Cheap College Textbooks: Do I Buy New, Used, Rent or Online?

Every year, a crop of new students arrives on college campuses. One thing that can provide a sticker shock is the price of textbooks. After all, most high school students use texts provided by the school. As a result, they don’t understand that their book expenses can be quite high – and that they’ll be buying new books every semester.

One of the most common questions we hear from students who are worried about their finances is this:

"Where can I buy cheap college textbooks?"

That’s an important question to ask. You have several options when it comes to saving money on textbooks. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each.

New Textbooks at Your College Bookstore

Probably the easiest way to get textbooks for your classes is to buy them at your campus bookstore. Every college has one and you can be sure that they will have the required texts in stock. You’ll also be getting a clean, unblemished textbook to use – something that may be a priority for you.

The downside of buying new books is that they are likely to be expensive. As a customer at a college bookstore, you’re part of a captive audience. They know you need the books and the prices are unlikely to be discounted. It’s not the best way to get cheap textbooks, but if having new books is important to you, then you may want to try it.

Used Textbooks at Your College Bookstore

The next option is a good one for many students. Some campus bookstores will buy used textbooks back from students and resell them. If you don’t mind a book that has another student’s notes and highlights in it, then buying your books used can be a good way to get cheap college textbooks.

The biggest downside of buying used books is that you may find that you need to work around highlights and other markings made by the book’s previous owner. Some students mind that more than others. If you buy a used book in person, you can flip through it and get a feel for its condition. Keep in mind that some students who know they’ll be reselling their books may be careful about making marks in them – and you might find a book that’s nearly as good as new for a low price.

The Alumni Approved College Handbook for Incoming Freshmen

Rental Textbooks

The option of renting textbooks is something that might not have occurred to you. However, there are places to do it – and it offers some potential benefits. The biggest is that renting a college textbook is almost always less expensive than buying one. You won’t need to worry about finding a buyer at the end of the year, either – you’ll simply return the book. Renting is a good option if you’re reasonably sure you won’t want to keep a textbook when your class ends.

The downside of renting textbooks is that you can’t mark the books up in the same way you could if you bought them. Also, if you decide that you want to keep the book, then you’ll need to go out and buy one – and the cumulative cost of the rental plus the cost of a textbook can make the whole endeavor more expensive than it needs to be.

Buying Cheap College Textbooks Online

The final option you have is to buy your college textbooks online. In many cases, the cost of a new textbook may be significantly lower at a big online retailer like Amazon, than it would be if you bought it at your college bookstore. You can even have the books shipped directly to your dorm room, making this in many ways the least labor-intensive option of the four we’ve presented.

You can also buy used college textbooks online, but there are some risks associated with doing so. When you buy a used text at your college bookstore, you can hold the book and flip through to ascertain its condition for yourself. If you buy a used textbook online, you must take the seller’s word for its condition. Even if they post photographs of some of the pages, you won’t really know what you’re buying until the book arrives.

A related option is to buy or rent digital versions of your textbooks online. The downside of using a digital book is that, in some cases, the page numbers may not match those in the printed version. However, most digital book readers do allow highlighting and notes. It may take some getting used to, but digital books can be an affordable alternative to printed textbooks.

Finding cheap college textbooks can be a good way to make the most of your money while you’re attending college. You may want to buy new textbooks for courses in your major and try used books or rentals for electives.

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