Side shot of open laptop with top leaning against stack of textbooks in library

How to Buy Textbooks: A New College Student's Quick Guide

The search for college textbooks doesn't have to be stressful. These quick and easy tips will help you conquer your textbook search and save money too!

The search for college textbooks does not have to be stressful or take away all your time. Although going to your school’s bookstore is super easy, it tends to cost up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Below are painless, easy tips for conquering your textbook search and saving money too!

To rent or to buy? That is the question

It’s no lie that renting textbooks tends to save you more money in the long run, but there are definitely benefits and downsides to both renting and buying. Before searching for places to purchase from, it is best to check how long you will need the course material for. Sometimes professors only require a piece of text for a couple weeks, and in that case, renting is ideal because you won’t have to hold on to the book until the end of the semester. On the flip side, texts that are necessary for long-term courses such as science labs are worth spending on because you will be utilizing the textbook for the full semester. Another reason to buy is if you excessively mark-up your books with highlighters or pens. Most renting companies either limit the amount of marking or ban it completely and will charge you a restocking fee. Even if you do highlight, you can resell your books to other students for less than retail, which will help give you money back and get rid of the book.

Related: How Students Can Save Money on College Textbooks

eBooks or real books? That is the other question

Another big debate: are eBooks or hard copies better? I have found this is strictly preference and depends on if you enjoy reading off a screen or not. That being said, it is a lot harder to find PDF or eBook versions of textbooks, and it is cheaper and more convenient to download electronic copies of novels for English or History courses. A bonus with eBooks is you usually spend a lot less than buying or renting the hard copy, and sometimes you can find PDF editions for free online, which is every college student’s dream. However, if you do have to purchase them, there is no option to re-sell them. Personally, I believe electronic books are super easy because they don't take space or weigh down your bag and can be saved on one device.

When to purchase your books

First-year students tend to overthink (and overspend) when it comes to textbooks. When the course material list comes out, the first instinct is to immediately purchase your books, but that's not always necessary. Not all texts that are put on the syllabus are utilized during the semester, so why spend the money? Additionally, some professors put textbooks on reserve specifically for their students at your school’s library, which gives you the chance to use the required text without having to spend. Another reason to wait: It will be easier to receive your textbooks at school once you are moved in and will decrease the pile of things you need to unpack on move-in day! The best time to purchase textbooks is the first week of classes once the professors have mentioned whether or not you'll need all the materials.

Where to purchase your books

Sometimes the best place for textbooks is your college bookstore, but if they are overpriced or out of stock, other places online will work just as well! Some great places that I have come across during my first year of college is Chegg, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. In order to guarantee you purchase the correct book, your professor will provide you with an ISBN number, which is a universal code for the exact edition, version, and copy of the text they want you to have for their course. All three of the companies give you the option to buy, rent, or get electronic copies if they are available. Additionally, they provide you with free returns if you decide to rent them for a semester. I recommend searching on all three sites before settling, because some books are cheaper from one place than another.

Related: Smart Money and Budgeting Tips for High School and College Students

If we’re being honest, buying textbooks for college can be a little bit of a nuisance. There are a lot of ways to make it less expensive, including reaching out to your professors before classes start to find out if you even need the full textbook for the course. Use these tips to help figure out which textbook format is best for you and save a few bucks in the process. Good luck in your new college classes!

Find more ways to save money with this list of businesses that offer great student discounts to take advantage of while you're in college! 

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About Christiane Townsend

Through her experience of living internationally throughout her childhood, Christiane Townsend has firsthand knowledge of other countries, cultures, and religions. A student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she has been able to use her writing both in an academic and leisurely setting to spread cultural acceptance, awareness, and growth. Christi believes in educating others on topics such as feminism, travel, college life, and striving for excellence, which is depicted through her writing.

 

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