used texts.

Don’t fall for their ploy; it’s usually fine to by textbooks up to two editions out of date. You should check with your professor, though.

Also, don’t be afraid to buy international editions. I once bought an international trade book from the U.K. for $15 where the same edition in the U.S. was listed for $60. It’s only illegal to sell international editions in the U.S., not to buy them.

Renting is sometimes a viable option

I never rent because I wear out my books pretty easily. But people that keep their books in pristine condition might want to take advantage of . Some sites include CheggValoreCampus Book Rentals, and Bookbyte. CourseSmart for PDF’s to use on your computer or e-reader.

The bookstore also offers a rental service, but you probably don’t want to be held liable if you lose even one of the CD’s in a bundle or happen to use your highlighter on a book. Also, just say “no” to renting iClickers, you can buy them used for as low as $10 on Amazon or eBay and you will use them again if you’re a science, business, or economics major.

Use the library for novels and old textbooks

Especially with English classes, buying novels is like death by a thousand cuts for your wallet. You can often find what you need at the Georgetown Library or D.C. Public Library (there’s a location near Wisconsin Avenue and Reservoir Road). Professors will sometimes even place a reserve on books at the library so their students can have exclusive access to the books, usually for a couple hours.

Also, when you search the catalog at the in the top right-hand corner, be sure to search “GU and Consortium.” That will return searches from any university library in D.C. The people at Lau will gladly ship off-premises books right to the library.

Photo by wohnai.

12 Comments on “Prefrosh Preview: A guide to buying textbooks

  1. The edition of a textbook counts if you plan on selling back your book at the end of the year. The latest edition will cost slightly more to buy but has a net cost less than some older editions because they sell for more. On that note, pay attention to when the next edition is coming out because, if another edition is due in the next year, you won’t be able to sell it for more than $10.

    Basically a used, latest edition textbook from Amazon + buyback brothers on campus at the end of exams = a $15 anatomy textbook. I should be in the B school or something.

  2. Two pieces of advice for frosh:

    1) The big advantage that the bookstore has is that you can order your books in advance on the GU Bookstore website. You pay online and go in during NSO and pick them up from a separate table. I have found it incredibly convenient and it definitely avoids the lines.

    2) Last year, the bookstore started a rental program that saves you SIGNIFICANT amounts of money for large science/economics textbooks. Instead of buying the book for $150 and then selling it back to Amazon for $50, you can just pay the bookstore $75 (often less) and just return it at the end of the semester. They let you write/highlight as much as you want in it with no additional penalty.

    -SFS I-Econ Major 2012

  3. You ought to compare bookstore prices with Amazon–they’re not always cheaper online. Last semester I did the math, and the bookstore DID cost me less. Do your research.

  4. Get Amazon Prime for Students. It’s free for a year and you get free guaranteed 2 day shipping for Prime-eligible books. Just register with your .edu account. You won’t need your books on the first day but you’re probably going to get them anyway since you’re a freshman. So you might as well just get them with Amazon Prime. Used will be cheaper but this takes out the uncertainty of when you’re going to get it and it’ll still be cheaper than the book store..

  5. Or just don’t read the books. It’s overrated. Actually.

  6. I agree with getting Amazon prime – it’s really a great program. Also, my favorite site for buying textbooks is http://www.swoopthat.com – it searches the web (Amazon, Half, etc…) to make sure you get the best prices. Enter all your ISBNs separated by commas and it will do all your books simultaneously. I hope this helps!

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  8. Chegg really is a good service. I’ve compared their renting fees vs. the bookstore’s and they’re significantly cheaper. They’re also not too strict about the book’s condition, as long as it isn’t destroyed when you return it you’re good. It removes so much uncertainty about prices and selling books back and their customer service is great. Used it for my last two years here and don’t regret it even a little.

    I’d also like to second the idea that you won’t use your books on the first day of class. I always waited to get my books until the first day of class so that I knew precisely what I needed and when. The postings the professors made beforehand were often wrong or changed so you don’t want to get stuck with a book you don’t need and can’t return.

  9. Amazon Prime is no longer free, but half price for students (about $39 I believe).

  10. So if the school doesn’t tell us if we got our section until Aug. 26th, how are we supposed to know what books to order? Different profs assign different books…

  11. @Freshman – Just wait. Order them once you know what class you’re in. Again, you can get away with not having your books for the first week.

  12. Freshman,
    You’re largely out of luck. Plus, if you get told on the 26th, which is either move-in day or just before (depending on your dorm), you’ll likely be too busy traveling, unpacking, and meeting people to spend much time hunkered down comparing Amazon and bookstore prices. Like NGM said, you can get away with not having your books for the first week. Heck, probably even the first month depending on when your first midterm is.

    If you know for sure you’re going to be taking a particular class however, and all sections use the same textbook (like most basic and intermediate language classes), you can start the hunt early.

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