Textbooks can cost a small fortune. It seems that every year the required texts get heavier and the prices get higher. According to a study from the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, students can easily pay between $700 and $1000 for books during a single year. An undergraduate student may end up paying up to $4,000 on books before he or she receives a degree. Unfortunately, distance learners don't always escape this fate. While some online schools offer a virtual curriculum, free of charge, the majority of online colleges still require their students to purchase traditional textbooks with hefty price tags. Books for one or two classes could total in the hundreds. However, showing a little shopping savvy could save you a significant amount of cash.
Better Than Cheap
The only thing that's better than cheap is free. Before you even check the bookstore, take a look to see if you can find the material elsewhere. There are dozens of virtual libraries that offer reference material and literature with no cost to the reader. While newer texts are unlikely to be online, hundreds of older pieces with expired copyrights are all over the internet. The Internet Public Library, for example, offers links to hundreds of full-text books, magazines, and newspapers. Bartleby, a similar site, offers thousands of ebooks and reference materials free of charge. Readers can even download the books for free and view them on their desktop or handheld device. Project Gutenberg provides 16,000 e-books free for download, including classics such as Pride and Prejudice and The Odyssey. Google Scholar is offering an ever-increasing database of free academic articles and ebooks. If your curriculum consists of an over-priced packet of photocopied articles, check to see if the material is available here before forking over the cash.
Another alternative is trying to find a student in your area who purchased the book during a previous semester. If your online school has message boards or other means of communicating with your peers, you may ask students who have taken the course before if they would be willing to sell the book at a discounted price. If you are near a physical college campus that offers courses similar to your online classes, scouring the campus for flyers advertising student-sold books may be your ticket to saving a few dollars. Before you begin a random search, find out what buildings house the departments that are likely to require your books. Students often post advertisements on the walls of their old classrooms.
Some students are able to find their required materials in the library. While your regular public library is unlikely to carry most traditional textbooks, a local college may have the books available for limited use. Since you are not a student there, the librarians probably won't let you take the books with you. But, if the books are shelved, you may be able to use them for a couple hours each day in order to get your studying done.
If you aren't able to get your books for free, make sure you get a good price. You should be able to find almost any text for less than its suggested retail price. Websites like eBay and Half host online auctions of a variety of items, including textbooks. Sites like Alibris connect to hundreds of independent booksellers around the world, finding you some of the best prices on used and new textbooks. Want to save on shipping? Run a search to see if there's a local bookstore that will allow you to pick up the book you're looking for. They often offer pleasant markdowns on a variety of texts.
If you want to save money, don't wait until the last minute to buy your books. When ordering from an online source, it may take time for you to find the best deal and for your order to be processed and shipped. If you're disciplined enough to look ahead a month or two, you may be able to save a lot by bidding during an off-time, when hordes of students aren't looking for the same book. Finding your books for cheap or free will take time and energy. But, to hundreds of students, getting a good deal is worth the extra effort.
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Jamie Littlefield is a writer and instructional designer. She can be reached on Twitter or through her educational coaching website: jamielittlefield.com.