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Should You Keep or Get Rid of Grad School Textbooks?

By Madison White

You’ve got a lot of questions to ask yourself while transitioning through or out of graduate school. This likely means that a large part of your life is changing. Maybe you are moving into a full-time job for the first time, or continuing to move on through another graduate school program. You’re likely trying to figure out where you’re going to live, what you’re going to do, and for most of us, how we’re going to start paying off those student loans. All of these large decisions can really overshadow some of the smaller problems that leaving graduate school creates. One such issue is all the textbooks you may have acquired throughout your studies and what to do with them now. Before diving in, this article will go through a few questions you should know the answer to before going through some reasons for keeping and for getting rid of your textbooks.

A few questions to ask yourself beforehand:

Have I bought or rented my books?

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes it is easy to forget how exactly we have acquired our books. To save money, it is very possible that you decided to rent some or all of your textbooks. If this is the case, you’ll have to decide whether or not you want to go about purchasing your rented book or sending it back to the rental company.

What will my future look like?

Don’t fret! This question isn’t meant to cause an existential crisis. You don’t have to know exactly what your future looks like to answer this question, but you should have some idea of what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be leaving.

The kind of job that you see yourself in can make a difference when it comes to keeping or not keeping books. If you are planning to continue on in academia, whether it be as a researcher, professor, or in another degree program, having your textbooks around could be useful reference tools. On the contrary, if you see yourself doing some type of job that has little to do with your original degree, then you may re-think the use that you would get out of your books.

What might I need the books for?

This question falls in line with the last one. If you know that you will be carrying on in a field similar to your graduate degree, then it may be a wise decision to keep your books. If you are going into research, especially, these books could be massively helpful. However, if you are wanting to keep your books just because you enjoyed them, not because you see yourself needing them in the future, then you may want to reconsider your decision.

Am I planning to move in the near future?

If you know that you will be moving to a city far away from the current one you’re living in, then you might want to reconsider paying the shipping that it would cost to send all your books over. Sometimes this simple fact can help you realize that keeping them isn’t worth it.

On the other hand, if you know that you will be staying in the same place, or at least the same city, then you probably have a bit more time before you need to make a decision. Perhaps you could keep them for a year and see if you end up actually using or reading any of them and then getting rid of the ones you haven’t touched.

Reasons for keeping textbooks:

Sentimental reasons

The urge to keep your graduate school textbooks is a normal one. After all, you have likely spent many hours poring over the texts within that book. It may hold some of your biggest learning moments. You may have had an epiphany while reading a chapter inside. These kinds of moments are very important to people who have dedicated their lives to academic pursuits, especially through graduate school. They can become a huge part of your identity.

For these reasons, it may be difficult to part with your graduate school textbooks, and that’s okay. It is very possible, especially if you are staying in the field, that you will want to reference that revelatory moment that you had. Perhaps you will scan the chapter in for your students to learn from. Maybe you will let one of them borrow your textbook. All of these reasons are highly emotional and can make parting with books difficult. If you feel similarly, you may want to keep your books around.

It is important not to confuse sentimental reasons with those associated with value. For example, you may be reluctant to sell your books because you know how much you paid for them and that you are likely not to get that much in return.

Staying within the academic field

Having plans to stay closely within your academic field is a common reason for keeping textbooks. Many post-graduate positions and higher degrees, like PhD’s, require a high amount of research. For these reasons, a great textbook can be extremely useful when it comes to conducting and writing about said research.

Alternatively, if you might be going into some sort of teaching role, you may want to keep your textbooks if you plan on utilizing them in future classes. You may want to pull certain chapters or even have your students buy the entire book to learn from. In this case, it would be very wise for you to have your own copy.

Plans to return to them

Staying within the academic field of your choosing is the most obvious reason that you may return to your textbooks, but there could be a large array of reasons to return to them. If you are going into a professional field that requires a lot of technical knowledge, like being a lawyer or doctor, it might be a good idea to keep those textbooks in order to reference them later. This could be especially useful if they hold lots of specific information that you might not be able to find elsewhere.

