College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, but it can also be the most expensive. Even if you've got scholarships to cover tuition, hidden costs seem to lurk everywhere. Textbooks are one of the worst offenders.
An NBC News analysis last week found textbook prices had skyrocketed over the past 38 years, climbing 1,041 percent since 1997. The National Association of College Stores puts the average price of a new textbook at $68, with the average student spending about $313 on course materials each semester.
Can't afford that? Don't worry. College students have struggled with textbook prices for years, so you have options. Here are six ways to get your books for cheap:
1. Buy from peers. Once you get your schedule set, post it on Facebook and tag friends with older siblings. Let everyone you see know you're in the market for a specific book -- chances are, someone who doesn't need it has it and wants to get rid of it. If you buy from a friend, you'll save on shipping and maybe even luck into some notes in the margins.
If you're still having trouble, check local marketplaces for resold books. In recent years, students at many colleges have set up textbook exchange groups on Facebook -- see if there's one for yours. Just check for missing pages and water stains before you buy.
why are textbooks so expensive?_ pic.twitter.com/AmhLKNxzTa
— mel (@melchamberss) August 5, 2015
2. Shop around. Determined to get a new book? Use its ISBN, not its title, to compare prices. Some services, like BigWords and AbeBooks, will actually do this for you if you input the right information.
3. Rent your books. Chances are you won't need your textbooks forever, so try renting them. On half.com, you can select your book, rent for the desired period -- 30 to 125 days -- and ship them back when you're finished. You're even allowed to take notes in them. Barnes and Noble offers a similar program plus a 21-day return policy so if you drop the class or rent the wrong book, you can get a full refund. Just make sure to return them in good condition.
4. Go digital. If you've got an e-reader, tablet or laptop, look into downloading your textbooks to avoid paying for the hardcover. OnlineEducation found that e-textbooks are about 53 percent cheaper than standard, paper textbooks. CourseSmart has the largest online collection of e-textbooks, and Chegg has its own reader app to make it easier to study.
Another option are open-source textbooks that have been posted online by their authors or otherwise released into the public domain. Check to see if your textbook is on Project Gutenberg, Open Library or bookboon.com to score a free download. The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources has a list of books broken down by subject here.
Brb crying cuz textbooks are so expensive___ pic.twitter.com/ptlWYnl0qn
— Teresa (@TJewelly) July 30, 2015
5. Get an earlier edition. If money is tight, talk to the professor before class starts about what exactly you'll be using the textbook for. In some cases, teachers assign a new version because it has new information in it -- but in most, they're just trying to keep up with the market. If the differences between two editions are negligible, check out older, less expensive copies.
6. Head to the library. If all else fails, most colleges have copies of textbooks in their libraries you can check out with your student ID. Some have policies where you can't leave the building with the book, which may be annoying but also could be helpful in forcing you to do your work.