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Student Loans

How to Pay for College Books

Everybody knows college can be expensive. But it’s not just tuition costs you need to budget for—college textbooks are another essential college cost that will take a bite out of your bank account.

The average student can expect to spend $940 to $1,160 per year on textbooks, according to The College Board. Keep reading because we cover several ways you can pay for your books below, including student loans, grants, and scholarships. We also offer tips on saving money while shopping.

Can you use student loans for college books?

Textbooks are a legitimate college education expense, so you can use student loans to cover the cost.

Our expert recommends

Erin Kinkade


If you have no other payment option, I think using student loans to pay for books makes sense. If you have access to a 529 plan or Coverdell ESA, I suggest using funds from that account. Or if you have a parent or guardian willing to cover the cost, that would be ideal. Also, if you’re employed while in school or saved money prior to college that’s not in an IRA, you can use those funds. But I think it is OK to use student loans for all education costs, and required textbooks fall in that category.

Federal student loans

You should first use federal student loans if you haven’t hit the maximum limits. These have low interest rates and favorable repayment terms, and the government may even pay the interest during deferment periods depending on the loan type.

To get a federal student loan, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

You’re typically eligible to receive your financial aid 10 days before the semester begins. Some universities will issue you a bookstore voucher if you expect a refund. 

The timing of refund varies, but some schools will deposit your refund into your account the first day of class if you choose direct deposit. You can also choose to get your refund as a paper check but this option will likely take longer.

Private student loans

If you aren’t eligible for federal student loans or have hit the limits, consider private student loans.

Offered by banks and other lenders, these often require a cosigner or a solid credit score (but student loans without a cosigner are available).

With a private student loan, some lenders disburse funds to the school; others send funds right to you. You’ll often get your refund before the semester begins and can use it to cover your books.

To find a private student loan, check out our guide to the best private student loans 

How to get free college textbooks

Due to the high costs of college textbooks, many scholarships and grants can help students cover the cost of their books. 

Available funding is limited, and acceptance can be competitive, so you should apply as soon as possible to increase your chances of qualifying.

College textbook scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants to cover textbook costs include:

  • Carl A. Scott Book Memorial Fund: Students with a demonstrated commitment to social justice working toward a social work degree could be eligible for this scholarship. It offers two $500 awards to eligible students. The fund is targeted to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students, but it’s open to individuals from all races.
  • Passageway: The Passageway scholarship foundation offers a $1,500 scholarship to students who have participated in a regional occupation program (ROP), such as a charter school or transition program. Applicants must be high school graduates or completing high school within 60 days, and undergraduates must have a GPA of at least 2.0. Graduates must have at least a 3.0 GPA.
  • Foundation of NACE Scholarship: The National Association for Catering and Events offers three different scholarships to eligible students pursuing a career in event management. You must submit an essay when applying for these scholarships, and some have minimum GPA requirements.

Check with the Department of Education in your state or your school’s financial aid office to find out about additional scholarships and textbook grants. This will help you find free college textbooks where you live or attend school.

Other ways to save money on college textbooks

Regardless of how you’re paying for your college textbooks, it benefits you to find ways to save on this expense. Here are several tactics to help you avoid paying full price for college books this semester.

  • Rent your books: You can use sites such as Chegg to rent books at a significant discount to purchasing them. This is ideal for books you’ll use only for a semester.
  • Buy used: If your professor doesn’t require the latest issue or if the most recent issue of your textbook is now several years old, buying used can be a terrific way to save. 
  • Buy e-books: Many textbooks now come in an e-book format you can download and read on your tablet. This won’t work for reference books or books you need to write in, but it can be a fantastic option for books you just need to read. It can save cash and lessen the load you’ll carry around campus.
  • Share with a classmate: If you take the same course but at different hours as another student, consider splitting the cost of a textbook with them. Just be sure you can work out a system to provide you both with enough access to the book.
  • Check the library: Look at your school or local library. Many books might be available there. 

What if you have to buy books? Here’s our expert’s advice

Erin Kinkade


At the end of the semester or quarter, you can sell books back to your school’s bookstore or online. This returns some of the initial costs to you. You can use the funds for other expenses—such as next semester’s books—or apply them to your student loan.

You have plenty of options to save on the cost of college textbooks, including grants, and scholarships.

Paying for books with federal or private loan funds is a legitimate use of your student loan money, so don’t worry if some of your student aid needs to go toward helping you cover this expense.