Textbooks: To Rent, or not to rent?

Renting textbooks
Everyone knows that the costs of attending college in the United States are high, and keep rising, but few are aware of how much of those costs are allocated just to buying textbooks!

During college, I was faced with a decision: would I rent my textbooks, or buy them? There was usually quite a dramatic difference in price between the two options, but there are pros and cons associated with either choice.

For any of you faced with this dilemma, here's some background on the topic, along with some of my tips for how to go about renting textbooks and why it's sometimes a good, or maybe not so great, idea.

So why consider textbook rentals in the first place?

Well, you'd be surprised to know that, on average, an undergraduate student in the 2015-2016 school year spent an average of $1300 on textbooks alone.If you think about it, that's a lot of money for books that are most often required by professors for their courses.

©2016, National Association of College Stores, Inc.

That's not all, either. According to the National Association of College Stores, there is an upward trend in the average costs of textbooks being sold, from $79 per new book back in the 2013-2014 academic year, to $82 per new book in 2014-2015.

Between 2002 and 2012 alone, the price of books increased by 82%.2

At this rate, the price of new books will continue to rise, making it difficult for some students to afford them. So what's the alternative? In recent years, there has been an increase in options to rent textbooks.

The benefits of renting your textbooks

Let's start off by going over some of the advantages that I personally see in regards to renting your college textbooks.

  • Costs - In my experience, the cost of renting a textbook is much lower than purchasing that same book. However, it's important that you compare costs as soon as you receive your list of books from your professor.
  • Responsibility - Rented textbooks are temporary in that, once the semester is over, you return the book and you no longer have to worry about it. This was a huge factor for me in terms of classes that didn't pertain to my major, as I had no need for these books after graduation.
  • Convenience - There are now a few options for renting books, more than what I had during college: Chegg, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your college bookstore. All of these stores/websites now offer some form of textbook rental. You request the book, receive it via mail and send it back at the end of the semester. Some offer free shipping, which is also really useful.
  • Version issues - It's very common for professors to update the edition of the textbook required for their course as those new versions are released by publishers. As this is the case, renting the newest edition is usually cheaper than buying it, as the new books were just sold on the market.
    • It is very important that, when searching for textbooks, you consider two factors: if in doubt, search for the book by ISBN number (you can get this from either your course syllabus or the college bookstore) when renting. Secondly, e-mail your professor and ask if you can use a previous edition of the book instead.
    • In some cases, the professor won't require the newest edition if major changes weren't made between the versions. The older books will almost always be cheaper than the newest ones.
Keep in mind that, when renting textbooks, you have to limit any editing done within the book. If you're someone who likes to highlight or take notes in the margins, this may not be the best option for you!

The benefits of buying your textbooks

I will admit that there are also some benefits associated with buying textbooks so it's important to keep these in mind when making a decision.
  • Re-selling - One of the advantages to buying your textbooks is that you're able to re-sell the book at the end of the semester in order to recoup some of the costs from the initial purchase. For example, if you bought the book for $125, you could sell it to a student who's taking the class the following semester for $100, which helps them and helps you.
    • A warning if you want to re-sell your book: if the edition of the textbook for that course changes between your semester and the following semester, the book may not be worth as much.
  • Ownership - Doodle to your heart's content! The book is yours, so you can highlight, use stickers, take notes in the margins, circle terminology, dog-ear the pages, etc. I normally buy textbooks for the classes that are most important to my degree and/or major, as well, as I like to keep them after the semester is over, as future reference.
  • Used versions - If you don't want to rent your book but the price of a new textbook is overwhelming, searching for a used version is a great way to save some money. Your college bookstore is a great place to check, as they will most likely have used versions available. But, if not, checking Amazon or eBay is a good start.
For anyone looking to start their collection of professional textbooks for their library, especially anyone in the legal or medical fields, buying textbooks is probably the more practical choice!

Final Notes

When considering purchasing or renting your textbooks, be sure to consider all options and do your research. Each semester, I spent at least an hour comparing prices and making a list of which textbooks I needed to buy and which I could rent. Sure, it took time, but I was able to save money that I could then spent on late-night ice cream and fries instead...

Important Terms

  1. ISBN number - acronym for "International Standard Book Number." Every book has a unique ISBN that makes it easier to search for that book across different mediums.


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