WalletPop's guide to buying textbooks: Part one...don't!

textbooksNowadays, some students are easily spending $500 or more on textbooks each semester, prompting some professors to provide their new books online for students anywhere to use for free.

Since this is unfortunately not yet the norm in many institutions around the nation, in a few weeks most parents and students will need to crack open the wallet to get ready for a new semester.

Most returning students will already be familiar with the best ways to get the books they need on the cheap, but for incoming freshmen and their parents, this guide will provide a great toolkit for getting the best deal on textbooks.It can be tempting to buy every book on the syllabus your freshmen year; you're new, a little bit nervous and you don't want to show up to class unprepared but here are a few ways in which you can avoid buying the book at all for some of your courses. In reality, this first semester may be the easiest year to do it since your plate will probably be filled by general education courses.
  • Get the book from the campus library. Oftentimes a copy will be held on reserve or you can request a copy to check out hrough inter-library loan.

  • Borrow from your roommate or a classmate. If you go this route you'll either need to have a book they want in exchange or be able to provide the Taco bell for late night sessions.

  • Use the Professor's desk copy. At my school almost all of the professors have a desk copy which is kept in the department lounge for all students to use.

  • Check with Campus Resources. At our university, we have a Learning Resource Center which helps meet the needs of students. If three or more students need a book but have trouble purchasing it, the office will buy a copy and make it available to the students.

  • Spend an afternoon with a scanner. This one is of dubious legality, but if your professor provides an outline of all the homework for the semester you can plop down in front of a computer and a flatbed scanner and copy all of the relevant homework exercises. It won't likely be worth your time (nor is it legal) to copy all of the pages, but copying the 15-30 pages with short answer questions and case studies could make any of the above options easier to deal with.
When I was a student, I used a combination of these five methods to avoid buying many of my books. This year I will teach my first class, and I struggled with how to choose a book that is current, worthwhile and affordable. Unfortunately I think I was only able to satisfy two of those three conditions. Be sure to check out part two of WalletPop's guide to buying textbooks, where I'll help you find the best deals on the books that you do need to purchase.

Josh Smith graduated in 2005 and relished spending next to nothing on his textbooks during his undergraduate career, situations have now been reversed, and he will be teaching his first course this fall.
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