Should You Buy or Rent College Textbooks?

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Should You Buy or Rent College Textbooks?
portrait of Staff Writers
by Staff Writers
Published on April 23, 2021

Recent College Board research found that students paid an average of $1,240 for books and supplies at four-year institutions and $1,460 at two-year institutions during the 2020-21 academic year. This represents roughly 5-8% of the yearly average cost of college, which is a significant amount.

To try to save money, many students opt to rent their books instead of buying them. But is this cost-saving measure worth it? Learn about the benefits and drawbacks of buying versus renting your college textbooks below.

The Benefits of Buying College Textbooks

Students who have their own textbooks tend to do better in their classes. A 2017 study by Inside Higher Ed found that half of students who avoided or delayed buying books earned lower grades. If you buy college textbooks, you can also highlight and write notes in the margins to help you study.

Depending on your major, information in textbooks may continue to be useful well beyond graduation. If you own your books, you'll always have them to use as a reference. For example, engineering and science textbooks may contain many useful formulas that can help you work out equations on the job.

If you buy textbooks that you no longer need, you can resell them to your friends or classmates, to the campus bookstore, or through an e-commerce site. Depending on the quality of the book and the demand, you may be able to recoup a significant amount of your original purchase price.

The Drawbacks of Buying College Textbooks

Purchasing new or even used textbooks can be quite expensive. Campus bookstores are convenient, but their used book inventories might be scarce. Many students struggle to afford the price tag of books at the beginning of every term.

Although you can save money by buying books online, getting used books from an unverified third-party vendor can be risky — the item you receive might not match the listed description, and excessive writing or highlighting in a book may be distracting and make it hard to study or retain information.

If you buy your books with the intention of selling them back, be mindful of highlighting or writing in your textbooks. If you sell them to a friend, marks and highlighting might not matter. But if you sell them to the campus bookstore or an e-commerce site, the sale price may plummet. It can be difficult to sell a used book, especially if it's filled with marks from your study sessions.

The Benefits of Renting College Textbooks

Renting books is less expensive than buying them. You can rent textbooks in most campus bookstores, as well as from e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay. This option can help you save hundreds of dollars each term, which can really add up over the course of your time in college.

If you buy a textbook and then a new edition comes out a few months later with useful, updated content, you might feel as though you wasted money. If, however, you've decided to rent all your books, you can simply rent the newer edition for the next term.

If you live on campus, transporting your textbooks home over the summer (or finding a place to store them) can be a hassle. They're heavy and bulky and take up a lot of space — especially in a small dorm room. But if you rent your books each year, you can simply return them at the end of the term without having to pack them away.

The Drawbacks of Renting College Textbooks

You need to remember to return your books by a particular deadline. If you return them late, you will be charged a fee. Mark down due dates in your calendar to avoid unnecessary expenses.

Similar to buying used books, if you're renting your textbooks from an online dealer, you might be unpleasantly surprised by the condition of your books when you get them. Stray notes and highlighting may be distracting for some learners. Additionally, a rental company might try and charge you for damage to a book you didn't cause. Read the fine print on rental agreements carefully.

Many textbooks feature supplemental information, such as access codes for online lesson plans and coursework. Rented books, however, may not contain this information, or rental companies may charge extra for these materials, which can drive up the price.

Top College Textbook Rental Websites

Students have many options for renting their textbooks, from campus bookstores to e-commerce sites. Each e-commerce site has different policies on returns, shipping, and rental periods. It's important to read the fine print before agreeing to rent any college textbooks. Here are a few rental companies to consider.

Amazon

Amazon has a massive selection of textbooks, claims to be up to 90% cheaper than competitors, and offers a 30-day return policy.

Chegg

Chegg not only lends out textbooks but also provides a free trial to its subscription service, Chegg Study. The site offers a 21-day return policy.

Campus Book Rentals

Campus Book Rentals offers free shipping and returns, provides live chat support, and lets students write and highlight in books. Like Chegg, it also offers a 21-day return policy.

eCampus

eCampus allows rental extensions, instant access to e-books, and free shipping for orders over $35. It also has a 25-day return policy.

Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble offers competitive textbook rentals but charges for shipping. Students who pay a $5 fee can return books within 21 days.

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Feature Image: YinYang / E+ / Getty Images

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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