3 Potential Alternatives to Buying Textbooks


Physical textbooks continue to plague many pharmacy students.

Physical textbooks continue to plague many pharmacy students.

Textbooks for graduate and undergraduate classes can cost thousands of dollars throughout a pharmacy student’s academic career. In hindsight, many former students rhetorically ask, “Why did I spend so much money on that textbook that I never used?” Textbooks are a financial burden to many students and may be of limited value for future reference as pharmacists because the profession is so dynamic.

Before pharmacy school, college tempered my anxiety with textbooks. In my first semester, I purchased all required textbooks, rarely used them, and learned to not repeat the same mistake.

Networking with senior students and colleagues to see when textbooks are wise to purchase or skip altogether is a great first step toward saving money and avoiding the insidious trap that most pharmacy textbooks are. I discovered a few ways to circumvent the need to purchase expensive textbooks throughout pharmacy school and even graduate school (Master’s and PhD programs).

Here are 3 ways I got through many years of pharmacy school without buying any textbooks:

1. Relying on Class Notes

Throughout my professional and graduate academic career, I’ve found that professors tend to place much more emphasis on the notes presented in class rather than additional readings from the textbook assigned. It’s not uncommon to have 3 exams in a single week during the semester. As a result, it often isn’t practical to do the background reading for all of the topics.

I found that focusing on class notes was much more effective than investing time in reading the textbook. Although the textbook often presented valuable aspects of the material, the tests tended to follow the class notes more closely than the textbooks, at least in my experience.

2. Borrowing from Libraries or Peers

Occasionally, a professor will give an assignment that requires the physical textbook to complete. Campus libraries often have the same textbooks available for loan or to use as a reference as needed. Even if it isn’t the most current edition, it will likely suffice.

Obviously, borrowing a textbook from a friend or colleague would also work, but that’s not always possible. Using Inter-Library Loan (ILL) services to acquire a copy of a textbook not otherwise available in an institution’s library also works. For instance, I used ILL to acquire a very expensive required textbook, completed the required readings according to the provided syllabus (during the first 2 weeks of class), and promptly returned it.

3. Digital Sources

Many academics espouse the value of textbooks as great sources of detailed background information that can be consulted to flush out topics only barely touched upon in class. However, other sources like primary literature can also provide this service.

Articles are generally available for free to students through subscription databases paid for by the institution. In fact, some of these databases may have the required textbooks in digital form, as well. Primary literature and digital textbooks are the best alternatives to physical textbooks, in my opinion, as they provide current information while familiarizing students with using databases to conduct research on their own.

Unfortunately, there are instances where textbooks are unavoidable. Some classes require them for in-class assignments or registering for online assignments. Renting them from a textbook rental service may be needed if they’re unavailable at the university’s library. It’s my personal opinion that physical textbooks for pharmacy school are an inconvenience and costly drain on a student’s resources with exceptions as noted. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to explore possible alternatives before spending substantial money on textbooks.

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