Don’t get sCWRUd: A first-year guide to textbooks


Austin Sting

The most common mistake that first-year students make when they come to college is purchasing every textbook, required and recommended, that comes up on the bookstore’s website.

Greg Bokar, Director of Business and Marketing

With move-in just days away for many first-year Case Western Reserve University students, it is crunch time for thinking about getting together the final needs for campus living and learning. With the shuffle comes the notorious and expensive grind to seek out those “required” textbooks.

Q: Do I really need every book?

A: The most common mistake that first-year students make when they come to college is purchasing every textbook, required and recommended, that comes up on the bookstore’s website. The fact of the matter is that the majority of textbooks that you buy off the list will only be touched occasionally and some not at all.

When deciding whether or not to buy a book, common sense prevails. Purchase textbooks for classes that you know that you will need to reference the book forward going and be assigned test-worthy readings. If a class is more discussion based, the necessity for a textbook is highly unlikely and would more so only be needed if you really want to read along with the class.

The best rule of thumb for incoming first-years is to only purchase textbooks before you come to campus that you either know you will absolutely need or can find at a steeply discounted price. If you can only find your entry level Chemistry book for $350 new, there will probably be other options when you get to class.

On the first day of class, many professors will go through their syllabus and discuss the required and recommended books for the course. At that time, you will have a pretty good sense of what you do and do not need for the class. Whatever you do, do not break the bank buying every book that is listed on your schedule.

Q: Where do I find the best priced books?

A: The answer to this question is quite simple—not the CWRU bookstore. Despite the fact that the bookstore is a pretty good option for used books, the used versions of books often sell out very quickly and are not typically available for latecomers.

An investigative article by The Observer last year found that the price of new textbooks at the campus bookstore grossly out priced, the website for Barnes & Noble, which operates the CWRU bookstore.

Some online sites, such as, allow students to enter the ISBN number for their textbook and search through a multitude of online retailers to find the best priced options. In addition, is a popular option for students searching for the best-priced books.

The CWRU bookstore is a great option for quickly picking up a SAGES book, but you will end up spending a lot of money needlessly by purchasing all of your textbooks there.

Q: New or used?

A: Used. Online textbook sites often give customers the option to purchase books either new or used. Used is almost always the better option of the two. Online sites disclaim that the books may have markings or may be in imperfect shape, but the markdown on used textbooks is significant.

The only exception to this rule remains classes that require access to online quiz sites, such as Aplia, which is used in most introductory level Economics classes. In some cases, the online services are included in the price of a new textbook but may not come with a book that is purchased used.

The price of online access to Aplia-like sites can be anywhere from $50 to $150 and should obviously be avoided if possible.

Q: Is renting always better?

A: A new phenomenon targeting college campuses is rentable textbooks, which is a fairly new service touted by retailers, such as and Barnes & Noble. The service allows students to receive a textbook in the mail, use it for a year and return it the following summer for a price significantly less than the cost to buy even a used textbook.

But, there is a very good reason that retailers are pushing this— opportunity is aplenty for them to make money. Rental contracts often prohibit the reader from annotating the book, mandate a return date that may or may not be realistic for you and hope that you will misplace the book all together. In most cases, penalties can mean repaying the full cost of a new textbook.

At the end of the day, renting textbooks can end up being much more expensive than buying used textbooks and also take a lot of work and responsibility on the part of the students. Think about this option and make sure you review the terms of the agreement before renting textbooks.

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The Observer is Case Western Reserve University’s independent, student-run newspaper. The award-wining publication is free across newsstands on campus every Friday. Be sure to pick up a copy of The Observer’s Welcome Back Issue when you come to CWRU during move-in for useful first-year tips and money-saving coupons from local retailers.

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