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How to Determine If You Actually Need the Textbook

By Brittany Loeffler

One of the biggest expenses of going to college is buying textbooks each semester. Depending on your major, students can spend on average $1,200 per semester on textbooks alone. The worst part is that sometimes you don’t actually need to buy the textbook for class.

How can you determine if you actually need the textbook though? There are a few ways to decide whether or not to spend the money on the book. There are also ways to save money on textbooks when you determine that it is necessary to have for the class. Every penny counts when you’re a college student!

Talk to Previous Students

The first thing you can do before buying a textbook for a class is to talk to students who have already taken the class with the same professor. Talk to them about how often they used the textbook, if they feel it was necessary to have, and what they would recommend. Sometimes professors will list a textbook on the syllabus, but only use it once or twice during the semester.

It’s important to talk to students who took the same professor, as every professor has a different method of teaching. While one professor may never use the textbook for a course, another professor teaching the same exact course may use it everyday.

Review the Syllabus

Typically, professors will send students their syllabus for the semester a couple of weeks before classes begin. This gives you time to review the coursework and materials required for the class. When determining if you need the buy the textbook, take a look at the homework assigned throughout the semester. If you see that there is required reading from the textbook, then that means you definitely have to buy it. If you don’t see anything about the textbook in the assignments or day’s lecture, then it’s safe to assume that you don’t need it.

Ask the Professor Directly

Most professors are pretty sympathetic when it comes to college students shelling out money for new textbooks. Typically, a professor wouldn’t assign a $400 textbook if it weren’t absolutely necessary. However, you can always ask the professor and confirm if you actually need the textbook or not. If you feel like this will give your professor a bad impression of you as a student, you can always preface the conversation about the price of the textbook and let them know that your goal is to do well in their class.

Wait Until the First Day of Class

If you still aren’t sure about whether or not to buy the textbook after talking to different people and reviewing the syllabus, wait until you attend the first day of class. This will help you get a feel for the class and the professor. The professor may even be so gracious as to tell you if you need the textbook or not during the first class. However, if you do wait until the first class, be prepared to pay a little more for the textbook or wait to have it shipped to you.

Recommended vs. Required

Sometimes professors will state that a textbook is recommended or required on the syllabus. If the professor recommends that you buy the textbook, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to buy it. It will probably be helpful for you to pass the class and learn the information, though. If the professor states that the textbook is required, then you should definitely buy the textbook and plan on carrying it around with you for the rest of the semester. This means that the professor plans on using it quite often and it will be extremely helpful to pass the class.

Risk to Not Buying the Textbook

The choice of whether or not to buy the textbook for a class is ultimately up to you. The professor will not reprimand you or fail you for not having bought the textbook as long as you keep up with your work and attend class. However, you risk the chance of getting a lower grade in the class than if you were to buy the textbook. Only you know what type of student and learner you are, so it’s ultimately up to you!

How to Save Money on College Textbooks

If you have determined that you need to buy the textbook for you class it doesn’t mean that you have to pay the retail price for the book. There are ways to buy your college textbooks that can save you hundreds of dollars compared to buying it from the school bookstore. As a rule of thumb, avoid the school bookstore at all costs when it comes to purchasing textbooks. The price is usually marked up and students end up spending way too much on their textbooks.

Buy Used Books

Sometimes it is possible to find a used version of your textbook. If this is the case, definitely choose buying a used book over buying a new version. They are exactly the same, except one may have some wear and tear and possibly some notes. You can find used textbooks on sites like Amazon and eBay and sometimes even used bookstores in your school’s area. It doesn’t make sense to spend more money on a new book when you can just get a used on for less than half the price.

Rent Your Textbooks

If you are someone who likes to keep your load light and wallet full, then renting textbooks is a great option for you. Renting textbooks is usually even cheaper than buying a used version. The best part is that at the end of the semester, you get to send it back to wherever you rented it from, meaning you don’t have to carry it around with you from dorm room to dorm room or have it sitting on your bookshelf for the next couple of years collecting dust.

