Last week we introduced our spring blog series, Bookmark These: Must-Read Sites & Blogs for College Students. To kick things off, we focus our attention on the tremendously informative and delightfully irreverent HackCollege. Here’s the scoop:

HackCollege: Lifehacks & Study Tips for College Students


The Deal in a Nutshell: Inspired by, but independent of, the popular LifeHacker website, Hack College is all about “working smarter, not harder.”

Mission Statement: “HackCollege is educating the students of the world about effective, open source software, putting techno-political arguments in everyday language, and creating a cult of ‘Students 2.0.’ If we can change the way 1 percent of college students and faculty in the world view education and technology, we’ve done our job.”

What You’ll Find on the Site: Tech tips, lifestyle enrichment advice, software and other product reviews, recommended reading, blog entries and video of the HackCollege show, updates about the HC community getting together at conferences and concerts, musings on important issues to college students (politics, the environment, internships and jobs), and of course, beer and parties.

Why We Dig It: Hack College is the perfect balance of serious and fun. There’s a ton of practical advice and great resources, and it’s all presented in a slick and enjoyable way. The site is organized, easy to navigate, and loaded with quality content. It’s tech savvy without being prohibitively geeky, serious without ever being a buzzkill, professional without being uptight, and the vibe is honest and chill but never lazy or apathetic. It’s clear that Kelly and the other HackCollege contributors take their site seriously and are committed to helping fellow students make the most of their college experiences.

Bonus Bit o’ Cool: HackCollege has been so successful that in November 2008, the creators reached across the pond and launched to share all of the HC goodness with students in the British Isles. While the content differs between the US and the UK versions so as to address regional particulars in higher education, much of the information contained in the UK version is applicable to students in the US, and vice versa. That said, double your hacktasticness and bookmark both versions to maximize the bennies that the HackCollege brand has to offer.


Welcome to March, which as we all know, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. To take some of the roar out of these final bitter weeks of winter and get you through to the more docile days of spring, we’ve decided to bring you a roundup of some of our favorite student-centric sites.

While there’s no shortage of college-focused websites and blogs containing relevant news, helpful tips and tricks, resources and reviews, slick multimedia, and suggestions for ways to help you study smarter (um, and to also distract you when you need a break from all-night chem cramming), we’ve narrowed it down to our 15 favorites, which we’ve listed below.

Stay tuned for upcoming blog entries starting next Wednesday when we’ll dive deeper into some of these sites and discuss why we consider them so indispensable. In the meantime, check out our fab 15 below and feel free to comment with suggestions of your own regarding must-reads for college students.


15 Must-Read Sites & Blogs for College Students

On February 24, Amazon will begin shipping its new second-generation wireless reader, a device that the Internet retail giant calls simply Kindle 2. In this installment of the blog, we’ll examine the device, with a focus on what the K2 means for college students considering it as a means for reading textbooks digitally.

Physically and Aesthetically: The Kindle 2 is slimmer, trimmer, rounder, and generally sexier and less clunky than the original, but it’s still no drool-worthy knockout in the looks department. In addition to being more attractive and ergonomic than its predecessor, K2 has abandoned the old-school up-down scroll-wheel in favor of a 5-way controller (basically a tiny joystick) for improved navigation. Using the controller and the QWERTY keyboard, users can make annotations to text and highlight and clip key passages, which is excellent for those of us who like to make notes in the margins. Unfortunately, there is a caveat and it’s a big one: Amazon says, “Due to PDF’s fixed-layout format, some complex PDF files may not format correctly on your Kindle.” Wait, my formatting might take a hit and the PDF issues that have been a constant complaint about the original Kindle still plague Kindle 2?

Display: Size (6″ diagonal) and resolution (600×800) remain the same as the original but K2 is now up to 16-level grayscale from the original device’s four. Text-size is now adjustable and page turning is supposedly 20% faster than on the original Kindle. Okay, clearly the emphasis is on sharpness of text and paper-and-ink look rather than graphics. While this is assuredly an improvement and a cool thing for readers of literature and periodicals trying to replicate the page-turning experience, it doesn’t satisfy users who need color representations of images and graphs and illustrations. Bottom line, grayscale, no matter how many shades or layers, isn’t going to cut it with textbooks and it seems pretty passé in 2009.

