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How to Score the Best Deals On Books For College Students: 10 Tips to Help You Save On Textbooks

books for college students

The average college student in America spends more than $1,200 on materials and books for school every year. Multiply that by four and you’ll be spending close to $5000 over the course of an undergraduate degree on textbooks that you’ll never open again.

Thankfully, there are a few ways to bring that cost down to a more reasonable level. Here are our top 10 tips to get books for college students without breaking the bank.

1. Rent Your Books

Most of us use our books a few times throughout the semester and never open them again after the class ends. So if you’re willing to deal with the small hassle of shipping your books back to the distributor at the end of the semester, you can save a serious chunk of money by renting new or used books instead of buying them.

Most distributors offer free return shipping, but make sure you send them back on time—late books can incur hefty fees.

2. Choose Used When Possible

Opening up a shiny new textbook is pretty satisfying, but saving $50 by buying a used textbook is better.

If you can deal with a couple of scratches on the cover and some notes in the margins, it’s always better to go with a used book when you can. Most online sellers will list the condition of the book so you know exactly what to expect ahead of time.

3. Sell Your Used Books

Unless you’re absolutely positive that you’ll use your textbooks again in the future, there’s no reason to let them collect dust in your house for years. So why not get back some of the money you spent by reselling them?

If you bought your books from the school bookstore, you may be able to return them for a portion of the price you paid. Otherwise, try selling them to other students at your school or listing them for sale online.

4. Use eBooks

The digital age has made almost all of your textbooks accessible from your laptop, tablet, phone, or e-reader. And because the publisher doesn’t have to pay for printing costs, you get the same book for a much lower price.

Don’t buy any of your textbooks until you check to see if an ebook version is available. If you get all of your textbooks in digital format, you’ll save yourself a lot of back strain hauling a heavy backpack around campus. And, better yet, you’ll be able to search your book by keyword without fishing through the index.

To save even more dough, see if there’s an option to rent the ebook. When you go this route, you’re given access to the textbook during the semester and it’s revoked after your rental time runs out, saving you the hassle of shipping books back to the supplier via mail.

The one downside to ebooks is that you end up spending all of your study time looking at a screen. So if you go this route, consider investing in some blue-light filtering glasses to reduce long-term eye strain.

5. Choose Paperback or Looseleaf

Hardcover textbooks are definitely the most durable option, but they’re also the most expensive.

Some textbooks, especially those for math and science classes, are significantly lower-cost when bought in the paperback or looseleaf versions. If you do go with a looseleaf book, make sure to buy a sturdy 3-ring binder or trapper keeper to protect the pages from damage.

6. Use an Older or International Edition

Publishers come out with new editions of their textbooks every couple years, even though most of the changes are negligible. In many cases, you can get away with using an edition one or two prior to the one listed on your syllabus.

International versions also tend to be less expensive, but some of them do vary a lot from the original. Always ask your professors ahead of time before buying a book that’s different than the one they recommend.

7. Buy from Other Students

One of the first things you should do when you accept an offer from a college is to ask about a student book exchange system. Many schools have an unofficial Facebook page or other social networking systems where students buy, loan, and sell their used textbooks.

Because most students just want someone to take the books off their hands at the end of classes, you may be able to buy them for less than half the original price. Bonus points if there are already notes and highlighted sections from the same class you’ll be taking next semester!

8. Check for Open-Source PDFs Online

Some schools are actively fighting high textbook costs by switching over to open-source materials. These textbooks are custom-made of materials from a wide variety of sources. As such, they’re not protected by copyright laws and can be accessed by anyone via the internet.

Ask your school if they participate in open-source learning or if they provide access to any PDF versions of textbooks online. If so, you might be able to get some of your student books for the glorious price of free!

9.  Share Your Books

Are you taking any classes with friends this semester? If so, why not split the cost of textbooks upfront? You’ll be studying together anyway, so there’s no need to buy multiple books unless the professor specifically requires it.

10. Use a Price Comparison Tool

Online shopping for your textbooks is the best way to find a good deal. But don’t waste your time hopping from site to site trying to compare costs.

Instead, go straight to a dedicated price comparison tool for college textbooks. Just type in your ISBN number and you’ll find a list of options to buy and rent new or used textbooks from a variety of distributors, so finding the best bargain is a breeze.

Books for College Students Are Expensive: Save Money Where You Can

Don’t fall into the trap of paying full price at the bookstore for brand-new hardcover textbooks. With a few simple tricks, you can avoid spending extra money on books and put it toward more important things.

Check out our free price comparison tool to find books for college students from every major retailer and save some serious money along the way!

About the Author

Christopher Manns

I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have lived in the USA since the 90s. I love my family, water sports, ice hockey, skiing and soccer. When I'm not helping people save money on textbooks, I'm travelling with my wonderful family and playing sports.