Scholarships, Bursaries, and Used Books

I studied at university for a total of seven years, earning two degrees in three fields, and a few letters to put behind my name.  I have perhaps only two regrets from my university days: I didn’t make full advantage of the scholarships and bursaries that were available to me, and I didn’t buy used books for the first two years.

From e-mails I have received, I know some of my readers have children that are either at or near university age.  I understand that tuition fees have been on a relentless charge upward (even during my time, tuitions fees were up 90% from my first year to my seventh) but there are ways for students to either gain or save a few bucks.

Buy Used Books

My first mistake was buying all my textbooks new from the university bookstore. I think my first year I paid about $400 for general textbooks ranging from theatrical theory to psychology to astronomy. By my second year I had switched to a double major in English literature and psychology, and my university bookstore bill had ballooned to about $800 –  buying $80 to $100 textbooks on abnormal or applied psychology (plus all the supplemental reading), as well as a few shelves worth of American, Canadian, and modern literature.  I think the Norton Anthology of English Literature alone  set me back about $150.

By my third year I had clued in to the fact that buying used was the way to go (which was ironic, actually, because the majority of my personal/leisure library was bought from used book shops). Buying used cut my book bill by at least half, depending on the courses that semester. As long as there wasn’t a new edition of a psychology text, I could buy it for about half price. For my English lit. books, I bought a used copy from the university store, or went to a used bookshop in town. There is no reason to buy a fresh copy of Shakespeare or Swift, as they haven’t made any revisions recently.

(Edit: I have been reminded by a close friend that I bought the above mentioned astronomy text used… from him. So I guess I was slightly on the ball in my first year.  I have also received an email from another close friend who happens to be an English professor. She makes a valid point that there is much to be had from revisions to the introduction or commentary on literature; there is always new research and theory. So quite often it is a good idea to have the same edition as the course requires, especially if it is a translated work… but you still might be able to find it used.)

Apply for Scholarships and Bursaries

My second mistake was not applying for a wealth of scholarships and bursaries that I could have possibly received. Usually when one says “scholarship”, we think of exceptionally high grades as being required. That is not always the case. I received several scholarships through my program for having an average over 80%, but I never had to apply for these awards. That meant the only work on my part was to earn the grades. But there was much more that I should have been on the ball about.

Quite often you can find small bursaries from alumni of, or local residents around, the university. Many of these bursaries may have a certain grade requirement, but others merely stipulate the student must be in need of financial aid. Take a look at this not-so-randomly selected list of Donor Awards from Brock University. Some are related to grades and program, some are related to grades and varsity sport, others are awarded based on parental employers or the student’s high school.

It is these awards that can really help offset the cost of a university education. (One donor scholarship, for example, is worth $17,600 over four years. The requirements? An average of over 75%, financial need, and meet some residential requirements.) The competition for these ‘application required’ awards and bursaries was often quite low, as students either didn’t know about them, or didn’t get applications in on time.

Because of this, it could be a good idea as a parent to take a look at your child’s university website. Take a look at what your child could be eligible for, and get them to fill out the application. It will only take a few minutes, and it will be in both of your financial best interest.


21 responses to “Scholarships, Bursaries, and Used Books

  1. Myke, thanks for the great post. It’s amazing how much money buying books used can save. And it’s always good to seek any scholarships/funds available, as there are so many out there.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Arjun. I appreciate it.

    I just wish I wasn’t such a procrastinator when I was a student. I knew full well about the scholarships I was eligible for, I just always said “I’ll fill out the applications after exams.” Of course by exam time, I’d have forgotten about the bursaries, and would remember in September… too late to get that year’s funding.

    I have no idea what a year’s worth of books go for now, but I’m sure many a student has to ‘sell their soul to the university store’. My numbers are based on me starting university 15 years age.

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  4. Even if there is a new edition of a text book, usually the changes from one edition to the next are minimal. It’s just a money grab, by the old edition.

  5. Hi Mathew, Thanks for leaving a comment.

    I agree, and was in a conversation about this yesterday, actually. The majority of the changes for new editions of psych books involved correcting typos, or slightly expanding on a point that might not have been explained clearly in the previous edition.

    It was quite rare that an entire section or chapter would have been re-written due to new findings.

  6. Where do you purchase used books from? My son tells me the university store does not sell them – is he just angling for new books or do some Univ’s not permit used books? He goes to Brock btw.

  7. @John Becker – Thanks for asking. Used books (if available) are sold at the bookstore and were always in the same place as the new copy of the same title. When I was there, a yellow “used” sticker was on the spine.

    Here is the bookstore page with some more information… scroll down to “Where are the used books?” Something I didn’t know, but saves additional money – it says there is no tax charged on used books.

    There was talk of having a student run used bookshop on campus, but I don’t know if that ever came to fruition.

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  12. There’s also often used book stores near the school, or postings from students selling last year’s copy.

    I bought used but never sold any of my books – its a good way to get a grownup library (but I took a literary degree, I don’t know if I’d want autocad 1.2 on the shelf 15 years later).

  13. Hi Geoff,
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    I agree. Making use of postings (especially the message board in the faculty lounge) are a great way to cut down on costs. Taking a look at the classified ads of the student paper is another way to find students selling used copies.

    Again, I agree. I have built up semi-spectacular library (for a lay-man, at least) that shelves a massive array of topics. I do, however, own a few useless books, the guide to iMovie 2 being one of them. (though I should mention that it was a great help at the time).

  14. It has been a long time since I was in university. When I was university I got my books from the people one year ahead of me. I just hung around a student lounge in the faculty I studied in, a day or two before school started. When a guy I recognized as being ahead of me came along , I just asked if he still had any books from the courses I was taking this year, I got almost everything I needed, sometimes for free. Some even had old exams the professor had given in previous years., and passed them to me. Great aid in preparing for the profs exams this year.

    My favourite free text book was one for a course given by an aging professor. He had written a book for the subject of his course years ago. It was long out of print. However, his course followed the contents of that book with the occasional update. Each year a student would put a check mark beside passages, in the copy that I got, to indicate that he had emphasized that passage in class. That way the next student to own the book could see what the prof thought was interesting and important.
    He would tell the same dry jokes in class every year,. Someone had written them down in the margins of the book. Each year a student would put a check beside the joke to indicate that he had told it again.
    I did my duty, placed my check marks in the book , and passed it down to another student the following year.

  15. @Mike – Good advice. The department lounge is a great way to find books on the cheap, either by directly asking a senior (as you did) or looking on the message board often posted in the hall.

    The perenial book story is hillarious! It would be interesting to track that book down and get some data from it. You mentioned the prof was aging, so is perhaps retired by now. End of an era.

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