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3 Textbook Buying Mistakes and How To Fix Them

By Madison White

When starting a new semester of college, your mind may feel like it’s being pulled in many different directions. You’ve got loads to think about: housing, friends, schedules, upcoming events. With all this going on, making sure that you have the textbooks you need may be an afterthought. Waiting too long to acquire your textbooks may mean that you’re making a mad dash to the university bookstore and spending more than you should.

Unfortunately, many students aren’t properly prepared for the confusing process of buying, renting, and selling textbooks. They can often feel pressured by the university to do things a certain way, or just be ignorant and overwhelmed by the process. Because textbooks will be a large part of your academic life, it is important to recognize some common mistakes around buying textbooks and what you should be doing instead.

1. Thinking there is only one option

Because universities often work like a business, they can sometimes push students into believing that there is only one option for buying textbooks: the university bookstore. Most, if not all, universities will have their own bookstores where they sell all the required materials for classes given that semester. While this may be a quick and easy way to find all your required textbooks, buying from the university bookstore is often not very cheap. Many college students will tell you that the rates at these book stores are often very expensive, more expensive than most students can afford. One website estimates that students can spend up to $1,200 per semester on textbooks.

Some university bookstores will sell used copies of textbooks or even rent them out. For some, this could be a good option, but sometimes this doesn’t work out. University bookstores will often convince students to buy new textbooks thinking that they will be able to sell them back to the bookstore after the semester ends through a buyback program. This works for some students, but there are usually many caveats to doing this. Bookstores will sometimes not buy back books that won’t be needed in the upcoming semester, or they will only buy back books that are in pristine condition. Sometimes, they won’t even consider buying back your book at all. If they do, what they offer you to buy back your book is a fraction of the original price, meaning that you just wasted a lot of money for a few months of book ownership.

Luckily for students today, there are many more options to getting the required texts beyond the university bookstore. While it may end up being your best option, it is definitely worth it to consider other avenues that may save you money in the long run.

2. Not checking the ISBN number

If students know about finding their books outside of the university bookstore, they have to be extremely careful in making sure that they are getting the correct textbook. Checking the ISBN number is crucial in making sure you are getting the correct version.

What is an ISBN? This acronym stands for International Standard Book Number and is used across many online and in-person booksellers. This number will help you ensure that you are accessing the right textbook. You can often find this number above the barcode on the back or inside of your textbook. You can also usually find this in an area you would find other book details like the author, publisher, and publication date.

This number is extremely important to college students for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, textbooks tend to have multiple versions and change regularly. Textbooks often go through multiple editions, even if the author and publisher stay the same. Just take a look at one of yours. Odds are that it will say something like “Third Edition” or even “Eleventh Edition”. Because they change so often, you may end up accidentally buying an older version because it has the same name and author. This can be dangerous because editions may vary widely in the actual contents. Even textbooks that look the same may be different on the inside!

Secondly, an ISBN number is a surefire way to check and make sure you have the right textbook if you’re buying online and can’t see the book in person. It can be difficult to tell if you have the right book if you can’t see it in person. Checking that the ISBN numbers match will ensure that you have the right one.

3. Not taking advantage of their connections

Students will sometimes make the mistake that they are going it alone in college. Even if you don’t have loads of friends, there are still lots of ways you can utilize your connections to score a better book deal. Whether it be friends, family, or just other people in your class, asking around may be the key to getting a great deal on a textbook.

It doesn’t take too much effort to make a simple post on Facebook and ask your friends and family to share it. Simply doing this can generate a large response that will help you find the textbook you’re looking for. The same goes for simply talking to people about what you’re looking for. Mentioning that you’re in the market for certain textbooks to friends, peers, family, and classmates can really open up doors to opportunities that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

What to do instead

1. Shop around at used book and rental websites

There are a whole host of online retailers that cater to college students. There are numerous options that sell and rent all types of books. They can range from the big names like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, to other, less-known textbook websites like Book Scouter or Cash 4 Books. You might think that there is no way that these places would sell the book that you need, but you would probably be surprised! Ultimately, there are a whole host of websites to check out when buying textbooks online.

