The fall semester is fast approaching and so is the pressure of finding the right supplies and textbooks. Students often find it overwhelming when textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars per semester, especially if their budgets are slim.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a study in 2016 and found that, from January 2006 to July 2016, consumer prices for college textbooks had increased 88 percent.
Fortunately, there are ways for students to save money, and they vary from renting textbooks online to purchasing used ones from other students.
* Rent online. There are textbook rental websites that offer textbooks for prices that are sometimes cheaper than the original retail price. A few popular sites include Chegg, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Rental lengths usually last a semester, and the websites also have options for extensions.
* Buy or sell from fellow students. Sometimes students decide to sell their textbooks to a friend who will be taking the same course or post them on websites like Craigslist and Facebook. There’s a Facebook group called UAA Student Buy/Sell/Trade – Textbooks, etc., comprised of 4,000 members, where students can buy or sell new or used materials.
* Use electronic copies. In this age of technology, reading materials are accessible on any electronic device, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Some textbooks come in an electronic version, which can often be found online or on rental websites. Not only can these copies be cheaper, but they also reduce the stress and hassle of having heavy textbooks in your bag.
* Visit the local library. The UAA/APU Consortium Library has many useful resources, such as course reserves. Some professors put learning materials on reserve in order for students to have access, and they can be checked out like any other material in the library. The library’s website also provides information about other ways to save money on textbooks; it lists other sites where students can buy and sell, as well as sites that offer open-access textbooks at no cost.
* Sell your books to the bookstore. Students can take their books to the UAA Bookstore and have them checked for their value. The amount of cash a student receives is based on whether or not a book is needed for an upcoming class or a national database. The buyback program is open year-round, though the main time is during finals week.
Neelima Kumar is studying both marketing and management and has been attending UAA since 2012. She says that she has learned a lot about textbooks over the years, including what works best for her.
At first, she would find her required textbooks through the course catalog, then purchase them through Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Later, Kumar started to find her books in a different way.
“Eventually, I started to learn that… you shouldn’t ever buy books in advance because sometimes you don’t even need the book or some classes, like a lot of business classes, will have two different books,” she said. “There’s a book with readings and there’s one that actually is a textbook that teaches you methods and vocabulary. I think you can get away with sharing the book with readings with your classmates.”
Kumar also rents electronic versions and finds them to be more efficient.
“I have the Kindle [app] on my MacBook. If you rent an e-text [from Amazon], it’ll just download straight to your Kindle,” Kumar said. “It’s cheaper that way, and you don’t have to worry about selling it to somebody else.”
Delphine Dyer, a UAA alumna who graduated last year, suggests that students find out if professors will use the required books and materials.
“My first semester, I bought a couple books that we never even used,” Dyer said.
Classes may require the updated edition of a textbook, but sometimes a professor will allow students to use an older version. Kumar says she has waited until the first week of school to see if she can use past editions, which can be cheaper than the newest one.
The UAA Bookstore not only buys books from students, but it also offers textbook rentals. Monte Burton, textbook manager, says that this is how their largest textbook discount is offered.
“The rental discounts can be up to 50% off the retail price and applies to almost half of all the titles,” Monte wrote in an email. “We also offer different versions of textbooks, hardback, paperback, loose-leaf and digital when available. The digital and loose-leaf versions are the cheapest options usually.”
Burton encourages students to do their research and look at the website before visiting the bookstore. Most of them are aware of the buyback option, but not many use it, he says. More and more students are renting their books instead of purchasing them.
Lorelei Sterling is a distance education librarian at the UAA/APU Consortium Library and says students can borrow books from the majority of libraries in Alaska. This includes UAF, which is now part of the Consortium Library’s collection.
“It can take a little bit of time, but if you plan ahead, you can get a book from Fairbanks for free and you don’t have to pay for it at all,” Sterling said.
Checking the local library for materials can be a “great way” to save money, she added. The Consortium Library provides other types of academic support that could help students and it can all be found in the Student Success Toolkit. This online tool kit links to the pages for course reserves, homework help and other resources.
Textbooks and materials can be an additional burden on top of college tuition and fees, which rose 63 percent from January 2006 to July 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There’s a variety of options for students to avoid spending hundreds of dollars, and it’s up to them to decide what best suits their needs and budget.