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August 14, 2019

6 Hacks on Buying Books to Reduce College Costs

Tips to Reduce Your Books and Supplies College Costs

Hacks to Reduce the Books and Course Material College Costs

Hacks to Reduce the Books and Course Material College Costs


The average amount of books and supplies in the cost of attendance for public university students was $1,160 in 2018-19 according to the College Board. According to faculty surveyed for the Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2017, the average cost of required textbook ranged from $68 to $182 depending on the discipline. The good news is in spring 2018, 32% of students surveyed by National Association of College Stores’ (NACS) reported using a free method to obtain what they needed for class. So how do you reduce the college cost of buying college textbooks, consider these six hacks to reduce the textbook college costs:

Go to the library (Free)

Many faculty members ask the college library to put their college textbooks and materials on reserve. Depending on the rules of the library, students can borrow these books for hours or even days at a time. Just know that this method may mean that you may need to work around the availability of a particular book.

Use an open educational resources (OER)

(Free)

Check out if your textbook is available on one of the growing number of OER websites. For example, Open Textbook Library and OpenStax Textbooks have developed catalogs of free, peer-reviewed, and openly-licensed textbooks. Some faculty will even post in their syllabus when using OER.

Rent college textbooks

(Affordable)

A ton of companies rent college textbooks to students. Among them include Chegg, Amazon, and ValoreBooks. These services are great ways to pay a fraction of the cost of new textbook. If you decide to rent college textbooks, make certain you know the shipping costs to and from your address to ensure you have calculated the total cost of renting.

Buy an eBook

(Affordable)

Digital versions of college textbooks can be an affordable way to go. There are no shipping costs involved. Plus, it’s environmentally friendly method for reading. Make certain you read the fine print on the expiration dates, the hosted platform, and other restrictions. Also, think about how you absorb digital content and visuals in the versus print ones.

Subscribe to membership online database

(Affordable)

Cengage, a large publisher that recently merged with McGraw-Hill, offers a subscription that costs about $120 per semester for unlimited access to more than 20,000 digital course materials, which includes textbooks. Depending on how many college textbooks and course materials are in their service, this can save you a ton.

Purchase a used textbook

(Affordable)

Often faculty use the same edition of the same textbook for several semesters or even years. So, consider buying a used textbook off a college mate or from your local bookstore or online textbook provider.

Whichever method you consider for purchasing books, just be certain you use the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and edition when you are searching for a college textbook. You want to ensure that when your professor assigns pages 117-235 in your "Intro to Chemistry" textbook that you are reading about atomic structure in fifth edition versus chemical bonding one those pages in the third edition.

Photograph of Colleen Krumwiede
Colleen Krumwiede
Co-Founder & Chief Revenue Officer

Colleen MacDonald Krumwiede is a financial aid expert with over a decade of financial aid experience at Stanford GSB, Caltech, and Pomona College and another decade at educational finance and technology companies servicing higher education.  She guides go-to-market strategy and product development at Quatro to transform the way families afford college.


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