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Young woman carrying large group of books in a library.Tis the season of all-nighters, excessive caffeine and ramen noodle dinners! Ah yes, it’s back to campus for most, and the beginning of college for many. Remember when back to school meant shopping for new clothes, the coolest backpack, colorful folders and a fresh box of unsharpened No. 2 pencils? What a glorious time! Back to college shopping? Not so much. One look at your syllabi and you’re convinced every professor has chosen $150 textbooks just to spite you. Did you know that, on average, students spend about $1,200 a year on college textbooks? Crazy, right? It’s about that time you start getting smart about saving money when you shop.

One of the biggest mistakes many freshmen students make is not considering other options when purchasing textbooks. The excitement of starting college and being prepared get the best of new students. What if I told you there are several ways to get cheap college textbooks? You might not have to even step foot into your overpriced college campus bookstore.

Shopping for college textbooks doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. Quite often, students feel as though they’d rather skip the inconvenience of shopping around and just get it over with. However, the amount of research and time it will take to buy cheap college textbooks is minimal. As long as you have some guidelines, it’ll become second nature and a good habit. There is no one super awesome, top secret way to get around expensive college textbooks. There is also no one website that will fulfill all your needs. However, there are quite a few good sites to choose from. What is best for you will all depend on your needs, wants and personal preferences. Good thing we have different options for you!


Don’t want to deal with carrying books around? E-books will be right up your alley. In general, e-books are a cheaper alternative to paper textbooks, which are expensive to produce. Keep in mind that not all textbooks can be found in digital form. It really comes down to personal preference of digital vs. paper. While the world goes digital, many students still prefer the conventional paper textbook. If this is the case for you, there are still plenty of options for buying paper textbooks.


Renting textbooks is another great alternative to buying new. One of the greatest things about renting textbooks is you can usually pick the time frame for rentals. This can be even more cost effective if you don’t need the textbook for the whole semester. Keep in mind that you’ll have to be cautious of wear and tear on the books, as you won’t own them. Depending where you rent from, there may be guidelines for highlighting and writing inside the text. Always read the fine print. Most importantly, remember that there is a deadline to return the books, or you will get hit with fines. If you want to be able to highlight, color code and take notes in your book, then maybe rentals aren’t the best option for you.


For whatever reason it seems that new college textbooks seem to lose their value almost as quickly as a new car does once it’s driven off the lot. If you don’t mind a couple highlighted pages or some wear to your textbooks, purchasing used is the way to go. Depending on the demand for the book, you could easily find it for almost half the price of a new version. Shop around, and shop online. A great source when shopping for textbooks is AllBookstores.com. This site lets you compare prices from all online vendors. Keep in mind that some textbooks come with software for certain online activities that may only be accessible with the access code once. If this is the case, be sure to talk to your professor to see if these access codes are needed.

If you plan on purchasing your used books online, keep in mind the vendor may offer a buyback price quote if you sell the textbook back. Sometimes purchasing a used book and selling it right back ends up being cheaper than renting.

Selling Your Books Back

Unless you plan on using your textbook as a doorstop, you’ll more than likely never use them again. So instead of having your books collect dust in your closet, you might as well get money back. If you do plan to sell your books back, your best bet is to do it as soon as you don’t need them anymore. This way, the demand for your textbooks will be higher and you’ll get the best sellback price. If you wait to sell them back, you run the risk of the bookstore being over-saturated with that exact textbook or your textbook being outdated. Typically selling your books back online will give you the best return on your investment. However, keep your options open. Find out how much the campus bookstore is willing to pay and then compare online.

Another option is selling your books to other students directly. You can always ask your professor if you can visit the class the following semester and offer to sell your books to the students. Sometimes you’ll see flyers posted on classroom doors offering to sell the textbook for that class. You can even be proactive and try asking your admissions office to get the roster for these classes, that way you can directly contact the students to see if they’d like to purchase books for less directly from you.

Other Helpful Tips

  • Talk to your professor. Find out if you will be using your book, as professors often have books that are “suggested” but not required.
  • Find out if buying an earlier edition can still work for the class. This is a great alternative and extremely frugal option. Just keep in mind that selling back an older edition will be tough.
  • If you plan on buying a used edition, do it as early as possible. This rings especially true if you buy from private sellers off eBay or Amazon.
  • Have a friend in the classroom? Split the price and share the book. Especially if you plan on studying together.
  • Always use the “ISBN” when searching for your books to make sure you are purchasing the correct editions.

Seeing a price online that’s too good to be true? Double check to make sure it’s not an international edition or professor’s edition. These textbooks often aren’t the same, or the page numbers will be off.

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