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A Major Investment: Which Major Has the Most Expensive Textbooks?

most expensive textbooks

It’s a new semester. You’re milling around your campus bookstore, your tired eyes are scanning over the price tags, and you’re wondering what could possibly make your required textbooks cost so much money.

If you’re a college student, you’re liable to pay nearly $1,000 a year on course materials, supplies, and technology required for your classes. 

There are many factors in the pricing of textbooks, like how often volumes are updated, who publishes the book, or what major you’re in.

That’s right; your major will wildly affect the amount of money you spend on textbooks. 

What majors have the most expensive textbooks?

Keep reading to find out what degree will drain your wallet the most and why, and how you can cheat the system to save cash. 

1. Expensive Textbooks—What Gives?

First, you should understand the different aspects that can cause expensive textbook prices. 

Sometimes it has to do with the course material itself. A history class on ancient Egypt wouldn’t warrant as much updated information as a history class on contemporary military advancements. Subjects that are constantly changing are bound to have the most expensive textbooks. 

The price of your textbooks may also have to do with where you’re buying them. A good portion of the money you spend on expensive textbooks not only goes to the publisher but also to the bookstore itself

If you want to avoid those extra fees your university bookstore may add, you can buy your textbooks online and save up to 95% on the expensive books in your course load. 

Most expensive college textbooks are pricey because of copyright protections that allow only one company to publish the text. This is why a specific textbook for a concentrated class costs so much more than a copy of an old classic that you need to read for a general education English course.

2. Majors With the Most Expensive Textbooks

Only the sincerest sympathy for anyone who chose (or will choose) any of these majors:

  • Biochemistry – One of the best biochemistry books, simply titled “Biochemistry,” could cost around $400 at your university’s bookstore. Never mind the technology and equipment required for some biochemistry courses. 
  • Economics – Don’t laugh! The economy is constantly changing, which warrants new editions of the same textbooks each year. Some economic majors spend over $500 on a single book.
  • Media and Communications – Media and communications majors dabble in a lot of different job options: journalism, public relations, copywriting, and the list goes on. It only makes sense that a major with such varying topics have some of the most expensive college textbooks at around $1,200 per book.
  • Philosophy – There are many areas you can branch off into when you major in something as vast as philosophy. Depending on what classes you take and what you want to get out of your degree, you could end up spending almost $1,500 on one textbook. 
  • Engineering – As for any major in the STEM field, engineering has some of the most expensive books out of any major, ranging from $500 to $1,500 depending on the course. 

3. Majors With the Least Expensive College Textbooks

Here are some of the lucky ducks who most likely spend less money on textbooks each semester:

  • Art History – It turns out that not much changes when most of your subject’s content is framed behind bulletproof glass in high-security museums. This lack of changing content allows most art history majors to spend less than $100 per course. 
  • Women’s & Gender Studies – Even though WGST courses vary greatly in content from one semester to the next, most departments are smaller which results in more personalized syllabi, therefore less textbooks are used.
  •  English – A great portion of English courses pull from old books with many publishers that can be found in almost any retail or online bookstore. Because of this, most English majors will spend around $115 for one class. 
  • Drama/Theatre – Excluding the study of newer films/plays/shows, most drama and theatre courses have taught the same fundamentals and classics for decades. You probably won’t spend more than $120 per class if you’re a drama/theatre major.
  • Music – If you want a degree in music, a lot of your courses will include theory and history, which never really changes. Your average book per class costs around $125. 

4. How to Save on Textbooks

It’s not likely that you’ll give up your lifelong dream of getting a degree in Economics just because the books are more expensive. If you’re stuck with expensive textbooks because of your major, here are some tips to rack up the savings:

  • Wait Before Buying – Many students have made the mistake of buying all their books before the semester begins to get it over with, just to have their professor announce in class that the texts on the syllabus aren’t required. Make sure you go to each class so you don’t buy a book you won’t need. 
  • Buy or Rent Online – can help you find the lowest price for the books you need, and you don’t even have to leave your room.
  • Sharing is Caring – If you don’t need one of those pesky access codes to complete coursework, buddy up with someone in class and split the cost of the required texts. 
  • Sell Your Used Books – There’s no excuse for hanging on to a textbook you don’t use anymore. Sell your old textbooks to earn extra cash, and save another pour soul some money on their next required textbook. 
  •  Skip the Book Altogether – Sometimes you just can’t afford to buy a certain book, don’t fret too much. First, email your professor about alternatives; some professors may be sympathetic and find you an alternative. If not, study apps like Quizlet may supply you with the information you need to pass the exams.

Don’t Let Your Degree Break the Bank

With rising tuition costs, expensive housing options, and meal plan prices, your wallet sees enough strife. Even if you don’t pick an expensive major, it’s time to get smart with your finances. 

Check out our FAQ’s to discover just how little you can pay for the most expensive textbooks in your course load. 

About the Author

Christopher Manns

I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have lived in the USA since the 90s. I love my family, water sports, ice hockey, skiing and soccer. When I'm not helping people save money on textbooks, I'm travelling with my wonderful family and playing sports.