How to Score Free (or Almost Free) College Textbooks

College is expensive, and I'm not just talking about the sticker shock of tuition. There are other costs, some that you might not consider at first. There's the expense of decorating and giving your dorm room style and personality, plus the daily cost of food if you're not on a meal plan. And an even bigger expense — textbooks. (See also: Save 20-100% on Textbooks)

Don't think that you're going to walk into a campus bookstore and pay $30 for a book — you'd be lucky to find a book this cheap. College-related miscellaneous expenses can vary by semester, with the average cost for books and supplies starting at $1,200 for public and private colleges, reports College Board.

Not exactly good news if you're on a tight budget. However, college textbooks don't have to break the bank. The campus bookstore isn't your only option. Get creative and you might score free textbooks — or at least cheap books.

1. Check Out Your Library's Selection

Since you'll use your main textbooks for the entire semester, you may not think to check the selection at your campus library. But along with your main textbook, your professor may include a list of other books — books that you may not need the entire semester. (See also: 4 Reasons Why You Should Support Your Local Library)

"After arriving to campus, students should go to their college library as soon as possible with a list of the textbooks needed, and if the library has the book, inquire about checking it out." says, Jon Lal, founder of

Given the fact that you may only need a particular book for a few lectures, it doesn't make sense to spend your hard earned money. If the book isn't available in the library, see if your school is part of a lending consortium — you might be able to borrow the book from another school's library.

2. Network With Other Students

Befriend others in your major, and you may never pay full price for a textbook again. Opening your mouth and doing a little networking is an excellent way to get free or cheap textbooks. Maybe you know people who took the same class last semester. They might sell you the book at a price cheaper than the campus bookstore. And if you have old textbooks in your possession, you might be able to negotiate an even-exchange swap.

According to Lal, is a great place to see if your Facebook friends have a copy of the book you need. Or you can use sites like,, and to exchange used books with other students.

3. Get the eBook

If you're on a budget and don't have a lot of cash, skip the laptop and go with a tablet computer. These devices are affordable, lightweight, and great for studying, and they can fit inside your backpack. (See also: Use an iPad as a Laptop)

"A tablet can provide value to students well beyond its small price tag," says Lal. Download apps, access electronic textbooks, or search the Internet. You can even purchase a keyboard to create and save documents more easily.

With a tablet, getting your textbook in ebook form might be easier than you think. Several resources are available to you — many at no charge. For example, the Internet Public Library offers free access to classic books, and if you search the Internet Archive, you'll gain access to more than 2,500,000 items.

Lal also recommends the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Library Foundation, a non-profit with free novels and textbooks downloadable to a computer or tablet, or you can access free ebooks and PDF textbooks through and

4. Rent Your Books

If you buy your books there's always a chance that you won't be able to resell at the end of the semester. And since you're not likely to open the book once you finish the class, why waste $100 (or more) for one book?

Buying books online can be cost-effective, but this might not offer the best savings. Renting books from stores, such as Textbook Stop, TextbookX, Book Renter, and Bookbyte can help you stay on budget. For greater savings, search online for a free coupon code. You might be able to take a percentage off your rental or receive free shipping.

5. Earn Cash Back on Books

You probably won't find free or cheap copies for all the textbooks on your list, but even if you only score one free book, that's cash you don't have to spend. (See also: 17 More Places to Buy, Sell, and Trade Books)

Whether you rent, buy used, or purchase new, pay for your textbooks with a rewards credit card, if possible. This way, you earn cash back or points on every purchase — regardless of whether you're online or in-store. Cash back earnings can help offset the cost of expensive college textbooks.

But don't only pull out your credit card when you're buying books. To maximize your savings, use the credit card for groceries, gasoline, and other miscellaneous expenses. Build up your cash back reward balance, and by next semester, you might have earned enough to cover the cost of all your books — just make sure that you pay off your credit card balance in full each month. (See also: Great Credit Cards for College Students)

Do you have other tips for saving on college textbooks? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

You have to find your book at the library, which requires a surprising amount of creativity. At the basic level, novels and famous works are easy. When you get into very specific textbooks, it gets harder. The first thing you should try are the intercollegiate book sharing networks; they put hundreds of libraries in your range for free.