Textbooks are very expensive, and the college bookstores seem to want to quickly drain your wallet. Quite often, it seems that there is no choice but to fork out $400 for that general physics textbook you’ll never use again. As it turns out, there are actually quite a few ways you can get the book for free, really cheap, or even have someone pay you to read the book (but more on that later). Without further ado, here are my 9 tips on getting your school textbooks.
1. Don’t be picky
You don’t need a brand new book, a used one is perfectly fine. All you need is to be able to read the words. Even if it’s a previous edition, oftentimes they are perfectly acceptable – of course, chapter and page numbers may change, but the topics are generally going to be the same. Now, the 4th edition probably isn’t going to be close to the 14th edition, but the 9th edition would likely be close enough. And I have found that if you can get an older edition for less (or free), you can ask your professor and most will be happy to help you figure out if it will work for their class. Be willing to be flexible on the shape and edition of your textbook…you do not need unmarked pages and a perfect dust cover.
As usual, scholarships are a good way to get money…but you need to be proactive. Scholarships don’t just land in your lap. Check at your church, through different organizations you belong to (e.g. 4-H, American Legion, etc.), and at your school.
It turns out that schools don’t just offer scholarships solely as part of your admissions package. They offer other scholarships based on academic merit, interests, and research. Now, these scholarships aren’t highly advertised, so you are going to have to do your fair share of research. However, because many people do not know about them, you have a higher chance of obtaining one. I was able to receive a sizable scholarship for my research in the biology department at my school…I was also the only one who applied.
You should always be working to find scholarships, whether you’re still in high school or a junior in college.
3. Check the library
It’s worth checking out your school library and your city library for the textbook. I have been able to find several of my required textbooks, some the exact edition, some a few editions behind, at my local library. This is a relatively free way of getting the book. The downside of this, however, is that you’ll only have this for a limited period of time without accumulating fees. The fees, however, are going to still cost you less than the textbook itself. Now, there are some libraries that accept a canned food donation for a local food bank in payment for late fees. So, before you do any shopping for your book, check out the library for any editions of the required text.
4. Look online
You need to be VERY careful doing this, as there are numerous sites out there that just want your information. However, there are some sites like www.academia.edu, which I have used before, that can have online pdfs of your textbook. As long as you don’t mind reading an online book (or want to pay to print it all out), this can be a good route to go. Just remember that not every site that claims they have the pdf actually has it…and if you give them your information, it can spell disaster. You need to be super careful and use your discretion when using this tip.
5. Ask around
Do you know someone who took the class last semester? Or maybe you’re planning on taking it and you know someone who’s currently in the class. Ask them if they would be willing to sell you their book for cheap…or perhaps even let you borrow it (I’d be careful asking them to just flat-out give it to you). Even better, maybe you can swap textbooks. If you have a biology textbook, and you’re going to take chemistry, and they have a chemistry textbook and are planning on taking biology, you could propose an even textbook swap. Even if they’re unwilling to loan/give/sell you their book, maybe they’ll be able to suggest a place to buy one.
Now, you may be able to share a book with someone if you are taking the class together. You can split the price between yourselves, and you both get a pretty good deal. I have not personally done this, but I imagine that it would work well, as long as you get along with the person you are sharing the book with.
6. Rent a textbook
There are several places that will let you rent a textbook for a reasonable price during the semester. Amazon, eBay, and your school bookstore are all good places to check. Look for older editions, used books, or even international editions. While this won’t get you the book for free, it will most often cost you less than having to purchase the book.
7. Buy the textbook
Not the ideal situation for saving money, but if you’re smart about your purchase, it can pay off (more on this in a moment). If you want to keep the book, check for used, international, or older editions of the book. Amazon, eBay, and even online thrift stores like Goodwill are going to be your best places to look for the book.
8. Sell your textbooks
Here’s where it will pay off if you were smart about purchasing your textbook. If you bought your book from a place cheaper than your college bookstore, you’re probably in good shape. If your book is in good condition and the exact edition needed for the class, your bookstore will likely buy the book from you…yes, that book you got from Amazon, you can sell it to your college bookstore.
For instance, I got a used, good condition genetics textbook of the exact edition required for $30 from eBay (the bookstore was selling it for over $200). After the class was over, I walked into the college bookstore and received $75 for it. That would have been a horrible deal if I had paid the college bookstore price for it. However, because I got it for a better price, my college literally paid me $45 just to read the book. That’s a really good deal.
While this method does cost money up front, you may be able to walk away with more than you spent on the book itself.
9. Don’t get the textbook at all
This is probably not advice you were expecting, but there are two scenarios in which this will work.
Let’s talk about the first one: you’ve found something else.
In all of your searching, whether online for a free pdf, or at the library, or even on Amazon, you’ve found another book, with the same subject (e.g. microbiology) for free (or really cheap). Odds are, you can get by with this book. Now, if the professor wants you to complete specific questions that are only found in the required book, this obviously won’t work unless you know someone else in the class who is willing to share them with you. However, if you have found one book (or even more) that cover the same subject, you can likely get by with these books, especially if you already have a bit of knowledge about the subject being covered and actually show up to class.
Here’s the second scenario: you never needed it in the first place.
There are some professors who say you need a specific textbook. You go out and buy it, and halfway through the semester, you realize you’ve never once opened it. I’ve had this happen a few times. When the professors are asked about it, I’ve heard them say, “oh, that’s just supplementary material…read it only if you want”. But that’s not what the syllabus said. If you don’t want to fork out money for a textbook that might just end up being for “pleasure reading”, wait to order the book. Go to class for the first few weeks without having a textbook. If it turns out that the professor refers to the book often, then you should get it. You usually can safely do this before the add/drop date for your school (and, of course, research the best place to buy the book beforehand, just in case). If the professor never mentions the book, you’ll likely be fine without it…if you need extra help, either go ask in office hours or utilize the internet to your advantage. While this could be risky (depending on shipping time if it turns out you actually do need the book), this will save you a lot of money and frustration for having bought a book that was never going to be used.
Hopefully these tips will help you acquire the textbooks you need for your semester. There are always many different ways of getting to one point (e.g. the textbook being in your hand) – you just have to be creative sometimes. These tips have helped me keep the cost of textbooks down…college is expensive enough without adding astronomical book prices. If you’re interested in reading more about how I graduated college debt-free, click here.
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