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Four tips for getting the books you need for class

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Michelle Gronemeyer, a Mizzou Store employee, looks for books for a student who registered for EarlyBird Textbook Reservations in August at the Mizzou Store. The program allows students to select books online then pick them up in-store or have them delivered.

COLUMBIA — Shopping for supplies can be a favorite back-to-school activity until you have to shell out hundreds of dollars for textbooks your freshman year. It's incredible how printed paper can be so expensive.

MU provided undergraduates with a sample budget in 2013-14 that estimated the cost of textbooks per year at a hefty $946.

The cost of textbooks has risen 812 percent since 1978 compared to a consumer price index increase of 250 percent, according to The Atlantic.

For the first few weeks of school, the bookstore in the downstairs section of The Mizzou Store is a labyrinth of textbooks and a sea of buyers. But planning ahead can make picking up books less of a headache.

Here are some strategies for avoiding the rush and reducing the cost:

1. Shop early and compare prices

Go to the bookstore's website and find course book lists. The website allows you to compare deals from the bookstore and other outlets. It also lets you choose between new and used books.

If you decide to get your textbooks through the bookstore, you can opt into MU's early-bird system. The program invites students to select books online, and it often presents the option of selecting new or used. Buyers can charge the order to a credit or debit card. Orders can be picked up in the store or delivered via UPS Ground.

Incoming sophomore Caiti Alexander said she highly recommends using the early-bird option if students plan to get their books from the bookstore.

"I did this both semesters, and it made getting my books so easy and not a hassle at all since they had them there waiting for me," she said.

2. Buy online

The bookstore is probably going to sell its textbooks for far more than what you could find online. Students can find significant deals through online stores such as Amazon.com, Half.com, AbeBooks.com, Chegg, Slugbooks, Bigwords or Alibris.com.

3. Wait to buy 

It goes against most of the advice you're given before starting school, but wait until after the class starts to purchase your books. Students often buy every book listed for each of their classes and realize later that some classes don't actually require the text.

You'll know if you're going to need a book by the second week of classes, and you can save yourself a lot of dough if you end up not needing it.

Sometimes, what's posted on the class list may be incorrect — especially for small sections of big lecture classes.

Senior Katie Yaeger recommends waiting until the first week or so to see what materials you'll actually need.

"I was in a finance class about a year ago that 'required' a really pricey textbook and CD (according to the bookstore's website)," Yaeger said. "But then I went to class, and my instructor said there was no need to buy either because he wanted to use other resources."

4. Sell back your books

There are many places to sell your books at the end of the semester. The Mizzou Store offers convenient buyback options any time at the Student Center. 1Up Books buys back textbooks at the end of the semester and can often be found under a tent at the corner of Ninth Street and University Avenue.

The Textbook Game at 904 Elm St. is another option. You'll easily recognize its accordion-playing gorilla that frequents Speaker's Circle during the year.

There are also online bookstores that will purchase your used textbooks. Although you'll be getting significantly less than what you paid for the book, sites such as TextbookRush.com will accept most books in fair condition.


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