Reasons for getting rid of textbooks:

Creates more space, especially if moving

One fact is probably certain, your textbooks aren’t thin and easy to move around. Textbooks are usually chunky and large and can take up a significant amount of space on your bookshelf. I’m generalizing here, but this is normally true over a variety of subjects. Nobody thinks that textbook equals delicate.

The sheer size of textbooks could be enough to make you choose to get rid of them. If you have enough space for bookshelves and book storage, they’re going to take up a large portion of that space. For most college students, they are crammed into small studio apartments or sharing a house with roommates. Those situations don’t often allow for a large amount of book storage space. Let’s face it, they aren’t usually that attractive either. Some of that precious shelf space could be dedicated to your favorite novels that are beautifully designed, but you won’t know if they are full of clunky textbooks instead.

Alongside this, if you are planning to move anytime in the near future, textbooks are going to become your nemesis and not your friend. Their large, and sometimes irregular, size can make them a pain to try and fit into boxes. The sheer weight of them can make moving those boxes extremely difficult as well. You’ll probably need to hire or find some help before you move multiple boxes of textbooks out of your home. They simply aren’t very easy to move.


While making loads of cash on your old textbooks probably isn’t realistic, selling your old textbooks could make you a fair amount of extra money. If you’re in the post-graduating crunch of finding a job, then any extra cash you can find might be of the utmost importance. That dusty textbook on your shelf could buy you a fair few meals if you think about it like that.

The fact is that textbooks aren’t cheap. Companies often raise prices on textbooks because they know that there will be a market for them. This means that it isn’t rare to spend $200-$300 on a single book, especially if it extremely specialized or contains a vast amount of information. You probably spent a good deal of money on buying them in the first place, even if that time period seems like a long time ago. While you likely won’t get back your initial investment, you can still make quite a bit of money off of selling your used textbooks, especially if they aren’t that old and haven’t been re-printed—unfortunately, most textbook companies will make new editions each year to force students to buy new ones. However, you might find a lucky student out there looking for the exact edition you have.

How to sell your used textbooks:

If you’re considering selling, you have lots of options. There are many dedicated websites that are specifically for buying and selling used textbooks. Some of these include Uloop, Bookfinder, Bookscouter, Chegg, and Amazon.

Before you go to sell, check over the condition of your books. If they are really beaten up and have lots of writing in the margins, you may have to sell at quite a low price to get anything for them. On the other side, if they are in almost new condition, you may be able to sell them for a higher price. Take a thorough scan of your book so that you know exactly what condition it is in.

Another thing you’ll want to know are the publication details. You should know the exact title, authors, editors, edition, copyright date, and publisher of the book. When it comes to textbooks, many of them have similar names so make sure you get this exactly right. You should also take note of the ISBN number which usually appears on or near the copyright page. Look for a 10 or 13 digit number above the barcode on your textbook. This is an identifying number that each book has.

If selling online to large book sellers isn’t your thing, you still have a few options.

The first option is to go straight to the source: your graduate program. If incoming grad students will be using the same textbooks you used, this is a perfect situation. Ask your department to send a notice that you are selling used textbooks at a low price. You are very likely to sell your textbooks quickly and to people who genuinely need them. Plus, you get to keep all the profit. A tip for this is to try and sell right before the semester begins. This way, students won’t have already purchased their books and will be looking for good deals.

If this isn’t an option for you, you could always sell on non-book specific websites like Facebook Marketplace or a forum that your university may have for used items. This is a good option if you’re looking to sell to someone local and not have to go through a big company.

If you are not too concerned about money or your books aren’t in good enough shape to sell, you may want to consider just donating them. You can donate textbooks to a variety of places like the department at your former university. There may be other departments on campus, like those for disabled students, which keep a library of commonly used textbooks. You could also donate to a library.

Whatever you decide to do with your textbooks will be the right choice. After all, each person has a different experience when going through grad school. Some people learned things they couldn’t have imagined learning before, some may have found lifelong friends and mentors. For others, it may have just been another step in achieving your goals that you would rather not remember. Whatever your experience was, I hope that you find the right thing to do with your textbooks, whether it be keeping them, selling them, or donating them. They’ll find the right home in the end.