Saturday, April 23, 2011
Back in the day, when I was a young naive undergraduate, only knee-high to a grasshopper, I learned a cold hard truth: the cost of school will hurt, but the cost of textbooks will downright rip your heart out.
Now buying any book before you read it poses a risk, but textbooks are different. Regular books take you out for a nice dinner and occasionally offer to pick up the tab; textbooks take you to Taco Bell, order everything on the menu, make you pay and then puke in your Honda.
Ah but two bachelor degrees later and I have returned all the wiser. I'm now the ex-girlfriend who took off her glasses, let her hair down, and suddenly became hot. Now that I know how to work the system I have the pick of any textbook I want, and oh how I relish the power.
Actually, here: I'll make a list
1.) Never buy books from the bookstore.
The price markups are ridiculous, and they buy them back at the end of the semester at a fraction of the retail price, if they even buy them back at all. Save yourself the grief and buy them online or from your inner circle of financially struggling classmates. There are two advantages to this: 1.) You get your books at an incredibly cheaper rate, and 2.) You may even be able to sell them back to someone else at the end of the semester for a similar rate, resulting in a more reasonable net loss (or even gain).
There are even places you can rent textbooks, but I wouldn't suggest it. It rely's on the fact that you have to return the books through the mail, in equal condition as when they were purchased. Semesters are packed with hectic, stressful days, and (parents avert your eyes) maybe even a kegger or two. Just being realistic.
Try some online sites like:
2.) Research the subject matter and newest editions.
Example: your professor says you need the newest edition of American History 101. No, you don't. It's history. It doesn't change. Unless the entire class will be based on the last chapter, it's not worth it. The same goes for Chemistry, Anatomy, Biology, things of that sort. The upper leg bone was called the Femur last year, it's called the Femur this year, and going out on a limb here, it's still going to be called the Femur next year.
Besides, many new editions are exactly the same as old editions, they've just switched the chapters around (it's true!). Buy the edition 1 or 2 years older. For many of my classes the newest edition of a textbook costs an average of $150.00. The used last year's edition? Under $10.00. And sometimes even less.
3.) Determine what is required and what is recommended.
You know what kind of learner you are. If you are someone who needs all the study material you can handle, then by all means, go for it. But materials like workbooks or studyguides are rarely actually used for the class. Ask students who have taken the class before you. How much did they use their workbook? Do they still have their workbook? If they do, would they be willing to part with it (you know where I'm going here)?
Also, many textbooks have FREE partner sites that come with them. You may have to do some digging in the front cover, but you can often find instructions (go the the publisher's site for a good start). These come with the majority of science and math books, and they're fantastic. No need to buy a workbook here, unless homework will be assigned directly from its pages. Use the sites, it's what they're there for.
4.) Wait to buy.
Yes this one is a bit tricky, but hear me out. For many of my classes, I actually ended up only using some of the textbooks I bought. Professors will often ask you to read the chapter to prepare for class, but the test will only cover the class notes. For most classes the strategy is show up, pay attention, take good notes. Reading the chapter can actually confuse you more, bombarding you with extra information you won't be tested on.
Other options, like E-books (Electronic Textbooks) may be useful. The site http://www.coursesmart.com/ lists electronic textbooks to many classes. You just have to subscribe (usually free) for a certain amount of time; usually the length of a semester.
Downloading books to your Kindle, Nook, Ipod, etc. may also be an option. The point is, do your research.
So why do I kind of like buying textbooks? Mostly the thrill of the hunt, but when it's combined with the fact that when I find a textbook for $10.00 that's worth $150.00? I can sell it for profit at the end of the semester. And nothing is quite like the icing on the cake of an extra $140.00 in your pocket on the last day of finals.