13 Free Online Sources to Help You Through School

Whether you’re struggling with a particular class or just want to expand what you know, these 13 sites can give you a library’s worth of information right from your laptop.

1. U.C. Berkeley Webcasts

Get podcasts and webcasts of current and archived courses at the University of California, Berkeley, and both live and on-demand webcasts of notable appearances, campus events, and prominent speakers and lectures.

2. MIT Open Courseware

Choose from over 1,700 courses spanning MIT’s entire curriculum, and download free lecture notes, exams, problem sets, labs, video lectures, video demonstrations, and more.

3. Wikipedia

Almost every significant event, person, place and thing has a page on the Wiki. Just remember that Wikipedia is a user-generated and user-monitored site, so what you’re reading may not necessarily have passed a thorough review for accuracy. Wikipedia’s a great place to start when you want to know more about pretty much anything, but you may not want to rely on it as the main reference source for your term paper.

4. Podcast Alley

A directory of over 36,000 podcasts, Podcast Alley lets you search for podcasts by key words or by category. Find hundreds of language-learning choices in the Education section, Mac Attack weekly tips and tricks for your Mac in the Technology section, or The Naked Scientists’ plain-English answers to your science questions in the Science & Medicine section.

5. YouTube

Sure, you can kill time—and brain cells—watching Britney Spears going down in flames at this year’s VMAs, or witness what happens when you mix Diet Coke and Mentos. But you can also find an introduction to calculus functions, Arabic language lessons, and a series on how to create fire effects in Photoshop. Rely on other viewers’ ratings to help you filter out the YouTube junk from the truly useful.

6. Education Index

The Education Index puts a huge database of educational websites at your fingertips. Simply click on a subject like archaeology, political science, or military technologies, and instantly get a list of links to sites both general and specialized that hold a wealth of information.

7. HowStuffWorks

From the light bulb to a rocket engine, HowStuffWorks breaks down how almost anything works with diagrams and easy-to-follow explanations. Don’t have an engineering streak in you? Check out “How the Batmobile Works,” “11 Stupid Legal Warnings,” or “What if everybody in the United States flushed the toilet at the same time?” No matter what you’re wondering, HowStuffWorks probably has an answer.

8. The History Channel

Surf through video galleries, timelines, maps, celebrated speeches, significant moments, and “This Day in History.” Enter in your birthday, and learn what’s happened throughout the years on the month and day you were born.

9. Dr. Math’s Math Forum

The Dr. Math forum answers thousands of common math questions, from elementary school to college level problems. Users submit their questions to the forum, and Dr. Math will post a response. If you’re having trouble in math class or with a problem set, it can help to read through old posts on the subject—chances are someone else has had the exact same problem you’re having.

10. Science

Not just for science geeks, the online version of the popular Science magazine offers thought-provoking and easy-to-read articles on everything from advances in neuroscience and astronomy to the latest in HIV research to “did you know” conversation starters, like why it makes evolutionary sense for certain animals to eat their young or why broccoli rubbed on your skin can help prevent sunburn damage.

11. Google News

Why pick and choose between news websites when you can harness the power and variety of all of them? Google News is a news aggregator that pulls all the top stories from thousands of news sites. You can use the power of Google search to find specific news items, browse standard categories like Health, Entertainment, and Top Stories, or personalize your Google News homepage and add custom categories of your own based on key words you choose.

12. www.chemistry.about.com

Articles, diagrams, walkthroughs and Q&As at About.com cover both the chemistry basics for new students and more specialized questions for more advanced students.

13. Education Arcade

Home to educational video and trivia games suited for middle school to college students, Education Arcade is entertainment that works your brain. In one of their augmented reality games, you can use GPS-enabled handheld computers to interview virtual characters and conduct large-scale environmental analysis to try to uncover the source of a simulated toxic spill.

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Free! Google Book Downloader

Thanks to Google’s drive to add more and more books to the Google Books project, including thousands of public domain volumes, you’ll find quite a nice selection to choose from. Google Book Downloader helps you download them to PDF.

