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College Textbooks

•Textbooks: A Variety of Options•

Tuition, room and board paid? Check. Dorm room shopping done? Check. (I think). New Clothes? Check. New laptop? Check. What could we have possibly forgotten? Oh, just the only things that are absolutely necessary for every college student—Textbooks!

Textbook expenses and the myriad of options for acquiring books for college are not for the faint of heart. But don’t fret — we will try to distill some of the info out there for you here.

It’s no secret that the cost of buying new college textbooks can be staggering (especially for the sciences). The good news is that the textbook market is a competitive one and there are many simple ways for your kids to save money on books. All it takes is a little research and some shopping savvy. Unfortunately, you may not be able to budget accurately for textbooks first term freshman year because your student will not know what books they’ll need until they have registered for classes. (For some kids, this may not be until they actually arrive on campus.)

Once enrolled in a class, students can access book lists for their courses online (often posted on the school bookstore’s website). The school bookstore, however, while convenient, is no longer the only game in town. Now, there are options for where to get textbooks (bricks and mortar bookstores, online bookstores) and options for how to get books (buy or rent), and options for what types of books to get (new, used, e-books). All these options are priced differently and have their own benefits and limitations. Your student will ultimately need to decide what type of books will suit their needs and learning preferences. There are many ways to save money on college textbooks, as your kid can easily learn from talking to orientation leaders, RAs and other students on campus.

The College Bookstore

Most college bookstores offer both new and used books. However, as you might imagine, due to the reduced cost, used books go quickly, and supply may be limited. Textbook rentals and e-books are also becoming more of an option and are being offered by many college bookstores.

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Barnes & Noble has partnered with almost 700 colleges to operate the college bookstores, offering a large selection of textbooks in a wide variety of formats—new, used, digital, rental—and a fairly competitive buy-back program. To see if your kid’s school participates, go to 

Online Resources

There are many online sources for purchasing new, used or digital textbooks, or even renting textbooks, often at a steep discount. Buying online allows you to compare prices and get the best deal. Online textbook vendors include:,,,,, and many others.

The only downsides to purchasing online is paying for shipping and having to wait for the books to be delivered – although you can avoid these costs with Amazon Prime, and the delivery time is amazingly fast. We highly recommend it! Waiting for books can pose a problem for your student’s first school term if their orientation and registration take place the week before school starts. After the first semester or quarter, however, classes should be selected well in advance of the next term so there should be plenty of time to shop online for books and compare prices.

Comparison-shopping for textbooks is a great lesson in budgeting and fiscal responsibility for your student. Let them do it!

The College Library

Yes, the library. They still have books, believe it or not, and may offer various textbook options. Books on the shelf can be borrowed for specified time periods (and renewed as necessary), and books on reserve can be used in the library.  Although not the most convenient option for students, it can save a huge amount of money. Check with the campus library for more details.

Selling Back Books

Most bookstores and online resources will exchange cash or credit for new and used textbooks that are in fairly good condition. (You may want to mention this to your student and ask them to check on specific return/buy-back policies. They usually require kids to keep any highlighting, doodling or editorializing to a minimum.) In fact, will buy back textbooks that were not even purchased through them. And they make it easy, too. If there is a market for the textbooks being sold, they will let you know the buy-back price, provide free shipping to send in the books, and credit your account for future purchases.

Student Book Exchanges 

Many universities have online portals for students to sell or to buy textbooks from each other. These book swaps are great because they can save a lot of money on textbooks. Some campus portals even provide price comparisons for books utilizing the book exchange, the campus bookstore, and, for example. Ask your student to find out if their college offers a book exchange. It could save you money!


Want to know more? For more information on the trends in college textbooks and options on saving money, take a look at these articles:

8 Insider Tips to Saving Money on Textbooks (from

College Students Say No to Costly Textbooks by David Schick and Beth Marklein, USA Today

College Textbook Prices Increasing Faster Than Tuition And Inflation by Tyler Kingkade, The Huffington Post


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