Of all the costs associated with college, buying textbooks is often the most painful. They’re absurdly expensive, and the volume of books needed for each semester eats away at your financial aid.
Thankfully, there are ways to save and cut costs on one of your most overpriced and most important expenditures. A little craftiness could save you hundreds – even thousands – per semester. Check out these alternatives to your school’s bookstore.
The Golden Rule
Before buying your books, do a reality check to make sure all the books on your materials list are required. Many schools will add supplemental reading to your booklist, leading students to pay a fortune for materials they’ll never use.
Once you’ve pared down your book list to the essentials, it’s time to find ways to save.
Where to look on campus
There are a few places to find textbooks on campus, but the bookstore, ironically enough, probably isn’t your best option. Remember: when you’re trying to save money, buying used is always better than buying new.
You’ll be able to find many of the books on your course materials list at your school’s library – for free. They may have a limited quantity, so it’s best to reserve your books in advance.
Sharing a copy of your textbook can be a good option to reduce your costs. You and your classmates can study together, or trade the book back and forth during the week if you have different study schedules.
Additionally, there may be some students who are willing to sell you their old books for a fraction of the cost of a new version, or loan you a copy they are holding for later.
While professors aren’t likely to sympathize with you about your workload, they do feel your pain when it comes to the rising prices of textbooks. If you bring it up to your professor, they may be willing to give you one of their copies.
Popular websites for textbook rentals
Renting a textbook is, in most cases, the ideal scenario. It’s cheaper, and you don’t have to worry about trying to broker the best resale deal after your semester. Your school bookstore might not give you the option of renting, but plenty of websites do.
Chegg has expanded into a multifaceted utility for students, but they got their start as a textbook rental company, and that remains their bread and butter today. They’ll also allow you to highlight important passages in your book, which can be a handy feature for the more fastidious studiers.
Like everything else you could possibly need, Amazon sells (and rents) textbooks, too, and they’re often much cheaper than they are at your school’s bookstore. For added convenience, they have a large selection of materials available for download on Kindle, which could save you from some back pain walking across campus.
Campus Book Rentals
If you’re the type of student who needs to highlight and write in your books, CampusBooks is the website for you. They’re all for students marking up their books, at least with course-related notes. Shipping is free both ways, and your rental period is flexible!
The Last Resort – The Campus Bookstore
If all else fails, you still have the school bookstore, which should have copies of all the books required for all your courses. While there is going to be a price paid for this convenience, remember the most important thing is to actually have the book so you can complete your coursework and earn your degree.
It’s possible your school’s bookstore may offer rentals and used copies of the books you need, so don’t hesitate to ask for those options.
Other tips to help you save money
Consider waiting before buying your books
When possible, wait until your school’s course add/drop deadline before buying some or all of your books. You don’t want to get stuck with books for a class you end up dropping.
Buy access codes and books separately
You can buy textbook access codes online directly from the distributor. So if you buy a cheap used textbook without the access code, you’re still able to save money and access all the material you’ll need for your class.
Newer doesn’t always mean updated
For some courses, you won’t need the newest edition of a textbook to cover your course syllabus. Check with your professors to find out if anything significant has changed in the newest version of a textbook or if an older printing will be sufficient.
Download for free
If your course material is in the Public Domain, you’ll be able to download PDF and audiobook versions online for free. This is especially handy for English majors but can extend to other humanities disciplines, too. Project Gutenberg is a good place to look.
Textbooks are a significant expense for college students. Saving money when obtaining textbooks is a smart way to free up your funds for other activities or to set aside for paying off your student loans later.