The Most Expensive Textbooks and Infamous Majors for Pricey Books

most expensive textbooks

All college students know that apart from their high tuition costs, their textbooks are also responsible for putting a strain on their wallets.

If you’re not yet a college student or are considering changing your major to save some money – we don’t blame you!

But what are the ideal majors? How do I make sure I save money on textbooks?

The real question is: what are the most expensive textbooks and what are the majors that are infamous for pricy textbooks?

We’ve looked around and we’ve done the research for you.

What Are the Most Expensive Textbooks?

Before choosing or switching your major, make sure you check out these expensive textbooks. If they are above your desired budget, then you may want to avoid these majors altogether.

Make sure that, when shopping for textbooks that you always try to find the best deal.

The Top 3 Most Expensive Textbooks

At the top of the list is Acta Philosophorum The First Journal of Philosophy. This retails at a whopping $1,450 for a new copy. As you guessed it, this is for Philosophy majors – but, this price should not make you shy away from majoring in Philosophy.

In fact, it is highly unlikely that your Philosophy professors would assign this textbook at all. To be on the safe side, you can always contact the respective department beforehand to ask if any of the expensive textbooks are required.

Next, for $1,215 is the Encyclopedia of International Media and Communications. Again, if you are a Media Studies or Communications major it is unlikely that you would have to shell out for this textbook. These majors are increasing in popularity and as a result, the textbooks will be available in abundance and are probably on the more affordable side.

At $850 you can purchase a copy of Management Science An Anthology. This is a textbook for business majors. Even if you never come across this particular textbook, be prepared to shell out a lot for majoring in business – whether at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Majoring in business, while a popular major, is likely to break your bank. However, this is considered to be one of the most practical majors as well. Keep this in mind when choosing your major – is the cost of tuition an investment or a burden?

The Sciences

Now let’s look at some of the most expensive textbooks in the sciences.

We start with the Biostatistical Genetics and Genetic Epidemiology that retails for $665. This is a very specific study of science, and most likely, all of your textbooks will be expensive. Even if they don’t reach the $665 mark, they are unlikely to be less than $400.

Another expensive textbook is Solid State Chemistry and Its Applications, which costs $500. While an undergraduate course in general Chemistry may not be overly expensive, a specified focus of chemistry (or any hard science) will probably be expensive. This will especially be true for a graduate or doctoral program in the hard sciences.

But again, the hard sciences are the more practical majors. You want to study the job prospects and job availability to decide if the textbooks are an investment for your future.

But what about sciences that are not in the ‘hard sciences’ category?

The Companion Encyclopedia of Psychology costs $600. But most psychology majors will probably not need an encyclopedia of their entire field of study.

Psychology, however, can be an expensive major. And if you wish to go down the traditional route of psychology, you will need to pursue a Master’s or Ph.D. after you complete your undergraduate degree. The cost of textbooks (and tuition) will continue to increase as you move up to higher-level degrees.

While no medical textbooks made the list of most expensive textbooks, it is likely that medical students will have to shell out a lot for their textbooks.


This is a popular and important major. Regardless of what concentration of engineering you choose, you will probably find that your textbooks are expensive. Engineering is in demand and often, engineering majors go on to have very high paying jobs. As a result, engineering is seen more of an investment than many other majors.

The more specialized and rare your concentration of engineering, the most expensive your tuition and textbooks will be.

The two most expensive textbooks in Engineering are Concepts and Design of Chemical Reactors at $593 and Advanced Semiconductor and Organic Nano-Techniques at $570. As you can see, these are very specific textbooks for specialized concentrations in Engineering.

Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts degrees and textbooks are usually among the most affordable options. For example, if you majored in English Literature, you will probably spend more money on novels than actual textbooks. And you can probably get those novels for free at the library.

Liberal Arts degrees, however, are not always the most practical option. It can be hard to find work in these fields and often, they are not the most high-paying.

Surprisingly, however, two of the most expensive textbooks in existence are from the Liberal Arts fields.

History of Early Film costs $740. And Feminism and Politics retail for $600.

Most film studies majors will probably not have to purchase a textbook that is as expensive as the aforementioned title. Most film theory textbooks will probably not exceed $100 – and you’ll likely find that most of them are far cheaper than that.

As for specialized studies such as Feminism, Queer Studies, Ethnic Studies, these will also probably not have a high cost to their textbooks.


Finally, economics is a great degree to pursue. Economics helps us understand how life works and how societies function. 

Unfortunately, if you do choose economics, you might end up splurging on textbooks. Ethics in Business and Economics costs $550 and Environment in the New Global Economy cost $510.

More mainstream books on economics (that may be part of your curriculum) are more affordable and will be available for less than $100. We’d suggest speaking to the department beforehand on the list of textbooks you’ll have to get.

Hard Work Pays Off

Now that you know the most expensive textbooks, you’ll have a better idea of what majors to choose and which ones to avoid. Regardless of your decision, we wish you well and assure you that your hard work will pay off.

Be sure to check out more great content on textbooks and surviving college.

