5 College Resources to Slash Textbook Costs

US News & World Report

By Farran Powell
September 13, 2016

At many colleges and universities, there are resources available through the school to help students cover the cost of pricey textbooks.

Milwaukee student Mitchell Arman, 21, a rising senior at Marquette University, says he cut his textbook costs in half by taking advantage of different services and resources available through his school.

“I wanted to figure out a way to spend less, so I reached out to some of the different services that Marquette had, and figured it out that way,” says Arman, who found a scholarship just for books and supplies through his university. “My biggest piece of advice is to do a little exploring.”

Arman says that through various cost-saving strategies, such as book rentals, scholarships and checking out e-books from the library, he was able to keep his annual textbook expenditure to around $400.

But most students spend much more each semester. A recent survey by the College Board found the average cost of textbooks and supplies at both private and public colleges exceeds more than a $1,000 a year.

To curb expenses, here are a few college resources students can use to save money on textbooks.

1. Financial aid awards: Many schools include the cost of paying for books in their award package, says James Nondorf, dean of admissions and financial aid at the University of Chicago.

In a recent survey of more than 4,700 college students from 132 different schools, Student Public Research Interest Groups found that nearly 30 percent of students used financial aid to pay for their textbooks. That means nearly 5.2 million undergraduates spend more than $1.5 billion of financial aid money on books each semester, which translates to around more than $300 on average per student, according to the study.

But for some students, the amount received through the financial aid package isn’t enough.

“It’s not out of the question to have a $200 or $250 book,” says Nat Smitobol, college admissions counselor at IvyWise, a New York City-based higher education consulting firm.

If there’s a shortfall in covering the cost to pay for books, college planners recommend students to appeal to their financial aid office.

“Keep receipts from your textbooks. If your total textbook costs exceed the financial aid office allowance, you can appeal to them to increase the cost of attendance to cover the difference,” says Mark Kantrowitz, vice president of strategy for Cappex.com, a college and scholarship search website.

2. School emergency funds: “We have something called the student emergency aid for kids who have an unmet significant expense, whether it’s for a suit for an interview, medical expenses or books that are beyond what we gave in the financial aid package,” says Monica Inzer, dean of admission and financial aid at Hamilton College. “They can come to us, and we will give them grants.”

Smitobol, the consultant, says colleges with larger endowments are more likely to include money for students for incidentals such as buying an expensive book or a winter coat.

3. Online sources: College experts say one of the fastest-growing ways that students are saving on textbooks is borrowing e-books and using school libraries for finding online open sources. An open textbook, for example, is a book that’s been funded, published and licensed to be used and distributed freely.

Some schools not only try to make more e-books available to students through their library systems, but also encourage faculty to use open sources in their curriculum.

“We have a racehorse librarian who works individually with faculty to try to talk to them about open source methodology,” says Stephanie Dupaul, an enrollment manager at the University of Richmond. “So she consults individually with faculty members who want to look at reducing costs to their students.”

4. Discounts through bookseller partnerships: Several universities are now teaming up with national booksellers to offer discounts and price reductions to students.

Purdue University—West Lafayette, for example, partnered with Amazon.com Inc. last year to give 30 percent discounts to its students on textbook rentals – the partnership includes Amazon drop-off and pickup locations on campus for book orders. Other schools –University of California—Davis, Texas Tech University and the University of Massachusetts—Amherst, to name a few – have similar arrangements with the national bookseller.

This type of university partnerships isn’t only limited to Amazon. The University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee launched a pilot project last year with eCampus.com, giving its students up to 60 percent off on textbooks.

“We’re noticing it more at the larger universities, but that’s not to say that the smaller liberal arts colleges aren’t also participating,” says the IvyWise consultant.

5. Scholarships for books and supplies: Arman says he used Marquette Central, a website for student jobs and financial services, to find a $1,000 scholarship to cover the cost of books and supplies for his final year.

The communications major advises students to learn more about available resources on campus and says: “If you’re serious about reducing costs, go to your campus’s union and ask questions.”