Monday, January 9, 2012


Hearing the phrase “paying for college” usually makes us think of tuition, scholarships, and maybe housing. It makes our kids think about clothes, computers, and decorations for the dorm room. Many of us have been flabbergasted by one of the major expenses of college -- TEXTBOOKS.

In 2008, the federal government revised the Higher Education Act in more ways than just adding “Opportunity” to the name. Colleges now must provide information about a majority of classroom textbooks at the time of registration. Students will know the title, ISBN, and retail price of the textbook in all acceptable formats.

When I was in school, we just went to the college bookstore the day before classes started, found the shelf labeled with the course number, and grabbed the books stacked there. The price at the register might have been as much as $100. To save a few bucks, we might have looked for the texts that had that yellow tape, “used.” That’s still an option for your college students, but it might be a costly one. A single text could cost nearly $200!!

Textbook expenses may be minimized by one of these alternatives.

Many websites are available for searching out a used version of the textbook. You might try or one of these:

It’s preferable to have the ISBN to be sure you have the right edition and the page references from the syllabus match the page numbers in the textbook. I’ve had the challenge of matching an old version with a newer one several times and it is not fun!! Sans the ISBN, be sure you have the proper title, author, and publication date in order to have a usable text.

Look for books that are “like new” or similar terminology, but don’t immediately dismiss the really cheap ones that might be described with “binding torn,” especially if the course isn’t one that your student is particularly passionate about. Do try to avoid those which are “majorly highlighted” or have “many marginal notes.” The student should be able to make his or her own notes for reference and study.

Since shipping might take a week or longer, start the search for the best price as early as possible. Having the book early may have a hidden benefit. Your student may be inspired to actually look at the content before classes start!

Some of the same websites offer the option to rent books for 30 days or longer. A semester is longer! Watch for the cost of extending the rental period.

You might check out these websites:

One benefit to rental may be that most sites will exchange a book that arrives in really bad condition. And you don’t have to worry about reselling a rental.

Some publishers even offer texts in electronic format which may be appealing for our technically literate offspring. This alternative wouldn’t work well, however, for the student who makes marginal notes or highlights in context. Even if pages can be downloaded and printed, the cost of duplication could be excessively expensive and inconvenient.

If your students (or you) are members of a fraternity or sorority, older students may be willing to pass down their books, particularly in the Gen Ed courses that almost everyone is required to take.

As a math teacher, I always suggest that my students look for a COMPLETE SOLUTIONS MANUAL rather than just the Student Version. I also look for solutions, not just answers. I’ve discovered many professors who use the unassigned problems as test questions, and having worked the problem previously can take some of the challenge out of a test.

Although these suggestions are geared toward college students, I always try to have the high school textbooks available in my tutoring service. If your school requires students to purchase their textbooks or if your student doesn’t want to lug the huge history book back and forth between home and school, it can be expedient to have a copy at home. Also, if your student wants to be a doctor and is taking an advanced biology course, having the high school text available for reference in college can serve as a refresher to previous knowledge.

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