Congratulations are in order when you’ve been accepted into college. It means your hard work through high school has paid off and you are officially on your way to a promising future. But even after you’re admitted, there is still one mighty hurdle between you and college: Cost. It’s a huge and unavoidable factor, and it extends well beyond just tuition.
Table of Contents
- Best Places to Buy College Textbooks
- Best Places to Rent College Textbooks
- Best Places to Trade College Textbooks
- Tips for Buying Textbooks Online
Whenever you can take advantage of back to school deals, it’s worth it, because any way you can save during this expensive part of life helps. That’s why finding cheap textbooks online can be such a lifesaver and keep you from experiencing meltdowns in the middle of your college bookstore. First impressions are important after all.
From downloadable e-books to rentable textbooks, there are cheap alternatives that help you laugh in the face of campus-bookstore prices. In many cases, you can set the exact length of your rental period (if, say, you need it for a quarter or a full semester) with options to extend if need be. If the traditional route is your preference, you can find great online prices for new textbooks, with options to sell back when you are done. You can find affordable monthly subscription services if you want loads of digital options, or additional course study/homework help.
With the help of these resources, you’ll be sure you’ve got every topic on the syllabus covered, with a little change left in your pocket for that final college hurdle: Your social life.
Here are a few places to get you started whether you want to rent textbooks, buy textbooks or sell textbooks. After you’ve saved on your textbooks, checkout these 60+ college student discounts that will save you a bundle on food, clothing, tech and more.
Best Places to Buy College Textbooks
Chegg offers solutions to support student learning with loads of options to buy, rent or sell textbooks. With a wide selection of used textbooks to buy, this is a very cost effective solution to explore. What also sets Chegg apart is its dedication to educational help beyond just books. It’s not just a place for scoring a cheap college textbook; it offers a monthly subscription service, called Textbook Solutions, which gives you 24/7 tailored support for your courses including step by step problem solving, video walkthroughs and practice sets, along with homework and study help.
Why it’s cool:
- You can read the online version of your textbook for free while Chegg ships you the hard copy of your book.
- When you are done with your book, you can sell it back for extra cash.
- There’s access to homework help, including step-by-step solutions to textbook problems and online tutoring services.
- There’s a 21-day satisfaction guarantee, and return shipping is free, so no worries if you drop that class.
- Aside from books, you can explore career options and internship opportunities to immediately apply for.
Despite its name, TextbookRush actually allows you a full 30 days to return books for a full refund, so even if you snag unneeded books during your frantic initial buying spree, you have time to make things right. TextbookRush also has a vibrant trade-in and used-book purchase marketplace, and can even provide access to international editions of textbooks (which are identical to the U.S. editions, but can be up to 80% cheaper). Sign up for the Rush Rewards U program to earn points towards prizes for everything you buy, sell or rent – not only textbooks but video games and electronics, too. Your reward points called “Carrot Coins” can be redeemed for merchandise as well as digital and virtual assets.
Why it’s cool:
- You have 30 days to return books for a full refund.
- Shipping is free on orders over $35, and all returns are free.
- Most textbooks ship in a reusable box, which you’re encouraged to return your books in.
- Identical international editions of books are available at up to 80% off U.S. edition textbook prices.
- The Rush Rewards U program lets you buy, sell and rent textbooks, video games and electronics to earn your way towards swag, like T-shirts, water bottles and more.
If your area of study takes you into rarified academic territory, then you need to head directly to Alibris. Its calling card is rare and out-of-print books, which are sourced from its large resource of global independent book sellers. To help keep costs down, you’ll see flat shipping rates, consolidated shipping discounts and they offer free shipping on orders over $39 for Super Value eligible items (which is a small bar to reach). Alibris is also easy to navigate, in that it lets you search for all of your textbooks at once – just enter the ISBN, Title or Author in the search box. Alibris will display the “best textbook price” results, and you select which books to put in your cart. And it’s not just about schoolwork – Alibris also offers music and movies, too!
Why it’s cool:
- The site specializes in rare and out-of-print books.
- Shipping is free on Super Value eligible orders over $39.
- Alibris will buy your books, too — and buybacks ship for free.
A gathering place for international booksellers, AbeBooks specializes in harder-to-find new and used textbooks, reference books, academic journals, classic literature, art and collectibles. You have the unique ability to search for relevant articles or essays on a topic, which can help with research and studying. Because the booksellers are independent, pricing can vary wildly (especially when items are shipped internationally) and it can sometimes be a risk if the seller isn’t recognized for being reliable (much like how Amazon operates). So read the reviews and seller star ratings before you purchase.
Why it’s cool:
- The site specializes in rare and collectible books, but you’ll find plenty of textbooks, too.
- Affordable international versions are available.
- AbeBooks has a buyback program, so that you can make some money on your used books.
Best Places to Rent College Textbooks
What sets Amazon apart for book renters is that it actually allows you to choose the exact rental length, and you only pay for that specified period of time. Also, renting from Amazon allows you to take advantage of Amazon’s fast Prime Student shipping and free drop off spots for returns (or ship back your return for free). So if you’re auditing a class or know you’ll need a certain textbook only for a short period, this is a great, financially efficient option. You can also access a large variety of e-textbooks, many of which can be viewed free for a seven-day trial period. Amazon’s “X-Ray” feature (which is available on the Kindle Fire HD and free Kindle app) also lets you look up words in a dictionary, translate text and get relevant information from sources like Wikipedia and YouTube.
Why it’s cool:
- You can choose your exact rental length and pay only for that specific time (30 days, 60 days or 90 days).
- A preview feature allows you to “look inside” some books to see a sample of the text.
- Free 2-day shipping with Prime Student.
- Orders over $35 get free shipping.
