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Articles / Paying for College / Five Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks

Nov. 20, 2013

Five Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks

A couple years ago, I posted the costs of some of the most expensive college textbooks. The list was from 2010. Just to refresh your memory, here's that list again:
  1. Acta Philosophorum The First Journal of Philosophy: $1,450

  2. Encyclopedia of International Media and Communications: $1,215
  3. Management Science An Anthology: $850
  4. History of Early Film: $740
  5. Biostatistical Genetics and Genetic Epidemiology: $665
  6. Companion Encyclopedia of Psychology: $600
  7. Feminism and Politics: $600
  8. Concepts and Design of Chemical Reactors: $593
  9. Advanced Semiconductor and Organic Nano-Techniques: $570
  10. Ethics in Business and Economics: $550
  11. Environment in the New Global Economy: $510
  12. Solid State Chemistry and Its Applications: $500

You can probably imagine what “college" inflation (not to be confused with “real-world" inflation) has done to these numbers. This causes one to wonder about the economics of textbook pricing.

Van Thompson, writing in GlobalPost.com, offers some answers to the question Why Are College Textbooks So Expensive? The main culprits appear to be: academic research, bookstore costs, new editions, a monopoly on books, additional course materials, and overall rising costs. Check Van's article for details on each of these factors.

For those of you heading off to college less than a year from now, textbook expense should be a significant part of your college budget planning. As you can see from the three-year-old list of title prices above, the reality is scary. So, what can you do to stem the tide of rising book costs?

Well, Glen Hammond sent me some excellent advice about that and, with his permission, I'd like to share it with you. Glen is a writer who presents money-saving and investing tips for both college students and parents. Here's what he says. Take notes!

Nothing can drain your funds quite like purchasing college textbooks from the campus bookstore. Sure, if it's a last minute emergency you may have no choice, but if it's not, there are just too many other options at your disposal. The process of finding the best prices for your books, however, can be overwhelming. There are pros and cons to each and every strategy for saving. To help you make the best decision from the many options at your disposal, read on.

1. Purchase Used

The easiest place to check for cheap college textbooks is probably eBay or Amazon. Type in the title or ISBN of the book you need and review the used listings. If you don't care about condition, you can save bigbucks by going with a heavily used copy. However, if highlighting is part of your study habits, spend a little more for a cleaner book. Be sure to purchase only from reputable resellers with a solid feedback rating. The last thing you want is to fall behind in class because your books have shipped late.

2. Rent Them for the Semester

There are plenty of Web sites that rent books out on a per-semester basis. Two to consider are Chegg.com and BookRenter.com, which ship directly to you, usually for free. Use your book throughout the semester, keep it in good shape, and ship it back by a deadline. Some Web sites also provide free shipping labels, so your only financial commitment is the rental fee.

3. Download eBooks

Ebooks are one of the newer and increasingly popular ways to get textbooks on the cheap, especially if you own a Kindle Fire or a Nook. The process of using e-readers is a little different from reading traditional textbooks, so just be sure you can get your studying done efficiently if you're new to them. Obviously, you won't be able to highlight or make notes in the margins, so if that's an issue for you, you may want to consider other options.

4. Use the School or Public Library

The campus library is another possibility, although the books there are usually checked out pretty quickly. Get there as soon as you have your class syllabus in-hand. If what you need has been checked out, a local public library may carry textbooks as well, so give that a shot. Just be sure to keep up with renewals and return your books on-time. Late fees can end up negating any savings you've achieved.

5. Post on Social Media

Social media is great for catching up with family and friends, but you can also use it to locate textbooks. If you have a large network of friends, post your textbook needs as soon as you know them. You may be able to borrow one for free, or even swap one out if you've got friends with textbook needs as well. If you have any available, post that information on your pages too.

As you begin the process of purchasing your books, carefully review your class syllabus for items you might be able to do without. Additional study guides may be recommended by professors, but not required. Make these decision carefully, though – it's not worth saving $10 if you're going to miss out on an educational opportunity or if your grades are going to suffer.


Great ideas, huh? Maybe you have some other good ideas about how to save on college texts. If so, post a comment below. Happy shopping!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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