Everything you need to know about buying college textbooks

Stack of books and electronic book readerUp until now, most of the textbooks you’ve ever had to use for school were given to you at the start of the year and when you were done you turned them back in – easy! Unfortunately, in college the same process doesn’t exist. You are responsible for all of your materials, including all of the texts that you’ll be reading. So how do you go about buying college textbooks and how do you do so without breaking the bank? Here’s everything you need to know.

Getting started
You can’t start buying books unless you know which ones you need! Start by going to the website for your college’s bookstore. Somewhere there should be a link to “finding textbooks” and a form where you can enter in all of the classes you’re going to be taking this upcoming semester. Be sure you have out your class list because it will often ask for the class code rather than the class name. (For example, your class might be called Intro to Mass Communication but the code would be COMM-101-01. “COMM” is the area of study, “101” is the level of the class and “01” would be your particular section). Once you’ve entered in all of your classes, you should be given a list of all the books that your professor says that you will need. Note, however, that some books may be “recommended” versus “required.” In my experience, I have never had to use a recommended book to get my work done, so I always skip buying those to save money. However, if you are really interested in the subject or you think your work can benefit from having an extra text, by all means include the recommended texts on your textbook list.

Buying books
My first word of advice when it comes to actually buying your books is to only get them through your college bookstore as a last resort. While it might be more convenient, since you’ve just looked up all the texts you need on that site and can purchase them all at once, it will almost always cost you much more to buy your books directly from the bookstore. Why? First, they only have a limited number of used books available and once they run out, you’ll be forced to pay full-price which is more often than not an insanely high cost. Second, even if you do manage to snag a used book, their prices are often higher than used books you can find elsewhere online.

So, where should you buy them? Check out Amazon, Half.com and Barnes & Noble for used textbooks. Be sure to compare prices and make sure you’re getting the correct edition before completing your order. The best way to make sure you’re getting the right edition is to copy and paste the ISBN number from your textbook list rather than the name of the text. Also, when buying through these sites, you have to make sure that you give yourself at least several weeks before classes start to allow for shipping time. Since you’re often buying from other students, it’s their responsibility to send you your book and you can’t always count on them to do so immediately after you place your order. If you find you still haven’t gotten a shipping confirmation after a few days, follow up with the seller and consider asking for a refund and finding an alternate option.

Consider renting
If you like the convenience of just turning in your books at the end of the semester, you might want to rent your books. In this case, if you school’s bookstore offers it, you might be better off renting directly from the bookstore. It will save you the hassle of having to ship the books back at the end of the semester and instead you can just turn them in on-campus. However, if your bookstore doesn’t offer renting you can get your books online from sites like Chegg.com. As with buying used books, enter the ISBN of the books you need and they will be sent directly to you. A benefit to renting through sites like Chegg is the shipping is often much faster than through an individual buyer and you don’t have to pay anything to ship it back. The only downside: you don’t have the option to earn any money back by selling it again.

Buying textbooks for college doesn’t have to be overly expensive or too much of a hassle if you use our tips. I went through four years of buying textbooks and I’m happy to share all of the best tips that I’ve learned with you so you don’t make the same mistakes. Have more questions about textbooks or just about the start of college in general? Feel free to email me at Editor@NextStepU.com. Good luck!

— By Laura Sestito

> For more information on textbooks for college and a list of resources, click here to read “Why do college textbooks cost so much?”

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