Finding and Lowering Your Average Cost for College Books

Finding and Lowering Your Average Cost for College Books
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The Price We Pay

The high cost for college textbooks and materials is something you will have to accept as a student. However, planning ahead and finding ways to cut your costs is possible. First things first, the cost of your books is dependent on certain factors like the field of study, level of course material and existence of additional materials. Knowing these factors can help students and their parents maneuver the maze of textbook buying and keep costs to a minimal.

Let’s start with majors. First and foremost, majors that lead to high-paying jobs often have expensive textbooks. For instance, textbooks for computer programming, biology, management, chemistry and the like are more expensive than textbooks for art, photography, poetry and theater. So, if your major is technically-oriented and high-paying, expect to pay more.

The level of course material is another factor to consider when looking at the cost of a textbook. If your major is computer programming, you will most likely pay more for a book that you will use in your third year than in your first year. For instance, in a typical college bookstore, a calculus book will cost more than an algebra book. Advanced topic books are harder to produce and thus cost more than their lower level counterparts. Of course, many exceptions exist such as books that cover special topics in an area. Also, if a book is being used over multiple semesters, it will definitely be priced higher to compensate for lower sales in the subsequent semesters.

In addition, many textbooks cost more because they come with additional materials. Disks, CDs, supplements, companion websites all cost extra money. In the case of books that come with actually installable programs, such as computer programming and accounting, you are paying for the textbook and the software on that disk that is attached to the book. In many cases, two different parties have to be paid in that scenario, namely – the author and the software developer.

Figuring your Average Cost of Textbooks

Plan ahead to know how much money you’ll have to spend. Just considering your major, count up the number of classes you take for your major per semester. Granted, when you are just starting, you are only taking one to two classes at most per year but this picks up. Just count the number of major courses in a semester, then add up the costs of all the textbooks for those classes to get a total cost for the semester. Next, divide the total cost by the number of major classes that semester. The number you arrive at will be the average cost for your major per semester. Now, multiply that by two to account for the fall and the spring semester. If you plan to attend school over the summer, multiply your average cost per semester by three instead of two.

For instance, if in a typical semester, you took 3 major courses with textbook costs at $100, $150 and $125, your average cost for textbooks would be $125 per semester. Now to account for the fall, spring and a summer, multiply $125 by 3 and you have $375. This is your average cost of college books per year. Wow, that’s no small sum! Keep in mind, that this number is just the cost of books for your major courses.

So, let’s face it. Textbooks are just expensive. It’s a fact of life and there’s very little that can be done about it. Before you fret, be aware that there are quite a few ways to save money on the cost of textbooks while in college. Use the tips below to keep your per semester and per year textbook costs to a minimal.

Tips for Keeping Textbook Costs Down

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Bookstores – whether online or offline, look for used and clearance textbook sections. Ask your friends and colleagues to give you gift cards to bookstores that sell textbooks.

Used Books – get your textbooks used online or from friends at school. Advertise what you are looking for and how much you will pay for it. Used books should be priced at 50% or less depending on the course, year of study, condition and heart of the seller. Sometimes, you may have to pay higher prices if a book is hard to find. But, you will still pay less for the used book than its new counterpart.

Book Trading or Bartering – Barter for the books that you need each semester. Trade with other students in your major as you take different courses. It’s easy to find folks in your major classes that have books you need for the major or the core courses because you will all take the same classes. By the way, while it’s unethical to sell someone else’s published work for more than what you paid, you can sell it for less than that and you can certainly barter it.

Borrow Textbooks From your School’s Library - Ask your teacher to put a desk copy on reserve at the school library. While you can copy the book for your own use, it’s against copyright laws to distribute it to others.

Get old Textbook Editions – Many textbooks have been around a while and therefore have multiple editions floating around. While your teacher will use a new textbook with new questions and assignments in it, the book content itself is most likely the same as its predecessor. In many fields, such as mathematics, accounting and statistics, textbook content doesn’t change much. So, you will probably save in using the old textbook and getting the questions and assignments from a reserved library copy or simply asking your friends for the newer questions and assignments.

Finally, consider getting a job in a bookstore, either at the campus bookstore or in a commercial bookstore that sells college textbooks. The purpose of the job is to obtain an employee discount that will help defray the costs.

Keeping your textbook costs down is certainly doable and just takes a bit more effort. Allow yourself plenty of time by getting your textbook lists for classes ahead of time. Most teachers, academic departments and college bookstores will gladly give you that information before classes start. The extra time spent searching for used books is well worth the money you would spend buying the new ones.

Websites for Used College Textbooks - ( (

Barnes & Nobles – textbook division (


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  • Image of Books Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons