Everything you need to know about textbooks

Greetings, everyone! Happy textbook season. As the school year quickly approaches, many of you might be wondering how the textbook process at Illinois works. When I was a freshman, I had no idea where to start looking. Professors don’t always have their own websites and Moodle/Compass has no information either. But don’t worry, even though the path to getting all of your textbooks is a bit circuitous, there is usually a way to find what you need before the school year begins.

Searching for those textbooks.

Let’s start with knowing where to find the textbooks you need. Sometimes your professor is the preemptive type and will email you all the information you need to know about textbooks before your classes begin. While very appreciated, this does not happen often. Most of the time, I end up checking the Illini Union Bookstore website to see if my professors have listed their required textbooks. To figure out which textbooks you need, go through the department list, select your course number, and choose your professor (if he/she is listed). If some of your professors are not listed, they may not have updated their textbooks for the semester yet. Check back in a few days and keep a lookout for emails or notifications on your Moodle and Compass.

Another option, if you are on campus, is to go to the Illini Union Bookstore and go to the lower level. There you can find all of the available textbooks they have. The textbooks are set up by department. So, when you go downstairs, look for a piece of paper that has all of the classes and their corresponding sections listed to help you navigate.

Next, understand the difference between required, recommended, or optional. While recommended and optional may seem to be options you can pass on, the professor may teach material that would be extremely difficult to learn without the textbook. So far, I’ve best determined what textbooks I actually need by purchasing all of the required books and waiting until the first day of class to decide upon any recommended or optional materials.

As you go through the campus bookstore and search up all of your classes, online or downstairs in the physical bookstore, write down every book whether required, recommended, or optional, as well as its corresponding prices. Write down both the new and used prices, as well as the rental price if it is available. Some professors will require you to purchase all of your books and materials from the Illini Union Bookstore. If that’s the case, you can make an account at the bookstore’s website and purchase them in advance, or you can bring books up to the main level and purchase them at the cash registers.

Lots of books to choose from. Compare prices!

If your professors don’t specify where they want you to buy the textbooks, feel free to look into other (possibly lower priced) options. This is where your list of all the books you need comes in.

For buying textbooks in other places, I’d suggest first comparing prices. Look up the textbook online and see what options are available. Check the prices with the ones at the bookstore and see if there are cheaper, used books. Make sure to only look on reputable sites: reliable shipping/handling, good reviews, etc. I like to check out Amazon first because it usually has the textbook I need and it comes with a variety of prices and options based on the seller. If you’re buying from a third-party seller on Amazon, it’s better to buy from a seller whose order is fulfilled by Amazon, otherwise your order will be fulfilled directly by the seller and that may be a less reliable choice.

Another option for buying textbooks is to buy them from your fellow students at Illinois. There are a number of Facebook groups that you can visit to look for any available textbooks that students may be selling. Free & For Sale at UIUC is a popular group for people to sell their old textbooks (and old everything else). Considering this is a more informal purchase, the seller may ask to meet somewhere on campus to give you the book. As always, be smart about where you’re going to meet your fellow students. Take a friend with you and make sure you’re meeting in a place where you are comfortable.

However, sometimes your best option is the Illini Union Bookstore. Other materials and practice books required by your professor may only be available there, or your textbook has an online access code that you need with your textbook. Oftentimes the professor will compile all of the required textbooks into a nicely pre-sealed stack that will come out as a lower price than buying each book individually. Whatever you choose, just make sure that you have the correct edition, author, and year of publication, and the textbook should work for you.

Make sure you have the correct edition. Sometimes you can get away with having an older edition, other times professors require the most recent one.

Consider renting textbooks.

If buying textbooks still sounds like too much money or too much commitment, consider renting. Renting textbooks can be a big money saver, knocking $200 books down to $20 and providing some space in your dorm or apartment. The bookstore does offer some textbooks for rent. Some of its deals are better than others, depending on the type of book. Other options for renting include Amazon and campusbookrentals.com. Campus Book Rentals is one of my favorites because they allow you to rent for the semester. They’re also well priced, timely, and provide an easy, paid return system. Also, feel free to look online at other book rental sites, but make sure to read reviews and see if its a trustworthy site. My friends have had some luck with valore.com as well.

Before renting, make sure you don’t have to write in the book for any reason, otherwise note taking may be a bit difficult during the semester. Also, consider your learning style, other course requirements, and its usefulness for later courses or even future jobs.

The most inexpensive option is to ask friends or classmates if you can borrow their book from a previous class, or if they’d be willing to lend it to you for a small price. Just make sure to ask them some obvious questions, like: Do you need the book any time during the semester? Do I get to keep the book? Am I allowed to write in it? Do you need the book back before the end of the semester? They’re doing you a favor by letting you use a textbook they most likely bought, so it’s nice to show them this courtesy.

Sometimes, your classes will have readings that don’t require you having a textbook for the entire semester. If that’s the case, your professor may put library textbooks or other materials on reserve in one of the university libraries. Your professor will notify you that the books are there in class and you can go check the book out for a certain amount of time during the semester. Because you are a student of the university and pay certain fees, you do not have to pay for access to most (if any) of the materials in the university libraries.

So much paper, so little backpack space.

Finally, decide if your textbook needs to be in print. A lot of large lectures and online classes have online textbooks available, but even if its a smaller classroom, wait until the first day of class and see if you can purchase a cheaper, online version and use a laptop or tablet. Some professors necessitate print textbooks, but lightening the load on your back and being able to access your textbook easily is an option to consider. If you’re unsure or worried about not having a textbook on the first day of class, purchase one that you can return later if an electronic edition is available and allowed.

If you have any questions about textbooks: where to start, where to find them, how to compare, feel free to comment below.

I hope this helps with your textbook search!






Class of 2019
I'm an English major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I'm also minoring in Business. May my blogs help you with your searches toward finding what you love.


  • I will be making a call to appropriate channels shortly for some guidance, but because my daughter’s costs will be being paid for with loans primarily, at what point will she have those funds available through the university so that she’ll be able to purchase her books in time for classes to begin? How does this process work? I felt that once we are notified her funds are available for housing/tuition, she’ll have access to them in some way to make book purchases, but I want her to have plenty of time to make this happen and was looking for a heads up as to the timeline.

  • Hi Bob,
    Financial Aid is planning to disburse loans on Sunday, August 20th, though it typically takes 3 to 5 days for any excess to hit a student’s account. This means it would likely be the 25th. However, the timeline could be different depending on the type of loan and if your daughter has an account set up for direct deposit. We recommend contacting Financial Aid at 217-333-0100 or finaid@illinois.edu for more details.