College students share tips to save money on textbooks

“Looking for CS1371 book.”

“$30 and it’s yours.”

“Selling Chem1310 book (6th edition Zumdahl).”

So read the comments on the Georgia Tech Book Swap Facebook page, one method students are using to avoid paying retail price for textbooks.

Teresa Hu is a junior at Tech, majoring in computer science. In her freshman year, she did “what all the other freshmen did” by purchasing books from the campus bookstore. “I didn’t know any better because I hadn’t talked to any other upperclassmen yet, and during orientation we were only told about Barnes & Noble.

“After my first semester,” Hu recalls, “I learned through girls in my sorority that Engineer’s Bookstore on Marietta [St.] is a lot less expensive and just as convenient to get to.”

When it came time to sell back expensive books, Agnes Scott sophomore Louisa Morton felt burned.

“When I first came to school I was doing neuroscience, and my bio book was $200,” says Morton, now majoring in economics and organizational management and public health. “I had to sell it back and it was only $80. I have been careful since then.”

Both women shared their tips on how to save this fall on textbooks, whether buying or selling (so you can instead use your quarters for doing laundry).

Buy used from a bookstore, online or other students: Hu now usually orders books from or “After I’m done with the course, I’ll resell books for about the same amount I originally paid for them, so it’s almost like borrowing a book for a semester for free.”

Additionally, the websites’ grace period for a full refund on purchases is longer than at some college bookstores, though Hu says a downside is the initial wait: She orders books two to three weeks before classes start.

Use an older version of the book: “For my science classes last year, I would ask my professor if it was OK to get a different edition,” Morton says, “because sometimes you can get a different edition for a lot cheaper.” Buying older versions can save you as much as $100.

Rent from your college or a rental service: “If I’m planning on keeping it, I’ll buy it used,” says Morton. “But otherwise I rent and return it at the end of the semester.

“I was just talking to the woman in the bookstore yesterday, and she said the worst books to invest in are in the language books, because they come out with a new edition every year,” which means you won’t get back much money — if any — when you try to return it, she says. “It’s better just to rent those.” is a popular rental site (plus, the company plants a tree every time you rent). Also try or

Borrow from the library or other students: “Don’t be afraid to ask,” says Hu. “You can ask friends, classmates and people you’re in clubs, band or Greek life with. I’ve been able to borrow books for a semester from friends of friends many times.”

Do you have other tips for saving money on college textbooks? Share with us in the comments section.

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

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11 comments Add your comment

Ole Guy

August 9th, 2011
8:04 am

Sometimes, it may be wise to (temporarily) forget the actual cost of a text and focus, instead, on the “credit hour value” of the book. A text for a five credit hour course might be traded for a text of another 5 credit hour course. Even though the actual costs of the texts may be wide apart, their “course completion” values are identical…you’ll need the course, come hell or high water, to satisfy your graduation requirements.

If you plan your college venture, in such manner, with another student, in the end, you will probably come out ahead…you certainly can’t go wrong. Come graduation day, you will have expended far less on books than you would have otherwise.

Good luck, college students, and for cryin out loud…DON”T FLUNK OUT!


August 9th, 2011
8:34 am

I go to school online (but previously went to a traditional university) so it is hard to trade books. I have 5 terms a year so I buy books five times a year. I buy most of mine used on or Amazon is great because they have a buy back program. I usually get about 70 to 80% of what I paid back so I am not out that much money. Unfortunately, I have to take several classes (usually math) where an access code is required for access to a special site. These books/codes are not even bought back by the school so I am out $150 for a calculus book. Since I have to take a math class almost every term I am out that money.

Peabody T. Justice

August 9th, 2011
8:59 am

I am a librarian and I can tell you that borrowing textbooks from a library is not a viable option. Students often confuse the ‘library’ with the bookstore, and are disappointed to learn that we do not carry textbooks for loan. The reason for this is simple: expense. Textbooks are too expensive and are changed too often for libraries to carry. Some libraries will have donated copies of some textbooks for students to use within the library. The rare occasion that libraries have loaned textbooks has resulted in students keeping the book for the whole semester, well past the due date, because the library fine is much cheaper than the cost of the textbook.


August 9th, 2011
10:12 am

I always hate to hear the “bookstore = bad guy” hysteria that erupts right around the beginning of fall semester. Regardless of your opinions of corporate giants like Barnes & Noble, the on-campus bookstore is an entity that has a vested interest in the success and well-being of the students. Everybody assumes that a random dot-com is always the cheaper and better solution. “If it’s on the internet, it has to be better!” Not. There are often just as many used books at your campus store, and at a similar or better price, remember no shipping from the store. Also, what happens when you get a used book that is missing pages or damaged? I’d take a second look at the campus stores before assuming that any website is the answer. Also, remember that what you’re buying is not the latest Stephen King or Twilight novel that sells millions of copies. It’s a textbook written by a genius in an obscure topic like Linear Algebra or Thermodynamics. It’s not going to sell many copies, and it’s pretty hard-to-find information. So don’t get your feelings hurt when it costs a lot of money. This is a college education we’re talking about here…


August 9th, 2011
11:57 am

Renting definitely seems like the best way to go! You can save lots of money and not have to worry about what to do with the book when the semester is over. And donates a book to a low-income child for every order placed on their site. Can’t quite do that if you buy used or borrow from the library.

D Reeves

August 9th, 2011
1:18 pm

Great info, especially the rental part. When you rent, you really are sharing. My daughter shopped our local stores and her books were going to cost around $800 ( Chem, Math and OSHA) she rented from for less than $250.00.


August 9th, 2011
5:23 pm

Peabody is absolutely right. Please do not tell students to borrow them from the library. As a college librarian, I can tell you that we are overwhelmed by students at the beginning of each term thinking that they can just borrow the textbook. Some libraries keep a reserve copy of some textbooks in the library – that can only be used in the library. The state has cut University of Georgia System funding by $540 million or 23.4 percent since 2009, according to today’s Athens Banner Herald. Libraries cannot afford to buy textbooks for all of the students who come asking. Please do not make such poorly considered recommendations.


August 10th, 2011
12:55 pm

Please do not use the library for textbooks. As others have stated, we don’t have the money or room to keep copies of the books for students to use for a semester. We also can’t risk angering other libraries by borrowing books on ILL for the students. It’s not fair that the whole college gets banned from borrowing from another library just because a few students wanted to save some money. Renting and sharing books with friends are MUCH better options.


August 11th, 2011
2:43 am

Not all students have parents to pay for our college education. I saved a lot by copying the books, then return it back to the book store. I spent less than a hundred bucks last semester and if you are Internet savvy you can find a copy of the books. Another option, I just bought my used psych book from EBay at for $7 buck.

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August 11th, 2011
8:43 am

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Ole Guy

August 11th, 2011
4:43 pm

Something else to consider…this would require “gathering a little intell (military-speak for intelligence, or simply “wazup”?) from students who have taken the course: How much is the text employed in the conduct of the course? Sometimes, the proff may employ the text in such a limited manner that “resource sharing” may be a viable option. Several students jointly purchase the text, photo copy the appropriate pages of concern, and go for it. This would certainly not be a good course of action when the text becomes a major resource for the class.

I remember a few courses during which the text was minimally employed…areas of research were the primary sections, within the text, which could have just as well been copied.

Simply sharing a text is another option, but the students (assuming they both have attained a modicum of responsibility, ie willingness to share and coordinate study schedules) would have to recognize the others’ shortcomings. Not unlike sharing a ride to work, there will almost always be someone who can’t seem to be on time.