How to Shop for Textbooks

In college, you are required to get your own textbooks. Your school will no longer just hand them out on the first day of class like in high school. It’s up to you to find the books you need and to get them for when you need them.

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Killer Harmony | In college, it is up to you to shop for textbooks. There are many options, so you need to be smart about your strategy. Here is how to shop for textbooks.

There is this myth that the on campus bookstore is the devil when it comes to books. While it can be overpriced, sometimes, it is your only option. So, I am going to share how you can be smart about your books and know when to use the bookstore or another resource.

The Truth About the Bookstore

Going into college, I heard all these negative things about the bookstore. “Don’t get your books on campus.” “The bookstore’s prices are always ridiculous!” and other statements were common on college blogs and YouTube channels.

While I do not disagree with some of those statements, sometimes you have no choice. There will be professors who write their own books and only publish them to the school bookstore. Other professors will require an online access code.

You don’t need to avoid the bookstore completely, but you do need to be smart about how you shop for textbooks.

To Buy or To Rent

Some students will only rent their books; they only buy them if renting is not an option. I think that can be a smart strategy, because you can save money on books. However, I would only recommend doing that with classes outside of your major.

Buying books means that you have the freedom to sell them at the end of the semester-or not. With some more advanced classes, you might want to keep that book so it can help you down the line. If you have a class that spans out into two or more parts, you might need the book for more than one semester.

In the end, do what you feel is best and don’t spend more money than necessary. If you are pretty sure that you won’t touch that history book after the final, renting is probably the way to go. If you are really interested in your sociology book, don’t be afraid to buy it.

New vs. Used

Another common debate when it comes to buying books is whether you should splurge for a new book or buy used. In most cases, I prefer to buy used books. I can save a bit of money while still getting a (somewhat) good quality book.

There are some instances where you should definitely go for a new copy. If your book come with an access code, for example, you usually can’t get away with a used book. Those codes are almost always one-time-use, so you will have to buy a code separately.

Another time when you should buy a new book is if there is a workbook component. Yes, I know it sounds silly. Why would a college try and resell a workbook? It happens. My freshman year, I bought a used workbook and had spend about an hour erasing the previous owner’s answers.

College bookstores can do anything to make a quick buck, including taking back and reselling workbooks.

In the end, the new vs. used debate really comes down to what you can afford and to what the book actually is. If you have the money, go ahead and buy new books. You can make whatever marks, and you don’t have to worry about it being covered in notes. But, like most students, you probably want to save money, so used books are totally acceptable.

Compare Prices

Once you have figured out what books you need and whether you plan to buy them new or used, it is time to compare prices. There are many places where you can look at book prices, such as your college bookstore, Amazon, Chegg and more. You can even use SlugBooks to help you compare prices.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask if your bookstore will price match. Online book sites will usually be cheaper, but you can ask about those prices while still being able to have the convenience of buying your books on campus.

Get Your Books

Once you have found the best prices for your books, get them! You don’t want to wait too long, because the book could go out of stock or the price could rise. Getting your books now will lead to less stress when you get back to campus. There will be one less thing on your to do list.

Even if you can only get your books from the bookstore, look into preordering them. That way, you can walk into the bookstore to pick them up and avoid the crazy lines of shopping.

If you only follow one piece of my advice, please get your books before classes start! Don’t wait until the first day. Even though you might be able to avoid buying a book on your list, you will probably have to spend some time waiting in line to actually buy your books.

If you are worried about spending money on books you don’t need, most places have a return/refund period. Getting your books ahead of time will save you so much stress come syllabus week, so you can actually focus on your classes.


Do you buy or rent your textbooks? Are you a friend or foe of the bookstore? Let me know in the comments! Also, be sure to read this post on preparing for the new semester and follow me on Twitter (@HannahHaefele) so you don’t miss future posts!


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