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To Rent or To Buy and Other Common Textbook Questions

A stack of used textbooks

A stack of books waits for buyers at the STLCC-Wildwood bookstore.

Once the matter of tuition is settled, the next big financial stress for college students is paying for textbooks. If you’re new to the college scene, you’ll quickly realize that all those heavy textbooks you stuffed in your locker or lugged around all day at high school are actually worth quite a bit of money.

College is different. Your instructors simply won’t  hand you a  textbook on the first day of class. In fact, your professors might not even require an actual book, but might require an e-book or an online access code instead. You’ll quickly realize that figuring out what to buy and budgeting for books is a big deal.

Luckily, college bookstores recognize that students need more than one option when it comes to getting textbooks, and many colleges now offer e-books, used books, online books with access codes, and the option to rent instead of buy.

Buying vs. Renting

Renting texts usually costs less than buying, at least in the beginning. But there are a number of other factors to consider when making the decision to rent or to buy your textbooks. Start by asking yourself these questions:

Is the same textbook going to be required for future courses?

Sometimes the same text is used for a sequence of courses in a subject area (for example, English 101 and English 102). In this case, it might be less expensive to buy the book and use it for both classes, than it would to rent it for two semesters.

Does the textbook have information in it that I will want to refer back to as a reference?

If the textbook is in your course of study or major, it could be a valuable resource in the future. In this case, rental is not likely to be the best choice. Many science, math books fall into this category.

How much will my textbook will be worth at the end of the semester?

At St. Louis Community College, students can get back as much as 40 percent of the purchase price, but that is not guaranteed.  It may be less depending on how many of the same books have already been sold back to the bookstore, the condition of the book, and whether the instructor  will be using the same book and the same edition in the following semester.  It’s impossible for the bookstore staff to give you a definite buyback price when you buy the book, but knowing a ballpark figure can help you make an informed decision.

When you rent a textbook, you obviously will not have an opportunity to sell it when you are finished with it. If the purchase price minus the amount you think you can sell the book back for at the end of the semester is less than the rental fee, you might want to buy it instead.

What do I need to give the bookstore to rent a book?

Since you’re renting the textbook, most bookstores will require a promise that you will return the book by a specific time at the end of the semester. If you do not, they will charge you the cost of the book.  At St. Louis Community College, students must provide a valid credit card (not a debit card). If the book is not returned on time, the bookstore will charge the credit card and put a hold on your student account.

The Early Bird Gets the Used Books

Used books are less expensive than new books, and are another good option to consider. If you would like to consider a used book, buy it early. Used books fly off the shelves faster than new books, especially those in great condition.


E-books, books that you read on your computer or tablet, are becoming more and more popular. Sometimes your instructor will give you a choice of using a real-life textbook or the e-book version. This is a personal choice and depends on how you best and study and learn.

If you’ve already embraced the digital age and are comfortable reading and studying from a computer or tablet, go for the e-book. E-books might also include digital links to study questions, quizzes or other bonus materials that you can’t access otherwise.

However, if you love to jot down notes in the margin or highlight text as you read, an e-book might not be for you.

Most e-books expire after a specific period of time – usually six months to a year – so if you think you will need the book as a resource, a traditional textbook might be a better option.

Access Codes

Some books come with a special “access code” that is used online to do just that – get “access” to additional course materials such as online videos, practice exams or course assignments. Some instructors use these access codes for graded work like homework and tests.  Sometimes you can get through the class with just a book.  Check with your instructor to find out if you are required to have the access code. This information also might be noted on your course syllabus.

NOTE:  Some used books are sold without the access code. Make sure you understand if your instructor requires the access code and whether it is included with the textbook you are considering.

To find out more specific information about St. Louis Community College bookstores, please visit their websites:;;;  

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