This week’s column is about the art of the deal. I’m not talking about half-priced libations during happy hour or the small bodega with very cheap (albeit overripe) produce on Washington Street — those are two things I very much enjoy and appreciate. No, I’m talking about the methods and lengths I, and many of my peers, go in order to preserve our financial dignity when tasked to buy textbooks for the academic term.
I am not here to discourage purchasing textbooks from the Book Store; that is a fine establishment if you are interested in the newest-edition, hardcover, all-included textbook “deals.” However, this is the seventh syllabus week that I have participated in, and I can no longer be fooled. Whereas in the past when pen marks and extreme highlighting would have driven me mad, I now rejoice when I find an over-used textbook for a third of the price, complete with oil stains, missing pages, and illegible margin notes that may or may not have anything to do with the actual text. “Back to School” might have meant securing $12 Five Star® notebooks to go alongside your beautiful, Book Sox-draped textbooks in the past but now you can find me searching the depths of my contact list or the bowels of the Internet for affordable books, as well as searching every desk drawer and crevice for spare writing implements.
Of course, what plagues us the most is the Mastering-insert-class-here online learning tools that require that dreaded mix match of letters, numbers, and symbols we all know as the access code. Sure, you can traipse the internet with whatever false sense of hope you might have of stumbling upon a “free” code, but I can assure you, the only thing you will come back with is a fake code, a computer virus, or both. Better yet, once you do go ahead and purchase the online learning platform, why wouldn’t you want to buy the eBook for just $47 more? You’re roped in — there is no escaping this one.
So maybe the art of the deal is not applicable to eLearning; however, to all those who are worried about bottoming-out bank accounts when it comes to getting ready to school, be skeptical about what is required. Ask your professors if having the eighth—not the ninth—edition of a textbook is truly going to set you back (it probably won’t). If you can bear reading material on a screen, pursue the PDF route but be wary of your searching. At the end of the day, when I have a choice between $160 and $0, my high-quality, math-oriented Stevens education beckons me to choose the latter.