10 Tips When Shopping for College Textbooks

Shopping for college textbooks has been interesting every semester and after 10 semesters as a college student here’s my advice:

When buying textbooks first consider if this book might be something you intend to keep long term (books for your major are often helpful to keep vs. books for random required courses). Think about the condition of the book and look into options like paperback vs. hardback. Check your ISBN and make sure you’re getting the right one. Life can be made way harder if you’re using the wrong edition of a book (chapters are often all switched around and there may be things missing from your older edition).

1. Always buy Used (Almost Always):

Buying used often significantly drops the price of the book but usually doesn’t significantly drop the quality of the book itself. Books listed as “Like New” or “Very Good” Condition are my personal picks and I’ve never received a disappointment yet. If there is a CD or some kind of release code with the book that your teacher says is required you will need to buy new.

2. Avoid buying at the campus bookstore, but use their online comparison tool:

Most colleges are going to have some kind of textbook comparison tool or at least give you the price of the book in the bookstore, many of the textbook stores surrounding campus will do so as well. Periodically you will have to buy a book from your campus bookstore (often required writing courses will have books with worksheets and prompts developed by the writing center at your school) so you won’t be able to find these online.

3. Try the library:

Often your campus library, public library (or another campus that does inter-library loans) will be able to let you check out your textbook. Usually as long as  you remember to continually renew the book you can use it all semester–the one downfall to this is you cannot write/highlight directly in the book so get used to using post its for side notes and noting important sentences.

4. (Similarly) Renting books is often a good way to go:

This is especially true if your textbook is on the expensive end of the spectrum and you have absolutely no intention of keeping it. Paying $40 with no buyback money is often a better deal than paying $100 and having a chance at buyback.

Several services offer book rentals and some of my favorites are Amazon.com, BookRenter.com and Half.com. There are lots of others I can’t remember the names to currently and there is a possibility that your school offers a rental program as well.

5. No matter what the school tells you, you are not getting a good deal from them on your book buyback:

The one positive note about school sponsored book buybacks it that often they pay cash on the spot for your textbooks but can pay as little as 1/15th of what you paid. If you’re interested in getting more money for your book rather than fast money try selling it back on Amazon. What’s really nice these days is you can look up your textbook on Amazon and if they are buying it you can confirm your ISBN and ship it free to them (they send you a mailing label) and once they receive it you get paid! (Downfall: the money is not cash nor can it be cashed, it’s Amazon funds which is good towards just about every purchase on Amazon except for Amazon gift cards.)

6. Amazon is Amazing:

As if you didn’t already know this, but Amazon sells through themselves as well as through individual vendors who they have approved. Don’t forget to check out that you have the correct ISBN number, the book’s condition and the percentage rating of your seller before purchasing. Also like I said above, they buy your books back (I’ve actually made money on this once!) and the money you earn can be used towards buying next semester’s books (or anything else you might want) on Amazon.

7. Buy Books soon after you’ve received the list rather than moments before the semester starts:

Periodically a teacher will be a complete butt-wipe and switch all of the books you needed for their class but it doesn’t happen often so it’s better to buy in advance rather than worry if your books aren’t going to arrive in time for your first open-book quiz.

8. eBooks can sometimes be a great option:

eBooks are fabulous if you are someone who loves to carry around your tablet or laptop. They make it really easy to highlight passages and often have special features to help you study or look up vocabulary words.

If your laptop is kind of heavy (or you only have a desktop) and you don’t own a tablet—I don’t recommend this since often your professor will want you to bring your book in to class. Also if you get easily distracted and end up on Facebook or Pinterest…DON’T GET AN EBOOK! You’ll inevitably do it in class and get kicked out of class or miss something important. Also some teachers who have open-book exams don’t permit electronic devices so that’s another thing to consider.

9. Take care of your books after you’ve purchased them:

Don’t leave your books lying around, someone can easily steal them and sell them back to the bookstore for quick cash. Feel free to write/highlight in your books if your purchase of the book allows it (remember, no writing in library books and only in rentals if your agreement says so). If you don’t this can severely damage your likelihood of selling them back and people will judge you for your book looking sloppy (lots of bent pages, warped by spilled Gatorade etc.)

10. Actually read your textbooks:

Whoever is paying for your education whether that’s you, a family member or someone else  benefits the most when you really take school seriously and do your assignments. Often you may be assigned what seems to be an ungodly amount of reading but push through it—take notes and breaks to actually comprehend what you’ve read rather than  reading without absorbing anything. Better yet, read the next section before class so you know which parts didn’t make sense to you and you can ask the teacher for clarification on those areas.

More tips on study habits and effective reading to come, but to my current college students —did I miss anything about good advice when shopping for textbooks?

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