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Where to Find Cheap College Books?

by Paige Johansen, studioD

Prices of textbooks are rising faster than the cost of inflation. Students can easily pay $700 to $1,000 per year on new books for college classes, but there are ways to alleviate the burden. You can borrow, rent or buy used books and save hundreds of dollars each semester.


Many professors put their required reading "on reserve" -- which usually means you can use the book at the library but can't take it home with you, so it might not be a good option if you need to use the book everyday. You can also borrow the book from the university or local library. Do this right at the beginning of the semester to be sure it's available and remember that the book could be recalled. You may be able to use inter-library loan to get the book from another university library. You can also borrow books from friends who have already taken the course or share with a group of housemates who are taking the same course.

Find Free

Believe it or not, many books are available for free on the Internet. For example, if you are taking an English, history, or philosophy or class you might need to read primary sources or historical novels. Books published before 1923 are in the public domain, which means that they are free to distribute. You can read such books on your smartphone, computer, or eReader using resources like gutenberg.org or bartleby.com, but be sure to use the edition your professor specifies. She may reference page numbers, footnotes, or a forward unique to a particular edition.

Buy Used

When a new semester begins, used books are sold at the university bookstore along with new books. A price might be especially low if a professor opts to use a new edition for the first time that semester -- just decide if you want to risk using a different edition of the textbook. You can also look for books online. You can search for the best price using search comparison tools, such as campusbooks.com. Amazon.com and half.com both sell used books as well as new books at a reduced price. Shipping can be expensive if books are coming from different sellers, so see if you can buy multiple books from one seller. Look at online ads, such as craigslist.com, to see if students are offering to buy, sell or trade books.

Rent for Fee

Many campus bookstores now offer textbook rentals for select classes. The University of Virginia bookstore, for example, offers rental books at about 50 percent of the new price. You can always decide later to buy the book, and you are often allowed to lightly highlight rented books. The internet also offers many rental options from common book retailers, such as half.com and amazon.com, while sites like bookrenter.com and chegg.com specialize in textbook rental. These sites often make returning the books very easy. Such websites often buy used books as well, so you can sell your old books and start saving money for next semester.

About the Author

Paige Johansen has been writing professionally since 2003. She holds a B.A. in psychology and English from Cornell University and an M.F.A. in fiction writing from The University of Virginia. Between degrees, she worked in the fashion industry for two years.

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