As the semester settles in, students should be finished asking themselves one important question: Will this textbook be required for class, or will it be collecting crumbs at the bottom of my backpack?

Before I scrape together pocket change and check my imaginary savings account, I usually wait for my professors to confirm an over-priced textbook is required. During this time, professors hold the power to deem a $200 textbook necessary or allow students the opportunity to afford food other than ramen noodles. 

This semester, I wanted to plan ahead by seeing what textbooks I might need before classes started.  I used the Raiderlink website, where there is an option to order textbooks for the semester. Here, you are redirected to Texas Tech’s official bookstore website (Barnes & Noble), which produces a list of required and recommended books for the semester, as well as prices for new and used books.

One of my classes required a textbook that was only available brand new, at around $300. Three. Hundred. Dollars. After reading this, I almost projectile vomited on my computer, which is valued at much less. 

After looking at textbooks through the school’s suggested retailer, I searched for the book in whatever condition was available on other sites. At this point, I would have proudly bought a textbook covered in spoiled milk, if it meant paying less.

Before buying a textbook from an unknown online website, I try to research feedback from other customers. If you have faith in a third-party website, or just care more about getting a lower price, ask yourself if paying to get rid of a computer virus from a shady website is cheaper than buying the actual textbook (the answer is still usually, yes).

For me, Chegg Books, a seemingly reputable website, offered the same textbook (new, used or e-version) at a fourth of the price of the school’s official bookstore website. 

According to a study from the Student Public Interest Research Group, 65 percent of college students have skipped out on buying textbooks at some point. The study also found the cost of textbooks has risen four times faster than the rate of inflation in the last 10 years. 

A possible reason for the increase in textbook costs, could be a sinister and unavoidable thing commonly referred to as access codes. These codes give students access to an online textbook and cannot be shared or re-used.  They can’t be guessed by randomly throwing numbers and letters together (believe me, I’ve tried) and you can’t do online homework until you’ve purchased the code.  

My biggest frustration with access codes is the book is only yours temporarily, expiring when the semester ends. If I go to the bookstore and buy a brand-new textbook, it is at least mine until I say otherwise. How logical is it that when you buy a code no one has ever used to access an online textbook, it “expires” after a few months?  What sacred time-limited writing have I been reading? 

I’d like to know where to send my letter of gratitude for the few months I spent with that expensive online math book I’ll never be able to access again.

If I am forced to spend hundreds on textbooks, I’m going to make sure that “Statistical Methods” book sits on a bookshelf that cost less than it, in my home, for the rest of my life. I want my grandchildren to see that over-priced yellowed textbook and say, “Wow grandma, is this from the Great Depression?” To which I will respond truthfully “yes,” because having to spend that much on a math book is really sad.

There is an alternative to textbooks some professors may require—participation websites. I’ve been in a few classes where they use Top Hat, a website where professors can record students’ attendance and set questions for them to answer. Do not think of these websites as optional or irrelevant. The fees for registering are much cheaper than a textbook, and the easy participation grade is worth every penny. 

I learned this the hard way. Last semester my professor required us to sign up for a classroom discussion website. I can’t think of the website’s name because I did not want to spend the $20 registration fee and, in an effort to show my displeasure for the additional “required” outside material, I did not sign up. Because I never participated in the online discussions, I ended up with a zero for 20 percent of my grade. I really showed them. 

Although the cost of textbooks can be nauseating, they are required, and even students on a budget should pick and choose their battles 

There are ways around just buying or renting a book.  One year I noticed a classmate had already purchased the required $40 textbook. I told him I’d bake him brownies in exchange for him letting me use his book. He did. I saved $40. He never got his brownies.  

So when it comes to textbooks, get creative if you can, weigh all of your options, and most importantly — complain.

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