5 Ways to Help Manage High Costs of College Textbooks

Buying used books and applying for book-specific scholarships are two ways to defray your bill.

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Don't forget to factor in the costs of college textbooks.
One researcher says he identified two "happy periods" in the data—during the roaring 1920s and the 1960s—but also found "sad" periods during periods of war.

Updated 9/17/12: This story was updated to clarify that $1,100 refers to both books and supplies.

When you think about the cost of college, you probably automatically consider tuition, room, and board—but you can't ignore the cost of textbooks. With costs averaging now around $1,100 per year for books and supplies, according to the College Board, saving for your textbooks can be a major undertaking.

Although most scholarships won't cover the cost of your books, some do—if you have earned enough scholarship awards to cover your tuition and other college expenses and have money to spare, see if you can use the remainder to cover books.

[See how your textbook dollars are divvied up.]

Most students, however, won't have this option. Before you roll your textbook costs into your student loan (which will need to be paid back with interest later), consider these five options:

1. Buy used: Used textbooks can be a great value, often costing as little as half the sticker price of a new book. Plus, you'll have the added bonus of another student's notes—which can be extremely beneficial. Be careful before purchasing a different edition than the one your professor is using, however; using an older version of the text can put your grade at risk, if information has changed significantly.

That said, the biggest issue with an older version of the book is usually a difference in page numbering between the two versions – which can make it tricky to follow page number references in class and reading assignments, but may be worth the significantly lower cost.

If you can't handle someone else's scribbles in your book, another way to defray costs is to buy new and sell your used book back at the end of the semester.

[Learn other ways to find cheap college textbooks.]

2. Buy e-books: A popular newer option, e-books offer many benefits: a less expensive price tag (sometimes half the cost of the print version or even less) and less weight to lug around campus (print textbooks can weigh three and a half pounds or more). However, it can be more difficult to take notes, and many e-books are purchased on a subscription program—meaning that, at the end of the semester, you no longer have access to the text.

3. Rent: Another option is renting the textbook. Though always cheaper than buying new, renting may not be as pocketbook friendly as buying new and selling back at the end of the semester.

[Read about Amazon's textbook rental service.]

4. Apply for textbook-specific scholarships: One such scholarship with an upcoming deadline is The MyBookBuyer.com Textbooks For a Year Scholarship. MyBookBuyer offers two scholarships for students who submit their applications by December 15—including a 750- to 1,250-word essay that answers the question, "What prominent person would you like to interview, and why?"

This may be someone who is living, deceased, or even fictional. (Of course, you must use a book to support your position.) The grand prize winner will take home $1,250 in cash for books, and the runner up will receive $250, so get writing!

5. Do your research, and do it often: New scholarship and grant opportunities occur pretty regularly to help defray the cost of college textbooks, including programs through Chegg (one such scholarship recently closed on August 31) and other textbook companies. One 10-minute search a week could help you find enough money to cover your books next year.

Janine Fugate joined Scholarship America in 2002. She is an alumna of the College of Saint Benedict, Saint Joseph, Minn., and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Fugate is the recipient of numerous scholarships at both the undergraduate and graduate level.