Another way to go to college for free is to use the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO or PSO). Under this program the state pays for high school students to take college courses for free. And by free, I mean completely free. You don’t even have to pay for your own books (you get a full refund when you return them to the bookstore at the end of the semester).
Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. You just have to be a junior or senior, and you have to apply by a deadline. GPA and other requirements vary by university, but your high school guidance counselor will have information about PSO. Most high schools allow you to go part-time or full-time. So you can split your time between high school and college classes, or you can take all college courses and never even go to high school. Many of your college classes will also count toward your high school graduation requirements. Again, you just have to check with your school.
This program is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s great that it’s so flexible. One of my friends did PSO at a private university part-time her junior year and full-time her senior year. She entered her freshman year of college at that university with enough college credits for sophomore status. One of my sisters took just one PSO class—college algebra. She took it at a branch location of a state university, and was happy to have it out of the way before she started college.
The branch location is a good option if a big campus seems intimidating, too much of a hassle, or too expensive for commuting while in high school. If your heart’s set on going to private university, PSO could make it more affordable if you can graduate early or take less classes per semester. And it’s a good way to try out different courses and figure out what you want to major in if you’re not sure. Not paying for the class takes some pressure off in case you “don’t need it” for your major.
But if you’re already in college and paying for it, how can you get the most for your money?
I mentioned this before, but DO NOT pay full bookstore price for your textbooks unless you have to. Here are your other options.
1. Before the semester starts, get the required book lists for your classes from the bookstore. Many universities have these lists available on the bookstore web site. You can also email the professor for information about the required books.
2. Check the library. Using the on-line catalog, see if the books are at your library. If only older editions are available, reserve them in case you can’t find anything better. Often, older editions are still usable. Math and science books are most likely to be the exception, especially if the problems have changed. You don’t want to answer the wrong
questions for homework.
If your library doesn’t have it, try OhioLink. Your university library web site should have a button to search Ohio Link. It’s a system between all the universities in Ohio that gives any student access to the catalog and books of any library. So you will be able to see all the schools that have your books, and you can request for them to be sent to your university library. It’s an amazingly convenient system, because all you have to do it show up at the circulation desk after you get an email notice saying the book is waiting there for you. You don’t even have to go find it in the library.
You can now renew an OhioLink book for an entire semester. The only problem you might run into is if someone else requests the book while you have it. Then you can’t keep renewing it. In that case you can try to request another copy, return it late and eat the late fees (which are higher than for other library books, or copy the pages you need before returning it. Sure, it’s a bit of a hassle, but it’s worth saving $500 a semester on books!
The biggest danger with OhioLink is if you lose a book. They charge like crazy even for a paperback novel. The fee for all lost books is $125! I was once accused of not returning an OhioLink book (which I most definitely did—I saw the employee take it out of the drop box which I thought was weird) and faced this $125 penalty. But I convinced the dean of the library that it was a mistake and she let me off. I wouldn’t count on getting that type of grace, though, especially if you really do lose the book. So keep close tabs on OhioLink books.
Social science and humanities books are more likely to be accessible this way. But you can always try the science library for math and science textbooks.
And here’s a secret: you can underline and highlight in library books. I did it all through college.
3. If the library doesn’t have what you want, try half.com. They have tons of used textbooks, with the ISBNs so you can be sure you’re getting what you want. Shipping is $4 per book, but if you’re saving 50% or so, it’s certainly worth it. Again, consider buying an older edition if that’s all you can find. You can always run it by your professor, but make sure they have good reasons if they really think you should buy the new one.
4. If half.com doesn’t deliver, see if Ebay, Amazon, Abebooks, or Alibris (all .coms) have better deals than the book store. It’ll only take you five minutes to search these sites, and you could save hundreds of dollars. They have new and used books, and shipping again runs around $4 per book (free on Amazon if you buy $25 worth of new books).
What if you order a book but it doesn’t come in before classes start? This gets a little complicated, but again, the savings were worth it. I would buy the book at the campus bookstore and check the return policy. I’d use it till my book arrived in the mail, or until the last day I could return it for full credit (usually a week or two).
5. Check off-campus bookstores. They’re not owned and operated by the university, so they often have better deals. Students on your campus may know which store is cheapest, so ask around. You can always call and check the price of a book if you don’t want to spend time going there. Buy used if you can, and find out about their buyback policies.
6. If all else fails, buy used at the campus bookstore and sell it back at the end of the semester unless you really think you’ll need it. Books closely related to your major are often worth keeping, especially if they contain some reference material you’ll need. Another option is to sell it on half.com. See what it’s going for and if you could get substantially more than the bookstore is paying. I never bothered with this, but then again, I never bought many books. They also run coupons sometimes so keep your eyes open for those.
Remember that the bookstore often won’t buy back those “old editions” that won’t be used next semester, so don’t be surprised when you can’t sell back your $100 biology book. Oh, well, that’s just college for you.