Dealing with the Cost of Textbooks

At this time of year, rising freshmen either are having summer orientation or are about to, and they will certainly hear about something all students have to think about each semester—the cost of textbooks. This is not a small matter, because textbooks can end up costing hundreds of dollars each semester, and it seems that each year the cost of textbooks is a bigger and bigger chunk of college expenses. When I was in college, amazingly 40 years ago, there really was no question—everyone bought the textbook for each class. Of course, things have changed a lot over the years, and you now have several options to consider when dealing with textbook costs.

Before making any decisions concerning textbooks, be clear whether each of your classes requires a textbook. This information is always in the syllabus for each class, but you can also check with your college bookstore to see what is required. Remember that classes may: (a) have no required textbook; (b) require you to buy a physical textbook (new or used), an ebook of the textbook, or either; (c) require you to buy a new physical textbook that includes a digital code for online access to certain information; or (d) may not require a textbook, but recommend a textbook. In this last case, you may have to wait a few weeks to determine whether you need to be reading the textbook.

If you do have a required textbook, there are several ways to deal with costs. I will list each way and give a few advantages and disadvantages of each.

1) Buy a new physical textbook

Advantages

  1. you can write in it, bend back tops of pages, etc.
  2. a textbook in your major may be worth keeping, as well as textbooks that help you with other course
  3. you have access to it all the time
  4. you might find it easier to read a physical textbook

Disadvantages

  1. most expensive of all the ways to deal with textbook costs, although you can reduce your costs by buying from Amazon or other online book dealers, and directly from the publisher—school bookstores are usually the highest priced for buying and renting textbook
  2. if you sell back your textbook, you will only receive a percentage of the original cost of the textbook—this percentage will decrease if the textbook is damaged (including writing/highlighting) or if a new edition is being published soon
  3. can be a pain to bring to class or the library–textbooks are usually quite heavy
  4. can be stolen

good grades-books2) Buy a used physical textbook

Advantages

  1. much cheaper than buying a new textbook
  2. used textbooks can be purchased from the same places as new textbooks
  3. you can write in it, bend back tops of pages, etc.
  4. a textbook in your major may be worth keeping, as well as textbooks that help you with other courses

Disadvantages

  1. although you can sell back a used textbook, but you will likely receive much less than selling back a new textbook—this amount will depend on the textbook’s condition (including writing/highlighting in the textbook) or if a new edition is being published soon
  2. can be a pain to bring to class or the library–textbooks are usually quite heavy
  3. can be stolen

3) Buy an ebook

Advantages

  1. it is much cheaper than buying the physical textbook
  2. you do not have to bring the textbook with you to class or the library—you can access the ebook as long as you can get to a computer
  3. cannot be stolen

Disadvantages

  1. you need a computer to read it, and some people do not like reading on a computer
  2. you cannot sell it back
  3. you cannot write directly in an ebook
  4. you cannot keep it—most ebooks are good for the semester you bought it for

4) Rent a physical book

Advantages

  1. it is significantly cheaper than buying a new physical textbook or ebook
  2. you are being environmentally conscious—renting typically leads to fewer textbooks, less paper, and more trees
  3. if you decide to buy your rental textbook at the end of the semester, you can typically do so

Disadvantages

  1. if you damage a rental textbook (e.g., writing/highlighting in it) you will be charged the full price of the textbook
  2. there are usually strict deadlines for turning the rental textbook back in
  3. sometimes rental companies do not have the edition you need
  4. can be a pain to bring to class or the library–textbooks are usually quite heavy

5) Rent an ebook

Advantages

  1. it is significantly cheaper than buying a new physical textbook or ebook
  2. you are being environmentally conscious—renting typically leads to fewer textbooks, less paper, and more trees
  3. you do not have to bring the textbook with you to class, but can access the ebook as long as you can get to a computer
  4. will not be stolen

Disadvantages

  1. sometimes rental companies do not have the edition you need
  2. you need a computer to read it, and some people do not like reading on a computer
  3. you cannot sell it back
  4. you cannot write directly in an ebook
  5. you cannot keep it—most ebooks are only good for the semester you bought it for

girlread-868786_6406) Share a textbook or ebook with one or more classmates—an option that I feel more students should at least consider

Advantages

  1. may be the cheapest way to deal with costs, depending on the number of students who share with you
  2. may promote working with others
  3. you are being environmentally conscious—sharing (at least for physicaltextbooks) will lead to fewer textbooks, less paper, and more trees
  4. you do not have to be in control of the textbook at all times

Disadvantages

  1. coordinating how the textbook will be shared can be difficult, and may lead to you not having the textbook when you need it
  2. the writing/highlighting in the textbook by others may negatively impact your reading and studying
  3. each member of your “sharing group” may be required to bring the textbook to class on certain days, but that will be impossible

7) Reading a textbook that your Instructor puts on reserve at the library or another site on campus—does not occur that often

Advantages

  1. no cost
  2. you are being environmentally conscious—reading a reserve copy will lead to fewer textbooks, less paper, more trees
  3. you do not have to bring the textbook with you to class or the library
  4. will not be stolen

Disadvantages

  1. you can only get access to the textbook when the textbook’s location is open
  2. you cannot write in the textbook
  3. others may be reading the textbook when you want to read it
  4. you cannot keep it

So there you go. It is a lot to think about, but important, because as I said earlier, textbook costs will be a constant during your years in college. Think about what will work best for you. Good Luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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