It doesn’t matter where you’re going to school or what you’re studying: textbooks don’t come cheap. Every time you start a new class, you're hit with a huge reading list — and a lot of the time, that list is populated with obscure books that are totally overpriced.
Unfortunately, you’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. You’re only going to need each book for a semester or two, and then you’ll probably never look at it again. It seems unfair to have to pay a couple hundred dollars for a book with such a short shelf life.
Then again, if you don’t get your hands on those books, you’ve got little chance of passing your classes. One of the best solutions: rent a book instead.
There are loads of college book rental websites out there that can help connect you with the textbooks you need. But instead of shelling out loads of money on those books, you can pay relatively small amounts to borrow the books for just a few months.
This guide explains why you should consider renting books, how to rent college textbooks, and the best college book rental websites of 2022.
Why rent college textbooks?
You don’t have to be studying rocket science to know that college textbooks cost a lot of money.
In 2021, the average cost of textbooks came in at $1,240 per year if you’re studying at a four-year university and buying from college bookstores. If you’re at a public two-year college, your book bill is going to come in even higher — costing the average student $1,420 per year.
Unfortunately, most of us haven’t got that much cash lying around, and student loans don’t usually cover books — which can mean having to make some tough choices.
In 2020, 1 in 4 students said they had to work extra hours at a part-time job to pay for their textbooks. About 11% of college students reported skipping meals to pay for books.
On the flip side, those sky-high book costs also often end up pushing students to avoid taking certain classes altogether. Almost 1 in 5 students say the cost of books has directly influenced their choices in terms of what classes they’ve decided to take.
Bearing that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that nearly 2 in 3 college students just completely avoid buying the necessary course materials because of steep prices. But you can’t exactly expect to pass a course without the book, can you?
An easy solution can be to try renting a textbook instead.
Much like the movie-rental places your mom and dad probably still talk about all the time, there is a range of college textbook rental services that allow you to borrow textbooks for a relatively small fee rather than buy them. The savings you stand to gain by renting are pretty substantial, too — but only as long as you make sure to return your books on time.
There aren’t many drawbacks to textbook rental. At face value, it can be an incredibly affordable way to borrow the textbooks you need to succeed without having to pay full price for an overpriced book you only need for a couple of months anyway.
But there are a couple of points you’ve got to be aware of, too.
First and foremost, by renting, you may not be able to benefit from a textbook’s access code. In case you’re unfamiliar, college books usually have a one-off access code you can use to go online and access additional learning materials like practice tests and exercises. These codes can only get used once — so if you’re renting a book somebody else has used or owned, the access code will probably have already been used up.
Next, you should be aware that not all rental services let you write in your rental book or highlight it. That being said, you will run into some sites that don’t mind if you highlight the odd phrase. On the flip side, you’ll need to be prepared to get a pre-highlighted textbook too.
Finally, remember that you’re only getting the textbook you’re renting for a limited amount of time. That means you might need to increase your borrowing term or borrow for a whole year to get access to all the materials whenever you need them.
How do you rent textbooks online?
While your school library is a great first post-of-call, an online textbook rental service is one of the most affordable options you should consider when looking for a place to borrow textbooks.
There are loads of them out there — and some are better than others (we’ll get to that in just a minute). But for all intents and purposes, the process on each site works about the same.
First, you use the site’s search function to find the textbook you’re looking for. You can normally do this by title or author. But the best way to ensure you’re getting the exact edition of the exact book you need is to search by the textbook’s ISBN. This is the 10 or 13-digit number that can normally be found on the back cover of your book.
Most sites will offer a quick comparison view so that you can check out different rental rates versus how much it would cost to buy the book used (or new). Once you’ve found the book you want, you’ll need to choose a rental term and add it to your cart.
Different sites offer different rental periods — but most college book rental websites will let you borrow a book for up to a whole semester or academic term.
If you haven’t already, you’ll need to register your details and set up an account with the service you’re using. This is where you’ll need to add credit card information (which is necessary to make sure you give the book back).
Don’t forget to do a quick sweep before checking out to make sure you’re not missing any discount codes or access codes for added bonuses like free shipping on rentals.
That’s all there is to it. Once the book arrives, give it a thorough examination to make sure there isn’t any damage that you’re not responsible for. If there is damage, let the company know immediately. If not, then you can start studying.
After you’ve finished with your textbook, you’ll need to pop it in the mail or take it to a drop-off location to make sure that it gets back to the company before your allotted time is up.
Some sites will give you pre-addressed packaging. Other rental sites simply provide you with a label and expect you to find your own packaging. A shoebox or a big padded envelope will normally do the trick, but it’s something to be aware of.
If you don’t return your book on time, you could get a fine added to your rental just like you’d get at the library. That being said, some sites are less forgiving and will automatically turn the rental into a purchase.
This means your credit card will get charged for the full amount of the book — so make sure to send it back on time.
What are the best college book rental websites of 2022?
A quick search of the web will tell you there are plenty of college book rental websites to choose from. But just like any other service, some of these sites are more legit than others.
To help you get started, we’ll walk you through five of the best college book rental websites worth checking out in 2022.
1. Amazon Rentals
If you’re concerned about borrowing books from some dodgy-looking site you’ve never heard of, Amazon is the obvious solution. It’s a name we all know, and Amazon’s textbook rental service is just as efficient as its other services.
The process of getting books is pretty straightforward with Amazon Rentals. First, you search for the textbook you need using an ISBN, book title, author, or essential keywords.
Once you’ve found an available book, you can choose your borrowing term. Each book has different borrowing periods available depending on demand. But generally, Amazon lets you borrow books for a semester, 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days. You can also choose to rent books on a rolling monthly basis.