Storage: Big change here, one that will please some users while annoying others. The original Kindle had a small memory (256MB) and an SD card slot that allowed users to expand (and to some extent, file and organize) via removable cards. The Kindle 2 has much more internal memory (2GB, approximately 1.4 available for user content), but it does not have an SD slot, which means that when capacity is reached, it’s time to delete (or buy the new Kindle 3, which will undoubtedly be available at that time). Amazon says that the K2’s internal capacity holds “more than 1,500 books,” and I don’t doubt that, but I would venture to guess that those books are most likely not 450-page textbooks heavy on diagrams and illustrations.

Battery Life and Wireless: Amazon says that “with Kindle’s 25% longer battery life, you can read on a single charge for up to 4 days with wireless on, up to 2 weeks with wireless off. Connectivity relies upon Amazon Whispernet to provide wireless coverage via Sprint’s 3G high-speed data network.” All good there, and book downloads from Amazon’s Kindle Store look speedy (under a minute), but outside of that, Kindle’s Basic Web browser looks rather rudimentary and fit only for simple text-based websites such as Google and Wikipedia. Definitely not going to replace any iPhones or laptops.

New Goodies: A feature that bodes well for textbook reading is the inclusion of The New Oxford American Dictionary (250,000+ entries and definitions). Amazon describes the look-up process as non-interruptive, “simply move the cursor to it and the definition will automatically display at the bottom of the screen.” Another new feature I think worth mentioning is the addition of text-to-speech, a voice that Stephen King described as “a little bit like a GPS voice.” I view this enhancement much like I view the jump from 4 to 16-layer grayscale; that is to say that it’s good and necessary, but it’s not really enough. I mean, if you think your profs are boring during lectures and that reading a textbook is senses-numbing, imagine it all being spoken in GPS robot voice. Just saying…

Which brings me to my final assessment of the new Kindle 2: I think that the improvements and additions are excellent and much needed, but I still think that the device leaves a lot to be desired. In the K2, Amazon’s has done many things right and better, but not for an academic audience. For me, the lack of a color screen (and hey, what about a touchscreen?) is a major disappointment as is the limited internal capacity with no expansion slot.

If Amazon really wants to pave the way in digital reading, they’re going to have to satisfy the student demographic and develop a Kindle that seriously addresses what being a student means as well as the textbook-reading experience. Right now, what’s stopping the Kindle 2 from being that device is the vexing too-much-and-not-enough problem. The price is too much ($359 for the new K2 is not a price drop from the original and it’s simply prohibitively expensive for students), and the memory, graphics, and PDF capabilities are too little. When Amazon (or another company) delivers a digital reader that really caters to student needs, publishers will pay attention and be compelled to increase their digital offerings. What we have here is a case where technology could lead and set the precedent in terms of textbook delivery, interaction, and price. Unfortunately, the Kindle 2 is not the piece of technology that’s going to do that.


To start I have to say that does not support the illegal distribution of any materials but since it is currently happening in the textbook industry I feel the need to address it as a way for students to access information.  If not for the illegality, the idea makes perfect sense; a student buys a $150 book, copies all the pages and creates a PDF and then shares it with all their friends in class.

The concept of photocopying a book is nothing new.  The internet just allows the old photocopy to be scanned and shared with more people in a faster manner.  Years ago the big problem was students using university copy machines to make the copies!  At the time, the problem was not so widespread, and as long as the University made their ten cents a page they turned a blind eye.  As long as the university can still generate $20 for a 200 page textbook they didn’t care so much.  But converting those copies into a PDF file eliminates the need to pay for photocopies.

The prohibitive cost of photocopying a textbook that is a few hundred pages also kept the practice in check.  For thinner books this will probably suit you fine because the costs are nominal.  But if you are going to just print the book off so that you can read it you may want to give it some serious consideration as the overall cost could easily be more than simply buying that book online.  And don’t forget what you are doing is illegal and could have negative consequences.

Again, we have covered this in the past so I am just going to reference some old posts covering the topic.

