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Textbooks: a hidden cost of college -- Page 2

Alternative methods
With a little more creativity, you can save more on textbooks, but don't expect to save like you would on other purchases. "In most cases, you're not going to find textbooks that you can use marked down by 80 percent," says Tanabe.

Pillar recommends meeting students in your major through campus clubs and organizations and buying books through those acquaintances and friends.

"I was a public relations major and I met a lot of other people in my major through the Public Relations Student Society," she says.

Look on campus bulletin boards and see if anyone wants to sell the books that you'll need this semester. Students who are truly strapped can buy books with friends in the same class and work out a system to share them, Tanabe says. This won't work if you both procrastinate and want to study at the last minute, though.

Many colleges reserve copies of textbooks at the library for all students to access. The only catch, Pillar says, is that if someone else has the book out the night before the test, you may be out of luck.

"For English majors and others who use the classics -- including foreign language majors -- many of the classics like Shakespeare's plays are available for free online at sites like Project Gutenberg, which has thousands of free e-book titles available for downloading," says Tanabe.

Consider buying an older, used edition of a particular textbook, especially if a new edition has just been released. Publishers frequently bring out new editions of a book, but in many cases the material in the book isn't substantially different from an older edition. Before you plunk down your cash for an older edition, compare it to the new edition to make sure there aren't major changes.

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Some colleges place a book recycling bin outside their bookstores for students to place their old books that don't have much resale value. If your college has one, check it frequently for any copies of books you may need.

Online textbooks
Some textbook publishers are offering online versions of textbooks that students can subscribe to for a semester or more without having to buy the hard copy of the book.

One textbook company that is experimenting with online versions of some of its titles is Pearson Education, which operates online as SafariX Textbooks Online. In addition, several widely used economics textbooks are available online at Aplia. Ask your professor if there is an online version of your textbook that's an acceptable alternative to the hard copy.

Before buying an online textbook, Tanabe recommends that you compare the actual price of the online book with prices of new and used hard copies to ensure that the savings for an online book is substantial to offset the disadvantages particular to online textbooks.

To read an online textbook book you have to go online. What if the power goes out? Also, you can only access your book in areas where there is Internet access.

While you can certainly print out copies of certain pages or chapters, the costs involved may negate or even exceed any savings you get by purchasing an online instead of a hard copy edition. Also, once the semester is up, you lose access to any revenue you could have gained from selling it, although you may not realize much profit from selling your books.

Funding possibilities
Over a four-year college career, books can add $4,000 or more to your college tab. "This is an expense that many people don't expect," Tanabe says. "You know about the tuition and the dorm room, but the high cost of textbooks is hard for many people to swallow."

If you've saved for college with a college savings plan such as a Coverdell Savings Account or Section 529 Savings Plan, you may be able to use some of your savings to pay for textbooks. Coverdell money can be used in nearly all cases, but it depends on the particular Section 529 plan that you're in, as some only cover tuition costs.

If you have money left over after paying tuition, by all means use some to pay for textbooks. Some colleges and alumni associations offer small scholarships to help needy students with textbooks. While these grants may only be $100 or so, every little bit helps.

-- Posted: Aug. 10, 2004
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See Also
PLUS: How to sell your texbooks
Budgeting for the college student
Save cash on texbooks
18 ways to cut the cost of college incidentals
Frugal U. definitions
More Frugal U. stories

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