You might get a used textbook through Amazon Rentals, or you might get a brand-new book. Again, this all depends on availability. Either way, Amazon only gives out books it thinks are in acceptable condition. If you're unsatisfied with the condition of a book you’ve gotten, you can return it.
If you’ve rented a book for a semester, you’ve got 30 days after it ends to get in touch with Amazon and send it back. If you’ve rented a book for a shorter rental option, you’ve only got 15 days to return it for a refund.
Amazon asks that you limit your writing notes and highlighting to a “minimal amount” on any rental textbooks.
You can use normal Amazon gift cards and Amazon accounts to rent books. However, if your book isn’t received with a postmark of its due date or earlier, Amazon will automatically extend your rental period (which costs you more money).
For a semester-long rental, your book will get a 15-day extension, and you’ll get a charge per book for those extra days. If the book still isn’t received with a postmark by the extension due date, Amazon will charge you the book’s entire purchase price.
eCampus.com is one of the most established college book rental websites. The formula is pretty similar to Amazon Rentals. First, you search for the book you need using its ISBN, the book title, or author. From there, you’ll be able to compare the prices of all available rentals.
After that, you choose your term, create an account, and then checkout to receive your book.
eCampus offers three rental terms for you to choose from: a quarter, a semester, or short-term.
As with most other college textbook rental sites, eCampus doesn’t guarantee that your rental will include a valid access code. That’s because access codes may only be used once (and so the previous owner or a previous renter will probably have already used them).
That being said, one major benefit you’ll get with eCampus is that the site allows moderate highlighting of up to 1/3 of the book. Compared to a lot of other rental websites, that’s pretty generous.
Chegg is another big name in the online book rental scene. Just like eCampus and Amazon Rentals, the rental process with Chegg is pretty straightforward — but a couple of things do separate Chegg from the pack.
First, you're allowed to highlight your textbook as much as you want with Chegg. That means you can mark everything that looks important without having to worry about getting hit with fees later on.
Chegg offers free shipping on all returns, and it’s got a 21-day refund guarantee if the book you’ve received isn’t in suitable condition (or you change your mind). This feature is pretty helpful if you end up dropping a course right after you’ve paid for an entire semester rental.
When you set up an account with Chegg, you also get a one-month free trial to Chegg Study. This is Chegg’s course assistance program which offers video tutorials, Q+As with academic experts, and test prep tools.
Unlike some other rental sites, Chegg also offers access to a huge selection of 400,000 eTextbooks.
If you’re unfamiliar with them, an eTextbook is also often referred to as a “digital textbook” or an “eText.” It’s basically just a digital, downloadable ebook version of a college textbook. eTextbooks can be read online or offline through any supported device like a smartphone, tablet, Mac, Kindle Fire, Chromebook, or anything in between.
Suppose you’ve got a special eTextbook reader, or you’re viewing it in your browser. In that case, you’ll also normally benefit from added features like the ability to highlight text, make notes, create flashcards, or have the book read itself aloud.
eTextbook readers have interactive features including highlights, notes, flashcards, and read-aloud that allow for an engaging reading experience.
4. Valore Books
Valore Books is another really solid college book rental website worth looking at. Valore’s rental terms aren’t quite as flexible — you can either choose to borrow a book for a quarter (90 days) or a semester (125 days).
Valore offers free return shipping to all borrowers by sending you a prepaid shipping label. But you’re responsible for finding packaging to place the book in.
If your book rental gets to your door in bad shape or you get the wrong book, Valore offers a full 30-day refund.
Just like most other textbook rental services, supplemental materials and other educational materials like a digital access code, DVDs, CDs, or workbooks aren’t normally guaranteed with Valore rentals.
But one big benefit you’ll get with Valore is the Valore Guarantee. That guarantee says if you rent a textbook from Valore and find a lower textbook price for that book within seven days, they’ll refund the difference.
5. Campus Books Rentals (CBR)
The CBR rental process works just like all of the other mainstream services. You just search for your textbook by its ISBN, the product title, its author, or any major keywords. From there, just choose how long you’d like to keep the book and then add it to your cart. Then, repeat the process for each textbook you need.
Campus Book Rentals rental periods range from either 55, 85, or 130 days. You can also extend your rental period by either 15 or 30 days, absolutely free.
After your order gets processed, Campus Books Rentals will ship your books so that you can get to studying. Once you’ve finished, simply log onto your account and print a prepaid return label. You’re going to be responsible for coming up with your own packaging for your books.
Unlike a lot of other rental services, CBR doesn’t have any rules against highlighting in your rentals. They just ask you to “be respectful” of future renters — which is pretty handy if you like to take notes in your books.
Be aware that CBR only ships US editions of textbooks.
If your book rental isn’t returned by its due date, your credit card will get charged a non-return fee. That fee is equal to the full price of the book.
Textbooks cost a lot of money — but you shouldn’t have to skip meals or avoid taking a class you really want to take just because the textbook prices are out of reach at your campus bookstore. If you can’t afford to buy, try renting instead.
There are loads of great textbook rental websites out there. We’ve outlined five of the heavy hitters. But it’s important to note this is only the tip of the iceberg.
There are loads more sites out there — including comparison sites like SlugBooks that help you compare rates of different services like Chegg, AbeBooks, eCampus, and Amazon Rental all at once. Just make sure to check out all the terms and conditions of any site before giving away your personal details or credit card information.
Want to find out how you can save money on textbooks and other expenses while studying in college? Be sure to keep an eye on CouponFollow for specific college coupon codes you can take advantage of.