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Buying Books

Some students wait until they receive their syllabus before purchasing their books for the term.

However, you may want to start researching the costs of your books and materials before the term begins. When the required course material information is available ahead of time, you can plan ahead and explore your purchasing options which may help you save money.

  1. Log on to CAESAR > Student Homepage
  2. Look for the header "Manage Classes"
  3. Click on "Browse Class Descriptions"

From here you can enter the course information to learn more about it and to see what materials are required.

You can also search for books under in CAESAR (Student Homepage > Manage Classes > Related Links > Evanston Bookstore). What is important to remember though is that this will only have information if the instructor shared the required course material list with the bookstore.

Purchasing your books

There are a number of options available when purchasing your books for an upcoming term. Here we will outline some of these options and offer some insight.

Used books

This is the most popular type of book purchased. You can find used books in a variety of places. Bookstores on-campus, other used bookstores, online vendors and online auctions.

Book rentals

You can rent your books from the bookstores on campus and there are options available online as well. While this is an economical option, it's important that you return the books by the due date. Hefty late fees may apply, and you'll end up paying more than you expected if you fail to return them on time.

New books

Purchasing your books new will almost always be the most expensive option available. What is important to keep in mind is that you don't necessarily always have to purchase your books new so that you can get the accompanying workbook or online passcode/token. There are usually more options available if you do a little research, in most cases you can still purchase a textbook used and purchase the workbook or online passcode/token separately, and this will end up saving you money in the long run.


Besides visiting the bookstores on campus, you might also consider searching your textbook's International Standard Book Number (ISBN) online. Students can often find their textbooks online, either new, used, or an eBook version at a much lower cost. Be sure to include shipping and handling costs when evaluating this option.

ThriftBooks is an online second-hand book provider that has many textbooks available. However, they often have the second-most recent edition, so double check with your instructor to determine if you are required to have the specific edition listed in the course book list.

UBorrow & the University Library

The UBorrow program allows students to use an interlibrary loan service to borrow books for the term at no cost. Many of the books required for courses are available through this program. You should initiate the borrowing process as early as possible, as books are limited and you will need to allow ample time for shipment. Subject Librarians are available to assist students locating course materials that may be available through the library.


Many Northwestern students sell their textbooks using the Textbook Exchange on Facebook, particularly during the first week of each quarter. Students can buy, sell and trade textbooks with other students on campus. Students typically sell textbooks for 25% or less of what they originally paid. Students can find this as an open group within Northwestern on Facebook.

No Cost Options

Some textbooks are available in PDFs online; if you google the name of the textbook, edition needed, author, and “PDF,” you may be able to find a free version. Be cautious and check to make sure the website is safe before downloading.

For literature classes, Project Gutenberg has many classic texts available for free that can be read online or downloaded for Kindle. Many of the items in its collection are the texts of public domain books available at no cost. Check to make sure your professor allows electronic copies in class.

The Books for Cats program offers eligible students (as determined by the Office of Financial Aid) the opportunity to borrow course materials (including textbooks, clickers, and access codes) from the Northwestern University Bookstore and lab materials (coat, googles, and LabArchive) from the chemistry department for selected introductory courses. Participation in Books for Cats will not change a student's financial aid package or interfere with other scholarships because it is a borrowing program; students borrow course materials and return them at the end of their use and by the end of the academic year. Eligible students are contacted prior to each quarter with an invitation; the chemistry department will contact eligible students enrolled in a Books for Cats chemistry course with an invitation to come pick-up lab materials. Please contact with questions.

Other tips

  • If you research a class and the required books aren't listed, you can email the instructor to ask for this information prior to the term when the syllabus is available.
  • If you find a cheaper edition of a book online, you should check with your instructor to see if this edition is acceptable.