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4 hacks to get your college textbooks on the cheap

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Buying books online is not a new concept, as every year, more and more students are avoiding the daunting lines at the college bookstore. StudentRate Textbooks might be the best place to start, though.

After thousands of dollars are added up for every semester of college, one of the most stressful afterthoughts is the bane of every student’s existence: usually heavy, often-useless and always-overpriced textbooks.

The College Board estimates that college students spend $1,200 on books and materials every school year. As most local universities gear up for the fall semester, here’s a list of financial hacks to alleviate the stress of finding textbooks.

Communicate
with your professor

As soon as you get your fall schedule and textbook requirements, reach out to your professor to ask how often the book or access code is used and whether the latest edition is absolutely necessary. This is a savvy way to determine how much you need the book because most professors will be honest with their students (though they might be annoyed that you’re emailing them in July). They may also make recommendations for getting the materials. Also ask students who have taken the class before whether the books are a worthy investment. This is the first step in what is called “book gambling,” — a strategy that comes with risks. For some classes you take, you will never need the textbook, and that is the most frustrating thing that can happen. So, assess the potential damage first, and wait it out until you can find the best options, which are listed below.

Online resources

Buying books online is not a new concept, as every year, more and more students are avoiding the daunting lines at the college bookstore. StudentRate Textbooks might be the best place to start, though. The site is like the Kelley Blue Book but for course materials — a search engine that allows you to compare the cost from several different sites and outlets. Along with coupon codes and discounts, StudentRate will point you in the right direction.

Aside from the obvious and overused outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, try Chegg and SlugBooks.

Chegg, which is really popular as an app for students, allows you to search via title and author or ISBN (international standard book number), but it also shows you an e-book version. Chegg also gives you free access to the electronic version of your textbook while the physical copies ship to you to avoid disruptions in your class schedule. Chegg also has homework assistance and job/internship search resources. (Dear freshmen, you’re going to want this app.) SlugBooks takes it one step further, comparing prices among Amazon, Chegg, Textbooks.com and other online sellers. SlugBooks also offers a unique feature that permits sellers to post their textbook requests and textbooks for sale on a separate page via Facebook.

This leads to another well-known online resource. Look at group Facebook pages for your college, classes, clubs, Greek life, alumni, etc., and join as many as possible. If your school has an app with a student chat portal, access that as well. Other students constantly post trying to sell or buy textbooks, and while the notifications can get annoying, the chances are high that the textbook you need will show up.

Finally, e-books are a solid option if your eyes can handle a screen for long periods of time and if you don’t mind using a virtual highlighter. The electronic version of almost every textbook is less expensive than the physical option. We recommend every student try this at least once to test out the accessibility and determine whether it suits his or her preferences.

Rent, borrow, beg

Whatever you do, don’t go to your school bookstore. But if you do, rent. Most school bookstores will have rental options that are significantly cheaper and still allow you to take notes in the book. Used texts are marked up and sometimes a little rough for wear, but if you know for a fact you will never want to keep a book about molecular biology on your shelf, deal with it. But pay attention to the return dates at the end of the semester or they will stick you with a fine and a debt collector to retrieve the book. Some sites like Amazon also have rental options.

If you’re into cult-ish study groups like from the NBC hit “Community,” share a book with a classmate and alternate using it or study together. Allotting a time every week to trade off the book or study with another student means putting a lot of trust in that individual and in yourself, but holding each other accountable can help get the work done. Again, this is part of “book gambling,” and you have to feel the course out to decide if this strategy will work.

For the best hack — if you can swing it — go to the library. Almost every campus library has several copies of course textbooks for checkout. Set aside a couple hours every week to go to the library, check out the book and make copies of the reading, or study the text to avoid paying a cent.

Continue the cycle,
sell your books

If you did pay for your textbook in any form, get your money back. Use Craiglist, Facebook, Chegg or literally anywhere to sell your book (in the best condition possible). It’s always worth it to make some money off your books — maybe the cash will fund another coffee for your next all-nighter.

Savannah Eadens is a writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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