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    Should You Buy or Rent Textbooks?

    By Emily Wong

    Emily Wong is a writer at Scholarships360. She’s worked as a social media manager and a content writer at several different startups, where she covered various topics including business, tech, job recruitment, and education. Emily grew up and went to school in the Chicago suburbs, where she studied economics and journalism at Northwestern University.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: April 30th, 2024
    Should You Buy or Rent Textbooks?

    When creating your budget for college, textbooks can be a pesky expense to consider. Not only do you have to repurchase them every semester, but they can also add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year. However, textbooks are also an investment in your education. Therefore, you’ll want to think about how to get the best long-term value. Let’s talk about when to buy or rent textbooks, and how to decide which is right for you.

    Related: Top financial tips for college students

    Buying textbooks has its perks

    In many ways, buying your textbooks is the easiest option. Once you purchase a book, you don’t have to worry about paying for accidental damage or returning it by a certain date. Since it’s your textbook, you can use it however you like. However, before heading to the bookstore, you’ll want to consider the pros and cons of buying textbooks.

    College textbooks can be valuable resources that you’ll want to reference over the years. Especially when taking a sequential series of courses, it’s often helpful to be able to look back at concepts from earlier semesters. If you think you’ll want to revisit the book later on for any reason, buying might be the way to go.

    Some professors will also include supplemental readings on the syllabus that are much more similar to novels than to informational textbooks. These books are typically also cheaper than the average textbook, so the difference between buying and renting is often only a few dollars.

    Many students also find that annotating can be a great tool to boost focus and enhance understanding. Buying your textbook can also make it easier to take notes and highlight as you go without worrying about the next reader.

    Unfortunately, buying is often the most expensive textbook option. It’s up to you to decide whether the perks of using your textbook worry-free outweigh the added costs.

    How to save when buying textbooks

    Just because you’re buying your textbook doesn’t mean you have to pay top dollar. Students often save money by purchasing used textbooks. Oftentimes, you’ll be able to find the books you need on eBay, Amazon or other cheap textbook websites. Sometimes, you might even get lucky and find a listing on Facebook Marketplace from a classmate who took the same class a semester earlier.

    Think ahead and order asap

    However, while you can often purchase brand-new textbooks from the campus bookstore the day you need them, used textbooks may take up to weeks to deliver. Additionally, used goods typically won’t include supplemental materials like software or workbooks. Therefore, it’s important to do your research and plan well ahead of time if you’re going the used textbook route.

    Sell your books after class ends

    Another useful strategy to save money when buying textbooks is to sell them after the class if you don’t need them anymore. Some websites even have a guaranteed buyback program for books that they sell. While you might have to settle for less than you paid, selling textbooks can be an easy and reliable way to recoup some of your costs.

    Pros and cons of renting textbooks

    Renting textbooks can save a lot of money over the years, and more students are starting to adopt it. According to a survey by CampusBooks.com, 55% of students rent their textbooks each semester. However, it’s important to think about what renting entails to figure out if it’ll work for you.

    Perks of renting: Save money and space

    While some textbooks may be relevant throughout your time at college, others are more short-lived. If you’re confident that you’re not going to open your textbook after your class ends, renting is probably a no-brainer. On top of lowering the price, renting can also save you from extra clutter if you can’t sell your books later on.

    Before renting, consider possible drawbacks

    Renting can come with its fair share of limitations. Unlike purchased textbooks, rented textbooks must be returned by a certain date. If you’re late to bring them back, or if you bring them back in worse condition, you may face additional charges. Therefore, when renting a textbook, it’s important to stay on top of your stuff.

    Textbook rentals may also impose restrictions on annotations or highlights in order to keep their books in good condition. Some companies will allow students to mark up their books as an extra perk. However, you’ll want to check the terms of service beforehand to avoid any damage fees.

