Acquiring textbooks for grad school is a little different than when you were an undergraduate. Undergraduates take a wide array of “core” courses, so many of your required books were not pertinent to your major field of study. As a grad student, however, most likely all of your classes pertain to your field and career, which significantly increases the likelihood that you will want to reference your textbooks in other classes you take or teach, when writing and defending your thesis, and even on the job. On the other hand, you already eat more than enough ramen as it is and the bookshelves in your tiny apartment are overloaded.

It’s a grad school dilemma. Buying is expensive, but the reference material may be worth it. Renting is cheaper, but you may wish you had that book a year from now. Let’s examine your options.

Option 1: Buy the Book

Owning the textbook allows you to highlight and take notes and then keep those notes for future reference. If you buy a physical textbook, you can choose between a new or used copy and you may be able to resell the book if you decide you no longer want it. If you buy an eTextbook, you can save space and money and there’s no shipping cost or delay; however, eTextbooks lack page numbers and graphics can be displaced, which can cause problems when communicating with your professor or classmates.

It is also important to note that as you progress higher in your education and as your field becomes more specialized, buying a book may be your only option. The books required for your grad classes or comps may be scholarly works published by university presses in limited runs, texts meant to be sold to libraries instead of individuals, or books by leaders in your field. You’ll have a hard time renting these kinds of books from a bookstore or online, and you’ll probably want to hang on to them. In the case of books written by leaders in your field, it could be particularly beneficial to hold on to these as you may be able to get the author to sign them at a future conference.


Option 2: Rent the Book

If you want to rent your textbooks, quite a few options exist for doing so. Most rental book providers allow highlighting and note-taking in the rented books, but you lose those notes when you return the books.

  1. Renting the book from a campus affiliated bookstore. This option is easily the most convenient. The campus bookstore and surrounding bookstores affiliated with your university are close by and make for easy pick up and drop off. The downsides to this option are that the university sets the prices for the books, which stores must adhere to, and that bookstores often don’t carry the more specialized books.
  2. Renting the book online. This option has the potential to have the most competitive rental prices and programs because of the sheer number of sites that offer online book rentals. These sites include Amazon, Campus Book Rentals, Book Renter, Skyo, and Chegg. If you have the time to compare sites, you can get better prices than in the bookstores. However, you usually have to know which books you need and for how long you need them ahead of time.
  3. Going paperless. If you own an eReader, this option can be the most flexible. With an eTextbook rental, you can’t forget to return the book, and there is no risk of damaging or losing the book and being forced to pay its full price. You also still retain the ability to highlight and to take notes in the text. Some providers, such as Amazon, even provide day-to-day rentals and keep your notes accessible to you online even after the rental has expired. The downsides to this option are the same as the downsides to owning an eTextbook, and, as eTextbooks are always “new,” it may be cheaper to rent a used physical copy.


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