College Textbook Rental

Last week, we discussed how to keep book costs down, and we heard back from many of you regarding the new trend of college textbook rental. There are several companies which now rent books to students all over the nation, and some individual campus bookstores offer textbook rental as a service to enrolled students.

money jar - image courtesy of Ramberg Media ImagesBut does renting actually save you money? The word from campuses (and blogs) all over the USA indicates that textbook renting is the best way to secure your books at a great price. Reports from students who have used college textbook rentals indicate that an average over 50% was saved per book, resulting an almost unheard-of savings on the bottom line compared to the traditional process of buying a book (either new or used) and then selling it back to the bookstore later at the end of the term.

Here are a few college textbook rental sites to get you started. Don’t forget to check with your campus’s bookstore to see if they offer you a better deal. As always, a quick web search for reviews on any textbook rental site you find could save you a lot of time and headache later: — Chegg has been in the forefront of the textbook rental market for some time, with rave reviews across the board regarding rental costs and the ease of shipping. — Half is an eBay company, but unlike eBay’s auction process, Half serves as a storefront. You can buy immediately instead of waiting for an auction to end, and the payment process is much simpler than the one eBay delivers. Half now has a textbook rental program to offer users. — With enticing offers like discount codes, no shipping on orders over a certain dollar amount, and a lack of membership fee, eCampus is breaking away from the pack and reviews indicate some students are getting their best deals here. — If you get a copy of your syllabus early enough, there’s a good chance could save you even more money with their Book Chapter Rental service. (Have you ever bought or rented a book for a class, then discovered the professor will only be using Chapters 2, 6, and 14? What a waste!)

What sites have you used, and how did you feel about your experience with them? Let us know in the comments!

College Rankings: The Other Inflation

How does your college choice rank?It’s the time of year when high school grads and their parents grab a copy of the latest college ranking publications from sources such as Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges and US News and World Report in hopes of slimming down their prospective colleges lists. While higher-ranked schools come with heftier tuition costs, we must ask: is it worth it? Are the college ranks giving you an accurate picture of the education you will receive?

We’ve got news for you: the recent trend shows rankings have changed and they give no guarantee you’ll be getting the quality education the higher price tag appears to offer. It’s time to read these reports skeptically and start finding supplementary sources of information to make sure your educational goal is met.

In the current Education Week, writers and researchers Frederick “Rick” Hess and Taryn Hochleitner collected and compared published college rankings from the past twenty years, and discovered the rankings system over the past two decades has changed significantly and caused what Hess considers inflation. With Barron’s, for example, he shares this data:

The number of schools in the top category doubled between 1991 and 2011. In 1991, 44 schools ranked as “most competitive.” In 2011, 87 did. The growth is due to a slew of institutions migrating up to the top tier: 17 schools moved up between 1991 and 2001, and 28 more since 2001. The ranks of the “highly” and “very competitive” have also grown steadily since 1991.

Hess goes on to ask: “Do these findings reflect more schools being ranked? Nope. The total number of schools in the rankings has barely changed, meaning that the distribution of schools has shifted.” In another publication for the American Enterprise Institute,  he writes: “[T]he club is not nearly as exclusive as it used to be.”

Barron’s isn’t the only college rank publisher whose top-tier college list has different criteria (and therefore, different weight) than it used to, but Hess and Hochleitner use it to illustrate one very important point in today’s college selection process: It’s one thing to go to a prestigious school. It’s quite another thing to get a meaningful education. Hess warns that students and parents must supplement these published reports with other sources of information to get an accurate picture of just how important one particular school’s ranking is over another’s.

Hess summarizes:

Rankings and labels can help prospective students and their parents navigate the college-selection process. But these labels need to be viewed with more care and skepticism than they often are. Faux exclusivity might be good for a school’s endowment or parents’ bragging rights, but it too often encourages families to pay top-shelf prices for store-brand merchandise. So, students and parents, choose away—but let the buyer beware.

DegreeCast, which launches before the end of June, can help fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. With data straight from the schools, you can discover tuition costs, book costs, and individual program information, as well as information on the school’s staffing and relationships with various corporations. We’re excited about DegreeCast’s launch, and we hope to help students of all types — new, returning, and adult non-traditional — get the data they need to meet their own educational goals.

Aside from school rankings, what other criteria do you use to find the college or program that’s right for you? Leave us a comment and tell us what you’re looking for.



High Book Costs: Leaves of Gold?

A stack of books

Learn how to maintain low costs as your book count climbs higher and higher.

Worth Their Weight In Gold (Almost)

The costs associated with a degree can be overwhelming on paper. Tuition is not cheap, and campus housing can be expensive. Once you’ve managed to pay for both of these it seems you’re slapped with hefty book costs. Unfortunately, many grants, scholarships, and loans don’t cover this additional expenditure.

College books are expensive, some topping $200 or more apiece and some yearly bills rising to over $1,000. The reasons for the high cost-per-book are varied, but there are ways to make your final book and materials bill more manageable.

One Man’s Trash

Buying used college books is one solution. Campus bookstores cater to the cost-cutters, and many feature large displays of used books in use for the current semester.

You can save between 20% and 30%, depending on the store. Look around for other bookstores around campus or town. Sometimes an unofficial college bookstore four blocks from campus can yield better savings on used books.


Libraries have saved more than one student a bundle of cash. As soon as a course’s recommended books list is published, call or view online every library in your area and reserve a copy as soon as possible. Librarians are excellent book scouts — they will be able to help you navigate the often complicated inter-library loan systems to help you locate the book you need, and they love doing it. Don’t be shy about asking them for help if you discover your local system doesn’t have the book. Libraries all over the US are networked, and if the book doesn’t show in your area, a good librarian can loan it from a different system for you. Librarians love a good challenge. Let them help!

Click It

Better bargains for both new and used books sometimes come from listings on websites such as Craig’s List or There’s also regular online bookstores like Amazon or BooksAMillion. Before buying, be sure you have the current recommended version of the book the course instructor has listed.

Borrow, Baby, Borrow!

Borrowing a book from someone who just finished the course is a great idea, although it comes with a few caveats. First, the original purchaser may not want you to mark the book up with your own notes, since they’re probably going to want to resell the book later. Be aware that sometimes the word “borrow” really means “rent,” and be prepared to offer them a percentage of the book’s original cost.

Borrowing from a current student of the course can be a sticky wicket. It’s a clear fact that you’re both going to want the book at the same time to prepare for tests and exams. It’s not a good solution, overall, and you should avoid it if you can.


To summarize, learn to love a bargain. Be innovative in searching out sites and shops which can help you find the best deals on books, and don’t be afraid to ask librarians and students for help.

If you’ve found a site or method that works for you, let us know it the comments! We’re in the business of helping you get a clear picture of what kinds of commitments your degree will demand, and this includes giving you information on the best ways to manage the financial aspect.