How to Find Cheap Textbooks for Community College Classes

How to Find Cheap Textbooks for Community College Classes
Are you paying too much for community college textbooks? Learn about how you can save money on your textbooks, ranging from tips on how to find the best used deals to even renting your textbooks.

College textbooks are notoriously expensive. Community college students, especially those who are just beginning college or returning to school after years in the workplace, may experience sticker shock upon their first visit to the college bookstore.

A Business Week article on textbook prices reports that the General Accounting Office (GAO) says that textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation since 1986! College students are estimated to spend an average of between $700 and $1,100 per year on textbooks, according to a Washington Post article on the issue. The issue of textbook affordability exists for community college students as much as it does for students at four-year institutions. Most community college classes require textbooks that are similar in price to those required at the most expensive four-year colleges and universities. Thankfully, today’s community college students have a number of resources at their disposal for cutting down on the cost of textbooks. Before you pay full price for textbooks at your campus bookstore, try some of these ideas.

This video offers advice on where to buy or rent textbooks cheaply.

Smartly Prepare for Your Textbook Bargain-Hunting

Before you begin your search for cheap textbooks, you’ll need to know which books are required for your courses. Many community colleges have websites for their bookstores online where you can look up the required textbooks by entering your course ID numbers. Check to see if your college offers this service, and use it to make a list of the textbooks you need. By writing down the ISBNs as they are listed on the website, you’ll make sure that you get the correct edition for your course. If your community college does not have a bookstore website with a textbook lookup service, try emailing the instructors of the courses you’ve registered for and asking which textbooks you should plan on purchasing.

Shop Online for Used Deals

The Internet offers a dizzying array of websites where you can purchase cheaper new and used editions of textbooks. To find the best deals, use a comparison search engine such as Bigwords, Booklookr, or Bookfinder. On a website such as, you enter the title, author, or ISBN of a book you are looking for into the search box, and the website will give you a list of online booksellers who offer the book, sorted from the lowest to highest price.

This video offers suggestions on where to get textbooks cheaply online.

Consider a Textbook Rental Service

If you don’t think you will want or need to keep your textbook after this semester, consider using a textbook rental service. The leading textbook rental service is Chegg. Chegg users can rent a textbook for a semester (125 days), a quarter (85 days), or for 60 days. The company guarantees that the books it rents will never have stains, water damage, missing or loose pages, or writing within the book. It also offers users the option to buy a textbook after renting it for those cases in which you change your mind. Other sites that offer a similar service include campusbookrentals and bookrenterm.

Try eBook Versions

Many students are finding that they can save significant cash – and the environment – by purchasing their textbooks in e-book format. Coursesmart, an e-book service owned by five textbook publishers, offers over 4,000 textbook titles, which is approximately a third of the entire market, according to a New York Times article on the e-textbooks. In addition to being able to read textbooks online, Coursesmart users can choose to highlight and print certain parts of their textbooks.

Consider Purchasing Individual Chapters

Some textbook companies are starting to offer students the option of purchasing only the chapters of a textbook that their course instructor has indicated are required. This can save students money and is also environmentally friendly. The textbook publisher Cengage offers individual chapters for as low as $1.99 through the eChapters part of its textbook marketplace, Cengage Brain. Students can choose to print out the chapters they have purchased or read the chapters on their computer screens.

Try the Library

If you really want to save money, check your campus library and local library to see if they have copies of the textbooks you need. You can’t get it any cheaper than free!

This video offers another take on where to get inexpensive textbooks.

Check Bulletin Boards and Facebook

Finally, remember that buying from other students can often yield the quickest path to a cheap textbook. Check bulletin boards around campus or virtual bulletin boards on Facebook or Craigslist. Students often post offers to sell their used textbooks on these types of boards. You can also try posting a request on your campus’ bulletin board for specific textbooks and see if you get any offers.

Whether you choose to buy a used textbook, rent a textbook, purchase individual chapters or an e-book, or use the power of social networking to find a bargain, you’ll find that investing a little time and effort can yield big savings when it comes to textbook shopping for your community college classes.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @communitycollegereview

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