4 Cheap Alternatives To Buying College Textbooks

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The average full-time, in-state undergraduate student pays $1,226 for books and supplies each academic year. As a former first-generation college student, Josh Lachs said these textbook costs can come as a total shock to some students.

“Most colleges are not transparent about what actually goes into the overall cost of tuition, making it hard for students to budget supplies like textbooks,” Lachs said.

Lachs is now the CEO of Moneythink, an organization dedicated to helping students financially plan for college and weigh tuition costs with their comparison tool DecidED. He said most students heading to college aren’t equipped with the pre-planning tools they need to budget for every expense, which is when items like textbooks become a financial strain.

But despite these high costs, student spending on course materials has gone down significantly over the last 10 years. If you’re heading to college with a long list of textbook requirements this fall, there are several places you can check first to start cutting costs.

Find Scholarships or Financial Aid

Many organizations offer scholarships specifically for textbook purchase or rental each year. There are some national organizations like the Helping Hands Book Scholarship or the Barnes and Noble scholarship which may be available through your university’s bookstore. These scholarships can be awarded each semester and combined with other scholarships to offset the cost of textbooks and supplies.

There are textbook scholarships available for students from various backgrounds, parts of the country, or who are pursuing specific majors, so do some research to find which options align with you. There may be certain academic criteria that must be met to apply.

Make Your Money Work for You

If you are already receiving financial aid, Lachs says to take a closer look at your awards letter to see if you can receive more textbook assistance.

“There might be a footnote or section that explains what is included in the books and supplies expenses,” Lachs said. “If your actual expenses are significantly higher than what is listed on your financial aid award, you may be able to request an adjustment to your estimated budget, which you can do by contacting your financial aid office.”

Rent e-books

Maybe you can say goodbye to lugging those heavy textbooks around altogether. Virtual libraries like VitalSource and Chegg offer millions of college textbooks online for rent or purchase at a significantly lower cost. Some of these libraries even offer flexible rental pricing, so you are able to pay a small monthly fee to access the title for as long as you need it.

But it’s not just a weight off your shoulders. Many of these libraries come with additional features that can lighten your study load, too. Once you rent or purchase through VitalSource, VitalSource Bookshelf houses your textbooks all in one app. This app also comes with additional notetaking and test prep features, and a text-to-speech tool for listening to titles on the go.

If you prefer a physical copy, check online booksellers like Amazon first to see if their prices are lower than your university’s bookstore.

Ask Your Professors

If you can wait to purchase your textbooks, try talking to your professor about resources they can use to alleviate textbook costs for the whole class. According to the Education Data Initiative, up to 37% of faculty do not know the cost of the course materials they select for their classes. So, see if your professor is open to exploring more cost-effective options.

Make Your Money Work for You

Some departments or schools partner with publishers like Cengage, where they can offer students an entire library of textbooks for a one-term subscription fee.

You could also ask your professor to consider using textbooks that are offered on OpenStax, an organization through Rice University that offers peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks online for free.

Bonus: You could become the hero of Syllabus Week.

Start a Study Group

Odds are you’re not the only one looking to save on textbooks. Ask your peers in class if they would be willing to form a small study group that meets regularly to share one copy of the textbook. You can split the cost several ways and help each other stay on top of the readings for the course.

If your group meets on campus, check with your university library to see if any of the textbooks you’re using in class are available for checkout and make that your designated meeting spot.

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