Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Textbook Tips from a College Professor

I won't blog much about my work as a college prof here, but the recent deluge of my inbox with textbook-related questions reminds me that school is about to start, and students (and their parents) are looking to save money any way they can.  So, for those of you who are students, or parents of students, here are my thoughts on college textbook acquisition:

(1)  Yes, you have to buy the current edition of the textbook.  The assigned reading is not optional. You will be expected to know the material in the text.  You will often be expected to refer to or use the text in class. You will be tested on the material. And yes, the content is updated between editions, especially in dynamic fields like mine, law.  The law changes; the text changes; you need the current edition.

(2) Start shopping early.  The best deals go quickly, and you don't want to have to pay rush shipping to meet an assignment deadline.

(3)  Do not pay full retail price for a new text.  I love our college bookstore and appreciate its convenience, but you can do better, price-wise.  If you can't snag a used copy at your campus store (which requires shopping well before the semester starts!), use the ISBN number and check out these sources to find your texts at a discount:
  • Reliable, with generally good return/refund policies.
  • Now part of eBay, this site lets you buy or rent texts at very good prices.
  • Be careful here, in that you want to make sure you are getting a full copy of the current edition, and that you aren't making yourself vulnerable to scary strangers.  Arrange to meet in a busy part of campus for the transaction.  Double-check that the edition is current and in good shape.  
  • Bulletin boards on campus.  Same caveats as above.
  • Textbook Publisher's Website --- often a few dollars cheaper than your bookstore.
(4) Consider an e-book.  Most texts are now offered in cheaper e-book form.  The best e-books will allow you to highlight, tab, and look up unfamiliar terms while reading.  Most professors are comfortable with e-books now, although you may encounter the rare prof who expects you to print out a copy of your e-book, which sort of undermines the purpose, but whatever.  Lighten your backpack, not your wallet: go digital.  The disadvantage: they usually can't be re-sold, or re-used.  Publishers are smart and typically only allow you access for the semester.  This also means that if you have to retake a class later, you may have to buy the book again.  In addition to Kindle, Apple's iBooks, and Barnes & Noble, check out iChapters and CourseSmart for e-book options.

(5) Consider renting your book via  Just beware late fees.

(6)  Ask if your professor has a copy of the text on reserve in the library. If you are disciplined with your time, you can read/study during the reserve period each day, The disadvantage is that you won't be able to check out the book or bring it to class with you, or of course, highlight or make notations in the book.  Because some of my students don't receive their financial aid money until the third week of the semester, by which time they would be behind in their reading, I always place an extra copy of the text on reserve.  Most professors are nice like that.  Just ask.

(7) Consider sharing your text with a roommate or friend.  The obvious disadvantage is that only one of you can study at a time.  But if you're disciplined, this can work.

(8) Download literature for free.  Many of the classics required in your English classes are now beyond copyright and available as free e-book downloads via Kindle, iBooks, Google, or Project Gutenberg.  And of course, these books are always available at the library as well.

(9) Maintain your books in good condition so you can maximize re-sale value.  You'll get more money re-selling directly to other students or on Amazon than you would selling back to the bookstore.

(10) Stop complaining about the cost of textbooks.  Yes, they are unfortunately expensive. But reading the text is a critical part of your learning process; a good professor has taken care in the choice of the text, will not regurgitate the text material or "lecture from the book," and will assume you've done the reading in advance of the lecture. Tuition pays for the professor's time and expertise, but that's only part of the cost of higher education; textbooks are just as important.  Also, professors are well aware of studies that say the average college student spends more  money each semester on beer than on books.  So we're not so sympathetic! :-)

Happy studying!

(Sharing with Oh Amanda)

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