Download the EBook

The electronic version of textbooks are typically much less expensive than buying the print version. Not only does it lighten up your backpack, but it is also great for the environment! Some companies even let you rent the electronic version of a textbook, which can cut down the cost of buying textbooks even more.

Check the Library

Sometimes the school library carries the textbook you will need for class. Although, you have to make sure to get there early before someone else checks it out. Double check with the librarian as to how long you can check out a book. You will want to make sure that you can have it out for the entire semester. If the school library doesn’t have it, it’s always a good idea to check the local library.

Use Your Network

The best way to buy used textbooks is directly off of your classmates who have taken the class before. They will usually sell the textbook for less than what Amazon or the school bookstore list it because they just want to get it off of their hands and make some extra cash. It’s also a great alternative to buying used books online because you don’t have to pay any shipping fees. You can just pick it up right on campus from the student. Check social media and Facebook groups at your school for students selling their textbooks. You can also ask the professor if they have any copies of the textbook that they are willing to sell to you too.

Share with a Classmate

Sharing with a classmate is a great way to cut down the cost of buying a textbook, especially if the textbook required is a newer version and expensive. Pair up with a classmate who is either taking the same exact class as you or plans to take the class the following semester. If you share with a classmate who takes the class the previous or following semester, then you are guaranteed to have the book at all times throughout the class. At the end, you can sell the textbook and split the money so there isn’t any argument over who gets to keep it.

Free Online Editions

Sometimes you can download free versions of books online right to your e-reader or computer. These books are typically classic novels that are a couple hundred years old. So, if you are taking an English class that requires classic books by Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, and more, check online to see if you can download the free version. This will keep your backpack light and your wallet full.

Spend Time Researching

Before deciding whether or not to buy the textbook, spend some time researching prices. It’s important to keep in mind the shipping costs when buying used books from online retailers when figuring out the most economical way to buy your textbooks. Sometimes renting the book is cheaper than buying it used once you factor in the shipping fee.

There are websites where you can input the ISBN number of the textbook you need and it will search the Internet for the best price. This is the easiest way to start your comparison research to find the best option.

How to Make Your Money Back

When you are finished with a class that required you to buy the textbook, you have the opportunity to make back the money that you spent. There are a few ways to make money from a textbook that you already bought. You can sell it or you can rent it out to other students.

Sell to Other Students

The easiest way to get rid of a textbook and make some money on it is to sell it back to students taking the class in the next semester. Use social media groups to post your book and name a competitive price compared to the bookstore and Amazon to ensure that students will be interested in buying the book. Another option is to list the books for sale on Amazon, eBay, or other sites where you can sell used books. Sometimes the school bookstore will even buy back your books at the end of the semester. However, they will usually offer a very low price. If you don’t care about how much you get for the book and just want it off your hands, this is the best option.

Rent Out Your Books

A good way to keep making an income from your textbooks is to rent them out to fellow students. List them for a cheaper price than the bookstore and students will be sure to choose your option over the bookstore. To ensure that your book is returned at the end of the semester, you can ask for a deposit from the student renting it. At the end of the semester, they will receive their deposit back once they return the book in good condition.

This is a way to make a little bit of consistent money each semester. As you grow your collection of textbooks, the more books you can rent out, which means you will have some more income. It will take some work, especially when it comes to tracking down the textbook at the end of the semester, but the payoff will be worth it.

Do You Need the Textbook?

It isn’t ideal pulling out your wallet and spending a few hundred dollars on textbooks every semester. Some times you will run into professors who list an expensive textbook on their syllabus and you don’t actually end up using it. So, before buying the textbook, talk to students to have previously taken the class, review the assignments on the syllabus, wait until the first day of class to get a feel for the professor, or you can ask the professor directly.

If you decide that you do need to buy the textbook, there are ways to save money. Buy used books, rent the textbook, opt for the electronic version, search for free online editions, or share with a fellow classmate. It may take some time and research, but you could save hundreds of dollars on textbooks with these options.