Saving $$$ on College Textbooks

Cliché: An open book.    
POCS Reality: Students can save money on costly textbooks.


Over a thousand dollars. That’s how much students can spend a year for their college textbooks. The state of Washington is doing something that potentially can save its students millions. They are making inexpensive open source textbooks available for some popular college classes.

Open source textbooks are books that are openly-licensed by their authors for distribution in printed, digital, or audio formats. The price varies from free for downloads to $10-30 for printed textbooks.

That’s not all who can save, according to The Seattle Times, because of matching funds of $1 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

The course materials will be available to any college that wants to use them around the world, as long as they promise to not charge students more than $30 to get printed copies of the materials. Students who choose to use the books online and not get a hard copy can use them for free. Either way, students will  potentially save hundreds of dollars a course.

The future may see open source textbooks in K-12 classrooms per The Seattle Times:

State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said he planned to take aim next legislative session on K-12 books. He estimated that idea could save school districts millions of dollars, save children from having to carry heavy books back and forth to school and make sure schools have the most up-to-date books possible.

Read more: *POCS Insight: College and Books

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Buying used textbooks, renting textbooks, borrowing and swapping with a classmate, downloading all or portions of etextbooks, are other ways students can save money on textbooks. Just make sure it’s the correct edition required for the course. Sometimes professors use books they or others have authored but updated, creating a new required version. As for inexpensive open source textbooks, they can save students money if colleges and professor agree to use them and the quality is similar to existing textbooks.

College Essay-Think Twitter

Cliché:  In short.    
POCS Reality: Students write college essays for admission and scholarships.


When writing college admission and scholarship essays, students are wise to heed this economizer: do more with less.

Most colleges require admission essays as do many scholarship contests and they often come with word limits. Go over and the penalties can range from the essay reader stopping at the word limit or disqualifying the essay altogether.

This New York Times article describes the 500 word limit on the Common Application, used by more than 400 colleges and universities as their admission application form, and student struggles to follow it.

Use this link for my  3 top essay-writing tips and this one for 4 more tips from Essay expert Alan Gelb.

Scholarship expert Monica Matthews also has some essay-writing advice about how to win college scholarship contests.

Students may already have mastered the talent for brevity. Social media requires users to be concise by imposing maximum number of characters used per posts. For example, Twitter has a very short 140 character limit.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Students should follow the rules such as word count and deadlines, and use skills gained from social media posts and tweets to create their college essay messages.

iPad, Kindle and College

Cliché: Count the cost.    
POCS Reality: Students and colleges are interested in using technology as new college cost-savers.


 As college costs skyrocket students, students are looking for ways to cut expenses and some colleges think tablet computers and e-readers may help.

According to USA Today, a few colleges are studying cost saving and academic effect of students and professors using these tech devices.

For example, Byrn Mar College is running an iPad pilot program for 11 students and 4 professors. Students submit all assignments and professors grade and comment via the iPad.

University of Washington doctoral student in the Human Centered Design and Engineering program studied how the Kindle DX changed the reading habits of 39 computer science graduate students.

Read more about e-textbook renting.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: on the studies’ results so far:


  • The cost of purchasing pricey textbooks goes down because downloads are cheaper.
  • Submitting paperless papers eliminates printing costs and saves time.


  • Electronic devices may be pricey.
  • Reading habits may have to change. Read the USA Today article to learn about skimming and “cognitive mapping” problems.

 Bottom line: More colleges should be studying more ways to cut students’ college costs.