College Textbooks: Renting vs. Buying (and other options) University Visitors Network

You’ve done your research and show up prepared on the first day of classes. You’ve read the syllabus ahead of time and you know what to expect. This is great, but hopefully you didn’t get ahead of yourself by purchasing your textbooks just yet.

While buying your textbooks seems logical, and it is the most traditional way, it may not always be the best idea. Or the cheapest. Buying your textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars with your campus bookstore agreeing to buy them back from you at the end of the semester. The problem with this system is that now that you’ve used the book, you have to sell it back to them as a used book rather than a new book, so you don’t get as much back as you initially spent. You can try to sell your purchased textbooks directly to other students rather than to the bookstore, which might get you closer to what you originally spent. Renting your books is usually cheaper. You pay the cost up front, which is a fraction of the cost, and just return your book at the end of the semester.

We asked an expert:

“As an English Literature major I average 3 to 5 textbooks per class so the ultimate goal when getting books is saving as much money as possible. That goal is always achieved through renting all of my textbooks. If you want to save money, stay away from the campus bookstore at all costs. With big companies like Amazon and now Barnes and Noble offering textbook rentals, there is no reason to go to the bookstore unless you have a true passion for always spending more money than you need to.

As soon as I get my book lists I open up Chegg, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble on my computer, enter in the IBSN that I need and compare all three websites to find the cheapest rental rate. Obviously, the price will vary on what type of book you’re looking for but, generally, I can rent a book for a full semester for 20–30 dollars and all 3 companies offer free return shipping.

I find that not enough people know that textbooks are also tax deductible. Yes, you will always have drop a lot of money on books but just hang on to all of your receipts and you can get most, if not all, of that money back in your tax rebate. “

Robb Payne is a student at Metro State in Denver Colorado

There are a few different directions you can go in when deciding on textbook options and costs. You should always ask around about specific classes. Sometimes you can find a class review or professor review on the internet.

Do your research on book retailers. Sometimes your campus bookstore might be the most expensive option. Sometimes they might have the best deals in town. There is no real reason to buy a brand new textbook. Look into finding gently used books. Obviously you don’t want anything ripped and tattered, but something with a few grease stains should suffice.

This infographic is from

What you need to know before you buy a textbook:

If you think a specific text book will be beneficial to future classes or your career, you should buy it. If you know you won’t just read through the foot notes and scan over a few topics, that’s a sign that purchasing might be a good idea. Buying is also a better option if you are taking a multi semester class, like some science and math courses which will end up being cheaper than renting in the long run. While buying textbooks is the pricier option, it is sometimes a great investment.

What you need to know before you rent a textbook:

You are going to use the book a lot throughout the semester and need your own copy, but you know you will never even think about, look at, or touch that book once the class is finished. If money is tight, renting is the cheapest option up front. If you tend to be careless, clumsy, or lose things easily, buying may be a better option than renting. If you lose a rented textbook, or turn it in later or turn it in damaged, it could end up costing you more overall in fees and charges.

What are your Other Options?

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees and college is plenty expensive already. If the thought of renting or buying textbooks haunts you in your sleep, don’t worry, there are other alternatives that don’t include breaking the bank.

Share a textbook:

You and a friend signed up for a class that doesn’t go toward your major, but you are required to take. You know the class is easy enough and you should ace the class with minimal effort. It is easy to share a book if you are taking the same class at different times, but you can definitely make it happen if you’re in the class together. Sharing college textbooks is a way to save a little money and still keep up to date with assigned readings and class assignments. Just make sure you partner up with a reliable friend.

Get an online textbook:

There are websites out there that provide students with free online textbooks and it is something to look into if you can learn while staring a screen. Some people can’t. Just like anything else you need to do some research and find out which sites work best for you, and make sure they are legal. This is smart when you are taking online classes especially.

Talk to your professor:

This may be a long shot and it may never work, but it is worth the conversation. If you are close with a certain professor and the books for their class are outrageously priced, let them know you are tight with money, maybe they have an old book laying around that you could borrow, maybe even for a majorly discounted price. They may also have some great advice on where to find discounted books, or let you know that you don’t even really need the book at all. Wouldn’t that be nice?

This was originally published on July 22 2015 on

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.