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How to Pay for College Books

Textbooks can be very expensive. You can pay for the books you need using grants, scholarships, or student loan funds. You can also buy used textbooks, opt for e-books, or share books with a classmate.

5 min readJun 29, 2020


Everybody knows that college is very expensive. But it’s not just tuition costs that you need to budget for — college textbooks are another essential college cost that will take a bite out of your bank account.

The average cost of textbooks and other course materials is more than $1,200 per year, according to the College Board. Paying thousands of dollars per year for books can be a big source of stress on a student budget.

The good news is, you have many options to fund the cost of your books including grants, scholarships, and student loans. There are even some ways you can get college books for free.

In this guide:

  • Student Loans for College Books
  • How to Get Free College Textbooks
  • Other Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks

Student Loans for College Books

Textbooks are a legitimate college education expense, so you’re usually allowed to use student loan money to cover the cost.

Federal Student Loans

You should first use federal student loans if you have not hit the maximum limits. These have low-interest rates, favorable repayment terms, and the government may even pay the interest during periods of deferment depending on the type of loan you use.

To get a federal student loan, you will have to fill out the FAFSA.

Private Student Loans

If you aren’t eligible for federal student loans or have hit the limits, you should next turn to private student loans.

These are offered by banks and other lenders, and usually require you to have a cosigner or a good credit score (though there are student loans without a cosigner available).

How to Get Free College Textbooks

Due to the high costs associated with college textbooks, many scholarships and grants exist to help students cover the cost of their books. There are limits to funding available, though, and acceptance can be highly competitive, so you should apply as soon as possible to increase your chances of qualifying.

College Textbook Scholarships and Grants

Some of the scholarships and grants available to cover textbook costs include:

  • Helping Hands Book Scholarship: College students 16 and over can apply to receive a one-time award of $100 to $1,000 per semester to cover the costs of books. The application deadline is July 15 for the fall semester and December 15 for the winter semester, and applicants must include a resume or completed application; a high school or college transcript; and a $5 application fee.
  • Carl A. Scott Book Memorial Fund: Students with a demonstrated commitment to social justice who are working towards a social work degree could be eligible for this scholarship. It offers two $500 awards to eligible students with at least a 3.0-grade point average. The scholarship is offered by the Council on Social Work Education and is open only to African American, Native American, Asian American, Mexican American, or Puerto Rican students.

You should also check with the Department of Education in your state or with your school’s financial aid office to find out about additional scholarships and grants for textbooks. This will help you to find opportunities for free college textbooks that are open only to people where you live or that are attending the academic institution you have chosen.

Other Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks

Whether you’re using a scholarship, grant money, student loan funds, or your own money to pay for college textbooks, it still benefits you to find ways to save on books for your courses. Here are a few tactics that could help you avoid paying full-price for college books this semester.

  • Rent your books: You can use sites such as to rent books at a significant discount compared to purchasing them. This is ideal for books you’ll use only for a single semester.
  • Buy used: If your professor doesn’t require the latest issue or if the most recent issue of your textbook was released several years ago, buying used textbooks can be a great way to save. Used books are much cheaper than new books, and you can resell them to another student at the end of the semester.
  • Buy e-books: Many textbooks now come in downloadable electronic formats that you can read on your Kindle or your tablet. While this won’t work for reference books or for books you need to do work in, it can be a great option for books you just need to read through cover to cover. This option can not only save you cash, but it can also cut down on the load you have to carry around campus. Of course, the downside is that you can’t sell your books back when you’re done with them.
  • Share with a classmate: If your course is offered at different hours, consider splitting the cost of a textbook with a student attending a different lecture time. Just be sure that you can work out a system to provide you both with enough access to the book. You don’t want to put off studying for a big test only to realize that the student you’re sharing with also needs the book to cram at the last minute, too.

Bottom Line: There are Plenty of Ways to Save on College Books

As you can see, you have options for saving money on the cost of college textbooks. You may also be able to find grants for college books or scholarships to help you cover books.

Also, paying for books with federal or private loan funds is a legitimate use of your student loan money, so don’t worry if some of your student aid needs to go towards helping you cover this big expense.

This article originally appeared on LendEDU.

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