Let’s get one thing out of the way from the start. Google Book Downloader will not let you pirate books. It will however let you download books that are flagged as full-access such as books in the public domain and books with limited-preview—although you’ll only get the preview parts, not the entire book.

While using the application isn’t as simple as say right clicking on a file and saving it, the difficulty level isn’t high. Once you’ve installed the application, fire it up, and feed it some books you want to download. Although the instructions for the Add dialogue box indicate you can use ISBN numbers, we didn’t have much luck with that. Since you’re already searching Google Books to find the books you want, you might as well cut and paste the URL for the book at Google Books—that method never failed.

Once you’ve added your books they’ll appear in the download queue. From there start the downloads and let it go. Occasionally as the application pulls down data you’ll need to enter a captcha to keep the pipeline open, but other than that it’s an unattended process. Check out the tutorial available here to get a more in-depth overview of the process and make sure you get off to the right start.

Google Book Downloader is freeware, Windows only and requires .Net Framework 3.5 SP1 or above.

GoogleBookDownloader [via HackADay]
Courtesy LH.

Chegg.com Textbook Rental Service

Does it bother you when you spend hundreds of dollars at your local college bookstore on books for your current semester? Does it bother you even more to find out that you get pennies back during the buyback period for what you paid so much for? Well if you are like many other college students who buy books and get frustrated when they find out that the book they paid $150 for is only worth $20 at buyback, then maybe renting textbooks would be an option for you.

I recently had the chance to try textbook rentals out for myself. Of course, since I was so use to purchasing textbooks, I was hesitant to try out rentals, but I gave it a shot anyway. I used Chegg Textbook Rentals for my books last semester. Overall, my personal experience with Chegg was positive. There were only a few things that bothered me about them, however it was not bad enough to make me stop doing business with them.

How Chegg Works

So how do textbook rentals work? With Chegg, you go onto their site and enter your ISBN number for the book that you need. They will display the book information if they have it in their inventory for rental. Keep in mind that they do not have every single book available for rent, however so far I have not had an issue with lack of inventory. Once the book information is displayed, you have the option to rent the book for a semester, quarter or summer session. You can even alter the dates to match the class dates for your school. Once you have the book you want, you do the traditional checkout by entering your credit card information for payment of the rental. You will receive your book within seven to ten days. You will also be given the return date when you are due to send your book back to Chegg. There are no shipping charges for returning books back; you just log on to Chegg, print out a label and return the book(s) via UPS.

Money Saved

When I first checked out Chegg’s rental prices, I was a little skeptical. The prices were so cheap that I thought it couldn’t possibly be right. I just did not understand how a brand new textbook at my college bookstore cost $160 but Chegg was going to rent it to me for a semester for $55. However I ordered the books anyway and my total rental for four classes was $232. I rented books for four classes. The cost of the books for me to purchase brand new from my college bookstore would have been $562.

Customer Service

Chegg’s customer service department is excellent. I had an issue where I did not receive a specific book that I ordered. I sent an email to Chegg through their ‘contact us’ link on their website. Within twenty-four hours, I received a phone call from one of their customer service representatives offering to help resolve my issue ASAP.

Going Green

Chegg has jumped on the going green bandwagon and for every book that you rent, they plant a tree to try to preserve the environment. It is true that we are destroying our planet and Chegg is trying to do their part to save it.

Other Important Notes

  • Chegg has a buyback program. If you have college textbooks, you can see if Chegg will purchase them. You will receive cash or a Chegg credit.
  • The books that Chegg rents are in excellent condition. The ones I had even looked brand new and there was no writing or highlighting in any of the books I used.
  • Chegg has a purchase option. You are able to convert your rental to a purchase by paying additional charges.
  • There is a thirty-day refund guarantee, just in case you drop a class or your class is canceled for some reason.
  • Chegg does charge late fees for late returns so keep that in mind when renting your book. However in my experience, the return date for my book was three weeks after the last day of the semester so there was no reason for my book to be late getting back to Chegg.

