Solving the Dilemma of Overpriced University Textbooks

Upper-year university students know this already, but a newbie student may be unpleasantly surprised to learn that textbooks can be very expensive. Depending on what program(s) you are enrolled in, you may have to spend a couple hundred dollars per course on study materials. Subject areas that are particularly notorious for exorbitantly priced textbook packages are psychology, statistics and art history. Is it really necessary to spend so much? And will you get your money’s worth if you do?

Unless you don’t attend classes (which would be unwise), textbooks will not be your only source of useful information. You can (and should) take detailed notes in class. As well, PowerPoint slides, articles and other supplementary materials are almost always posted online each week by the professor. Also, many courses have corresponding weekly tutorials in which a teacher’s assistant will review and expand upon the material you learned in class. And the reality is, there’s little chance that you will be able to read through the entirety of a 600-page psychology textbook while taking a full course load. All of these considerations may not render textbooks useless, but they should help to ease the minds of students who scramble to shell out large sums of money for textbooks that can be acquired elsewhere for far less.

University bookstores are ridiculously overpriced, and there are much better options out there. Online bookstores such as Amazon offer discounted prices and low shipping rates. There is also the option of simply borrowing textbooks from a local library (your school’s library or a public one) and photocopying the relevant sections. Upper-year students and post-grads, however, will time and again prove to be your best source of textbooks and other print materials. There are often mechanisms set up on campus to link buyers and sellers. For example, TUSBE, the Toronto University Students Book Exchange, allows students to buy and sell textbooks at a fraction of their original cost. Some of the sellers are students who have decided against taking a course, for any number of reasons: perhaps they received a poor grade on a paper and wanted to call it quits before the drop deadline; perhaps they had a timetable conflict and had no choice but to drop a course; or maybe they simply switched programs and no longer needed a particular credit. People in this category have textbooks that are basically brand new that they want to sell because they aren’t enrolled in that class anymore. The other category is composed of upper-year or post-grad students that want to get rid of textbooks that they used in the past, but no longer need. Due to the prevalence of these cases, you will have to be careful to double-check the edition of the book being sold to make sure it isn’t out of date or irrelevant to the specific course you are taking. At the end of the day, though, it is well worth your time to at least take a look at TUSBE (or a similar website, if you live in a different city) because you will almost always find a better deal there than you will at a university bookstore.

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