Saturday, April 10, 2021

How to Find Cheap College Textbooks: The Ultimate Guide

For many people, college is one of the highlights of their lives. However, the thought of having to shell out so much money on tuition, the cost of living, and more can be overwhelming. One cost that can be difficult to stomach, in particular, is how much you’ll spend on college textbooks.

Many classes require you to purchase a book’s latest edition because certain parts of the text have been updated or edited, or because it contains a code to do exercises online. In fact, The College Board estimates that students spend more than $1,200 each year on textbooks and course materials — ouch!

Thankfully, you have plenty of resources to help you find cheap college textbooks and avoid breaking the bank. Regardless of whether you’re preparing for remote learning or in-person instruction, read on to find out the best places to buy and rent both hard copies and e-copies of all the textbooks you need for college.

Browse Through These Sites for Cheap College Textbooks

There are many trusted and reputable e-commerce websites that can help you find the books you need at an affordable price. In many cases, books purchased online are even cheaper than buying from a brick-and-mortar store.

Look for Your Textbooks on Amazon

Amazon has plenty of cheap college textbooks and e-books for sale. Plus, when you are done using them, you can turn right back around and use the platform to sell them secondhand.

You can also rent books from Amazon through the Amazon Rental platform. This option is generally way more affordable than buying your textbooks!

Many of the products offered on Amazon are budget-friendly, which is an advantage for students. You may even qualify for a period of free shipping with Amazon Prime using your university email, so you can get your textbooks faster and cheaper.

photo-of-two-girls-studying-with-cheap-college-textbooks
You don’t need to pay full price when there are cheap college textbook options available. Photo: Gabby K/Pexels

Check eCampus.com

eCampus.com is an old friend to college students. The company has been online and selling textbooks to students across the country since 1999. You can choose from thousands of e-books and hard copies, and they throw in free shipping if you spend more than $35.

The company’s longstanding presence means that you can rest assured there are plenty of safeguards to help get you the books you need when you need them. Their slogan says it all: “Textbooks Easy. Fast. Cheap!”

Try Searching on Craigslist

Craigslist is a great place to turn for any of your secondhand shopping needs, so try hopping on to find your college textbooks for cheap. You may just find a past student wanting to offload their copies!

But be warned: Craigslist does not offer purchase protection services, you’ll need to be vigilant when approaching a seller. Make sure you do your own research and verify that you are buying from a reputable source.

Or Rent a College Textbook Instead

Many students can relate to the feeling of wasting their money on a book that’s only going to get them through the semester. If you’ve felt this as well, renting is a great way to reduce the cost of investing in textbooks.

Check Out Your Campus Book Rentals

Your university may have rental systems that allow you to borrow textbooks. This is a less expensive option than buying — but it does come with some limitations. You won’t be able to mark the textbook and will need to keep it free from damage, so if you’re the kind of student who processes their learning material by highlighting, underlining, or annotating, then this may not be the best option for you.

In addition, you need to make sure that you return your books by a certain date. While most campus bookstores make sure that their rental dates line up with the academic calendar, it’s always good to double-check.

Use Chegg to Find Digital and Physical Copies

Chegg is a massive e-learning platform that has mostly been marketed as a place for tutoring; however, it also has a subsidiary where you can buy or rent cheap college textbooks. One handy feature of renting from Chegg is that returning your rental is free — all you need to do is send back the books with the company’s prepaid shipping label.

You can even highlight the books, as long as you don’t write in them. And, if you need the books longer than expected, the company allows you to extend your rental. Have you fallen in love with a particular textbook and want to keep it forever? In that case, convert your rental into a purchase!

Use Aggregators to Compare Prices

Aggregators, otherwise known as comparison shopping websites, gather data from e-commerce sites around the internet. They use this information to give you a list of all the websites that offer you the book you want, as well as their prices, in one glimpse. It makes shopping online easier and ensures that you find the cheapest college textbooks available. 

Scan Through Online Stores With Allbookstores

Allbookstores has a simple, intuitive interface, and the site is focused exclusively on helping you find the cheapest books across multiple stores. All you need to do is type the name of the book you need into the search bar and it pulls up the products and sites side by side. 

Verify Your Final Price With Bigwords

Bigwords promises to give you 35 to 45 percent cheaper college textbooks than other sites — and according to hundreds of reviews online, they have certainly kept their word. Aside from textbooks, you can also use the website to compare prices for numerous other products. 

Strike a Better Deal With Dealoz 

Dealoz is a price search service where you can compare textbook prices across more than 200 online bookstores. You can even download the Dealoz mobile app so that you can browse the site between classes, during your lunch break, or on the commute back home. 

photo-of-two-students-sharing-college-textbook-to-save-money
Sharing a textbook with another classmate can be a great way to save some cash. Photo: Zen Chung/Pexels

Consider Membership or Subscription-Based Content

While most subscription-based content on the internet is exclusive to e-books, these websites can be a useful student resource, allowing you access to thousands of textbooks in multiple subjects.

