I see this question a lot. The seemingly obvious answer is to go with the cheapest but there are other considerations that should be considered. Lets break down the Plus and Minus of each.
Sell them back for cash
The first advantage of buying textbooks is that you can sell them back when you’re done, recovering some of your original cost.
Usable for several semesters or as reference for other classes
Textbooks related your major field of study can always be used as reference in the future. Who knows when you might need to back to those earlier resources for a research project or a term paper.
Some Classes may use the same textbooks for more than one semester. In this case, students may be better off buying textbooks online, since the cost of buying is probably less than several semesters’ worth of rental fees.
No Condition or note taking issues
When you buy textbooks, you don’t have to worry about how much you write in them, if they get damaged, or if you lose them.
Buying textbooks is usually more expensive than renting them, especially if you’re needing a new copy of the latest edition.
Cheaper and easier
Renting textbooks is not only cheaper than buying, but also less of a hassle. When you’re done with the book, all you have to do is send it back.
Good for one time core courses and non major courses
Chances are you’ll never use the books again. So why buy them? Students who are taking core classes that are mandatory, but otherwise outside their major
Renting textbooks: The cons
Loss, damage, or late return fees
You’re responsible for taking care of your rentals. Textbooks that are damaged or lost, or returned after the due date, may incur extra fees.
No note-taking in the textbook
Most textbook rentals have strict rules concerning note-taking. Like: don’t do it. If you want to write in your books – underlining, highlighting or writing in the margins – then be sure to buy.
May not be available during finals
Check the rental length. Make sure you do not need to return the book until after finals.
Use a good textbook price comparison service to easily compare the current prices for rental, used and even international versions. Sometimes the cheapest textbook prices are not where you expect them.