Where and How to Buy College Textbooks

In our last post, we considered the importance of college textbooks and some of the reasons why they are so expensive.  In this post, we’ll consider some possible ways of obtaining books. Our next post will consider ways students can sell books at the end of the semester.

Students may buy new books from the campus bookstore.

When your student considers possible ways of getting his textbooks, he’ll need to weigh convenience and cost.  The most convenient way to purchase his books is through the campus bookstore.  Bookstores work to make the task as convenient as possible.  If the student knows the name of the course and the instructor, the bookstore can usually tell him exactly what he needs for the course.  At many schools students can pre-order their books and have them waiting for them when they arrive or even delivered to their dorm.  However, this convenience comes with a price.  Campus bookstores are the most expensive way to buy a textbook.

Alternatives to the college bookstore may take a bit more work, and definitely some pre-planning, but there are alternatives out there.  Here are a few possibilities.

Students may buy used books from the campus bookstore.

Most campus bookstores carry some used textbooks.  These may have been purchased back from students at the end of the previous semester.  These used textbooks will be less expensive than new, but the cost difference may not be great.  Students are often surprised at how much used textbooks from the bookstore still cost.

Students may buy used books on-line.

There are several options for buying used books on line.   Amazon.com, Chegg.comHalf.com  are just a beginning.  A search for “used textbooks” will find dozens of sources.  If students order from an on line source, they should remember a few things.  They are often buying from a private individual.  Most sources are reputable, but they do need to keep in mind that some sources may be more reliable than others.  Students should check carefully that they are purchasing the correct edition of a textbook and not an older version.  Students need to remember that shipping of books is often very slow and they need to order early. They also need to factor in shipping costs as they are comparing prices.

Students may buy used books from other students.

This is probably the most cost effective way to purchase books.  When students register for their classes, they might investigate to see if they can find a student who is currently taking that class.  They can make arrangements to buy that student’s book at the end of the term.  This takes a bit of work, but can be a great saving measure.

Students may rent textbooks.

Renting textbooks is a relatively new phenomenon.  Textbook rental companies are springing up, and their inventory is growing.  Sites such as Chegg.com and BookRenter.com offer books.  An on-line search will yield additional sources.  Students need a valid credit card.  They order books and then return them to the company at the end of the term in a prepaid package.  The rental companies allow a reasonable amount of highlighting in their books, so students can use them in the same way that they would if they owned them. The cost of renting a textbook can save from 65-85% over the cost of a new textbook.

Some textbooks are available on line.

Some publishers are offering their books as e-books for a fraction of the cost of regular books.  This can be a good option if the student doesn’t mind reading everything at a computer and doesn’t need to take the textbook to class each day.  Checking the publisher’s website directly is the best way to find whether an e-version of the book is available.

Students may swap textbooks.

The idea of swapping textbooks informally may work, but has some difficulty because of differing prices.  However, if the cost is close, this may work well.

Students may share a textbook.

Sometimes two students in the same course may opt to share the cost of a book.  This can be a reasonable option if both students are organized and if there is agreement at the beginning about how the sharing will happen.  If there is a big test in the morning, there may be a question of who will have the book the night before.  Are both students comfortable with each other’s highlighting or writing in the book? How and when will the book be passed back and forth?  Students should give careful consideration to several factors before entering into this arrangement.

Some instructors will put a copy of the textbook on reserve in the library.

Obviously, this is the least expensive option at no cost to the student.  However, not all instructors may be willing or able to do this.  Or it may be that it is important for the student to have a copy of the book in order to complete assignments or exercises.  This option is less convenient because all of the reading will need to be done in the library, and some books may be in demand at peak times and being used by other students.  If this option is available, however, it can save a lot of money.

The days when every student needed to visit the campus bookstore to buy a new copy of the required textbook are over.  There are a growing number of options available to students.  With some creativity, careful planning and organization, and a bit of extra time and effort, students may be able to save a great deal on the cost of their textbooks.

Note: Some links in our post are for affiliate products. If you use our links, College Parent Central receives a small percentage of your purchase price. This does not change the cost to you.  We think it’s only fair to let you know that.

In one final post on textbooks, we’ll consider next some options for selling books at the end of the semester.


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4 thoughts on “Where and How to Buy College Textbooks”

  1. have you ever tried out eCampus.com? I tried chegg and was having problems so I thought I would try something else out. a friend told me about them and I loved it! the prices are already cheaper and plus she gave me her code EE15007 and it saved me 5% on top of that. you should try it out!!

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I know a lot of college students don’t realize there are alternatives to purchasing at the university’s book store – I wish I had known or investigated this as a student. Too add to the online alternatives, just the other day I heard a student had purchased their text books on ebay! I had never thought of that before.


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