Ideas for Readers · Personal

What Should I Do About My College Textbooks?

Unless one of your hobbies is collecting rare comic books, your college textbooks are probably some of the most expensive books you’ve ever purchased in your life. Decisions about what to do with these books can be very difficult to make, and they often lead us to hold on to our textbooks long after they’ve outlived their usefulness.

While I did not keep all of my college textbooks, I held on to a significant number of them for nearly a decade (and two household moves) before I came to the realization that what I was holding on to “just in case” was nothing more than a waste of space.

When I finally went through my textbooks with the intention of getting rid of books I no longer needed, I discovered something. Of the 25+ books that I had been hauling around since graduation, there were only six that were actually worth keeping. Four of these books were novels that I have taken the time to re-read (all of which were from the science fiction seminar that I took during my first college semester), and the other two were reference books that I (at the time) used frequently in my classroom. Since making the decision to leave the classroom, I have sold those two reference books at my local used bookstore.

If you’ve been thinking about getting rid of some of your own textbooks, here are some questions that might help with the process:

For those still in school…

  1. Is this book related to the degree/career I am currently pursuing?
  2. Does this book contain reference materials or information that will be useful to me in another class?
  3. Would I choose to use the contents of this book as evidence when writing an essay?
  4. Did I use this book outside of class?
  5. Did I actually bother reading the book for class?
  6. Did I enjoy this book enough to read it again for pleasure?

For those who are out of school and job hunting…

  1. Does this book contain reference materials that will be helpful to me in my future career?
  2. Could this book be helpful to me in my job search?
  3. Did I enjoy this book enough to read it again for pleasure?

For those who have been in their career for 2+ years…

  1. Do I use this book on a regular (or even annual) basis?
  2. Is the information in this book in-date?
  3. Have the “best practices” outlined in this book changed since publication?
  4. Did I enjoy this book enough to read it again for pleasure?

If you are answering “no” to the vast majority of these questions, it’s probably time to let go of that textbook. Also, if a textbook contains out-of-date information, it should definitely be discarded (especially those related to education, medicine, and law). You can always pick up the newest edition if it is a book you use frequently.

If you’ve decided not to keep a particular textbook, here’s a tip…don’t sell it back to your university’s bookstore. Yes, it is easy. It can also be a ripoff.

While it’s definitely worthwhile to see what the university is willing to pay for your used textbooks, I highly recommend taking the time to do a little more research before accepting the first offer you’re given. Do you have a used bookstore in town? See what they’re willing to pay. Is someone in your dorm taking the same class next semester? They might be willing to buy your textbook at a slight discount (instead of paying the full bookstore price). You can also try to sell your textbooks through ebay.

Honestly, it’s not always easy to get rid of your textbooks. Not only were most of them ridiculously expensive (something which always makes me think twice when I go to get rid of things), but they can also function as physical reminders of some of your favorite college classes and memories.

It’s perfectly okay to want to hold on to your textbooks for sentimental reasons. Just make sure that you’re holding onto them because they are either useful, or they bring you pleasure. Don’t keep holding onto them just because they were expensive, or because you “might need them someday.”

Do you have any recommendations for great places to sell or donate college textbooks? If so, please leave a comment on this post to share your recommendations with our community.

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