My only complaint with Chegg was that they send some of their books via third party shippers. So you may order five books and receive two from Chegg, one from another company, and the other two from another company. They do advise that you may receive multiple shipments, however they try their hardest to be sure you have tracking information for each of the shipments.

Overall, Chegg is a great alternative for students on a budget. It is perfect for students who do not keep their textbooks for reference and for students who do not write in their books. Before you buy, check out Chegg for rentals. You may save yourself a chunk of change simply by doing what people have been doing throughout time: borrowing.

Saving Money: 50 Tips for College Students

Being a college student usually means living and surviving on a cheap budget. Some of you may be pretty good at pinching your pennies and getting by, while others take out student loans and get themselves further into debt. Either way, all of us could use some additional advice and ideas on stretching our dollar just a bit further.

Check out these 50 ideas on ways to save money:

    FOOD & DRINK

  1. Learn how to cook your own meals, it’s healthier and you’ll save money.
  2. Don’t get a meal plan, the cafeteria food isn’t usually that great anyways.
  3. Bring your own snacks/water to class instead of buying them on campus. Stay away from vending machines.
  4. Bring your own lunch to school. If you do it right, you can usually make it a healthier lunch than what is offered in the cafeteria.
  5. If you have a meal plan, actually use it.
  6. Eat Ramen Noodles.
  7. Don’t get soda when you go out to eat.
  8. Don’t go to Starbucks.
  9. Buy food in bulk. Get a Costco card with your roommates and get bulk discounts.
  10. Find events on campus that offer free food for attending. Follow those “Free Pizza” signs!
  11. HOUSEHOLD EXPENSES

  12. Have a roommate (so you can split expenses).
  13. Shop at Walmart, Dollar Stores, and thift stores.
  14. Shop at garage sales on the weekends for any household items you may need.
  15. Put on more layers of clothing instead of turning up the heat.
  16. Buy generic brand items.
  17. TEXTBOOKS

  18. Buy used textbooks.
  19. Buy textbooks online. Maybe even consider buying the e-book version of the textbook.
  20. Check the library for your required books, you may get lucky!
  21. Sell back your textbooks.
  22. TRANSPORTATION

  23. Use public transportation. Being a college student, you can usually ride for free or at a reduced rate.
  24. Don’t get a car. They are a huge expense and cost a lot in insurance and gas.
  25. Ride your bike. Except for commuter students, no one needs a car on campus for daily use.
  26. Live close to campus and use the campus shuttles to save on gas.
  27. ENTERTAINMENT

  28. Instead of hitting the clubs, try and find house parties.
  29. Keep an eye out for free activities on campus. Most college campuses have free entertainment almost every night. For example: some colleges have a weekly movie night that is free to all students.
  30. Borrow movies from the library. The library has a large collection of movies for students to check out.
  31. COLLEGE EXPENSES

  32. Fill out the FAFSA every year.
  33. Take a look at your college bill. Certain fees are optional. If you won’t be using your college’s fitness center, remove the fee.
  34. Depending on dorm prices, it may be cheaper just to get an apartment. (See: Most Expensive College Dorms)
  35. Don’t buy anything from the school’s bookstore. Some of the prices they charge are outrageous.
  36. Go to a community college and get your core classes completed, then transfer to a 4-year college for required classes for your degree. Make sure all your credits will transfer.
  37. Do not use student loans for anything that is not school related. It’s tempting to rack up your credit and loans, knowing you’ll eventually pay it back. However, you have no idea how the economy will look when you graduate and you don’t want to be in massive debt while job searching.
  38. Test out of classes. For a small fee you can usually take a test to fulfill certain class requirements. Think of the cost you’ll save on tuition.
  39. Finish in three years if you can.
  40. Apply for financial aid early.
  41. Get good grades so you qualify for certain (typically merit-based) grants and scholarships.
  42. Work as a Resident Advisor and get free room and board.
  43. Take as many credits as allowed every term.
  44. Research your school for scholarships. That means taking a look at the website, contacting the admissions office, scholarship office, and faculty to see what’s available. Use every resource you have to get the big scholarships while keeping your eyes open for smaller, but still substantial ones. Look for scholarships in the area of your major. Most professional organizations will have scholarships to encourage students to stay in that field.
  45. Take advantage of student services. There are plenty of free programs that assist you while going to school. From health care to transportation, there are many different ways to save money.
  46. Take advantage of things that are already paid for, such as on-campus meals and library services.
  47. Get a job first and have your employer pay for your schooling.
  48. Don’t go to these colleges.
  49. MONEY TIPS

