Tips for Buying Textbooks

These days, depending on the type of courses a college student is taking, the cost of college textbooks can range from between $600 to $1200 per year. Fortunately, doing a little bit of leg work can help you cut down these costs significantly.

  1. Get the list of books you need. Professors are required to get class book lists to students before the semester starts. With the names and ISBN numbers for the the required and recommended texts, you’ll have have what you need to start your research.
  2. Check your school bookstore. School bookstores are still the most commonly used vendor for texts, and they will have everything available. They may not, however, be the most cost efficient place to shop. Start your research here, and make notes of the prices.
  3. Digital books – There are a variety of online bookstores that will sell digital versions of the text you need, including Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and more. When you buy digital books, be aware that the costs may be higher. Also, you won’t be able to sell back these books when you are done with them at the end of the semester, so even if the cost seems reasonable, it may actually end up being a little more.
  4. Buy used books whenever possible. Your local campus bookstore and most online retailers will have used books available. Make sure that they are the right versions before you buy, but used books can save you a significant amount of money. One exception to this is probably lab manuals. Used lab manuals may already have writing on the workbook pages.
  5. Older editions of textbooks – If you are thinking about buying an older edition of a textbook, make sure to check with your professor first. Sometimes there may not be much difference, but other times there may be key differences.
  6. Be careful buying international editions of textbooks – Some retailers will try to get you to buy international editions. If you decide to go this route, make sure you know the return policies very clearly. Many times international editions of textbooks will have missing pages or chapters, so make sure you leave time to check them carefully before the beginning of the semester.
  7. Rentals – Online retailers such as Amazon and and offer textbook rentals. Reported savings using book rentals can be as high as 90%. However, make sure you know your prices ahead of time, because sometimes the cost of renting and buying a book can be close.
  8. Textbook alternative programs – Colleges such as UMaine, Rice University and many more, have started using open source text books that can give faculty much more flexibility while significantly cutting costs to students.

One important note, anytime you buy from an online retailer be sure to read the reviews, particularly on delivery time. The last thing you want is to try and save money, and end up buying a book that doesn’t show up until the third week of class!

Some links to get you on your way:

Kiplingers – How to cut your textbook costs in half

Amazon textbook rentals