Are eBooks right for me?  – Part 1
Are eBooks right for me? – Part 2

by: Jeff Cohen

There is great potential in this idea and I can definitely see it picking up steam over the next year as more and more people become aware of it.  In short, using an open source education system such as MIT Open Courseware project, will allow professors to write and share curriculum with each other.  This is actually very close to the original intent of those who first created the World Wide Web.  Professors can then collect the materials into a “packet” and share it with students in their classes.  As more professors join these groups to create study materials, more of their work will find its way into the classroom.

The one thing that might hold up this idea will be the competition that is bound to start between open courseware projects.  Each school is going to want to have the “premier” set of data.  This will ultimately lead to the information being split into different systems and programs (contrary to the original intent), making it harder for professors to pull everything together that they want.  Ultimately as the open source courseware becomes perfected there will be two or three dominant systems and eventually we will have another Beta Vs VHS (or Blu Ray vs HD DVD) as different schools and companies fight to create the dominant system for consolidating the data.

The goal of this project should be to create one single repository of information that can be used and shared, as the creators of the World Wide Web intended.  It’s taken 20+ years but maybe educators are finally getting back to the basics of how to use technology to improve the learning process.

The benefit for students is that initially this program will create free data.  Eventually however I am sure that many of these programs will offer a print on demand service that allows you to get a printed copy for a price, so enjoy it while it’s free.

by: Jeff Cohen

This is a solid concept with some meat behind it.  Students will access their textbook(s) online many times throughout the semester.  Each time the online text is opened a new impression is created which can then be sold to an advertiser.  This impression or registration information can be customized down to the local level allowing local campus businesses to advertise directly to students.  Perhaps after reading an online textbook for 2 hours that advertisement for a ½ priced cup of coffee at the campus coffee shop will be that much more effective.  The question repeatedly being asked is whether or not the pop up advertising will be too annoying for students to tolerate?

The beauty is that it doesn’t matter!  Here is the simple version of how an ad supported book works:  If you want the maximum discount for a book you will be forced to view it online with the full complement of ads.  The more you pay, the less advertising you see.  Need it in print?  Use a print on demand service for a nominal fee!  It is that easy.  In addition, if at any time during the process you don’t want to view ads any more you can pay the upgrade fee and opt out of the ads.

So what is the catch?  The biggest catch is that not many publishers have bought into the concept and not many textbook titles are available yet.  It’s probably just a matter of time though.  The ad supported model actually works better than “e-books” because a publisher doesn’t have to set an expiration date for the data because as long as the student logs in to view it, new impressions are created and advertising dollars are generated.

If the business model catches on I can really see this take off.  I would expect students to give an initial negative reaction to ads in the textbook but in reality it is no different than reading a facebook page or any other online article.  Not surprisingly, students have gotten good at ignoring the advertising message.

by: Jeff Cohen

Great, you sold your books back to vendors either through your school, friends, an off campus location or through, and you have cash in hand.  What are you going to do with it?  Why not give your dorm room a make over on the cheap?  Below is a list of suggestions from on how to update your room without spending a fortune:

  1. Add Color.  According to adding color to your room can give it a whole new look and feel.   Why not check out the Salvation Army or Goodwill for a “vintage” or “retro” new bedspread.
  2. Add a Plant.  Adding a plant can not only make your room look better but it’s helping the environment as well by producing clean air.  Why not pick one up at IKEA for $5 or under so you don’t feel so bad when you kill the first few.
  3. Try Going Green.  No not the color, try updating your dorm to be a little more eco friendly. recommends switching to a Brita water filter, or hemp or bamboo bedding. Another easy way is switching your light bulbs for compact florescent bulbs.  Not only are they cheaper but they last longer than regular bulbs.
  4. Make it Bigger.  Okay so you can’t change the size of your room but you can make it look bigger.  Try lofting your bed if you haven’t already it will save you a lot of space.  Add a mirror or two strategically placed mirrors can make the smallest room look bigger.

Happy Spending!  And good luck with the remodel!

by: Margaret Keag

Can textbooks really be free?  It’s a great concept and the topic generates plenty of coverage, but what does it really mean?  If you had asked me back in January 2008 what the buzz would be six months later I would have told you “textbook rental”.   I was pretty sure that the concept of rental was going to really take off and catch the media by storm.  I mean, what a great concept, you pay a lower price for your books getting the buyback value upfront and reducing your overall expense.  Don’t get me wrong, rental is still a great choice for students but the idea of renting textbooks never got picked up.  The media it seems, doesn’t seem to like things that are just cheaper, they want them to be free!