Sign up for Research With Scribd

As a college student, sometimes the statistics you need to pad your essay or establish your hypothesis won’t be found in your textbooks. If you want to make the most out of every project and assignment, you may find yourself looking for other sources.

Instead of just diving into the internet and hoping for the best, you could try looking through Scribd. This site has a library of varied digital content: e-books, audiobooks, magazines, news, sheet music, articles, and more. It’s a great way to centralize all the information you need to submit your best work.

READ MORE: The Easy Guide to Finding Essay Sources: Academic Research Tips

Get Peer-Reviewed Publications With Issuu

Issuu is one of the world’s most popular digital publishing platforms so it’s highly likely that you’ll find the material you need here. Like Scribd, you’ll find plenty of engaging material that you can use to supplement your projects and assignments.

You’ll also get a realistic viewing experience of magazines and other publications, complete with page-flipping simulations and full-screen viewing.

Find the Content You Need on Cengage

Cengage is a massive platform that’s used by students and instructors around the world, with thousands of textbooks to choose from. As one of the first subscription-based content sites for books, it’s been labeled as “a Netflix-style subscription service for students.” 

If you decide to upgrade your subscription to Cengage Unlimited, you can access thousands of digital textbooks and course materials in any subject. While you do pay more for the service, it may help you save up on the cost of buying each textbook individually. 

Other Ways to Save Money on Your College Textbooks

There are plenty of resources that you can use to secure your reading materials for the semester ahead. Here are some unconventional ways to get cheap college textbooks online.

Try Searching Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a treasure trove of scholarly resources. You can choose from academic journals, books, case laws, patents, and dissertations. This search engine uses Google bots to crawl the web and search for reliable scholarly documents.

It’s easy to use Google Scholar to find the resources you need — all you have to do is type in a keyword or a query, similar to how you would search for something on Google. The search engine will then come back to you with reputable academic results.

The only real downside to using Google Scholar is that many of the resources are hidden behind a paywall, so you may have to do some extra searching to find free versions of what you’re after.

Jump Into the r/scholar Subreddit

Did you know there’s an entire community of netizens dedicated to helping you find the articles you need? The r/scholar subreddit is a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and request books and articles. This community is run and maintained by volunteers who have made it their mission to make academic material more accessible.

Make Sure to Befriend Your Seniors

When it’s cheap textbooks you’re after, who better to ask than a student who has already taken the class? They might have the very book you need, and maybe even for a friendly price.

In addition, they can also give you all the insider information for navigating your courses. Feel free to also ask for tips on handling terror teachers, picking the best electives, and getting the best class schedule.

Look Into Interlibrary Loans

Does another university have a copy of that textbook you need? Check with your library — thousands of colleges across the country are a part of an interlibrary loan arrangement. You can search for and request to borrow items from other libraries where they have what you need in stock.

While this is generally a free service, some lending libraries may charge a small fee for delivery.

Ask Your Professors for Spare Copies

It is possible that your professors may have a spare copy of your reading materials — they probably needed to study it themselves. Don’t be afraid to approach your teachers for help in obtaining any books you need; they’ll likely want to help you find ways to get the most out of their class.

Share a Copy With Your Classmates

If your professor doesn’t mind, you could try splitting the cost of a textbook between two to three other classmates and rotate ownership of the reading material outside of classes. It can be a great way to bring a study group together and make learning more fun.


Regardless of whether you are going to your local community college or a university in the next state, postsecondary education can be incredibly pricey and requires a lot of commitment. Finding the college textbooks you need can also be hard on the budget. Using these resources can reduce your college expenses while giving you all the reading materials you need to make it through the semester.

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and use any of these resources to gear up with cheap college textbooks and get hyped for your school year guilt-free!

Frequently Asked Questions About Finding Cheap College Textbooks

Why are textbooks so expensive?
Textbooks are expensive because beyond the costs of manufacturing (such as making the pages, printing, and binding), students are also paying for all the research, edits, production, and distribution costs that went into creating the book. Textbooks are also a big business, and a lack of competition means publishing companies can charge what often seem like extortionate prices.

Are digital textbooks more affordable?
Yes, digital textbooks are usually more affordable — they can be up to 60 percent cheaper than their hard copy equivalents. However, most physical textbooks come with additional content, such as access codes for their websites that you may not be able to get with an e-copy.

Should I rent or buy college textbooks?
Renting is definitely more affordable; however, you generally won’t be able to annotate, highlight, and underline in the textbook. You may also run into issues if a textbook comes with a single-use digital code and your professor wants you to complete online textbook activities. If you don’t take notes in your book and if you don’t need to complete online exercises, renting can be a great option.

Can I resell my college textbooks?
You can definitely resell your college textbooks. Some of the online platforms in this article, like Amazon Rentals, give this option. You can also tell a friend or check your campus to see if there are any opportunities to resell your books. 

Do I need the latest edition of a textbook?
Ideally, you should have a copy of the latest edition because it will have the most recent updates, which help make the book more relevant and accurate to your education. However, if you can’t avoid getting one of the older editions, one way to circumvent this issue is to borrow a copy of the current version from a friend and compare the pages to see how different the material is.

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