While fall classes may still seem far off for many students, incoming college freshmen and transfer students are already attending summer orientation and registration sessions. Choosing classes leads directly to one of college's biggest sticker shocks: the price of textbooks for those introductory classes. With individual texts regularly carrying triple-digit price tags, a semester's worth of textbooks you may never touch again can seem an unreasonable expense.
Increasingly, students skilled in money management are finding an array of options to make acquiring textbooks less painful. Used bookstores abound just off campus at many colleges, giving the campus bookstore some competition and mitigating prices at least to some extent. Particularly on-the-ball students race to the university library or avail themselves of inter-library loan options to check out required reading for free. Other college campuses have begun renting popular textbooks for prices significantly lower than the cost of buying them new.
For other students, though, the Internet is the place to find discounted books for class. A number of popular retailers offer used textbooks, though students may run the risk of getting an outdated edition or an instructor's edition of any text they buy sight unseen. Students who buy books online also face the same problem as students who buy from the campus bookstore: after the semester's ended, you may well wind up stuck with an edition of a book you didn't really want to own in the first place.
A few companies are now offering services that combine the convenience of online textbook shopping and textbook rentals. The New York Times recently profiled Chegg.com, a website that allows students to rent textbooks online, similar to online video rental services. While paying $50 or more (plus shipping) for a book you don't even get to keep if you want it can be hard to swallow, online rentals do have advantages: Rental prices can be significantly cheaper than the price of purchasing a textbook, online rentals offer more selection and students don't have to worry about whether they'll be able to find a buyer for their unwanted books at the end of the semester.
Whether or not you choose to rent your books for class, it's nice to know that there are ways textbooks are becoming more affordable. Cheaper books mean your financial aid and college savings can be stretched further...and that's always a good thing.