Better than half-price

During my Freshman year, I spent around $300 on textbooks, workbooks, and some fancy calculator that my professors deemed “required.” I assumed that meant that these materials would be imperative to the curriculum, that I would use them for something other than a doorstop (and a shitty one at that). I thought that if I didn’t buy the materials I would, well, Fail at Life. With the money I spent on textbooks, I could have bought an iPhone and played online Scrabble with a kid in Sweden; or enjoyed 200 cups of takeout coffee so I could stay awake for a week to watch all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls; or bought a roundtrip plane ticket to New York City; or paid one month’s rent.

To avoid being misled, swindled, exploited, even by the land of academia, here are a few hard-won lessons for your consideration:

• Don’t purchase materials before the first day of class, unless there are special circumstances, like homework due. In that case: good luck.

• Use social-networking sites for more than just a dating tool. Seek out your online friends to see if anyone has taken the class you’re preparing for or had a specific professor. Perhaps they still have some of the required materials. If so, ask if you can borrow or buy them for a fraction of the bookstore price.

• Utilize campus resources (your tuition already pays for them) like the library, where they might have the materials you’re looking for (including fancy calculators). Search on the campus library homepage for what you need. Some libraries allow you to check out DVDs, laptops, and scientific and medical equipment. Some professors put assigned reading and even old tests on reserve.

• Your tuition usually covers internet access, black-and-white and color printing, and scanning. The library, and other departments on campus, should have computers and printers available. Paper included!

• TexShare is a database program that joins Texas libraries together to “share print and electronic materials.” Students from ACC, Lakeview, Northwest Vista, Palo Alto, SAC, St. Philip’s, Oblate, OLLU, St. Mary’s, Trinity, UTSA, and IWU can register at their campus libraries to directly borrow materials from the libraries of other participating institutions, which includes the San Antonio Public Library. You’ll even receive a nifty TexShare card.

• Most campus libraries offer an intra-library loan program. Students can request to borrow books and other materials that are owned by another participating library by calling or visiting the intra-library loan office. It is usually housed within the campus library. Or you can search on the office homepage, which can usually be found on the campus website.

• Search for materials on your local public library’s website. Go by and register for a library card, it’s usually free for county residents. They usually offer free internet access too.

• Hit all your bases before heading to the university or college bookstores: websites like Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, Campusbooks, BigWords, and half-price bookstores and book-swapping websites. Used materials are almost always going to be cheaper than new books or other materials. Don’t be afraid to be a responsible shopper. Compare prices!

• Renting textbooks can sometimes save you more money than buying used, but, remember, you can usually sell your new and used books at the university or college bookstore from which they came, at another bookstore or online.,, even some university and college bookstores, allow you to rent textbooks and other materials at the store or on their websites.

• Google Books, Project Gutenberg, Flatworld Knowledge, and other online database websites offer downloads of free books that are in the public domain. However, you may only be able to view a few pages. E-books are usually half the cost, if you don’t mind reading on a screen. You can download a copy of Pride and Prejudice for your English 1320 class to your computer, iPhone, Kindle, or other e-book device.

• Some campus organizations and departments allow students to use their textbooks and other materials in-office.

• Dial down into your campus website to see if there are resources you aren’t using because you don’t know about them. Explore your options. Isn’t that what college is all about? •

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