  50. Only buy what you need. Don’t buy on impulse.
  51. Don’t get a credit card. It’s not necessary and you’ll end up paying a high interest rate.
  52. If you do decide to keep a credit card on hand, pay for things with cash as much as you can. Don’t run up credit card bills for trivial things.
  53. Open up a savings account that earns interest.
  54. Keep track of everything you spend. It really helps to know what you have coming in and going out.
  55. Take advantage of student discounts.
  56. Not only should you try to save money, but you should also try to make money! Get a campus job. There are several jobs that have very little responsibility, believe it or not, and many times you can do your homework during this time. There are typically many jobs available on campus and most are pretty flexible with your class schedule.

Free College Textbooks

The cost of college textbooks can be surprising and frustrating to a student already burdened with high tuition costs and assorted college fees. The source for most college textbooks is the college bookstore, where students often find high-priced new textbooks and moderately-priced used books. There are still a few ways that college textbooks are available free of charge.

Library: Nearly every college keeps copies of the most popular textbooks in the library. The downsides: Most libraries don’t have enough copies to meet the demand for free textbooks. They usually won’t let students check out the books; if they do, there can be a waiting list for the most popular texts.

Professors’ copies: Some professors keep an extra textbook in their offices. It doesn’t hurt to ask professors if they’ve got an extra they can lend. The downside: No one likes being hounded by dozens of students looking for free books, so be polite to your prof.

Online: Any student assigned a book that is no longer copyrighted—typically classic literature, history, etc.—should be able to find the text free online at one of the many growing Web libraries such as Project Gutenberg, Bartleby, or Googlebooks. Many of these Web sites let readers download the texts to a laptop, iPhone, or similar device.

Several open educational resources groups such as Connexions and the Open Educational Resources Consortium, which are made up of college officials and professors, are starting to post free textbooks and lessons online. Flatworld Knowledge, a start-up, has posted 11 business-oriented textbooks, which are being used in more than 300 colleges, free on its Web page in the hopes of persuading students to pay $29.95 for paper versions or $39.95 for audio versions.

The downsides: Although many high-quality, free E-textbooks are in the pipeline, only a handful of the free E-books currently available are top-notch. In addition, many E-books can be read online only, so you can’t download them to your laptop. Many E-books don’t allow students to make notations in the text. Also, some surveys show many students find paper books easier to study than the current generation of E-textbooks. And students who buy Kindles or other expensive E-book readers often end up spending more than those who buy paper books. The top Kindle currently retails for $489, which could easily eat up at least a year’s savings from shifting to E-books. “We don’t think that a textbook E-reader will solve any problems unless we can ensure that content can be delivered to students in a fair and affordable manner,” says Nicole Allen, textbook advocate for the Student Public Interest Research Groups.

Freecycling and Web-swapping: Several Web sites have sprung up to help students find free textbooks. Textbook Revolt, a Web site started by two former University of Cincinnati students, has thousands of students offering to swap textbooks free. Bookins.com is a popular book-swapping site. Swaptree allows people to swap books, CDs, or movies for textbooks. The downsides: Most of these sites are still comparatively small, so few in-demand textbooks are on offer. And all Internet transactions are fraught with the potential of misrepresentation or fraud.

Other Interesting Sites:

http://www.freeloadpress.com

http://www.textbookrevolution.org/