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How to Find Cheap College Textbooks

Last updated May 23, 2023

How to Find Cheap College Textbooks

Let's face it - college textbooks aren't cheap! They can add hundreds of dollars to your cost of attendance each semester or quarter 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 - and sometimes even free. You just need to know where to look! Here are our tips on finding the best price for college textbooks.

Note: If the course requires a software license or if the course materials are specifically packaged for your course, there’s likely no way to get around the full purchase price. Ask your professor or check with the financial aid office to see if there is a textbook fund/grant to help pay for these course materials.

How to Find Cheap College Textbooks

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 quarter or semester, look at the required textbooks for each of the 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 knowledge of what these books usually go for can help you narrow your search if you plan to buy the books somewhere else online. 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 to purchase a lot of books in college, so it’s a good time to start practicing your research and cost-comparison skills now!

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. Each of your required books will have an ISBN - it can be found online or directly on the back of the book. Once you know the ISBN of a book, you can type those numbers directly into Google to find the exact book 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 that 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, so try to stop by as soon as you’re sure of your class schedule.

Open-source book programs

Open-source books are electronic versions of books made available for free online for viewing and downloading. Check 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 (aka ordering them, using them for a quarter/semester, 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 don’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 for you, 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/friends at your school. Some schools even have groups for students to sell, buy, or exchange books with each other!

Have any questions about finding textbooks or preparing for college? Click here to text one of our college advisors!

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