You should also consider renting books if you don’t want to go through the hassle of buying and selling. Renting books can often be cheaper than buying, but do make sure to compare prices beforehand so that you know you’re getting the best deal. One very well-known textbook rental website is Chegg. Chegg has an enormous selection of textbooks and will rent them to you for a semester for a relatively cheap price. They also give you the option of buying their used textbooks if that’s what you’re looking for.

You should also consider Uloop which allows you to buy, sell, and rent textbooks. You can look through their collection of textbooks for sale or even consider selling your own textbooks for money. Their easy process allows you to simply package up your textbooks, ship them, and get paid!

If you’ve shopped around online at different websites but have still come up short, it may be worth it to shop around physical stores in your area. Especially if you live in a town with a large college campus, it is likely that some of the used bookstores around may have a copy of the textbook you’re looking for.

2. Talk with friends and acquaintances at your school

Even if you aren’t super well-connected on campus, you can still use your connections to your advantage. You might be surprised at how many people have used textbooks that they’re looking to get rid of. This is especially true of gen-ed classes that most people will have to take at some point during their college career.

You should consider using platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and others to share that you are looking for used textbooks. These websites make it easy for people to share your message and pass it along to their friends and family. By doing this, you are opening up your connection pool far beyond people that you immediately know. People will also probably reply or comment with suggestions about where to find used textbooks in your area and online. This can be really helpful when there are so many options and you aren’t sure which to choose.

It is also a good idea to join some sort of campus or college Facebook group. Joining a group like this allows you to connect with other college students. It is very likely that someone within this group will see your post and have the textbook you need or know someone who does. Having some sort of personal connection with someone also means that you will likely get a cheaper price on the textbook.

It is also worth it to keep track of what your friends are taking. If they are in a class that you know you will need to take at some point, you should talk with them and ask if they’d consider selling you their textbook after they are finished using it. This is often a win-win for everyone involved. Your friend knows that they’ll be able to sell their book after they’re finished and you know you’ll be getting that book at a fair price.

If you have any friends in the classes that you’re taking, you might also be able to share a textbook. This usually only works if you live together or very near each other so that you can both use it. For some classes that require a heavy amount of reading, this might not be the best option, but for some other classes, this could work really well. If you’re going to do this, make sure that you’re prepared with how to split up costs and book usage. This article by Amanda Olivarra can be helpful in determining if it’s a good option for you.

3. Consider using an e-book

Proliferation of technology has changed, and will continue to change, how college students function. With more and more materials, discussions, and information sharing happening online, you might be wondering why you need a physical textbook at all. It’s possible that you don’t!

As more and more books are created, so are more e-books. It is possible that the required textbook for your class also has an e-book version. However, because textbook publishers are not generally as up-to-date as other publishers, an e-book may not be available.

If an e-book is available for your textbook, then you’re in luck. E-books are often much cheaper than the physical copies, plus you don’t have to lug around a stack of books. You will be responsible, however, for making sure that you have a suitable laptop, tablet, or similar device that you can read from.

If you choose to utilize an e-book during class time, you should let your professor know that you will be using an e-book instead of a physical one so that they don’t think you are unprepared. You should also make sure that you are using your laptop or tablet responsibly during class. They can often be distracting to students and potentially detrimental to their learning.

Overall, if you’re a college student, textbooks are going to have a huge impact on your life. Whether or not you spend days trying to find the best deal or you just stroll into the university bookstore, you should always be prepared to spend some amount of money on textbooks. Having a budget for textbooks before starting the semester is always a good idea, otherwise you might get yourself in a sticky situation if you don’t have adequate funds.

Luckily, there are loads of options out there when it comes to college textbooks. Students can save in numerous ways like renting books, buying used books, sharing books, or choosing e-books over the physical thing. Being a little bit textbook savvy and having the foresight to plan ahead when it comes to textbooks can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run. Be sure to take careful notes on these tips and see what works for you! It may take some trial and error, but you’re well on your way to textbook savings.