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When to Use Textbook Websites

By Lorena Roberts

College students across the country struggle with the price of a higher education. In fact, the average cost for room and board at an in-state, four year university in the US is almost $21,000 per year. Of course, this doesn’t include food, textbooks, or living expenses. Students in the United States spend quite a chunk of change on higher education after college, regardless of the kind of university they choose to attend or their major course of study.

Paying for school is daunting. Many students turn to loans as a source of financial aid, while others apply for every scholarship available. Students scrape the bottom of their savings account to pay tuition every semester, ultimately turning to government loans to make their final payments.

In 2015, students finished a Bachelor’s degree with just over $30,000 in student loan debt, according to USA Today. For students who want to continue their studies in graduate school, their debt only continues to climb. The country has just toppled a trillion dollars in total student loan debt – the highest we’ve ever seen.

But tuition is the least of a student’s worries when it comes to making it through college. The stress of making good grades, keeping a part-time job so you’ll have money to pay for food, and balancing friendships, working, studying, and partying. Most students go through a “slump” during their sophomore year – we call this the “sophomore slump.” It’s a period where students start feeling really beaten down – unable to keep going. They might start hating their major, or they’re struggling with mental health. They’re homesick, broke, and regretting the college choice they made.

When it feels like we’re struggling under a mountain of stress, the last thing we’re worried about is studying for our classes. Getting our hands on the right course materials and finding the motivation to actually sit down and study is just all too intimidating. The mere price of course materials is enough to make students place bets about whether or not they can make it through the semester without the textbook. Why spend $500 on a couple of books for classes when you could spend it on groceries for a few months?

As students look for other ways to get their hands on the course materials they need, companies are coming up with alternatives. For instance, Cengage launched Cengage Unlimited last fall, with the intention of giving students access to thousands of course materials for one price. Students can subscribe to Cengage Unlimited on a yearly basis, and regardless of how many educational resources they access, it’s all included at one price.

For students who are trying to avoid spending any money on course materials, accessing textbooks online can be a fantastic solution. Many textbooks will have online access – and often times, for free! This is probably not going to be advertised in your classes – as professors are required to use a textbook for their class and publishers like when an entire slew of students head off to the bookstore to make their purchases.

Before you purchase any textbooks for your classes this semester (or next), you should scavenge the web to see if there’s free online access to your textbooks available.

Start by searching for your textbook on Google using the file type command: filetype:pdf "history of anthropology"

Google scholar is also a great place to search for textbooks with online access. If you can’t find your textbooks available through either of these portals, start searching for University’s open access.

Schools like MIT have open access for textbooks and you might be able to locate what you need through their open educational software. I wouldn’t rely too heavily on this, though. You might need to be able to download your textbook and access it when you’re offline. I’m not sure of your exact situation, but accessing textbooks only when you have a Wi-Fi connection could be problematic later in the semester.

You can also check with your university’s library to see if they have the textbooks you need available for check out or loaded onto a server for access to multiple students at one time. Again, this probably isn’t advertised because publishers really like for students to think they have to purchase their textbooks. However, older versions of what you need might be available and most of the time you can get by with an older version of the required text. Make a note that an older version of your textbook may have different page numbers and the chapters may be out of order – so use caution.

Paying for course materials as a college student is truly painful. I feel you. I know how awful it is to write a check for thousands of dollars for tuition and then still have to foot the bill for course materials. In this day and age, technology is saving us from having to purchase everything in print, so before you make a trip to your University’s book shop, check to see if your textbooks can be accessed online.