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evelrod (Automotive)
26 Jun 08 15:09
I can't think of a better place to ask such a question than this forum....

I was going through some old boxes and ran across my first semester book receipt...some $250 or so.  That was in the 50's and it was quite a burden for a high school grad managing a gas station for a buck an hour to handle.  A lot of used books and a used slide rule and drafting kit made up most of the bill.  Does anyone have an idea what it would cost today?  Just curious as it won't make me "un-retire" and go back to school.  Just curious what others paid...I suspect I got off cheap.

swearingen (Civil/Environmental)
26 Jun 08 15:22
I graduated in '94 and I always budgeted $100 per class for books.  The books normally ran about $80 or so, but you'd have the occasional one that hit $120 or more.  My worst case was my steel design class.  The text book was $90 and the AISC manual (required) was $132, $222 + tax for ONE CLASS!  I asked the prof which one I could do without and he said that I'd use the manual the rest of my career - ditch the text and get my homework problems from someone else.  To this day, I do not have a steel text on my shelf, but I've now collected a first edition copy of every AISC manual printed since 1927!

If you "heard" it on the internet, it's guilty until proven innocent. - DCS

vc66 (Mechanical)
26 Jun 08 15:30
I graduated in 2006, and I think I spent about $700/semester on books alone. Aside from the obvious giant text books ($80-$150 per class), there were always workbooks, and specific things necessary for every class. Now that I'm less naive, I realize that it was all bullocks. Funny how college is supposed to be a service institution. They serviced me out of about $7000 worth of books.  


SomptingGuy (Automotive)
26 Jun 08 15:34
You guys are all being systematically fleeced.

There were some "recommended" texts on our course, but none required.  I bought a few (2-3 per year max) at £10-£20 each (in 1987-1990).  None were any real use then or now.

- Steve

ivymike (Mechanical)
26 Jun 08 15:58
I had a similar experience to the earlier posts... $100/book, rare to use a book for more than a class or two (although many were kept as reference).  

I had one professor who had put together his own course materials, and sold them via the campus copying store for about $7/"book."  He earned many points from me for that... and the "textbook" always had just the right material in it for the course (whereas many others had multiple chapters and subjects which were skipped by the profs, due to outdatedness, redundancy, or lack of time in the course).
Twoballcane (Mechanical)
26 Jun 08 16:24
Just a side note, it is not just books these days, but also you need a laptop on top of books.  The reach of a college education is getting farther and farther from the everyday people!

"If you avoid failure, you also avoid success."  

KENAT (Mechanical)
26 Jun 08 17:10
I'm with sompting, I brought a bunch in my first Semester.  Turned our our profs rarely worked from them so each year I bought less.  Not sure I got any in my 3rd year.

KENAT, probably the least qualified checker you'll ever meet...

Unotec (Chemical)
26 Jun 08 17:44
That's what those dark places are for..., discos... no, whor.... NO LIBRARIES!!!! Took me two years to get my library card, though

<<A good friend will bail you out of jail, but a true friend
will be sitting beside you saying " Damn that was fun!" - Unknown>>

RossABQ (Mechanical)
27 Jun 08 11:33
My son is currently in ChemEng school, and it is possible to keep a semester's books down to $500 - 700 if you shop Amazon based on ISBN #'s, but the prof's (who coincidentally write the books) revise them frequently enough that you take a chance if you don't buy the absolute latest revision (with all the mistakes fixed) for $175+.  It's pure and simple a scam.  

I put myself though college earning about $2500/yr in '70 - '74.  Tuition and fees were about $500 a semester, dorms were around $750 a semester. Books were never more than $150 a semester. I graduated free and clear.  I recently interviewed a kid who had $120,000 in student loans from a 4-yr BSME.  I asked how that was possible?  He went to a small private school in the East.  I never heard of it, certainly not a high-profile school, and asked why he went there.  He said they had a great hockey program...he didn't make the cut for the job.
MechEng2005 (Mechanical)
27 Jun 08 13:30
I graduated in 2005 and usually figured on $500 per semester for books. As Twoballcane pointed out, there was also a cost for a laptop. The school I went to required every engineering major to buy a laptop from the school. The laptop was loaded with all the software necessary (slightly different for each major). I think this cost was somewhere around $500 per semester for the laptop. One laptop was used for the first 2 years, and a new one issued for years 3-4. Upon graduation, students did get to keep the laptop, but it was formatted with basically only the OS left on it (no MS Office either). I found the laptops not to hold up well, partly because I believe the school was used to test new models, and they may have had some bugs to work out.

