I’ve been on a little bit of a graphing calculator kick here lately but its only because Graphing calculators are powerful tools! Once you get used to working with them, it is amazing how you will find yourself understanding things in a much deeper way. Even so, they are EXPENSIVE tools. If you decide to buy one of the more advanced models, you may find yourself spending more money than you did on the textbook!
So what are the alternatives? Well, don’t skip out on getting a hold of a graphing calculator if it is required for the course but DO talk to your professor to make sure you will actually use it. Sometimes, it is part of the syllabus only because the department wants professors to use it even though some of them don’t. Let’s say you know for sure you are going to need one – what can you do?
- Rent One! – For textbooks you have sites like Chegg and for calculators, you have Graphtor and RentCalculators.org. Both companies offer a cheap plan to get a hold of the popular TI series of calculators. My advice: if you only need one or two math courses then look into this – otherwise you might need it so long it won’t be worth it.
- Buy Used – I personally do not understand why anyone would buy a graphing calculator brand new. With a little planning, you can save a significant percentage off the new cost by buying one someone needed for just one class. I mean, just look at amazon’s prices! I have seen them sold even cheaper than this by students on campus as well.
- Skip it Completely – Maybe you know you won’t be taking many technical courses and your professor doesn’t require a graphing calculator but says it might help. There are plenty of free alternatives online that will help you graph equations and make routine calculations. One I have talked about before is http://www.wolframalpha.com/ and this calculator by desmos is one of the best free online graphing calculators I have seen!
Finally, if none of these options work, check with your college. Some have programs to loan calculators to students. This may be a part of the library or the math department. Don’t get discouraged! College is expensive, but think about it this way – learning to make things happen now will only help you later in life – look for those deals and ways to save your cash – you will not regret it!