Attending college has numerous expenses associated with it. Not only do you have to worry about paying for tuition and room and board, but you also have to pay for the textbooks and supplies you need to attend each of your classes. When it comes to college textbooks, you have three primary choices: rent, buy new or buy used. Each option comes with its own set of pros and cons; pros and cons you should weigh so you can choose the best option for you and your needs.


One of the latest trends in obtaining the college textbooks is renting the textbooks, just as you would rent a movie on DVD or video game. Renting textbooks allows you to pick out the textbooks that you need for each class. You pay a rental fee for each of the books for the semester that you will be using the book. Most of the rental companies then provide you with a prepaid return-receipt shipping label to ship the books back to the company from which you rented the college textbooks.

The advantages of renting your textbooks include:

  • Having the books that you need
  • Pay to use and then return the books when finished
  • Don’t have to worry about selling the books back or get stuck with the books because they are out of use
  • Less expensive than buying new textbooks
  • Comparable in price to buying used textbooks

Buy New

Another option for getting the college textbooks you need is to buy the textbooks new. If it is a new edition of a book, then there may not be any used textbooks that you can buy, but you still have the option to rent. Some students prefer new textbooks because nobody else has used, read or written in the book before you. While this is a primary advantage of buying new textbooks, one of the primary disadvantages is that brand new textbooks are much more expensive than buying used textbooks or renting textbooks.

If it is a textbook that your profession may require you to keep for future reference, you may prefer to buy a brand new college textbook. For example, if you are going into the medical field, many textbooks may be used at various points in your career as reference materials. In a situation such as this, you may prefer to have clean reference books.

Buy Used

The final option in obtaining the college textbooks you need is to buy the books used. One of the primary advantages of buying used textbooks is they are less expensive than buying brand new textbooks. Renting and buying used textbooks tend to have comparable prices. Used textbooks tend to have writing and highlighting from the students that previously owned and used the books. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. The notes and highlights may help you to understand the information better or it may be a distraction for you.

Used textbooks may be kept as references. Otherwise, you have to worry about trying to sell back the textbooks to the bookstore or college textbook reseller—and it’s never for the price you paid for them.

With all three options, you can typically buy the college textbooks in person or online. Renting textbooks is most commonly associated with an online transaction. In-person or online transactions may or may not be convenient for you, so how you complete the transaction may supersede the importance of what type of college textbook you choose.

Previously, college students had the option to buy college textbooks used or new. Now, students also have the option to rent college textbooks. Since each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, you should weigh the options to see which choice fits your needs and wants the best.

One comment on “The Great College Textbook Debate: Rent, Buy New, Buy Used

  • Thanks for writing quick run-down of textbook purchasing options. I think it’s important that students understand what their purchasing needs are – rather than just trying to save money. You mention this when talking about a profession that may ‘require you to keep the book for future reference.’

    Renting books is also great because you know exactly how much you’ll spend on books for the semester (unless there’s excessive damage to the books upon return). But, buying used and selling your books back may save you the most money in the long run.

    Anyway – thanks again!

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