Chegg's book rentalIt's bad enough that college tuition will cause most students to land in debt for years after they graduate. But when each new semester begins, college students around the country cringe, knowing that they will have to watch their debt rise with each swipe of their credit card while purchasing textbooks. They will be shelling out hundreds of dollars for textbooks that will only be used for a few months -- often for classes some didn't even choose or want to take in the first place.

In many classes I've taken at Worcester State College in Worcester, Mass., the professors acknowledge the high prices and sympathize with students. They usually suggest ordering books from Amazon.com rather than the school's overpriced bookstore.

It wasn't until the start of this past semester that I heard of a third option: Talking to a close friend around book-buying time, she told me about Chegg.com, a Web site that allows people to rent their textbooks rather than purchase them.

Not really giving it much consideration, I purchased my six books at the school's bookstore as usual, which came to a groan-worthy total of $419.90. Thinking of what else I could have spent the $419.90 on, Chegg popped into my head and I wondered if I could have saved anything by using its Web site, which you might compare to a Netflix for textbooks.

All the books I purchased at the school's bookstore were brand new; the most expensive cost $151.50 (¡Avance!: Intermediate Spanish by Mary Lee Bretz, Trisha Dvorak, Carl Kirschner, Rodney Bransdorfer and Constance Kihyet). On Chegg, I could have rented the same textbook for $33.29, saving me $118.21. And that's just for one book.

My cheapest book, Darwin for Beginners by Jonathan Miller, Loon Van and Miller Borin, was only $12 at the book store; to rent it from Chegg would have cost me $11.69. Not much of a difference, but when in college, every penny counts. If I had used Chegg for all of my books, it would have cost me only $133.86, saving me a grand total of $286.04.

The due date to return the books would have been June 12, 2010, about a month after my classes ended.

Remember to include the shipping charges when considering renting from Chegg. To ship books to the continental United States, whether standard (7-10 business days) or ground shipping (4-7 business days), costs $1.99 for the first item and $1.99 for any additional items. If you are in dire straits, UPS can ship your textbooks in 1 to 3 business days, which costs $6.99 for the first item and $3.99 for additional items. UPS can also deliver next day for $12.99 for the first item and $6.99 for additional items.

If you chose, you can also buy your books from Chegg, at prices about the same as those in my school's bookstore. You can also sell back textbooks to Chegg and, as a bonus, each time you rent, buy or sell a book, Chegg will plant a tree. All and all, I'd rather have saved money and paper than be able to reference the 8th edition of my astronomy textbook five years from now.

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