Best Places to Buy College Textbooks
Last updated September 25, 2023
As you begin to buy textbooks for your college classes, you will probably quickly realize that they aren't cheap! They can add hundreds of dollars to your cost of attendance each term if you buy them from your school's bookstore for full price. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to find college textbooks for a significantly discounted price– sometimes even free. You just need to know where to look! Here are some of the best places– in-person and online– to buy college textbooks.
Note: If a course requires a software license or if materials are specifically packaged for your course, there’s likely no way to get around paying the full price. Ask your professor or check in with the financial aid office to see if there is a textbook fund or grant to help pay for these materials.
Do your research
Sometimes, finding the best deal on books takes a bit of persistence. Searching online, comparing prices, or reading website reviews can be overwhelming at first, but can save you a good amount of money down the road! Researching and comparing book prices is key to get the best deal.
Here are some of our tips to start your research:
Head to your school’s bookstore or online portal
After you lock down your class schedule for the term, look at the required textbooks for each of your courses. Stop by your school’s bookstore or use their online book portal to find out the average price of each book. Having a general idea of what these books usually cost can help you narrow your search if you plan to buy them somewhere else online (for example, on Amazon). In most cases, it’s usually cheaper to buy them elsewhere online but sometimes, it can be cheaper or more convenient to get them directly from your school. You’re going to need a lot of books in college, so now is a good time to start practicing your research and cost-comparison skills!
Search the book’s ISBN online
Decided to buy your books somewhere else online? Search for the book using its ISBN. An ISBN is a unique sequence of numbers that can be used to search for a book online. Each of your required books will have an ISBN– they can be found online or directly on the back of the book. Once you know a book’s ISBN, you can type those numbers directly into Google to find what you’re looking for. Searching for a book using its ISBN rather than the actual name of the book is usually best, because the ISBN gives you the exact edition or volume of the book you need. When you get your search results using the ISBN, you can begin comparing prices on different bookselling websites.
Where to search for books online
There are lots of great, trustworthy places online to look for college textbooks. We recommend sites like:
To start searching on any of these sites, enter the book’s ISBN or full title in the search bar.
Other places to find textbooks
Your campus library
Visit your campus library and talk to a librarian to learn if any of your required textbooks are available to rent. The demand for many books may be high, especially at larger schools, so try to stop by as soon as you’re sure of your class schedule.
Open-source book programs
Open-source books are free electronic versions of books you can view and download. Check in with your campus library to see if they have their own open-source textbook program. You can also check out the following open-source book databases:
A note about renting vs. buying
When looking for books online, you typically have two options– to rent the book, or to buy it. Renting books (ordering them, using them for a term, then mailing them back) is typically preferable because you’re most likely not going to need many books for more than one single class. If you know you will need a certain book for multiple different classes in the span of a school year, buying the book might make more sense. This way you won’t have to worry about mailing the book back in a certain timeframe to avoid any late fees or penalties.
In some cases, buying a book is also cheaper than renting it. If this is the case, you can hold onto the book and sell it when you’re done using it. You can either sell it to a website that sells textbooks, or to students or friends at your school. Some schools even have online groups for students to sell, buy, or exchange books with each other!
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