Unfortunately not everything in life can be free.  Professors still have to be paid for the intellectual property (their ideas) that textbooks are based on.  Photographers need to be paid for illustrations and images to make the book more interesting to read.  Editors and printers need to be paid to put the book together and the bookstore (or online marketplace) needs to be paid for distributing the book to you.  So, I guess if everyone wants to work for free then the textbook can be free as well?

As you see, to the dismay of many students, textbooks can’t be free.  So what is the real future of textbooks and how can we reduce those costs?  Let’s examine a few things that are going on right now.

Advertising Supported Textbooks – love this concept.  The student’s accesses an online version of their textbook and gets peppered with ads that help to reduce or eliminate the cost of the books

Torrents – A student buys the book, scans it in and then posts it online in a file share program for others to download.

eBooks – As we have well documented in our blog, this is a new market in which students can access online or download the textbook for use.

Open Source Textbooks – using open source file sharing warehouses, professors can create and share content which can then be used in place of the traditional textbook

All of these have potential to make a dent in the cost of textbooks but none of them will be the “textbook killer” that the media is looking for.

Over the next few weeks we will examine each of these and see what benefits they can bring and what pitfalls to be aware of.

By: Jeff Cohen

I am always surprised at how many college students feel that they want to hold on to their textbooks and not maximize there value by selling them at buyback.  Textbooks, like cars, are a depreciating asset.  The greatest value for a textbook is seen selling it as early as possible.

I remember standing in line one day and watching the people in my class sell back their book for $55 apiece.  When it was my turn they only offered me $20 for the same book.  What happened?  Why did I get less?  It is the basic laws of supply and demand.  The buyback program was only going to purchase so many copies back at the premium price.  Once those were purchased the offer price drops as the books are no longer being purchased for your campus, they are being purchased for the wholesale market.

So how do you get the most value for your books?  For starters you should have a sense of what the current online market looks like.  How many sellers are selling your textbook and what online buyers are currently paying for it?  This will help you make an informed decision while in the buyback line.

Next, sell you books back before your final class.  As soon as your test gets out everyone in your class will be running to the buyback counter to sell back books.  If you are not one of the lucky few who get to the line early you may not get the premium you are looking for.

Finally, don’t be stupid!  If they are offering you 30% – 50% of the value of the book sell it now, don’t hold it until later.  Your books will just sit on the shelf and collect dust for the next twenty years.  You will pack and move them five times and then realize the information is out of date and they are worthless.  We live in the information age where you can reference anything online; does that book really have a magical power that will help you succeed in a job?

By: Jeff Cohen

In some of our last posts on eBooks we explored the idea of total value (TV). But, what is it really and do students really care? We have all been in the situation of spending $150 for a book and at the end of the semester selling it back for $20. It kind of seems like a slap in the face to me. That slap gets even worse when someone else in your class goes to the same buyback station and gets $50 for the book. So how does this work? How can I get the most value for my books and what is the total value I am receiving? Over the next few weeks we will explore these ideas and try to provide you with ways to increase the total value you can get from your textbooks.

Total value is the cost of the book minus the amount you got by selling the book back at the end of the semester. The real cash you get is your “real” value but to determine how to apply it at the beginning of the semester you have to consider “perceived” value. This is making a calculated guess as to how much you will get back for the book at the end of the semester. Ultimately, it’s a gamble.

Guaranteed buyback – one way to determine what the future value of your textbook would be to shop at locations that offer an upfront buyback price. Some campus bookstores have begun this practice, as well as websites like and You simply buy the book from them and they will guarantee an end of semester buyback price. Return the book and receive that predetermined amount of cash.

Current Market Value – with a little research you can find out what the current market value of a textbook. This is done is two ways. First, check the current online buyback price. These quotes are only good for 10 to 30 days but it if the book currently has value the chances are that value should remain close to that level for the semester (but this is not a guarantee). Second, take a look at the current marketplace value. See how much people are selling the textbook for at sites such as or

Once you know the perceived value you can make a more informed decision.

By: Jeff Cohen