Getting Your Books without Breaking the Bank: Some Advice on Buying Textbooks

While it is impossible to put a price tag on a good education, the incidentals to getting that education, such as tuition, room and board, and books, can seem overwhelmingly high. Textbooks can cause a great deal of sticker shock, and depending on the student’s major and course load, one semester’s worth of books can cost over a thousand dollars. Luckily, the internet has made it much easier to find good deals on your textbooks. Here are a few sites that offer textbooks at more reasonable prices than what you might find at the campus bookstore:
  • Amazon.com
  • Better World Books – While Better World Books doesn’t deal specifically with textbooks, you can sometimes find good deals on books for English and humanities classes.
  • BookFinder – Once you type in the author or the name of the book you are looking for, Bookfinder.com searches different sites (including half.com and other book sites) to see if there are any matches. It then compiles all of the information, including book condition and price, to help you compare your options.
  • Buy.com
  • CampusBooks.com
  • Chegg.com – Chegg.com asks “Why buy your books when you can rent them?” Recently featured in a New York Times article, this site allows students to rent their textbooks and ship them back to Chegg for free at the end of the semester. This not only reduces the textbook cost, it also helps students avoid the unpleasant surprise of finding out that the $200 biochemistry textbook they bought in August is no longer being used next semester and cannot be sold back to the bookstore.
  • Half.com – Half.com is a subsidiary of eBay. You can find a lot of great deals without having to worry about being outbid.
A Few Warnings Before You Start Buying Books (Online or Otherwise):
  • Be certain that you are getting the correct edition. One of the biggest problems with textbooks is that a new edition comes out every two years or so. Depending on content and availability, professors often have to go with a specific edition. If possible, check out the course syllabus or go to the campus bookstore to check the edition. Also, you can search using the books’ ISBNs, which are edition-specific.
  • Buy your books in a timely fashion. Many places use media rate, a cheap but slow method of shipping books, when sending books. Plan for the books to take at least 10 business days to get to you after you have bought them online (unless you pay more for expedited shipping).
If you go to the campus bookstore:
  • See if you can pre-order your books. Some university bookstores, like the Barnes and Noble at BU, allow students to pre-order books and charge them to a credit card. Not only are the books packed up for you, these services will also allow you to choose whether you want used books if available.
  • Buy your books early. One of the worst pieces of advice I got when I was a college freshman was to wait until the first day of classes to buy my books. By the time I got to the bookstore, all of the used books were gone, and I had to pay full-price on the majority of my textbooks. If you are going to buy from the bookstore, try to go before move-in weekend, which is always hectic and busy.
  • Keep your receipts. Most campus bookstores have a grace period at the beginning of the semester, during which time students can return books (in their original condition) for the purchased price as long as they have the receipt.
  • When it comes to sell books back, you will be tempted by the numerous vans and trailers that come to campus at the end of the semester and promise “Cash for Books!!!” Before you get in line at one of these venues, try to sell your books back at the campus bookstore. If a class is using your textbooks next semester, you will get more money back at the bookstore than you will any place else.

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