How Much Do Books Cost For College?

With my own kids just a few years away from college, I decided to get proactive and find out how much it was REALLY going to cost us. Yes, I knew that tuition has gone way up since I graduated and figured that the cost of textbooks has followed a comparable upward curve. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I’ll tell you how wrong a little later.

To get an idea of how much books would cost, I started with my own course load when I was a freshman, using my own state alma mater as a reference. These are all intro “101”  courses with the required books. Here’s what I discovered:


  • English: 2 textbooks, $108 and $40
  • Math: 1 textbook, $200
  • Biology: 1 textbook $180, 1 Lab Manual $11
  • Economics: 2 textbooks $339 and $144

That’s a grand total of $1022 for one semester. I have to admit, I was shocked – and not in a good way. I also have to admit I was a little ashamed of my ignorance about how much the cost of books has risen. IMO, a book that cost 300 bucks should not only be able to educate me, but feed me, romance me, and buy me breakfast in the morning. And tap dance.

Humbled and now worried about how we were going to able to afford this, I began Googling like mad for more info. I did not like the results of my searches. I’ll be as succinct as possible with what my research uncovered.


  • The College Board  estimates that the average student in the U.S. spends around $1,200 a year on books and supplies.
  • The Government Accountability Office reports that between 2002 and 2013, the price of college textbooks rose 82 percent — nearly three times the rate of inflation.
  • The American Enterprise Institute concluded that college textbook prices are 812% higher than they were 30 years ago.
  • The advocacy group U.S. PIRG found that 65% of students decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive, and 48 percent said the cost of books had an impact on how many or which classes they took.

How can you get the most out of your classes when you can’t even afford the cost of the required books for them?! What’s it going to take to get these costs under control, an act of Congress?! Well, actually there is a bill before Congress to do just that: the Affordable College Textbook Act.

But, considering how effective Congress has been of late (whether you’re a righty or lefty, let’s not get into that) no way am I waiting for them. The best tip I found for managing how much books cost for college is to rent them online from places like Chegg or CengageBrain.

Here’s the cost for the same books I got prices on above, rented from CengageBrain:


  • English: 2 textbooks, $62 and $16
  • Math: 1 textbook, $114
  • Biology: 1 textbook $85
  • Economics: 2 textbooks $165 and $73

That’s a grand total of $515, which is way less than the $1022 to purchase them new. The price comes down even more when you search and find a coupon code to apply, and there are plenty out there, so look before you buy.

Don’t kid yourself – college is expensive and costs are only going to go up. Start saving now, do your homework, and make sure your son or daughter rents, not buys their books.

By: Peter

Similar posts