Prefrosh Preview: A guide to buying your textbooks

Textbooks are perhaps the biggest first-year expense that students can control. Yet at the beginning of every year, a Disneyland-sized queue of freshmen—and upperclassmen—inevitably winds around the upper floor of the bookstore.

After handing over shrink-wrapped copies of Accounting and Econ textbooks, students can find themselves paying well over $1000 dollars for books. When the semester ends, they’ll be lucky to sell those books for a fraction of what they paid.

That’s nonsense.

To help you cut down on books’ costs, we’ve got a list of suggestions after the jump. (Feel free to add your own in the comments!)

The Georgetown Bookstore

Didn’t you read the introduction? Avoid the bookstore at all costs! It can be hard to track down some of the more obscure books, but with a bit of extra planning, you can avoid rushing to the bookstore to buy that out-of-print edition of some obscure novel.

That said, I do love the bookstore’s search-by-class online ordering feature. Figure out which books you need, add ‘em to your cart, print out the list, and then—BAM!—delete the items from your cart. I like to add a “Ha! Take that!” for emphasis, but that’s just me.

eFollett, which runs the bookstore, will also offer rentable textbooks this year, but it’s a new service so I’ll reserve judgment until I hear reactions this winter. If you do rent, don’t lose those bundled CDs and forget about using your highlighter.


Before they started selling computers and groceries, was a simple online bookstore; it’s still one of the easiest ways to buy college textbooks.  The textbook store features an easy to use search interface, free book previews, and deliver to your door (erm … dorm) shipping. They’ll even buy your book back at the end of the semester.

One feature I love about Amazon is Prime shipping. Students get a free one-year trial of this swanky service (free two-day shipping on thousands of items) with their .edu email address. A year’s worth of free deliveries can save a boat-load of trips to Target in Columbia Heights or the CVS on Wisconsin Avenue.

International Editions

U.S. Textbooks are crazy expensive. When publishers try to resell their books abroad, they have to reduce prices—a lot. These International Edition textbooks, which are commonly sold in places like India and Thailand, are $10 copies of the $200 textbook sitting on your roommate’s shelf. The only difference is often the cover, with its “not for sale in the United States” sticker affixed to the front.

Thankfully, it’s not illegal to buy international editions. It is illegal to sell them—but that’s the other guy’s problem. Search around Amazon, Ebay,, and other sites for some deals on pretty respectable books. Gray Market! Woo!


Although I don’t recommend renting textbooks (aggressive highlighting is usually a no-go). the option is out there for those of you who treat books like treasured heirlooms. There are a ton of textbook renting sites springing up all over the internet that offer rentals at about half the price of new books. If the Bookstore Renting option doesn’t do it for you, the most respectable option is probably Chegg (others include Valore and Campus Book Rentals). For those of you with eReaders and iPads—or just don’t mind assigned reading on a computer screen—CourseSmart offers textbooks (and chapters of books) for download as protected PDFs.

“Free” Options

The Georgetown Library or DC Library System are great resources for tracking down a not-brand-new textbook. If that fails—and though I’d never suggest that you should do it—you probably will have access to both a friend in the MSB with more prints (read: copies) than he knows what to do with and another friend with a legitimately purchased edition of your textbook. This option is illegal, so don’t give any federal agents my name when they bust down your door. But hey, free is free.

The Interwebs

Thankfully many professors are realizing that assigning up-to-date articles posted on Blackboard is an economical and timely alternative to textbooks that are outdated within a year. It not only saves students’ money, but also saves about 800 pages of paper.

I know what you’re going to say: “I can’t plan ahead because my professors haven’t gotten around to releasing which books they’ll be using in the fall.” Here’s a tip for all you aspiring overachievers, which is most likely the lot of you. After investigating the bookstore site, MyAccess, Blackboard, and any other resource you can think of to discover the identity of your textbook, send a polite e-mail to your professor asking her which book she’ll be using in the fall. This’ll show that you’re eager, and your professors will probably understand your pain—they were students at some point, after all.

Photo by Flickr user wohnai used under a Creative Commons license.

11 Comments on “Prefrosh Preview: A guide to buying your textbooks

  1. I would like to highly endorse Chegg. You can’t beat up the book too much, but I’ve definitely not kept my books in immaculate condition and I’ve never had any problems after sending them back. And the prices are WAY cheaper than buying them new or used.

    Also, as far as I know, ever class has to have their books posted now on MyAccess as a rule for all professors. Which is useful.

  2. Last semester, I ended up buying the wrong book because the Georgetown Bookstore (purposely?) does not put the ISBN number online (and sometimes the author, edition, etc.)… so beware of buying early using the bookstore.

  3. Two important changes from the Textbook Competition and Affordability Act, which went into effect on July 1st:

    -Professors are now required to list the textbooks they use in the course catalog
    -Books are no longer allowed to be bundled with CDs or workbooks

  4. i don’t even know what my classes are going to be lol

  5. I endorse very much, not only because I use it to buy books at the beginning of the semester, but you can also sell them to make almost all of your money back at the end of the semester. All you need is a paypal account and an eBay account and you are already well on your way to making some decent cash from the books you used for the last semester in any condition. In the last week, I have sold a handful of books to people for a little over $200, which is about how much I pay for books a semester. Amazon is great for buying books, but they cut the buyback price so much that it is almost not worth it to send them back. With, you just need to ship out the book to the person who bought it from you, which means more money for you on your used books.

  6. I disagree–> don’t use!! They only back their sellers, not their buyers. I used it last semester, and was sent the wrong book by a seller, and the company didn’t help me get my money back. So instead of having bought a book at a great price, I was out $70.

  7. @Steven
    3 of my 4 classes are still “To Be Determined” on MyAccess.

    They will be required by law to comply with the Textbook Competition and Affordability Act (as described by k above) for Spring pre-registration in November.

  8. Check out to compare rental, new, and used prices for your books. Then you can really get the best price!

  9. I use amazon and half. I ran into an issue this summer with buying a book from half but I filed a claim and got my money back within a week. If you use online sites, use paypal just as a precaution.

  10. Rent Books – Textbook rentals save you money. Rent textbooks from our selection of new and used textbooks. Prefer to buy used textbooks – we have an extensive inventory of cheap used textbooks. Whether you Rent or Get Used, your textbook rental or purchase will be delivered fast, right to your door.

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