The average student pays $1,280 a year on textbooks, according to The College Board.
But renting your textbooks as opposed to buying them new can help save you hundreds — as well as free up some space on those bookshelves at the end of the semester.
Before you get carried away, there are some things to know about campus book rentals.
Tips and Tricks for Campus Book Rentals
When shopping for rental textbooks, the last thing you want to do is rent from the first merchant you find. The key to getting the best deal is by exploring all of your options, including price, book condition, and medium.
Before you decide where to rent your textbooks from, it’s worth shopping around to make sure that you’re getting the best deal possible.
Your textbook’s ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, will be the key. You can find this number on the publication page or back cover of the book, but beware of printed stickers. These can sometimes get swapped and not match up with the book they’re affixed to.
The ISBN is a 10- or 13-digit identifying number calculated mathematically and usually accompanied by a barcode. First, go to the campus bookstore and write down the ISBN and prices for both the new and used textbooks that you’ll need. Then, use the numbers to shop around online and find the lowest price.
You don’t need a textbook that’s hot off the presses. Chances are, there’s a used copy in good condition that will still get the job done for your classes. Plus, previous users might’ve even left notes in the pages for you to study from.
Tip: It’s highly unlikely that a used rental will come with an unused access code. If the access code is a requirement for the class, you might have to purchase it separately from the textbook’s manufacturer. And you might not even need a hard copy of the book if the access code includes an e-version of the text!
Look for eBooks
Do you prefer to go paperless? Do you have limited space for textbooks in your dorm room? Do you have a full day of classes and not feel like carrying around pounds of textbooks all day?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, eBook rentals might be a good alternative for you. They’re portable, lightweight, and eco-friendly — and, in some cases, even cheaper than renting used hard copies of a textbook.
Plus, you don’t have to worry about forgetting your book on the way to class or an impromptu study session. As long as you have a device, you have access to your book.
Tip: Some people have a hard time adjusting to reading on a screen. If you think this might be you, start out by renting only a couple of eBooks at first. If you find it harder to concentrate, then you can always go back to your hard copies next semester.
There are also blue-light reflecting glasses to make screen-reading easier on the eyes, especially for long periods of time. The average pair runs for about $20 on Amazon.
If a new edition of your textbook just came out, compare it carefully to the current edition before you buy it. In most cases, the changes may be so minor that you probably won’t lose out if you go with the older version. If you’re unsure, you can always ask your professor if the older version will suffice.
Don’t Forget Libraries
Many campus and county libraries keep multiple copies of textbooks in their inventory. The downside? They may not be available when you need them, and the checkout periods can be significantly shorter than if you rented them through an online bookseller.
Tip: If you’re in a class where literature or novels are required reading, you could easily save yourself some cash by checking out the books from the library as soon as you can, then renewing them before the due date so you can use them as you need.
While renting your textbooks might be more convenient and cost-effective, there are some things to keep in mind if you want to avoid being charged with last-minute fees.
If you rent textbooks, you can’t forget the return date or else you’ll get charged an additional fee. Mark it in your planner, and then set reminders leading up to the date so you don’t forget.
And if you rented your book from an online reseller, make sure you have a shipping label and an appropriate box for sending it back. Not being prepared can easily set you back from returning your books on time.
Even if you return your textbook on time, you could still get charged additionally if the book is damaged. Make it a habit to remove your textbooks from the table before you sit down to eat or drink.
Additionally, be gentle with the pages and spine, as used books can be more fragile than new ones. You could unintentionally be left with missing pages if you’re not careful.
For more tips on taking care of your textbooks, the New York Public Library offers a handy do’s and don’t’s list.
No Resale Value
If you’re used to reselling your textbooks at the end of the semester, that’s one drawback of renting them. Since they don’t belong to you, you’ll eventually have to return them — meaning you can’t cash in on them at a later time. Keep this in mind when planning your finances at the end of the term.
Think proactively when picking your classes. If you notice that several classes require the same text, it might be a good idea to buy it as opposed to renting it. That way, you get prolonged use out of it, and you can sell it at the end of the semester.
Now that you know everything there is to know about campus book rentals, you’re ready to start shopping around.
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