- Want to keep a rental? You can opt to purchase it during your rental period and keep it forever.
Campus Book Rentals
Some students can’t fathom renting books because they love to highlight and make margin notes. CampusBookRentals is a safe haven for these people. Not only do they allow you to mark up the books and still return them, they actually encourage it (they say “Highlight Like You Own It” right on their homepage). This company specializes in renting and buying back textbooks and have done it over a million times so far and counting. You get free shipping both ways, the rental periods are flexible and you have 21 days to return a book for a full refund.
Why it’s cool:
- Your rental period is totally flexible.
- Shipping is free both ways.
- You’re encouraged to highlight and write in the books.
- You have access to live customer support.
- There’s a 21-day no questions asked cushion to return books for a full refund.
While not as flexible as Amazon, eCampus offers rental periods built around the academic calendar – so you can choose between a full semester rental, a quarter semester rental or a “short term” rental of a few weeks. And don’t worry about having to make that call right away. They structure it so that you can extend your rental at any time. Also, they do allow some highlighting and note taking as long as it’s still rentable upon return. If you join the eCampus’ eWards program you can earn points on purchases, for referring friends and just for signing up you get $5 off your next purchase of $30. There’s an eCampus Reader that gives you offline access to all of your purchased e-textbooks in one easy place.
Why it’s cool:
- Rental durations are flexible, with a choice between semester, quarter or short term. Plus, you can extend your rental at any time. You can also return your purchase for any reason within 25 days.
- Shipping is free both ways on orders over $35.
- There’s almost always some kind of offer live on their site for a certain amount (usually $5) when you text a number.
Best Places to Trade or Sell College Textbooks
Why not cut out the middle man? Student2Student, just as the name implies, is a site where students can trade with each other directly. It’s like a Craigslist for college textbooks. The sellers/renters post their wares, and the buyers/renters arrange the transactions. It’s ideal for small, localized trading on campus or in the immediate area, and Student2Student doesn’t charge any fees for the transactions. If your desired textbook isn’t available from a seller on your campus, a comparison tool will show you where to get the book online for the best price. Being so local limits the resource pool, but it also increases the chances you’ll get a book already marked up according to a specific professor’s preferences.
Why it’s cool:
- No third party is involved. Meet the buyer/seller on your campus.
- There are no transaction fees involved.
- No shipping. No credit cards.
- If your desired textbook isn’t available from a seller on your campus, a comparison tool will show you where to get the book online for the best price.
BookScouter works with the largest number of online book vendors to search for the best prices to buy, sell or rent books. The site allows you to compare physical vs. digital copies of textbooks, and also will search over 30 potential buyback prices to get you the best offer for your used textbooks. You can easily search by title, author or ISBN, and when you sell back books, you get free shipping to vendors.
Why it’s cool:
- Compares physical vs. digital and buy vs. rent (many rental periods to choose from).
- Also shows potential sell-back price to see if buying is your best option.
- You can search by title, author or ISBN.
- You can scan the barcode with your phone using the free mobile app for iOS and Android.
- Shipping is always free, and $100 insurance is included when you use the shipping label provided after checkout.
eBay is a massive online auction company that allows you to easily list your used textbooks for sale with built-in tools to help you price and market your books. You can decide whether you want to offer your items for sale internationally, or if you prefer to only sell within the United States. Listing your books is quick and easy and won’t cost you anything unless the item sells. There are also built in protections for sellers and tools for determining how to charge shipping fees.
Why it’s cool:
- It’s free to list your books for sale (your first 250 listings per month are free, which is pretty generous), and you only pay a fee when the item sells.
- Ebay offers sellers built-in protection, monitoring and access to their customer service team.
- You can sell locally on eBay with local pick up options, which is great if you want to contain the sales to your college campus region.
- You can list your textbooks by title, author or ISBN.
- Deposit your earnings directly into your bank account.
Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble is the largest book retailer in the United States with over 600 retail stores throughout all 50 states as well as a large online presence. While you might not immediately think of selling with Barnes & Noble, they have a simple way to sell your textbooks through their website. They will allow you to easily list your used textbooks by entering the ISBN number on the back of your book for sale with built-in tools to determine a price for your books. You can only sell within the United States. Listing your books is quick and easy, and you’ll have the option to accept the offer once you receive one, and then it’s simply a matter of shipping the book out. Your books do have to be worth at least $10 to use this service, so it probably makes the most sense for your more expensive textbooks that are in a good, used condition. A drawback is if you want shipping, insurance or delivery confirmation, those extra charges are your responsibility.
Why it’s cool:
- Simply enter the ISBN number to find out how much you can sell it for.
- Once a buyer is interested you’ll be able to decide whether to accept the offer.
- You can print a free mailing label.
- Take advantage of Barnes & Nobles massive marketing to sell your textbooks for cash.
Textbook Buying Tips
Before you invest, consider this advice about buying textbooks online:
- Check the syllabus – Some professors will indicate if a book is required for an entire semester (and is a foundational text) or if it’s optional or even just utilized for a portion of the semester. This can help you decide not only renting vs. buying, but also in setting your textbook rental periods.
- Check supplemental materials. Ask your professor if they require any textbook activation codes for supplemental materials. If activation codes are required, you’ll have to buy a new textbook; used textbooks will not have active activation codes.
- Don’t highlight until you’re sure. While some sites are fine with you marking up rental books, others may not allow it and may have penalties or fines for getting too wild with the highlighter.
- Check the seller’s/renter’s history. For sites like Abebooks or even Amazon, always make sure the seller or renter has a solid history of delivering exactly what they say they will.
- Whenever possible, get ISBNs. Some textbooks are frequently updated and have different editions, so make sure you know exactly which book, by which author or group, and which edition you need before you go searching to ensure you don’t end up behind the class from day one.