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Student Loans

How to Pay for College Books

Updated May 24, 2023   |   5-min read

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 cost of textbooks and other course materials is more than $1,200 per year, according to the College Board. Thousands of dollars per year for books can be a major source of stress on a student’s budget.

You have many options to fund the cost of your books, including grants, scholarships, and student loans. You might even be able to get college books for free.

In this guide:

Student loans for college books

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

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 FAFSA.

Private student loans

If you aren’t eligible for federal student loans or have hit the limits, you should next turn to 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).

To find a private student loan, check out our guide to the best private student loans or check out our top-rated lender, College Ave.

  • Fixed rates: 4.44% – 13.99%
  • Variable rates: 4.99% – 13.99%
  • Loan amounts: $1,000100% of the school-certified cost of attendance

>> Read More: Student Loans for College Living Expenses

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:

  • Helping Hands Book Scholarship: College students 16 and over can apply for a one-time award of $100 to $1,000 per semester to cover the costs of books. The application deadline is July 15 for the fall semester and December 15 for the winter semester, and applicants must include a resume or completed application, a high school or college transcript, and a $5 application fee.
  • 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 with at least a 3.0 grade point average. The Council on Social Work Education offers the scholarship, which is open to African American, Native American, Asian American, Mexican American, or Puerto Rican students.

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 open to people where you live or those attending your academic institution.

Other ways to save money on college textbooks

Whether you’re using a scholarship, grant money, student loan funds, or your own money to pay for college textbooks, it benefits you to find ways to save on books for your courses. 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 to rent books at a significant discount compared 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 textbooks can be a terrific way to save. Used books are much cheaper than new books, and you can resell them to another student at the end of the semester.
  • Buy e-books: Many textbooks now come in downloadable electronic formats you can 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. The downside is that you can’t sell your books back when you’re finished.
  • Share with a classmate: If your course is offered at different hours, consider splitting the cost of a textbook with a student attending a different lecture time. Just be sure you can work out a system to provide you both with enough access to the book. You don’t want to put off studying for an exam only to realize the student you’re sharing with also needs the book to cram at the last minute.

You have plenty of options to save on the cost of college textbooks. You may also be able to find grants for college books or scholarships to help cover books.

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.

>> Read more: Steps to pay for college