How to Save Money on College Textbooks

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Going to college has become an increasingly expensive proposition. With tuition rates quadrupling at public universities over the last 35 years, students are being squeezed at every turn. Although the cost of going to college has certainly increased, students are now able to cut down on some of the costs of attending class, specifically when it comes to their college textbooks.

It wasn't long ago that college students were presented with just one option to purchase their textbooks -- the university bookstore. The Internet has broken the monopoly on college textbooks formerly held by the university bookstores. These days, students have the ability to get the information that they need at much lower rates.

Here are a few ideas to help you save money on your college textbooks this Fall.

Shop for Books Online

Shopping for college textbooks online has become the rule rather than the exception. Rather than spend double what you would at many college bookstores, you can now go online to any number of different websites to find the best deals on textbooks. Of course, large online stores like Amazon have textbooks available, as do countless other specialty sites.

One way to save time is to use a free online textbook search tool. These tools enables you to search for textbooks by the book title, author's name, ISBN number or a keyword. It returns results from more than a dozen online textbook vendors to make comparison shopping easy. It also has an option to compare buying a book with renting it.

Buy Used (In Person or Online)

If you have the opportunity, try to buy nice copies of used textbooks. You can usually get them for much cheaper than a new, unused copy. Whether the book is new or used, the information in the book didn't change (unless it is an older edition). Some of these used books may already have margin notes or highlights from their previous owner. While that may seem like a bummer, you can actually use those notes as a guide to see what information somebody else thought was important. It's like getting a sneak peek at the course material before you cover it in class.

Try an Off-Campus Bookstore

If you have an off-campus college bookstore available in your area, it wouldn't hurt to go and compare prices there. Generally speaking, prices at these bookstores are going to be less than prices at your on-campus bookstore. However, you aren't going to find the same type of deals that you will find at some online stores. Still, if you can't find what you are looking for online or if you need the book immediately, if may pay to wander a few blocks off-campus to check out their textbook selection.

Go Book-Free (If You Dare)

Let's face it, instructors love books. As academics, teaching out of books is what they do. They read ... and write ... and sell books. In fact, they love books so much that they will often "require" more textbooks than what they will actually cover during the course. I can't tell you how many times I never even cracked open the cover of a book I paid good money for because we either didn't get to the material or the book simply wasn't needed to begin with. More importantly, most instructors are going to present the important concepts and materials in class during their lectures times. That is what lectures are for. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on gobs of textbooks that you won't use, simply go to class. Take notes, and figure out whether or not you need the books to learn the material. Chances are good that you probably won't.

Look for Free PDF's Online

In addition to the numerous ways to buy books online, the Internet has also become a place where students can actually download books in PDF format for free. Though these copies may not be the most recent edition of the book in question, for many genres, the important concepts and materials are still presented. Several websites provide these free PDFs, including the College Open Textbooks Collaborative. If you are short on cash, or just a savvy textbook bargain shopper, make sure to check them out.

Hit the Library

Some professors are very understanding about the fact that many college students don't have a lot of extra money laying around. However, they still feel that it is their duty to present each student with the best possible chance to learn the material. To balance these priorities, many instructors will actually place the texts they require for their courses on hold at the school library. When that's the case, you can head to the library, check the book out from the desk, make copies of the material they need and return the book before leaving. Not only is this a great way to make sure you aren't missing any important reading material, it is also free aside from any fees you pay for copies.

Even though the price of tuition may be up, the price of your college textbooks doesn't have to be. By becoming a savvy shopper and using these techniques, you can save big money on your college textbooks.
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