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11 Ways to Cut Your Textbook Costs

Farran Powell , Emma Kerr

Students can spend hundreds of dollars on books.

Tuition isn't the only higher education expense that makes paying for college challenging -- the price of books and supplies can add up quickly. According to the most recent survey data from the College Board, college students spent roughly $1,290 on books and supplies during the 2018-2019 academic year. While virtually every college textbook today is available digitally, hardback textbooks can be costly. For example, the "Principles of Microeconomics" text, which is used in many college Economics 101 courses, retails around $100 on Amazon. For students looking to reduce costs, here are 11 ways to lower textbook expenditures.

Buy digital or loose-leaf formats.

The cost difference between a digital and print version of a textbook can be dramatic. "Most students do not know this, but textbook companies usually sell their text in many forms, including digital and sometimes in loose-leaf binders -- both which are less expensive than traditional versions," says Julie Gurner, a former psychology professor at the Community College of Philadelphia and founder of Gurner Consulting. A new copy of the 11th edition of "Campbell Biology," for example, can cost more than $200. A digital version, or e-book, of the same edition can be substantially less, retailing around $120; the loose-leaf version costs around $165.

Consider older versions of texts.

Publishers often release new editions every few years, but the newest version can cost slightly more than the previous edition. Gurner's tip: "Although the newest textbook is usually the one recommended for the course, updates to college textbooks are not always major revisions. Most professors know if the content in the newer textbook varies dramatically from the previous version they've used, and this can save students significantly." When in doubt, check with the professor to ensure an older edition won't cause confusion for assignments and varying page numbers.

Utilize open educational resources if available.

Open educational resources, known as OERs, are teaching materials, like textbooks, that are available for free online. Public interest advocacy organizations say schools that invest in open educational or low-cost resources in course curricula generate significant savings for students. A few colleges and universities encourage their faculty members to use openly licensed textbooks as primary resources. Pennsylvania State University--University Park, for example, provides grant money to faculty members to convert their courses to rely on open educational resources. Other institutions, such as the University of Connecticut, have launched similar incentives to reduce textbook costs.

Purchase used books.

Campus bookstores and online booksellers sell used books, which can help students save money. For instance, a used copy of "Fundamentals of Nursing" can cost around $60, making it 40% less than a new copy that retails for about $100. One caveat: Experts recommend that students check whether they have the right edition for their class before making the purchase.

Check if your school has a bookseller discount.

Colleges often partner with companies that offer price reductions to their students. The University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee, for example, partners with eCampus.com for its textbook discounts. The University of Missouri has an agreement with McGraw-Hill Education that allows students to purchase the publisher's electronic textbooks for up to 38% off the retail price; students have access to the purchased content for five years.

Apply for textbook scholarships.

Some institutions offer scholarships to cover the cost of books and supplies. The University of Dayton in Ohio, for example, offers a textbook scholarship to eligible students who visit the school's campus during their college selection process. For the award, the school grants students up to $500 per semester for textbooks, as long as the purchases are made through the campus bookstore. At Indiana State University, in-state students who qualify can receive the 21st Century Scholars Textbook Scholarship, which grants $250 for books per semester.

Use library materials.

Experts recommend that students take advantage of their school's library to slash textbook spending. There are often copies of required textbooks for classes held in the course reserves as well as access to many electronic journals and e-books in most schools' digital library collections.

Rent digital textbooks.

Online retailers such as Amazon's Textbook Store, Chegg.com and Google Play offer textbook rentals. For example, a student can rent the ninth edition of "Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics" through Google Play for about $30 -- a fraction of the cost of purchasing the book in its traditional format. Rental periods and terms vary among vendors.

Subscribe to membership services.

Some textbook discounts are available through subscription-based services. Cengage, a well-known publisher, offers a subscription that costs about $120 per semester for unlimited access to more than 20,000 digital course materials, which includes textbooks. Popular textbooks that Cengage publishes include "Principles of Microeconomics" and "Biological Psychology." The educational publishing company launched this subscription service in August 2018.

Sell your books through buyback offers.

There are usually options to resell recent editions of traditional textbooks online through companies like Amazon. Sometimes campus bookstores, like the one at East Carolina University, will have a set date when students can begin selling used textbooks; students might also be required to show their university ID. There are also other options to sell used textbooks online with sites such as DirectTextbook.com and TextbookRush.com.

Utilize an inclusive access program.

Some colleges participate in inclusive access programs, which make books available digitally to all students on the first day of class, if a professor opts in. Students have the option to either keep the digital textbook access at a discounted price, or decline and buy the textbook elsewhere. This program makes it easy for students and can help them cut costs, says Mike Hale, vice president of education for North America for VitalSource, an online textbook and materials provider. "They didn't have to search for it, they didn't have to buy it, it's just there," he says.

Look for other ways to cut college costs.

Textbooks aren't the only additional cost college students can expect. Check out these common mistakes freshmen make, and learn more about the different types of financial aid available. Want more tips? Follow U.S. News Education on Facebook and Twitter for more advice on paying for college.

11 ways to cut your textbook costs:

-- Buy digital or loose-leaf formats.

-- Consider older versions of texts.

-- Utilize open educational resources if available.

-- Purchase used books.

-- Check if your school has a bookseller discount.

-- Apply for textbook scholarships.

-- Use library materials.

-- Rent digital textbooks.

-- Subscribe to membership services.

-- Sell your books through buyback offers.

-- Utilize an inclusive access program.

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