College can be a shock to the senses for many students. It can also be a shock to the wallet. Students can easily drop $200 on a single textbook – and that's just one book, for one class.
Arizona State University estimates full-time students will spend $1,000 on books this school year. Ohio State University suggests students budget nearly $1,250 for books and supplies, and the University of Southern California bumps that figure up to $1,500 for full-time undergrads.
Buying used instead of new can help students cut their book bill. Renting in lieu of buying can help students save, too. Budget-savvy students can go a step further by scoring free textbooks.
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Finding no-cost options for all of the books on your list may not be possible, but even one or two free books can save students hundreds of dollars. Below are a few resources to start your search for free textbooks.
University library: Sometimes the best place to start is the most obvious. University libraries house thousands of books. What they don't have in-stock can often be requested via interlibrary loan agreements, says Jon Lal, founder of the savings website BeFrugal.com.
Check your school library's online catalog for the books on your syllabi, or go directly to your librarian for help. The sooner, the better, Lal says.
"Go to your college's library ASAP when school starts with a list of the textbooks you need. Have the author names and publication dates with you," he says. "If the library has it, see if you can check it out or if it's to be used only in the library."
Professors often put the textbooks for their courses on reserve at the school's library. These are typically available for short-term loan, sometimes as little as an hour or two, which gives students a chance to complete the assigned reading. Availability of these books is often limited, too, so plan ahead.
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Book swap: Textbooks collect dust as soon as the semester ends. While you may tell yourself you will use that intermediate Spanish book again, you probably won't. So why not let someone else use it?
Student organizations at schools such as Georgia College and the University of Florida set up online book exchanges. These sites allow undergrads to list books they have and books they need in hopes of finding a match.
If your campus doesn't have a book exchange, start one. Book swaps only work if students participate, so enlist a student organization to put up flyers and make some noise during orientation.
Project Gutenberg: The oldest digital library in the world offers more than 43,000 e-books, completely gratis. Comparative literature students taking Only Jane Austen at Binghamton University, for example, can find every book on their syllabus via Project Gutenberg.
Titles available on the site span categories such as archaeology, horticulture, microbiology and World War I. Copyrights are expired on all of the titles available for download via Project Gutenberg, so students studying history or classic literature may have more luck than those taking courses such as Hunger Games: Could it Happen to Us?
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E-readers: Undergrads enrolled in that course about "The Hunger Games" can still get their book for free. Amazon's Kindle Lending Library allows members to check out e-books for free. While students won't find their Introduction to Chemistry book, they will find both popular and classic titles.
There is a catch, though. To use the Kindle library, students need to own the namesake e-reader. They also need to subscribe to Amazon Prime, which is $39 per year for college students.
Students may find PDFs of textbooks posted online, too, but downloading those copies can get them into murky copyright waters. And even so, searches may bear little fruit.
Despite the outlets available, many students won't find all of the texts they need, financial aid expert Kantrowitz told U.S. News via email.
"Generally, you won't be able to find many free textbooks except for classic literature."