Dollars and Common Sense: Why Textbook Rentals Are Best for Gen Ed Courses

textbook rentals

Textbook rentals can save college students money, and that’s always desirable. The most significant drawback to text rentals, though, is (of course) that you can’t keep them once the courses for which they were purchased have ended.

Ordinarily, this isn’t a problem since many students won’t revisit the subject in their lifetimes—regardless of how much they might have enjoyed learning it. Plus, many textbooks will quickly become outdated and no longer of much use.

So, are textbook rentals really the best option for Gen Ed courses? Yes, most of the time, they are. We’ll tell you why.

General Education (Gen Ed) Courses

Gen Ed courses derive from a foundation in the liberal arts and sciences that espouses a belief that undergraduate college students should graduate with a well-rounded and broadly applicable education.

It’s not that these students shouldn’t have majors, minors, certificates, and other focuses. Rather, the idea is that all of their courses complement one another, even if it’s in abstract or loosely defined ways.

Books and the knowledge and insight they bring are things to treasure for sure. Still, most textbooks are also quite costly. A lot of students need to set priorities with their budgets. You just need to rent textbooks sometimes, and that’s OK.

Should You Ever Not Rent a Textbook

There easily could be Gen Ed courses that a student enjoys so much that she decides to major in one (or more) of those subjects. In this case, renting the textbooks might turn out not to have been the best idea.

Perhaps, though, the student will have some inkling beforehand that a course’s subject matter would appeal to her. In this case, she’d know not to rent the books for that particular course and could keep them for reference throughout her studies.

Even the most engaging textbooks become outdated quickly, though. That’s largely intentional on the part of publishers, who run a cycle of continuous textbook updates—every three years for most.

If you’re thinking of keeping your textbook as a reference source, we advise you to be sure it’s something you’ll use. After all, there are lots of books and websites explicitly developed to be reference sources.

Honestly, you might be better off just using one of those. In fact, many instructors add those to their textbook order as optional but  “recommended” books. It might be time for more students to take the recommendations and save on the required texts.

How Textbook Publishing Works Today

In a college subject like media studies, people will argue that the content changes so rapidly that textbooks need frequent updates. This way, presumably, students can enter the job market with the most current knowledge possible.

This isn’t the case for every subject, though. A lot of subject matter (and those who teach it) rely on the same essential information and teach the same principles year after year.

The implicit goal is to stay broadly current enough outside the classroom to consider how those principles apply in real life.

We think even media studies students would be better off reading, watching, or listening to the daily news to stay current, instead of using textbooks that are already archaic the day they’re published.

Sadly, the real reason textbooks are updated so often is that publishers need to battle the secondhand book trade or the open educational resources (OERs) many instructors have wisely adopted if those publishers are to remain financially solvent.

Not all instructors use OERs, though—not by a long shot—and, thus, the issue of textbook affordability remains the fraught compromise. Remember, though, the end goal is always student learning, no matter how it’s presented.

How Textbook Rentals Benefit Students

Textbooks are so expensive that students will seek all kinds of alternatives to spending the money or purchasing the books at all. This is especially the case if the book is a new edition, and discount textbooks are not available.

Here are some examples.

  • They’ll use earlier (often very outdated) versions of the book.
  • They’ll share books with classmates, which only gives them half the time with the book than they’d get if each had separate copies.
  • They’ll borrow someone’s book and photocopy the whole thing.
  • They’ll race to the campus library regularly to check out the one reserve copy of the textbook (if there even is one on reserve).
  • They’ll try to get through the course using online and other free information sources. This happens a lot with Gen Ed courses since students can be resentful and dismissive of the Gen Ed requirement in the first place.
  • They’ll sacrifice grades and meaningful learning if they don’t get enough time with the textbook.

How effective could the learning be when students are going to such extremes to cut their textbook costs?

Book rentals can reduce book costs enough to make them affordable for many more (though not all) students. Rentals have other benefits too, which include the following.

E-Book Options

Many rental textbooks come in digital, electronic versions as well as hard copy. These e-books are a green alternative to paper books, especially since so many older paper textbooks get discarded. E-books also save students the trouble of lugging the book around.

Timing and Availability

Sometimes students can’t get access to a course textbook even if they’re able to pay for it. With bookstores hedging their bets against non-buying students or fickle instructors, the limited number of books ordered sometimes have sold out by the time a student tries to buy one.

Rental books tend to be more plentiful in hard copy since repeat rentals cover a greater portion of the production costs over time. Plus, of course, there’s an indefinite supply of e-books to rent.

So, book rentals, especially when they’re e-books, help students who otherwise might fall behind early in the term if they don’t have the assigned textbook by that point.

Gen Ed Textbooks of the Future

Textbook rentals provide comparatively cheap textbooks for students. Are these the best option for the 2020s and beyond, though? What about the OERs mentioned above? What about the abundant and free or inexpensive information on websites—much of it of good quality?

If the goal of Gen Ed courses indeed is providing students with a broad and diverse world view, then shouldn’t they enjoy a degree of say in what and how they learn? The opportunity to build their own paths under the guidance of experienced and knowledgeable teachers?

These are questions we must ask ourselves as booksellers who must constantly ad to the various directions higher education is headed in these days. Be sure you keep reading our blog to find out where we go from here.