High School Textbooks: Avoid the Sticker Shock

For many parents, the cost of high school textbooks makes us long for the day when we complained about the cost of 6th grade school supplies.


Do high school textbooks cost a lot? Yes. But are they as much as urban legend would have you believe? Chances are you have a friend with an $1,100 bill for books. However, statistics show that’s the high end of the cost spectrum.

Average book costs per student in the northern suburbs of Chicago hover around $400. In the New Trier district, the average (based on the 2009-2010 school year) was $370. District 113 (Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools) costs average about $400, and District 225 (Glenbrook North and South) average $390 – $470, depending on the student’s grade.

Still, even average costs are high. Locally, most public school districts that require students to purchase books annually offer options to reduce the financial sting:

District 203 (New Trier High School), which contracts with Follett, offers a book rental option, book buyback, and provides a detailed book list complete with ISBN numbers that allows for comparison shopping locally and online.

District 113 (Deerfield and Highland Park) operates its bookstore independent of contractors, and while it doesn’t offer a rental option, it offers book buyback and supplies parents and guardians with ISBN numbers for comparison shopping.

District 225 (Glenbrook North and South) is exploring the possibility of renting books in the future, but doesn’t offer it currently. ISBN numbers and book buyback are available.

Given increasing print costs, the possibility of electronic “e-book” alternatives appears to be gaining steam. According to Sue Hebson, the assistant superintendent of Instruction and Communications for District 113, e-books are being piloted in several classes.

“E-books have so many other applications,” says Hebson, adding, “I think teachers could adjust very easily. Most print books are being used primarily for reference at this point in time.”

4 Tips to achieve a lower textbook bill

1. Administrators encourage using the book buyback offered at the end of the year to recoup costs. In District 225, it’s estimated students can receive $200-235 back off their average costs, cutting the bill in half. What’s more, the district estimates just 3% of books are discontinued every year.

“Students can sell the books back,” says Paul Sally, District 203 Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction.

“If they sell a book back, they generally can get around 50% of the price they paid depending on the condition of the book, whether the school is using the text next year, and how many books Follett has for use the following year. If you look at the list of books in the Tribune article, many of those books would be available for buyback (not the soft cover books) and lower their net cost.”

Glenview resident and “Mommy on a Shoestring” author Beth Engleman suggests these tips:

2. Check out bookrenter.com, where you can rent a textbook for the fraction of the cost as buying new. (Other sites to try? Valorebooks.com and ecampus.com)

3. When shopping with ISBN numbers, try online marketplaces such as eBay, Craigslist, Amazon or Facebook Marketplace.

“Once I got the list for GBS, I went on Amazon and searched for used books in reasonably good shape,” says Glenbrook South High School parent Susie Love. “They have arrived promptly, are in great shape and I saved at least 1/2-3/4 the cost on the major, costly ones such as Algebra, Physics, Chemistry and World History.”

4. Don’t forget to comparison shop. Online, mysimon.com and the iPhone app “SaveBenjis” help you comparison shop without driving from store to store.

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