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Getting the Best Price on College Textbooks

Last updated September 27, 2020

College textbooks can add hundreds of dollars to your cost of attendance each semester/quarter. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to get your college textbooks for a significantly discounted price, and sometimes even free. Check out these tips to find the best price on 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 instructor or check with the financial aid office to see if there is a textbook fund/grant to help.

Compare textbook prices

Don’t buy your textbooks from the first place you see. Often, the price at the college bookstore is not the best price. Shop around and compare textbook prices by using bigwords.com and Amazon for comparisons.

Consider renting

Renting textbooks is a great option if you don’t want the book after the class is over. Rental prices are generally 50% (or less) cheaper than the full price. BUT you will have to make sure you return your rentals on time or late fees will make those savings disappear.

Look at older editions or used copies

Ask your professor if an older edition is okay to use and don’t ignore the used textbook market. Check out Amazon and sites like campusbooks.com, textbookrush.com, and chegg.com. Keep an eye on shipping costs which can negate some of the savings from used textbook sites.

Picture of college textbooks

Visit the campus library

Visit your campus library to find out if your textbook is available to borrow or for use in-house. The demand may be high so ask if it’s a first-come, first-served process or if there is a reservation system.

Check open-source (a.k.a. free) book programs

Open-source books are e-book 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 check out a few open-source textbook databases here: open.umn.edu/opentextbooks, openlibrary.org or Gutenberg.org

Ask your network and check social channels

Ask your network of friends and classmates to borrow or buy their old textbooks. Also, visit your college’s social channels for a textbook selling/buying board or forum. The best time to check these boards is right before the semester/quarter starts and after finals (if you have your book list already). 

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