Save money on college textbooks: buy used, rent, and try eBooks

Stephanie Kinkaid Assistant Director of the Wackerle Career and Leadership Center Monmouth College

Students entering college can expect to pay an average of $17,000 per year in tuition while those attending private college might be paying double that amount. While those figures seem daunting, adding textbook fees of up to $1,000 per semester to the total may be overwhelming. How can students save on textbooks? Savvy college students will save money by being resourceful, using the advice below.


Do contact your professors to find out which books are required

Many colleges post the ISBN numbers of required textbooks before the semester even begins. Getting these numbers as early as possible allows you to compare prices and shop around. If you are a returning student, you might even know the professors well enough to email them asking for required textbooks if you cannot find the ISBN numbers or titles posted online.

Do consider buying used textbooks

College bookstores offer used textbooks at greatly reduced prices. Students can purchase used books for up to 75% off new book prices. Remember that you need to check the condition of the book before purchasing. Look for missing pages and handwriting in the book that may make the book useless. You can purchase used books in your college bookstore or find them using online sources or local used bookstores.

Do check out online stores

If you have the ISBN numbers for your required textbooks, you can go onto any online used book marketplace and search the ISBN. Searching this way should provide you with the correct textbook you need. Make sure to inquire about the condition of the book before purchasing. To understand the savings, check out the difference in prices between new at the bookstore and used online. You can sometimes save up to 90% of retail costs.

Do rent textbooks

Most bookstores and even some online sources offer textbook rentals. This option is especially helpful for entry level courses requiring expensive books like math or science. Before renting, make sure you understand the rental contract. You may be asked to avoid marking in the book at all, and the book must be returned in the same condition in which it was received. If you rent online, make sure you also record the date when the item must be returned or you will be charged the full amount for the book.

Do see if your textbook is offered as an eBook

Because most students have laptops, tablets, and eReaders, this option may be a possibility. Check online to see if your book is available through the storefront where you usually purchase eBooks and eMagazines.


Do not forget about social networks

Do you use Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks? If so, you may be able to purchase and sell books using these options. Some colleges even have Facebook groups for students seeking to barter and swap textbooks. Check it out and be smart when it comes to any online money transactions.

Do not ignore your school library

Most colleges have copies of textbooks available in the library or in inter-library loans. This might be a useful option for the first two weeks of class until you can purchase your books or receive any books shipped to you from an online order.

Do not neglect to consider sharing books

If you are friends with someone in your class, or you and your roommate take the same class, consider sharing the cost and use of a textbook. This is a great way to save money, but will only work if you schedule study times. Also, make sure to check with your professor. Some instructors require that each student bring the textbook to class. 

Do not ignore older versions of textbooks

Textbooks are updated every few years, but most times, very little content has changed. Ask if your professor is opposed to you using an older version of the book. To prove how much this option saves, check out prices of older generation textbooks online. You can find some paperbacks for as little as $.99 on Amazon or ebay.

Do not forget that some textbooks are free

Flat World Knowledge is an online source that offers some textbooks as downloadable free versions. Another option is Over 200 colleges now use this resource for students. The titles available are limited, but it does not hurt to check. Who knows? Your book might be on the list!

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Although textbook costs continue to rise, being resourceful can save money. By networking on social media, renting books in college and online stores and buying used in your college bookstore, you can make the most of your budget. Being thrifty when purchasing textbooks means you have more money for tuition and pizza!

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Stephanie KinkaidAssistant Director of the Wackerle Career and Leadership Center

Stephanie graduated from Illinois State University and has been employed with Monmouth College since 2007. She has a background as a mental health professional and has worked with thousands of college students as they prepare for the future. Her...

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