Textbook Rentals: A Page From the Affordable College Students’ Handbook

August 9, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

College students spend much more than they earn while in school, renting textbooks has become a popular alternative to buying textbooks.  (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
College students spend much more than they earn while in school, renting textbooks has become a popular alternative to buying textbooks. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Let's face it, students spend much more than they earn while in college. Renting textbooks as a popular alternative to buying textbooks is quickly becoming the go-to option for college students faced with ballooning tuition costs and decreasing financial aid.

Textbooks for courses like general chemistry or mathematics average more than $100 per book. Thus textbook prices can easily surpass five hundred dollars per semester for an average of five courses. This can be a heavy burden on a student's income, or lack thereof.

Textbook rentals can save college students half of what they would pay to buy their textbooks brand new. Students can rent a textbook for one semester, one academic year, or extend these due dates by weeks or months at a time with a small fee.

Although this option may mimic the luxury of borrowing textbooks on reserve from the university library, textbook renting assures that there is only one borrower. Constant access to a textbook can be crucial in those last moments before a final or midterm.

In one example, a biology textbook that retails for $190 can be rented for one-third of the price at popular textbook rental sites such as Chegg.com or bookrenter.com. Even Barnes and Noble, the largest book retailer in the United States, had added a textbook rental option which piloted in fall 2009. Unlike other sites, where renting online and having the textbook shipped is the only choice offered, this bricks-and-mortar renter also allows consumers to browse campus Barnes and Nobles stores for rentals.

Before textbook rental became such a viable option, the trend used to be buying used textbooks. In searching for the most frugal textbook option, one would scour websites like Amazon, Half.com by Ebay, or campusi.com. However, textbook buyback services at several universities repurchase these books for far less than half of the retail or even used price.

For most students, textbooks are a use-them-and-lose-them deal. A textbook for one course frequently will not be on the book list for another. Renting textbooks reduces clutter from old used textbooks and stress from the inability to sell back a book that is no longer in demand due to new editions.

For penny-pinching students recovering from having to pay tens of thousands for tuition, room, board, and last month's electric bill, textbook rental can be a cost-effective alternative.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Cheryl Wu