    How to save when renting textbooks

    While renting your textbooks can be a great deal, the costs can still add up over time. Fortunately, you can save even more by getting used textbooks with websites like eCampus or ValoreBooks. Some will even offer bonuses, like flexible rental periods or the option to buy your rental at a discounted price.

    However, just like when buying used textbooks, make sure that your rental comes with all of the materials you’ll need. There’s no point in saving money if you’ll just have to buy another textbook later on.

    All in all, buying and renting textbooks can both have their pros and cons. The best decision for you depends on your individual needs, which may change from class to class. Good luck finding the best deals on your textbooks!

    Are college textbooks worth keeping?

    The answer can depend based on your interest in the class and the subject. It’s a good idea to try to keep any textbooks that are within your major or minor, even if you did not find them all that interesting. That’s because they might come in handy down the line, whether it be for your next class in the field, your capstone project, or a grad school thesis.

    If you are not majoring in the field but enjoyed the textbook, it can also be worth keeping it. This might depend on your need for money and your space for storing books. Maybe you can bring it home to put in your parent’s basement for now. But if your dorm room is overflowing with old books, it could be time to take notes on the pages you liked the best and give the book a new home.

    Remember, even if you don’t keep a textbook, you should try not to throw it away. You might be able to sell it back to your school’s bookstore, to an independent bookstore, or through Facebook to an underclassman taking the same course. Books are valuable when they’re in the right hands, so make sure to give it a fair shot before you throw it out!

    Should I buy my college textbooks digitally or physically?

    Sometimes, students have an option between buying a physical copy of their book and buying a digital copy. Digital copies have their advantages; they do not take up space, you can use digital functionality such as Control-F to scan through them, and they are easy to take anywhere. For students who prefer the printed page, you can also print them out, typically at your school library.

    But keep in mind, if you are easily distracted by the computer or dislike reading on screens, digital books might not be for you. Many students just work better with a physical book and enjoy having the copy afterwards. What’s more, you can make some of the money back by reselling physical textbooks, whereas this is typically not an option with digital ones.

    So, there are good arguments to be made for either side. Consider the price differences between the two options and the resale value of a physical textbook. And make sure to consider whether you prefer reading digitally or with a physical copy.

    Free textbooks, anybody?

    Renting and buying may both be good options, but no-one can argue that free college textbooks are the best option of the three. Check out our list of scholarships you can put towards textbooks to get your materials free of charge.

    Additional resources

    Now that you’ve got the tools to save money on your textbooks, let’s look at some other ways you can save money. Scholarships360 has a rich library of resources at your disposal. We can also help you save money in college and create (and stick to) a budget. Finally, check out our pages on how to save money on housing, find a roommate, and more. Make sure you apply for all the scholarships you qualify for while you are eligible! 

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    Frequently asked questions about buying vs. renting textbooks

    Should I throw away old school books?

    Typically, it is not advisable to throw away old school books. Whenever possible, you should try to find new homes for them, whether this is reselling them, giving them to a friend or underclassman, or donating them. You can do your part for the environment, earn some money back on your book, and/or help out another student who needs the book.

    Some avenues for finding a home for your book include your college’s bookstore, a local used bookstore, or a Facebook group of other students at your college.

    Should I buy new or used textbooks for college?

    The answer depends on how sensitive you are to annotated and worn books, and how much spare money you have. Used books are generally cheaper, but some are marked up and might not last as long. For most students, this is not a big problem, especially those who plan on only using the book for the semester. However, if it is a book that you think you’ll be using for longer, you might consider investing in a durable new hardcover. Especially if you like to make your own annotations, this can be a nice luxury.

    Keep in mind also that some books are not available used; you might be able to find them used online, but your college bookstore may not have them. For books that come with a digital code, you’ll most likely have to buy them new.

    Is it bad to rent textbooks?

    It is not bad to rent textbooks – typically, it’s a good idea to help you save money and reduce book waste. That being said, sometimes it can be more economical to buy a used book and resell it rather than rent — it comes down to the pricing and discounts at your local bookstore.

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