While education isn’t the key decisive factor to invite you for an interview, the hiring managers definitely take notice. A university degree shows that you are persistent and driven enough to succeed in the chosen field, and the prestigious school name can add you points. In certain fields, it also indicates that you have the necessary theoretical foundation to do the job well.
If you have a complete BA, MA or even PhD under your belt, you simply list it on a resume and call it a day. But what if you haven’t completed your college studies? You don’t want to create a gap in a resume, but you also don’t want to mislead the prospective employer. Today, our executive resume writers will throw light on listing an incomplete college degree and explain as follows:
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Career experts agree that in most cases it’s worth it to list a college degree even if you only completed some credits toward it. Some higher education on a resume is better than none. Here are the main reasons why listing it is worth using:
• It shows alignment with your career goals. Let’s say you work in business analysis and plan to boost your career in this field. In this case, a degree in data science – even an incomplete one – will work as an asset, showing that you have relevant knowledge.
• It covers a resume gap. Does eliminating a degree create a gap in your employment history? In this case, it’s better to mention it. Employers don’t like the unexplained career gaps, so be sure to include the specific months and years of your college studies so that your career history looks consistent.
• You are still working towards it. If you’re still in college, whether you attend the lectures of your professor every day or took a semester off, you definitely should include your studies in progress. Below, we’ll recommend how to do it effectively.
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Basically, there are two main cases:
• The area of study is irrelevant to the job. Let’s say you’ve studied accounting for a year, but have worked in media and communications for five years after that. In this case, listing that degree is pointless since it won’t add value to your resume.
• You’ve already completed a different degree. For example, you’ve once studied American History, but didn’t complete the credits towards a degree. And then you’ve obtained a BA in Marketing Management. In this case, you needn’t list the incomplete college studies.
Now, let’s consider the two main scenarios for listing some college degrees and how to do it positively.
♦️ Your degree is in progress right now
This case is pretty simple. You are a college student now, and intend to obtain a degree in the matter of years (or months). Here, you put your educational institution and a degree as if you were describing the complete degree, and include the date of getting a long-awaited diploma.
Take a look at a few pro examples:
1.University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, PA – Anticipated May 2021
BS in Engineering
2. Cornell University, New York, NY – Expected graduation 2022
BS in Design and Environmental Analysis
Current GPA 3.7
Along with the degree and university name, you may include the GPA, number of credits completed, or relevant coursework.
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♦️ You don’t plan to complete an unfinished degree
You’ve spent a few months or years in college but haven’t completed a degree. Whether you left college for financial reasons, to focus on work or because you realized that you wanted to pursue a different profession, you can still reflect this degree positively. As a rule, you’ll need to include the university name and the area of study:
1.University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Completed 18 credits towards BA in Management
2. Williams College, Massachusetts, MA
Coursework: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Financial markets, Sustainable growth
In both examples, not only you draw the employer’s attention to the fact that you’ve attended some college, but also point out the relevant knowledge you’ve acquired. And even though this might not suffice to compete with the applicants who have completed their degrees, this absolutely adds up to your professional value.
Whether you are listing some university or a completed advanced degree, follow the recommendations :
♦️ Place the Education section correctly
There are two main variations: above and under your work experience. Put the education above work experience if you are now in college or graduated less than 2 years ago. Given the limited professional experience, the knowledge and skills you’ve gained in college are going to be the main asset for the employer.
Education is listed after experience if you went to college over 2 years ago, no matter if you have completed a degree or not. In this case, your experience and accomplishments are the main focus of the resume, and the education just adds up to that strong professional image, so it doesn’t need to be highlighted.
♦️ Be blatantly honest about your degree
Avoid listing an unfinished degree in a way that could potentially mislead the employer into thinking that you completed it. If you are listing the university name and the degree you worked towards, mention the number of credits or write down that you didn’t graduate. And, more importantly, avoid lying intentionally. Employers will do a reference check, and if they reveal the truth, they’ll withdraw an offer and reject your candidacy because of those lies. This rule applies to the rest of your resume content as well. Honesty is the best policy.
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♦️ Present your unfinished degree in the good light
You might be concerned because of the incomplete degree and the fact it might send the wrong message. However, there is a number of ways to list it positively:
• Include GPA, if high. If your GPA exceeds 3.5, mention this fact along with the name of the program you studied.
• List the coursework. If you have studied marketing for 2 years, you might have completed such courses as Microeconomics, Accounting, Business communications, Calculus for business, and more. Even if you don’t have a degree, these courses will show that you have the basic educational background in this field.
• List academic projects. Have you prepared a research or community project as part of your college studies? List these projects, if relevant for your target job. This will show your orientation for delivering results and getting things done.
♦️ Focus on alternative education and courses
If you never pursued a degree, it makes sense for you to highlight the education and training you got on the job or outside college. Workshops, MOOCs, corporate training and courses count as educational background as well, so it’s important that you list all relevant training under Professional Development section. The fact that you continuously grow and develop in the profession through training and learning means that you’re an ambitious and result-driven individual.
Moreover, your training can partially compensate for an incomplete degree: some employers will prefer the ongoing education to a degree completed years ago.
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♦️ Apply even if the job listing requires a complete degree
A good share of job listings you’ll find online will require at least a Bachelor’s degree as minimum educational requirements. Even if you didn’t make it to a degree, make an attempt to apply anyway. Many employers see a degree as a desired requirement, not a mandatory one. This means that they’ll be glad to hire someone who can get the job done even if the candidate doesn’t have a diploma. So, if based on the relevant experience you’ve gained you believe that you can excel in the position, apply anyway. And you may use a cover letter to explain what previous experience prepared you for this position even though you don’t have a degree.
♦️ Emphasize your key selling points
As we’ve mentioned above, your degree is important, but it’s not a key decisive factor (we are not speaking about the professions that require a state license to be allowed to do the job). Your career history must have something that you can brag about and what makes you a strong candidate for the job. Maybe, you’ve acquired and retained lots of high-profile clients for your previous employer, saved costs dramatically or delivered projects on time.
Put these accomplishments closer to the top of your resume to focus the employer’s attention on them. If you have a strong skill set and accomplishment track record to offer, the fact that you lack in formal education won’t matter much.
Today, the formal education is losing its importance. Even the top tech giants like Google are willing to hire someone without a college degree. If you still have concerns about reflecting something on a resume effectively, our experts can help. Send us your resume, and one of our resume creators will review it and give recommendations on what should be improved. The writer will cover content, writing style, keywords, design, and more.
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