The Top 10 Kinds of College Textbooks

As a college student, almost every single one of your classes will have a required textbook. Some will even have two or three.

Do the math, and after about four classes a semester with two semesters a year for four years that starts to add up.

So you might be wondering: What am I getting myself into? How do I know what to expect and how do I afford all that?

Don’t worry. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide of all of the different kinds of college textbooks you might come across and how to get them cheap.

Of course, you can group textbooks by topic, but there are as many topics as there are degrees. Whether you’re studying medicine, politics, design, history or any other major, your textbooks will likely all revolve around that major. Instead of discussing topics, this list describes the actual types of textbooks every major will come across.

Read on to learn the 10 categories of college textbooks you’ll need to know about for college.

1. The Physical Textbook

Starting with a broad category, there is the physical textbook. You’re probably already familiar with these.

The physical textbook is one you can hold and exists outside of the digital realm.

They’re often hardback, paperback or spiral bound.

These are useful if you feel more engaged when studying with a real book or don’t have a portable device like a laptop.

Their downside is that they tend to be more expensive if you buy them brand-new and they’re heavier to carry around.

2. eBooks as Textbooks

Want college books you don’t have to lug around campus?

eBooks are textbooks that you access online or download to your computer.

As eBooks have grown in popularity, some have begun offering additional features such as study guides, and the ability to highlight and take notes the way you would with a regular textbook.

The downside to the eBook becomes apparent the moment you lose WiFi or power. They also tend to cause more eye-strain.

3. Fiction vs Nonfiction Textbooks

Just like your average book, textbooks can be fiction or nonfiction.

Nonfiction texts are books that are true and based on reality. Most textbooks are nonfiction.

Even so, fictional books aren’t just for college leisure lists. Although invented stories, fictional textbooks are frequently assigned in Literature or English courses that want students to study the book’s themes and content.

4. The Autobiography

An autobiography is a book where someone, usually of prominence, writes about their life story. It’s considered a type of nonfiction because it’s about someone’s real life.

This is an important category for all majors because there are people of prominence in all fields.

As such, they’re often beneficial for the student to understand how that person’s life leads to the development of a certain theory or to understand what life in that field was or is like.

5. Intro vs Specific Subject Textbooks

No matter what you’re studying, your first year in college will consist of a lot of intro textbooks.

These textbooks are general course textbooks that cover the basics of the subject. They tend to go over a lot of topics relevant to the major in little detail.

As you progress through college, you will start being assigned more and more specific subject textbooks. These books are dense and require more studying.

This is because they take one of the subjects briefly covered in a general course textbook and delve into specific detail and terminology.

Specific subject texts tend to be more expensive depending on your major

6. Textbooks Your Professor Wrote

Eventually, one of your professors is bound to assign a textbook they wrote.

Having a Ph.D. or being a professional in their field, they are encouraged to write books to prove their expertise. Since they know their books best, they are likely to then assign them.

This practice is considered unethical, however, because your teacher proceeds to make money off of these books.

7. Workbooks and Test Prep Textbooks

A particularly helpful two categories of college books are workbooks and test prep books. It’s easy to get the two mixed up.

Where a workbook is filled with sample practice problems and no information, a test prep book contains both in addition to practice tests and study help. There are test preparation books for every subject.

Whether your professor assigns them or not, they’re a useful tool for any student. Studies show that students who use test preparation books earn better scores.

8. Beneficial Reference Books

Reference books are essentially a collection of facts and materials for a specific subject. Examples include dictionaries, encyclopedias, and atlases.

Reference books are sometimes required by teachers who think they’ll serve as a great reference point throughout the semester, but you can purchase them for yourself as well.

If you plan on going into a career, a collection of the theories or terminologies in that field can be beneficial.

9. New vs Used Textbooks

So we’ve discussed all kinds of textbooks, but how are you going to save money on them when the time comes?

This is where the difference between new and used textbooks becomes important.

New textbooks are significantly more expensive, but you’re guaranteed perfect condition. Plus, if you don’t write too much in them, you can sell them for money back at the end of the term.

Used textbooks, on the other hand, are much cheaper and save you money immediately. Just be prepared for them to be slightly worn down.

10. Owning vs Renting Textbooks

More options for controlling your college textbook costs include choosing to own or rent.

Renting means purchasing college textbooks for a discounted rate because you return them at the end of the semester to be used by future renters. This cheap textbook option can save you up to 70-90%!

If you want your textbooks to be in perfect condition and can wait until the end of the semester, then you should buy your textbook instead. This is because you can only sell textbooks that you own.

Knowing Your College Textbooks

There are lots of ways to categorize college textbooks and determine their value to your education.

Knowing your preferences and what to expect in advance not only prepares you but can save you money in the long run.

Regardless of which of the 10 types you’re purchasing, you should decide in advance whether it’s in your best interest to own, rent, or buy new or used.

If you’re wondering how to rent or sell your textbooks to save money, be sure to check out our FAQs section.

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