Today, the screen on my laptop flickers, and it doesn't realize there is a battery, so it has to be plugged in. I'm sure years of hauling it around in a school bag with books didn't help, but it's still disappointing. I only keep it around because it has a video output, so I have it hooked up to my TV and can play the videos I download from the internet (MIT's opencourseware is awesome!). Unfortunately, it's not worth keeping an anti-virus subscription on, so I have to download to my desktop PC and use a USB device to transfer... One day I'll get a good laptop and throw that thing away!

-- MechEng2005
GregLocock (Automotive)
28 Jun 08 23:43
AVG antivirus is free and works. Unfortunately the latest free verson is a pain compared with the older version.


Greg Locock

SIG:Please see FAQ731-376: Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

SomptingGuy (Automotive)
29 Jun 08 5:27
So you pay huge amounts of money to go to a university that then requires you to buy specific books, many of which are written by university employees and have no alternatives.  And to cap it all off, you are required to buy your own computer from the school.

I can sum this up in one word: extortion.

- Steve

SomptingGuy (Automotive)
29 Jun 08 9:15
... just out of interest (and bewilderment).  How do they know whether you've bought the books and PCs?  What happens if you buy alternatives and still pass the exams?

- Steve

Trackfiend (Civil/Environmental)
29 Jun 08 9:17
I realized very early on in my undergrad to team up with a few classmates and share the costs of textbooks.  We would simply scan and copy needed sections of the text that was actually used by the professor.  In some cases, I didn't even buy a book due to financial constraints and simply went every other day to the bookstore and sat down with a copy and did my homework in the bookstore's coffee lounge.

It's definitely extortion to the extent that a new version is released nearly every semester now (twice a year).  That's just plain stupid.  I was also lucky enough to have a few professors who would work out deals with the distributors and use their university "discount" to buy in bulk and then resell to the students at a lower cost.  These professors were actually concerned about our education and tried every avenue in helping us to achieve our goals.
bpattengale (Civil/Environmental)
30 Jun 08 11:47
I graduated in 2006 was paying anywhere between 400 and 700 a semester in college for books.  I could get them used or off of and that helped but they didn't always have what I needed. Our professors were pretty reasonable about what books they requrired and most I still have as they serve as excellent refrences. I can also study the chapters and topics that were skipped in class due to time constraints.

College costs in general are getting out of control. My freshmen year my tuition was around 1400 a semester by the time I graduated it was closer to 2200 and they upped it another 10% that year. Our tuition had a double digit increase every year. I worked full time through college and I still have 20,000 in student loans.
MechEng2005 (Mechanical)
30 Jun 08 13:31
GregLocock: Thanks! I'll have to check that out.

As far as not buying the books/laptop... The books are a definate possibility as mentioned by sharing, etc. I even found a few classes that I did (unfortunately) buy the book for, and then just went to the school library to use older textbooks because they were more clear and understandable than the course textbook.

Also, for a Pro-E class I took I was able to get the book at It is an "e-book," but obviously if you were doing anything in that class you were on the PC. The book was about 1/2 the cost of a hardcopy.

As far as the laptop, I don't know that not purchasing the school PC from the school would be possible. It was required, and you would probably have a pretty good fight on your hands to try to get the school to let you off not buying it. Also, a lot of the software was needed for the courses and would cost a lot to buy, so I don't know that much would be saved. Perhaps if student versions could be used. Otherwise it may just mean spending a lot more time on-campus in the computer labs. Although, I don't think all the software on the laptop was on the PCs in the computer lab, and sometimes it was hard to find an open PC in the computer labs. Also, all the PC labs had classes at some time, so you'd could be interrupted and have to leave occasionally. Not to mention data taking during labs. Sometimes I suppose it could be handwritten and the put in Excel later, but sometimes the equipment hooked directly up to the laptop. You could have a friend take the data and upload at the PC lab I suppose.

Overall, you'd have to fight the school to be allowed not to buy their laptop, wouldn't save much money, and it could cause a lot of hassles (not something stressed-out students need more of!). I do think the school could do a better job of bringing the price down, by negotiating better based on the large quantity purchased. Also, there was some expensive software on the laptops that was rarely used, that could have just been in PC labs, not on the laptops.

