9 Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks

By on August 5, 2014

It’s not exactly a secret that college textbooks are outrageously priced. When first entering college, sticker shock is almost a given. Students are price gouged significantly at the college bookstore for a new edition and provided a pittance when selling the books back at the end of the semester.

With college tuition costs already ballooning over $15,000 a year at public universities (double that for private), spending an additional $500 to $1000 on new books each semester isn’t an option. There are a number of tricks and tips you can follow in order to avoid the horrific prices on campus.

1. Plan Ahead (to avoid the bookstore)

If you have waited to the last minute and are already a couple classes into the semester, you don’t have much of a choice other than spending insane amounts of money at the bookstore. However, if you plan ahead, you will be able to hit a number of other options first. The college bookstore should be your last option, not the first.


However, there are some exceptions to this rule. On occasion, the professor will request that students pick up an additional packet of information at the bookstore that’s supplemental material to the textbook.This packet is often provided for free or at a nominal cost since it’s simply a small stack of paper.

2. Wait Until Class Starts (or email early)

Unless the professor has specifically rolled out the update to a previous edition of a textbook he or she wrote, you may be able to get away with buying last year’s edition. Quite often, the professor will provide this tip during the first class when going over the class syllabus. You can also try emailing the professor early to check.

Of course, you won’t be able to find the old edition at the college bookstore. You will have to turn to third parties and online courses to locate the older edition. However, be wary of online sites that are still selling the edition as new and charging an exorbitant price (since some schools will be using that edition of the textbook rather than upgrading).

3. Check the Campus Library

While probably a longshot to acquire a copy, most campus libraries will keep a few of editions of the text book on hand to loan out to students. If you can manage to score one of these copies, it will save you a ton of cash, even if it’s only for a limited time.

If the copy of the book is currently on loan to another student, hop on the waiting list and the library will contact you when it’s returned. You can also check the interlibrary loan system to see if other branches have a copy on hand. If that’s the case, your school library can get that copy for you.

4. Considering Renting

The popularity of online textbook rental companies has increased dramatically over the last five years. While your local bookstore could offer a similar rental structure, the price will likely be higher than a company like Chegg. If timing is an issue, Chegg also provides a e-book version of the textbook while you are waiting for the physical copy to arrive.


Rental fees can often be as low as  50 percent cheaper than the cost of a new textbook and students will be able to hang onto those books all semester. Of course, students won’t be able to sell the books back at the end of the semester to recoup some of the cost.

5. Search for Used Copies

If the professor is using an older version of the textbook, you will be able to find cheaper copies of the textbook through online sources such as Amazon and eBay. My favorite site for searching for used, rental and new textbooks is BookFinder. Just enter a ISBN number and Bookfinder will spit out tons of listings and prices for the book.

Be aware that used copies could have some issues, like torn pages or handwritten notes in the margin. However, the condition of the copy will likely be noted within the posting.

6. Split the Cost with a Friend

Ideal if you are taking the same class as a roommate, sharing the cost on a used, rental or new textbook will be extremely helpful. Of course, you will have to create a study schedule to determine when each party should have access to the book.

You should also check with your instructor to see if the textbook is needed during class. While most professors simply provide instruction through a presentation, some may require you to read along in the textbook or take quiz questions in the book. In addition, some professors will allow you to use the textbook during tests, hence sharing may not be a great option.

7. Check Facebook

Assuming you are networking within your own school of study, you are likely aware that those students will create a Facebook group for the entire four years of study. This can be extremely helpful in locating an older textbook that someone wants to sell at the end of their semester.

There’s also the potential for a straight trade, basically swapping books with someone that’s taking a class that you just took. Beyond using the Facebook group to ask about a copy of a textbook, you can also check the campus classifieds to see if anyone has posted about selling a used copy of the book.


8. Go Electronic

Assuming you are comfortable with using an e-reader or tablet, e-textbooks can be a fraction of the price of a regular textbook. The downside is that the formatting may be off in comparison to the regular textbook and page numbers indicated by your professor may not match up.

Of course, you will need to invest in the hardware upfront. The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is a popular choice for students. Be sure to check with the instructor to see if e-readers are acceptable for class as well.

9. Shop Around on the Sellback

If you were forced to purchase a new edition of the textbook or simply had to purchase at the last minute, make the college bookstore the last place you visit when selling the textbook back. For instance, Amazon is a popular option when selling a book back, since the retailer offers a bonus when redeeming as an Amazon gift card.

While eBay is an option if you want to sell it yourself, be sure to check the sellback prices at Chegg and Valorebooks. The latter covers shipping when you sell the book back. Also, be sure to preserve the condition of the textbook if you plan to sell it back at the end of the semester. This means no notes in the margins and use a book cover to protect the front cover.

About Mike Flacy

By day, I'm the Editor-in-Chief for The CheckOut in addition to being the content manager for Steve's Digicams and High-Def Digest. During my free time, I love to write about pop culture, home theater, digital photography, social media, mobile technology and cool gadgets!

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