Should You Buy or Rent Your College Textbooks?

college textbooks

Most of us didn’t have to buy or rent textbooks in high school (unless you went to a private school like I did, in which case you’re used to spending an arm and a leg on useless books). So, when college comes around we have no idea how to get our college textbooks, let alone decide to rent or buy them. In the beginning, it can be tempting to buy all your college textbooks new (because who doesn’t love clean, crisp pages?) but that’s more than likely not the smartest decision you can make. First, take a look at the options you have for book rental and purchase, then identify the pros and cons of both renting and buying, and finally come up with the best option for you — both economically and educationally.

Identifying Your Options

Renting and buying college textbooks isn’t as simple as it sounds, thanks to subcategories. When it’s all broken down you really have four options when it comes to getting textbooks: rent new, rent used, buy new, and buy used. This is pretty self-explanatory but basically, you can rent a book that hasn’t been used by anyone else (aka you’re going to be the first renter) which would mean that you can make your own marks in the text without having to worry about others. The other option for renting is to rent used which means you’ll be renting a textbook that has already been used by someone else — which probably means it already has marks in it. The buying options are the exact same except you’ll keep the book instead of returning it at the end of the semester.

No matter what you choose, you’ll rarely have to worry about dirty or worn out pages — so you can rent textbooks without worrying about the condition of the book. Usually, if there are problems with the textbook, the seller will be upfront in the description. Most companies make sure to check the books when they get them back for damage and will both charge the previous renter if they tear the book up and also won’t just pass that particular book along to someone else (I’ve actually never come across a company that didn’t do this).

Pros of Renting College Textbooks

Personally, I’m all about renting my college textbooks. The first reason is that it’s usually cheaper than buying textbooks (especially if you get the online version). The second thing is that, generally, unless you just love the class or end up needing the textbook for an extended period of time, you’re not going to have any use for it once you’ve completed the semester. Yes, you can resell your book online or back to the university but oftentimes you’re not going to get all that you paid for it so, to me, renting is the best option.

Along with these reasons, choosing to rent your college textbooks (especially used ones) most of the time means you’re getting to use the notes and knowledge of all the people who had the book before you. If you’re like me, you highlight phrases, doodle, makes notes in the margins, and define words that you don’t know all in your textbooks. So, with renting you’re basically able to transfer information to one another and it can be really helpful in the long run — especially if you’re taking a rough class.

Pros of Buying College Textbooks

Buying is expensive and the textbooks that you do purchase, more often than not, end up collecting dust on the shelf in your bedroom back home. While I am a little biased towards renting textbooks, I do see that there are certain benefits to buying. However, the two situations that I would advise you to buy textbooks are if you’re going to be using it for multiple semesters or if you’re buying a novel or books of that nature.

Say you’re a nursing major and you’re going to need your anatomy book for the next two years either because of required classes or materials to refer back to, then I would suggest purchasing the book — same could be said for Spanish majors’ Spanish textbooks or writing majors’ grammar textbooks. If you were to just continue renting a specific textbook for more than one semester then it’s likely to end up costing you more than if you would’ve just bought it.

The other case where buying your college textbooks would be beneficial if it isn’t actually a “textbook” but rather a source of reading material such as a novel or book. Oftentimes you’ll be required to purchase a supplemental book for a class — especially your English classes. For me, it’s better to buy these types of books because I love reading and usually end up really enjoying them. Also, I like to make my own notes in the margins and highlights in the text which can be difficult because usually, the person before me had already done a lot of that (and a lot of times we need to be highlighting and making notes about different things). To avoid the confusion and stress of trying to decipher my writing and underlines from someone else’s, I usually just purchase these books new. These are almost always the cheapest textbooks that you’re going to have to buy anyway and for me, it’s so worth spending the extra $3.

Deciding Which is Right for You  

Now that you’ve heard all the options and the pros of each, it’s up to you to decide! Just to recap, I like to rent my college textbooks because it’s cheaper and I usually don’t use them after I’m done with the class. The exception to my personal rules are textbooks that I’ll be using for multiple semesters and novels which I like to write in myself and keep to read again. There’s really no right or wrong when it comes to buying or renting your textbooks, it just depends on you, your financial status, and your style of studying. Once you determine how you study and what you need in order to succeed, your textbook selection process will be a breeze.

Where You Should Rent or Buy Your Textbooks

Once you’ve decided whether you’re going to buy or rent textbooks, you have to pick where you’re going to get them from. The one thing you should remember when looking for where to get your books is to trust no single price — and exhaust all your search options. While it might be easier to just order your textbooks through the school, oftentimes they hike up the prices and you end up paying a lot more than you would on other platforms.

Personally, I first go to the school’s textbooks buyer and look at the cost of the books I need for that semester. Then, I go to Amazon and search for the same textbooks to compare prices — usually Amazon is less expensive, especially when you’re renting. Then I go to websites like AbeBooks and look at their prices for textbooks. Finally, I compare and choose the cheapest options for the books that I need and buy from there. Usually I’ll end up getting a few from the school (like paperback books), some from Amazon, and a couple from AbeBooks. Mixing and matching textbook vendors is perfectly fine, as long as you can keep up with where they need to go back to at the end of the semester — in the event that you’re renting. Just remember to do your research, because it’s so easy to spend $100 more than you should without even realizing it — believe me, I’ve been there.

Follow Anna on Instagram: @annamariedepoyster

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