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Buying and Selling Books at Colleges and Universities

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

$500 to $800 a semester! That’s the whopping amount of money you’re likely going to need to buy your textbooks and sadly, the bookstore isn’t offering a payment plan. No doubt about it -- textbooks are expensive at colleges and universities. In fact, they can add up to roughly 3 to 7 percent of your annual school costs.

Is there any way to offset any of it? The answer is YES!

A college guide to buying books

Keep the following pointers in mind and save some cash on those required texts in college. This information can be passed on to your friends to give them some help.

Get up early
A good way to save cash on books is to get to the bookstore early. It’s a bit like getting in line for a sold-out concert, but you may be able to get used editions at 70 to 80 percent of the original cost. If the crowds beat you there, don’t despair. The person in front of you may have grabbed what appears to be the last used book in at the college, but search and you can probably find another one.

Go surfing
Make note of the price of books in the bookstore at college. Then, search for the same books at online booksellers, including eBay, to see if you can find it cheaper. There are students at colleges and universities across the country who are selling their books online. However, take into account the shipping and handling costs and the length of time it will take to get the book in your hands -- you could run the risk that the book won’t arrive in time for the first day of class.

Haunt the shops and bulletin boards -- search all sources of college info
One of the cheapest ways to get books is from other students via campus e-mail, word of mouth, or flyers. You can expect to pay 50 to 70 percent of the original cost. Most large colleges and universities have more than one bookstore and there are usually off-campus bookstores as well. All of them will sell used books. If you don't need a book right away, keep checking, because there are always students who drop a course and have books to unload.

If all else fails…
If you haven’t found the book you need, don't give up! Sometimes a particular book is not required. Or perhaps there are only a couple of chapters that will be covered and you can share with a classmate. Professors often put reserve copies in the library, too. It's not the same as having the book within reach at all times, but it will save you money, while keeping you on track in your classes. If you are really in a financial bind, talk to the professor, who may be willing to offer you a loaner to read over the weekend.

A college guide to selling books

Another way to save on books is by earning money back when you're done with them!

Send them back where they came from
At the end of the semester, you may be able to recoup a portion of your costs by selling back your books. Take good care of them and keep your receipts. (Most bookstores go by barcodes, but it doesn’t hurt.) If the book is untouched, you may get full price, but you can expect to get back 10 to 20 percent. Check to see who offers the best buybacks so you can get the most money and be aware of sell-back dates.

Be a salesperson
You may do better by advertising books for sale or selling them to friends. Most students begin buying books as soon as they get their lists and you have a good chance of selling them for at least 50 percent of the original price. Additionally, almost all the online booksellers buy books, and you can get a quote quickly. You will have to ship them, so get an estimate which includes shipping costs.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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