College Textbook Shopping Guide

“Do I have to buy the textbook?”

If you’re a college student, chances are one person will ask this question the first week of class. I hear it more often than I should even though I’m thinking the question in my head.

“Could I pass without it?”

To many professors, this is an understandably offensive question to ask. If a professor takes the time to put a textbook under the required materials for class, then students need it if they plan to take the class seriously and succeed.

But many professors understand that buying textbooks can be a huge expense!

The National Association of College Stores says the average college student will spend $655 on textbooks each year. Depending on a student’s major, textbooks can cost more than $300 each.

Textbooks are just one expense many college students have to find a way to afford. Since most college students don’t have good paying jobs, (hence why they are in school) it makes sense why students do not want to pay $85 for a general education class textbook they’ll never look at again.

But even if the price of a textbook seems outrageously high, that is life. You can’t avoid the cost of textbooks, but you can find ways to pay less than full price with this guide!

1. Make a textbook list

Ball State University students can go to Ball State Bookstore or T.I.S. College Bookstore’s website to type in their classes to see what textbooks are required. Those stores, along with the Ivy Tech Bookstore, also will help students find the books they need in person.

2. Use an online price comparison tool

Once you find out what books you need, print out the list and start comparing the textbook prices to different stores online. Start with a website like, which searches through stores, categorizes the types of textbooks and compares the prices for you.

3. Price check yourself

The online tool will compare many online stores, however, it might not include local stores. It’s always a good idea to see what the local textbook store’s prices are online too.

4. Ask stores to price match

T.I.S. Bookstore and Ball State Bookstore will price match one copy per person of a new, used or used rental textbook from, and local competitors. To price match, the textbook must be the exact same with the same rental term and accompanying materials (Buy New = Buy New, Buy Used = Buy Used, Rent New = Rent New, Rent Used = Rent Used). Also, the textbook must be in stock on the competitor’s website or store. They will not match digital textbooks, access codes, special orders, new rentals, peer-to-peer pricing or online marketplaces like

5. Ask around and be aware of access codes

I suggest only asking the professor if you need the textbook if there is something confusing about it. For example, it comes with an online access code. It’s important to know the requirements because some access codes can not be reused, which may mean a used textbook is useless until a new access code is bought too. Sometimes you’ll only need the access code rather than the textbook. Ask other people if they’ve taken the class. Google reviews of the professor’s class online and see if anyone has posted “don’t buy the textbook.” Post on a group Facebook page. Sometimes students will try to sell their textbooks on large group Facebook pages too.

6. Rent used

Renting a used textbook will almost always be the cheapest route.

7. Rent digital

If you have a computer, see if renting a digital copy of the textbook is an option. One less textbook you have to remember to bring and carry around in your backpack will be a huge weight off your back. If you are comfortable reading from a screen, this option is often the second cheapest to renting used.

8. Resell

If you have the money, see what you could sell the textbook back for. It might be a better deal to buy and resell. But keep in mind that a new textbook will usually be bought back for more money than a used one. Also, resell the textbooks you have and don’t think you’ll use again.

9. Buy early

Not all professors believe that syllabus week means party and sleep. Some might give you an assignment from the textbook on the first day. Bookstores are crazy busy during the first week of class. If you go late, you’ll most likely spend more because you’ll be more worried about getting in line and out of the store than the price.

10. Don’t stress

If a professor decides you don’t have to have the textbook for his or her class, he or she should make that known during syllabus week. Textbooks can usually be returned. Check the return policy or call the store before buying.