College Textbooks Don't Have to Put You in the Red


Today's average college student spends up to $1,000 a year on textbooks. Most students also cover other expenses such as room, board, phone bill, laundry, and car payments; tuition alone can cost an additional $10,000 to $70,000 a year. So while it can be tempting not to pay for a bunch of glossy pages you may never use again, purchasing a textbook is a smart investment. It's just how you make the purchase that makes all the difference.

A recent study completed by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group showed that seven out of 10 college students “had not purchased a textbook at least once because they found the cost too high.” These students understand that textbooks are an important part of college, but they cite textbooks as too big of a financial burden, especially when already struggling to pay for college on their own.

So why are students required to purchase textbooks in the first place? Some publishers and professors who assign certain books fail to understand that the high costs burden students. And students can't always access the cheaper, used book option because once a new edition is published, professors might switch to the newer books with up-to-date information. This is problematic because the older copies can no longer be used and hold less value, therefore rendering them essentially unsellable by student owners.

Even though it may seem like there is no solution to the rising costs of textbooks, there are alternatives to spending nearly $1,000 per year on them. One solution many college students adopt to avoid the cost of textbooks is not to buy them; this is not a smart idea, however. Professors typically assume that by signing up for a class, a student is accepting the fact that he or she will need to purchase a textbook to understand the course's content. Textbooks are needed to complete homework assignments; failure to complete homework results in a lack of understanding and can ultimately cause students to fail a class. Purchasing a textbook may be costly, but not as costly as failing a class and having to re-pay to take the same course again in order to graduate.

An alternative to purchasing a new, expensive textbook is to get it from a “second source” such as Amazon, Chegg, Campusbooks, or DealOz. These sites offer e-textbooks and print books. In fact, a study shows that three percent of college students recently used a digital textbook as their main source of course material. This is becoming an increasingly popular option for today's students. Use of a digital textbook might make it difficult to complete assignments because users cannot always write, fold, or physically mark up the screen, but they are still paying less than if they had bought a book brand new and at full cost.

Renting or borrowing a book can also be more cost-effective if a student knows that he or she will not need to keep the textbook long-term. Classes in which an older version of a textbook is needed may require rental services, which are organized through some libraries. Students can also borrow books from friends who previously took the same class. They can also team up with students in their classes to work on assignments together or share textbooks.

Even though college is an expensive venture, students shouldn't have to worry about the rising cost of textbooks. My advice? Be strategic and smart when it comes to finances, seek out people who have taken your classes before, scout online for cheaper textbooks, and talk to the people at your campus' bookstore. There's a perfect solution out there for you just waiting to be uncovered.

[Sources: NPREd; MentalFloss]

Great work, Enjoyiana. What an important and informative article. – BenMadison, WI (2016-10-18 20:02)
This is a very good article. As a senior in high school, I'm currently deciding how to make college affordable for myself. This piece has a lot of really helpful information to do just that. Thank you! – JacquelineMadison West High School (2016-11-02 18:36)
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