New, Used, Borrowed or Rented?

The topic of college textbooks radiates through the memories of any graduate. Most people have at least four years to get it right, but many of us never do. We all knew students who seemed to find the best deals, or the others who overpaid out of sheer laziness. This article is not for those people. This article attempts to help those still struggling with the new, used, borrowed or rented debated raging on campuses nationwide. Hopefully this helps to narrow down the best choices for you and gets you a head start on next semester’s books.

Stack of colorful books (cut-out, white background)Before we get started, there are some basic tips to follow. First, get access to book lists as early as possible. Websites and bookstores know that college students tend to wait till the last minute, so get ahead of the game by scoring better prices and having more selection by purchasing early. However, there is a catch to this tip. There are a number of professors who list textbooks they never intend on using. To avoid this frustrating and expensive issue, use previous students as references. Find out what is an absolute necessity in the class and what you could possibly borrow or share with a friend. Before you start your search, you’ll want to have the following information organized to make searching as simple as possible. A word document or scratch piece of paper will work just fine.

Having this information at your fingertips will better guarantee a correct purchase. Having to return a book and rush to find a replacement is not a good way to start a class. Finally, and this goes along with accessing required readings early, allow plenty of time for shipping. Some professors allow a few weeks into the course for books to be purchased, others want multiple chapters read before the first night. Play it safe and order early to be fully prepared.

New vs. Used

It would be wonderful if all students could afford new books every class. Imagine cracking open a giant science manual fresh off the printer, or sifting through the pages of a brand new novel with no highlighting or scribbles. If this is possible, and it doesn’t cause you to have to auction a limb, by all means go for it. New books are a luxury and should be appreciated. However, most of us will need to acquire used books just to make it through to graduation.

•  An obvious but important note is used books may not be in the condition you desire. If you’re someone who gets distracted by old scribbles and highlighting, spend more time determining condition. If you can read past it, by all means go for the cheapest option. As always, choose sellers with good feedback and who have been around for some time.

• Still a fairly new option for students is electronic versions of textbooks. For your humanities courses, check out Bartleby and Project Gutenberg for free downloads of classic literature.

• The big players are easy to find, a quick search on your favorite search engine will give you plenty of results. A few you may want to start with are Chegg, Amazon, and BigWords. Chegg makes the list because of their fabulous return policy. If you drop a class or end up not needing a text, send the book back within 21 days and you’ll get a refund. This is rare in the textbook marketplace, where everyone is usually trying to make a quick buck. Amazon is another good option to access a large retailer and individual sellers. Searching by ISBN is a breeze, and there are usually lots of options in condition of books from new to very used. Lastly, BigWords is a good choice for those wanting to compare shop between large websites. Spending hours online searching for the best deal can be a waste of valuable time, so stick with sites like BigWords that do the work for you. They also show the retail and shipping costs separately, along with coupons and promotions, so you can really maximize your deals.


Borrowing textbooks always ranks cheapest in options, but usually involves more headaches. Sources of borrowing include university and local libraries and other students. While it may be difficult to accomplish this for all your classes, it might be a good option for a class or two.

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•  Check out your library for options first. You’ll want to check out their policies on long-
term loans if they have them. Getting here first is imperative; if copies exist there tend to be few. Some professors provide the library with texts on a reserve basis. With this option, you’ll be allowed to borrow the text (within the library) for a certain number of hours at a time. This clearly gets difficult around testing time since everyone wants an opportunity to study, but if you plan it right it can go smoothly.

•  If you are considering sharing a book with another student, make sure you both agree upon a schedule. If it’s clear who has the book what days, no one should ever be angry and readings will be completed on time.

• Some students may not realize that with this option, note taking will be very important. Since the text will not always be available and you can’t write in it, you’ll need to be good at taking notes.


Renting has only become popular in the last few years. This option removes the struggle of selling a book after a class is over, but you are losing the profit in the process. The searching is still straightforward, with many popular sites now offering book rentals. This may be a good option for students who know they don’t want to keep textbooks after a class, or who know resale amounts may be too minimal to be worth the effort.

•  CampusBookRentals is worth mentioning due to their history and customer service. They cover shipping both ways and have a thirty-day return policy. The part most find surprising, however, if that they allow you to write or highlight in the books. Their FAQ section states, “Just remember that future students will rent the same book after you, so be respectful. Keep highlighting and writing to what is necessary.”

Whether you decide to go new or used, borrowed or rented, don’t put too much time into the process. In the end, just having the textbook is most important; but if you can save a few bucks along the way, go for it!

Good luck, Orange County!

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