College Textbooks

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities
Post Reply
SimonJester
Posts: 1630
Joined: Tue Aug 16, 2011 12:39 pm

College Textbooks

Post by SimonJester » Thu May 17, 2018 11:41 am

My son will be heading off to college this fall and I was wondering what is the latest opinion on textbooks?

I know I can find them on Amazon or other used sites for a fraction of the college book store, but are professors even using them now a days?
Is this specific to the college / professors he will have?
Is the best wisdom to just wait until classes start then get the books?
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

User avatar
Pajamas
Posts: 6015
Joined: Sun Jun 03, 2012 6:32 pm

Re: College Textbooks

Post by Pajamas » Thu May 17, 2018 11:45 am

SimonJester wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 11:41 am
Is the best wisdom to just wait until classes start then get the books?
Yes, your son should wait until it is discussed on the first day of class unless he has specific information from the professor directing him to buy books before classes start.

Also, he will almost certainly figure out how and where to buy his books himself, now that he is a college student, so it's not something you need to worry about (except for paying for them) unless he asks you for assistance. There are lots of options now, so it's not usually necessary to purchase new or used from the on-campus store.

jdowney
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jul 11, 2014 9:10 am

Re: College Textbooks

Post by jdowney » Thu May 17, 2018 11:54 am

We have put two boys through college (the younger boy just graduated on Saturday!!) and I highly recommend a textbook rental service. We have used Amazon in the past with great results - "free" shipping both ways and reminders sent to remind when textbooks are due back at the end of the semester. Very easy to use and very economical compared to buying new or used.

Because I was using my account, I just had the boys send me a list of the books they needed after their first day or two of classes, and I would order them and have them shipped directly to the boys at school. Never had a problem.

adamthesmythe
Posts: 2272
Joined: Mon Sep 22, 2014 4:47 pm

Re: College Textbooks

Post by adamthesmythe » Thu May 17, 2018 11:55 am

He won't know for sure until classes start. It can range from totally optional to absolutely required (for example, if only a particular textbook is allowed for open-book tests).

Be careful about older editions (new editions with new pagination and problem assignments are common).

In areas I am familiar with (science/engineering) there is a bit of an arms race. Problem solutions get posted immediately on the web so each edition has new problems. The primary beneficiary is the publisher because used editions become much less useful.

Textbooks cost a lot. Some books may have career-length utility.

User avatar
Doom&Gloom
Posts: 2231
Joined: Thu May 08, 2014 3:36 pm

Re: College Textbooks

Post by Doom&Gloom » Thu May 17, 2018 12:31 pm

Good advice already. My experience with DS (now a senior) is that "what's best" is all over the map and very class/teacher dependent.

I thought digital "books" (even rentals) would be great until DS found out that some teachers don't allow any electronic devices to be used in the classroom. What usually worked best for DS was rentals, if they were available. On the brighter side, I found that texts were not nearly as expensive as all the rumor-mongoring had led me to believe they would be. YMMV.

rob65
Posts: 334
Joined: Mon May 09, 2016 1:30 pm

Re: College Textbooks

Post by rob65 » Thu May 17, 2018 1:15 pm

I teach at a 2 year branch campus of a large university. I would wait until the first day of class, but would try to then immediately order the books.

Somewhere on the school website there will be a link showing the required books, but sometimes this shows the departmental default instead of what the individual instructor actually uses.

Some courses use online homework platforms that require you to purchase an access code; usually the online site includes the e-book. The school bookstore may also sell a bundle with the book and access code. Access codes can usually be bought online from inside the course directly from the publisher. That is often a little cheaper than the school bookstore. Be very cautious about buying access codes from any other sources.

Otherwise, I think Amazon usually has good prices, particularly on rentals.

Note that if financial aid is being used to directly buy books from your student account, you may have to use the campus bookstore.

Second the earlier advice to get the current edition. Publishers change just enough to make it difficult to use old editions. Beware of international editions that aren’t meant to be sold in the US. The calculus text we use had one of those and there are just enough differences to make the book hard to use.
Last edited by rob65 on Thu May 17, 2018 8:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

p14175
Posts: 327
Joined: Thu Sep 20, 2007 11:33 am
Location: Now in southeast Arizona

Re: College Textbooks

Post by p14175 » Thu May 17, 2018 1:40 pm

A handy hint from someone who spent many years in college as a student. As soon as you know what classes you are going to take, contact the instructor to find out what book(s) are being used. This will give you a head start in finding them at good prices or rental rates. If you wait until the first day of class you aren't going to find a good deal. If the instructor refuses to provide that information, then he/she is probably not a good instructor and the class is probably not worth taking. Hey! It's your money. College isn't cheap. College textbooks can be ridiculously expensive.

bryansmile
Posts: 34
Joined: Wed Feb 12, 2014 10:14 am

Re: College Textbooks

Post by bryansmile » Thu May 17, 2018 3:13 pm

OP, when we met the undergraduate director of a top school's engineering department, he said his students nowadays spend close to 0 on textbooks. He said there are so many online sources where they can get their textbooks for free. I didn't ask any specifics, but I guess he had no reason to lie about it either.

