How can I get college textbooks cheap? — Were you asking this question recently? It is almost textbook buying season, and I have the info to help you keep more money in your wallet.

The college textbook market is one of the most lucrative areas of opportunity for academic publishers. Costs have steadily been climbing especially because colleges and universities do not foot the bill for it. Listen to this podcast from NPR’s Planet Money for more information about college textbook pricing. Before you go into debt buying all of your books at the campus bookstore, have a look at some alternatives to traditional campus bookstore purchasing below.

How To Get College Textbooks Cheap

I have an updated post about a new and quick way to save on textbooks. At the end of this post, you will see a link for it. Check it out.

Find out what textbooks are required for the classes you are taking before the semester starts. 

I know, I know. This sounds crazy. I mean that is completely impossible, right? But, sometimes it isn’t. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Go to your college/ university’s online bookstore (sometimes searching “bncollege” + “[your school’s name]” will help) and search the course you are taking along with the course numbers. Keep in mind some teachers will have different requirements for their classes. Follow through with your search and find out if any textbooks have been assigned to the course(s) you are searching for.
  2. Email the teacher directly in the following manner (try not to copy word-for-word):

Hi Professor,

I’m excited about [Course Title] class this [fall/spring/summer]. As I prepare for the class, I would like to get familiar with the course material. Could you please provide me with the name of the textbooks and whether or not they will be required or not? Also, are older copies of the textbooks allowed?

Thank you in advance,

[Your name]

If you can get a used version of a textbook, you might be able to find a penny version on Amazon and just pay $3.99 in shipping. 

Also, Amazon has great prices on textbook rentals on or get Kindle editions which tend to be cheaper than the physical books. Use the search bar below to see what Amazon has in store.

Rent only for the time you need to study.

Try out a service like Packback where you can study and read from your assigned textbooks for only the days that you need.

Check out the public library. 

Public libraries by default will not carry college textbooks or any textbooks. This has been the policy at almost every library I’ve ever been to. However, many classes you might take may ask for more common books, especially for literature classes or other classes where the professor has a list of novels for you to read. Save yourself some money by checking out your library’s online database.

Sometimes you can get a library card for the library in your college’s city or town by showing proof that you attend school there (like with a student ID). If this is not available, there are still more options. In the past several years, more developments have been made in library-funded digital media resources, and many are now offering digital media through Hoopla and Overdrive. These two resources are some of the most famous apps that I’ve seen most libraries using. To access the resources, you simply download these apps, make a profile using your personal information like library card number, name, and email address.

Hoopla allows you to download a certain number of books/ movies/ audiobooks/ comic books per month. The choices are the same every month.

Overdrive’s offerings depend on the e-media your library has purchased. You get a limited amount of downloads based on what is checked out or available. Many of these can be downloaded and viewed in Amazon Kindle.

Check out your college library

Many professors will put textbooks on reserve in the library. Based on your college’s restrictions, you may be able to check out the book for a designated amount of time. One of the craziest things I’ve ever done to keep my costs low in college was doing this. I would go to the library with my laptop and make very detailed outlines of the textbook. It’s funny because when my professor would bring up a topic and need to refer to something in the textbook, I could just say, “Oh, professor, you can find that in detail on p. 57.” I wish I had asked if anyone wanted to buy my notes; I would have made some money.


Rent textbooks on or get Kindle editions.

Don’t forget that you can rent the textbook rather than buying for a lot less. Also, the Kindle edition of textbooks is something to consider for a couple reasons: 1) you will not need to lug around the book, rather you can just carry your Kindle or iPad with you; 2) word searches on Kindle make taking online tests or writing up papers a breeze when you’re looking for a specific point to address.



Do a basic web search.

Scour the net for the books using the title of the book + PDF, but be careful of viruses and always scan with Norton or a similar virus protection service to keep your device safe. Use this as your very last option.

Make a friend in your class who will share the textbook with you. 

Honestly, I think this alternative is not fool proof. By sharing, you are taking a risk half the time that your co-owner of the book will not lose it or damage it. Also, things happen all the time that could risk your time with the book, I had a student (Student A) who shared with another student (student B) in my class. Student B borrowed the book then stopped showing up to class. Student A was without the book during the midterms but eventually got it back.

It might be best if you shared with someone who lives in the same dorm or campus housing as you, but otherwise, try to avoid this method.

If you do buy and pay full price, don’t forget that you can sell them back.

You can easily use Amazon’s buy-back program or become an Amazon seller yourself. Alternatively, put up a sign in your dorm bulletin board or department student bulletin board at the end of the semester or beginning of the next semester.




Overall, these are the alternatives for better pricing in college texts that I gave my students each semester when they mentioned the expense of the textbook. I’d love to hear what alternatives you took in bringing down the total price of your college textbooks. Give us your advice and experience in the comment section below. Some things we’d love to hear is: What’s your major/ year and how much did you spend on course textbooks? Were you able to save any money, and how?

Want to save yourself more aggravation during the college dorm transition? Check out College Mamma’s Ultimate List of Dorm Essentials. 

I have an updated post on how to save more on textbooks. Check it out here.

Author: College Mamma

College Mamma is a professor who blogs for students. She is also a mother of two and a lover of coffee.