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Books or Broke? Student Financial Nightmares.

Books or Broke? Student Financial Nightmares.

As fall semester quickly approaches, the number one concern besides tuition is textbooks. While many students receive federal aid in the form of FAFSA’s Pell grant; this grant, along with state grant money is often not enough to offset the total cost of tuition, living and books. For students who do not receive these grants, but are still taking out loans or paying out of pocket, the combined expense of textbooks, living and tuition becomes too much.

Tuition, housing, bills, and textbooks?

What often gets overlooked is the cost of college textbooks. Occasionally on Facebook, a college meme surfaces about starting to save up in high school for college textbooks, which is a funny but sad reality. Textbook costs vary; depending on the area of study. Typically, science and math textbooks and lab manuals are the most expensive, but Lit classes can be just as spendy with course readers and several little books. Many students may struggle to purchase course required texts.

Looking back, I can clearly remember returning to my former high school during freshman year of college, and speaking to students about my experiences. There was another first-year, first generation college student who was sharing her experiences too. As she spoke to the students, she mentioned the hardships she endured her first semester. Not being able to afford paying her tuition, room and board, AND her textbooks, she survived the semester by spending all her free time in the library, making copies of texts, and tons upon tons of flashcards.

She mentioned often cramming for exams and being awake at odd hours of the night to ensure she was caught up on all her courses. Her story isn’t unique — though rarely advertised as the “college experience” in brochures or cheeky college party movies. The truth is that many students, primarily first generation students, face this obstacle at some point in college.

Why is this a problem?

In the past three decades or so, the costs of college textbooks have risen about 812 percent. According to the National Association of College Stores, the average college student will spend $655 on textbooks each year. However, a single textbook could easily cost half that amount and supplemental resources such as online-access codes and CD-Roms also drive up the cost of texts.

The media take on college students, is one full of marketable tactics. Typically movies portray beautiful girls who sell themselves through prostitution, escort services, and sugar daddies to pay for school. Although this may occur, it often isn’t the case and encourages the wrong messages of female students trying to make do and pay for schooling. Similarly, college students are seldom presented in stressful situations and with genuine solutions. Instead, the public is fed the partying lifestyles, sororities/fraternities, and those “lifetime” movies that are oh-so dreadfully watchable.

Possible solutions?

Fear not! There are alternatives to this hefty spending. Much like a lot of information out on the Internet, there are often multiple websites dedicated to textbooks.

Popular textbook websites include:

  • Bigwords.com (they compare textbook prices and find you the cheapest option)
  • Abebooks.com
  • Valorebooks.com
  • Amazon.com

Another way to save some money, is to buy a textbook’s previous edition. Many professors anticipate this and even incorporate old textbook’s page numbers into their syllabus assignments. In addition, some professors could go as far as letting you borrow a copy of their textbook or directing you towards the university library where textbooks are often available for limited time periods.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that you do not need to buy every single textbook. There are resources available and peers to share with at every university. Communicating with professors about your inability to purchase texts often helps, because if they know, they can work with you on completing assignments or ensuring you have needed materials. Students are successful in courses even when they face adversity. Don’t let those textbook costs bring you down and remember this stage in life is temporary, it’s called STUDENT life for a reason.

(Photo by Katherine Hitt)

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About Lesly Guzman

Current college student at NEIU in Chicago, Illinois, future psychologist that serves the world. Self proclaimed Xicana and also feminist (an oh so controversial topic in today's world). I am majoring in psychology with a minor in child advocacy studies and plan to work with minority adolescents and children. Topics of importance to me range from inner city violence (present in Chicago), the importance of funding education (or lack of in my institution's case), to issues of identity, what it means to be a first generation college student, religion and culture, along with the utter most important topic of mental health. I challenge myself in my learning, in my views, and hope I may do the same in a positive manner for those I reach. I plan to help change the world one day, even if it takes a lifetime.

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