How Much Do College Textbooks Cost?

Written by: Staff

Whether purchasing books for college courses, the cost of text books can really add up.  Each class usually requires at least one text book, sometimes two or three.  Being purchased every semester, this means that the cost of textbooks could be an issue at least twice, maybe even four times per year.

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How much do college textbooks cost?

The total cost of a textbook at the college level is usually between $30 and $240.  This price depends on the curriculum, your school and the exact textbook.

According to the National Association of College Stores, the average college textbook was $57 for the academic year in 2010.

If you want to get an idea what a book may cost for your particular subject, use the to browse courses and prices.

For example, the curriculum available through McGraw-Hill, a popular curriculum for regular high school classes as well as AP classes, runs between $60 and $100 for a classroom text book.  Their Geometry book is $75.

Another curriculum, such as A Beka Book, is specifically designed for Christian education and can be much cheaper.  For example, their Grammar book is only $15.

The total cost of books at a college level will usually be much higher.  Depending on the number of credits, the price can vary from $200-$1000 per semester.  According to, the national average for college textbooks is $1,137 per year.


Credit: UVA and Priceonomics

What are the extra costs?

Many classes require a workbook or lab manual in addition to the actual textbook.  These books are usually cheaper, smaller, and more flimsy.  The reason for this is that they are meant for the student to write in and are not meant to be used by more than one person.  These workbooks and lab manuals are usually around $15-$50.

Optional study guides may be required outside of the book.  These are guides that allow the student to write in them as the classes go on.

Some classes will need some type of computer program to complete as well.  For example, a class on Microsoft Office will require that the student has a computer which runs MS office programs.  This software is usually extra, but can also be purchased at a discount if it is for a class.

Other textbooks may require additional learning material that is used online.  This material can be viewed using a special log-in code.

Tips to know:

Check with your professor or college bookstore to find out what book you’re going to need for your class.  Once you find out what book you’re going to need, always make sure that you check with at least three different comparison sites.  It’s best to get the ISBN to ensure that you have the exact book.

Shop early, and be sure to shop online.  99% of the time, the book is going to be the cheapest online.  If possible, try to buy used.

Why are textbooks so expensive?

Nearly 50% of the costs will go to the publisher and the school bookstore.

New editions are always being released, driving up the prices.  Recent reports showed these new editions were unnecessary.

Publishers will often include CD-ROMs and study guides, driving up the price.

How can I save money?

The best way to save money on textbooks at the high school and college level is simply by buying each textbook used.  It is very important, however, that you match the exact ISBN of the required textbook so that you get the correct version, especially since each textbook has many different issues and volumes.

Used textbooks can be purchased through sites such as and  These websites offer discounts of 20%-80% off original prices;  these new prices will be determined by the demand for the book as well as the condition of the book.  Your bookstore on the college campus may have used books available as well.

eBook versions are becoming more and more popular these days and can cost significantly less.  These books can be viewed on eBook readers such as the Kindle, Nook, etc.

Sometimes you may find that renting a book can be a lot cheaper than actually buying the book.    Popular book renter websites such as can help you save up to 70%+

Financial aid, grants and loans can help pay for textbooks.

Check with your local school library to see if you can rent the book for free.  Many universities have multiple textbooks available.

Talk with your college professor ahead of time to see if an older version may work.  It’s also a good idea to see how much the book will be used.  Sometimes, these books are recommended by the college and won’t be used much in the classroom.

Don’t forget to look for scholarships.  Many scholarships out there are focused on books and may be able to help.

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