123
Posts: 3711
Joined: Fri Oct 12, 2012 3:55 pm

Re: College Textbooks

Post by 123 » Thu May 17, 2018 3:26 pm

The student will only find out on the first day of class what books are required. Many times expected textbook listings are produced by university bookstores based on a standard curriculum prescribed by the department offering the course. While the instructor may have to follow the standard curriculum the instructor might decide to use outside materials (could be web readings or alternate textbooks) in addition to (actually replacing) the standardized textbook. Additionally sometimes there are multiple versions of the same textbook, some might include CDs (language courses), a license (for a limited period of time) to access on-line labs or supplemental material by the publisher. You can't even rely on ISBN numbers that a course catalog/schedule or university bookstore provides because those might not be the version the professor actually intends to use. The bookstore may say they have books based on the latest information (they have received)from the instructor, that may be true but the information they have may still be out-of-date.
The closest helping hand is at the end of your own arm.

macman_65
Posts: 40
Joined: Fri Jun 16, 2017 8:27 am

Re: College Textbooks

Post by macman_65 » Thu May 17, 2018 3:55 pm

My daughter just graduated (CSD) and we rented the majority of her books via chegg.com.
Her school was pretty good about posting on their website what books were needed for a specific class/section.
The books came within about 4 days so waiting until after the first class would probably be OK.

I am 2 classes into the middle of a master's computer science program and so far I haven't had to pay for any books.

YMMV

LiterallyIronic
Posts: 795
Joined: Sat Dec 05, 2015 10:36 am

Re: College Textbooks

Post by LiterallyIronic » Thu May 17, 2018 3:59 pm

Having just graduated, I would echo the sentiment of waiting until the first day of class to see what books (if any) are really required.

Check amazon.com, half.com, abebooks.com, and valorebooks.com to find the cheapest price. International books are usually much cheaper but practically impossible to sell, and they are usually paperback, black and white, and not recommended for math, physics, etc that have the students answer questions from the book - the question are often in a different order.

Glockenspiel
Posts: 523
Joined: Thu Feb 08, 2018 1:20 pm

Re: College Textbooks

Post by Glockenspiel » Thu May 17, 2018 4:02 pm

Depending on his major, there may be some textbooks that end up being useful in the real world. In this instance, you may not want to just automatically default to renting every textbook.

Real world example, I'm an engineer, and currently reference at least 3 of my college textbooks on a semi-regular basis.

bryansmile
Posts: 34
Joined: Wed Feb 12, 2014 10:14 am

Re: College Textbooks

Post by bryansmile » Thu May 17, 2018 5:41 pm

Glockenspiel wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 4:02 pm
Depending on his major, there may be some textbooks that end up being useful in the real world. In this instance, you may not want to just automatically default to renting every textbook.

Real world example, I'm an engineer, and currently reference at least 3 of my college textbooks on a semi-regular basis.
Exact opposite here, spent a lot more for textbooks as a poor student while other students were renting, thinking will need them later. the books ended up taking up space in the basement for 20 years before I got rid of them.
Lesson learned, don't spend more than you have to on textbooks. If you need them later while working, with a good salary, it's much less of a burden to buy them.

User avatar
Clever_Username
Posts: 1045
Joined: Sun Jul 15, 2012 12:24 am
Location: Southern California

Re: College Textbooks

Post by Clever_Username » Thu May 17, 2018 5:47 pm

SimonJester wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 11:41 am
My son will be heading off to college this fall and I was wondering what is the latest opinion on textbooks?

I know I can find them on Amazon or other used sites for a fraction of the college book store, but are professors even using them now a days?
Is this specific to the college / professors he will have?
Is the best wisdom to just wait until classes start then get the books?
Wait until the first day class, unless you know people who had that professor for that class beforehand. And in the second case, ask to borrow their copy of the book! Or you can always ask the professor.

My school tells me to require a book for each class, for reasons that are unclear to me. Some classes I use it, some I don't, but I always tell the students my opinion of the book on day one as well as the extent to which it is required and also the extent to which it is helpful if it is not required.
"What was true then is true now. Have a plan. Stick to it." -- XXXX, _Layer Cake_

Post Reply