-- MechEng2005
davefitz (Mechanical)
30 Jun 08 13:53
just check any eng college webpage for financial estimates of cost to educate a new student. Tuition + $30 K seems to be the routine estimate.
Helicopterjunky (Materials)
30 Jun 08 14:33
Have two kids in college now.  Both require about $700 or slightly more per semester for books.  That's almost three grand per year for books.   
cksh (Mechanical)
1 Jul 08 12:05
I graduated in 05 and was paying around 140 for my engineering books.  Around that time some of the clsses started making laptops mandatory (school configured laptops of course).  So we had to pay a security deposit to "borrow" a laptop from the school for the year.  To new students this didn't sound like a bad deal.  But I had been there so long I knew they had raised the tuition about 80 bucks/credit to cover those costs years earlier. is great.  Couldn't always find what I wanted but saved me a bundle in the long run.  I was also able to sell my books back.  I do have to give some of my instructors a thumbs up because they went out of their way to help students use books that were a revision or two old.
AMN4 (Civil/Environmental)
1 Jul 08 13:16
It sticks in my mind that we used to call it the "crook" store. I graduated in '93 and the prices were typically $70-80 a pop for a big engineering textbook. At the end of the semester, they would offer to buy your books back at deeply discounted prices (likely much less than what they were really worth).

They have some kind of deal with Barnes and Noble now where you can go on-line and purchase what you need.
swearingen (Civil/Environmental)
1 Jul 08 14:41
You do get the occasional break -

While in school going for an ME Masters, I took an elasticity class.  When I called the book store and asked if they had it and what the price was, she said, "Sure - it's twelve fifty."  Just KNOWING she left a decimal place off, I went to the store prepared to shell out heavy bucks only to find out that the book was a small paperback and was indeed $12.50.

It's a good little book, if you're interested:  Elasticity - Tensor, Dyadic, and Engineering Approaches, Chou & Pagano

If you "heard" it on the internet, it's guilty until proven innocent. - DCS

RossABQ (Mechanical)
1 Jul 08 22:17
One of the later wrinkles re: laptops is that many large classes (> 50) no longer use an overhead projector like they used to;  they broadcast the prof's desktop via WiFi, so you have to have a laptop to follow along.   
HgTX (Civil/Environmental)
2 Jul 08 15:48
Starting college as a putative ME (didn't happen) in 1986, I paid $50 per big fat calculus or physics book (which we got to keep using for three or four semesters; fortunately they did not make us change editions midway through the program), somewhat less for smaller books.  First semester was about $250 or maybe $300.  Sounds like evelrod got shafted--but then back in those days you probably had to buy books of tables that these days are covered by calculators.

Years later when I want back to engineering school, after someone had borrowed my big fat calculus and physics books and allowed them to get stolen, I had to pay much, much more to buy new ones.  These days I'd estimate $100/book.  Maybe $200 for the big fat ones.


Eng-Tips policies:  FAQ731-376: Forum Policies

evelrod (Automotive)
2 Jul 08 22:09
What was a 'calculator' in 1958?  Was it one of those things you punched in numbers and pulled the handle to get the answer on a little roll of paper tape? ;o)
yes, we had all sort of log books, tables, work books, etc. plus the fact that we were not allowed any electronic aids, only a slide rule.  Tuition was cheap as I was a Texas resident...something like $50 per semester as I recall (might be wrong on that) and just small fees for labs and such.  The only class I took that required NO expense was Military Science...that one almost got me into the Vietnam experience.

As to 'shafted' in 58...hmmmm, no 'cause I now know what 'shafted' feels like.  58 was closer to 'messaged'.

Lion06 (Structural)
3 Jul 08 20:02
I graduated in 2006 and I allotted $100/class for books until I discovered  After that I only spent an average of $60/class for books.
I ended up buying A LOT more books than were required for class.
I have 3 steel text books (waiting on my fourth when S&J 5th edition comes out), 3 concrete books, 3 strength of materials books, 2 structural anaylsis books.  The moral of the story is this: go to the bookstore and write down the titles and editions of the books you need (maybe even an ISBN number) and go check out the internet.  I've had especially good luck using
JaredS (Structural)
7 Jul 08 12:25
I just graduated, and I quit buying books from the bookstore after dropping 1500$ one semester, although I only took 24 hours that semester....

Since then I only purchased books for classes that I suspected the book would be necessary or valuable. One semester I only paid 50$ for books, but I borrowed friends books rather often that semester.

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