How to Address an Incomplete Degree on a Resume

How to Address an Incomplete Degree on a Resume

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Q: I attended college for 3 years but never finished my degree.  Should I still include this on my resume?

A:  While it depends on the situation, the answer is most likely yes.  There are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding how to word the education section of your resume.  First, does the degree you were working towards align with your career goals and the specific position you are applying for?  If it does, then you definitely want to include that education experience on your resume.  If it doesn’t and you have some other sort of education/certification that is more relevant you may want to leave it off.  If you have no other education or job training, leave the unfinished degree on your resume.  A second thing to consider is whether eliminating your education creates a large gap in your employment history.  If so, then include the specific years you attended.  Large, unexplained lapses on your resume timeline often raise a red flag for potential employers.  Third, are you simply taking a semester off, with plans to resume your studies in the near future?  If so, you should indicate that on your resume.  Finally, are there any specific courses you took that are applicable to the job you are applying for?  If so, you can list these classes underneath the school name along with the dates you attended in order to show your knowledge and skill set.

Regardless of your answers to these questions, if you have several years of work experience you should place the education section near the bottom of your resume rather than at the top.  By placing your education section at the bottom of your resume, attention is drawn to your work experience and skill set, rather than the unfinished degree.

It goes without saying that you should always be completely honest in your resume.  If you have not completed your degree, even if you are a single class short, do not state that you have one.  A little white lie on a resume may come back to haunt you.  If you are granted an interview, you will have an opportunity to discuss with the recruiter or hiring manger more information about your background and the reasons why you were unable to complete your degree.

Below are some examples of how to format the “Education” section of your resume if you have an unfinished degree:

Education
University at Buffalo, Biology                            2010-2012

University at Buffalo                                         2010-2012
Completed 60 credits towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology
Relevant Courses Included:
Intro to Biology            Chemistry 101
Microbiology                Organic Chemistry

University at Buffalo, BS in Biology                   In progress

For more resume writing tips, be sure to check out Resume Writing 101 and other job search blog posts.

67 Responses to “How to Address an Incomplete Degree on a Resume”

  1. Jaxon

    These are in fact wonderful ideas in on the topic of blogging.
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    Reply
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  3. Martha Clijd

    Thank you very much for this post. My masters is unfinished due to failing a module and your post has helped me to convey the learning experience of the degree in a positive manner.

    Many thanks

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Martha,

      Glad the information you found in this post was helpful. Best of luck to you in your job search.

      Katelyn

      Reply
  4. THOKO

    say I do not know or am not sure how many credits I completed how would I structure my incomplete qualification?

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Thanks for your question. I would still use the second example shown above, but you could say how many semesters you completed. If you don’t know the semesters or the number of credits you have complete, I would contact the school you attended to get a copy of your transcript to keep on hand. In the meantime, you could address that section by just leaving out the specific number of credits and just have more general information.

      Katelyn Gillet

      Reply
  5. ScriptingPro

    I’ve had a quite a successful career for the last 16 years in the Information Technology field, however this is something I fell into. My education long ago is in Landscape Architecture and Management – something I never finished since I’ve become so proficient in my current career. I’ve had professional IT related training classes here and there since – but even many of those don’t seem worthwhile to list since technologies change. Most of my relevant knowledge is self taught from books. Not sure what do do in such a situation.

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Good question. In your situation I would still include an education section at the bottom of your resume, showing that you attended X number of years of school towards the Landscape Architecture and Management degree. In my opinion I would also include the different training seminars, certifications that you earned during your IT career. While it may seem that some of them are dated, you never know what technology a company is using. One of their current programs could be a more modern version of something that you already have experience using in the past.

      Reply
  6. PROBZ

    Hello I have done business studies at the college but did not write the exam due to my financial problem, so must I but it in my cv when applying for an employment

    Reply
    • kgillet

      In this situation I would say to use your best judgment. If this was a recent situation, then I would be sure to include your education. Just make sure that it is clear you did not earn the degree. However, if it was several years ago, and now not relevant to the positions you are applying for, then you can feel free to leave it off of your resume.

      Reply
  7. Justina

    This helped me so much! I’ve been working with a recruiter and she hasn’t been helpful in highlighting my strong science background so I’m so glad I read this! Thanks so much!!!

    Reply
  8. Kevin Birnbaum

    Thanks for this post. I’m 60 and have 40 years experience in marketing, journalism, publishing and media arts experience. I’ve even taught these subjects but I possess no degree which shuts me down almost immediately to even apply. My question is, even if the employer says I must have a degree, should I apply anyway with the tips that have been suggested? Thank you.

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Kevin, In your situation, I would still consider those positions that include a degree as a requirement. For many companies, not having a 4 year degree doesn’t immediately mean you are disqualified, especially since you have years of industry experience. You have the opportunity to use your cover letter and the summary statement on your resume to tell your story and prove to employers that even without a degree you are qualified for their position.

      Reply
  9. EmmeP

    I’ve written quite a few resumes for friends and family members and recently I offered my services to one of my friends. He is in his early 40s and his work history is pretty solid. The concern is…For years he implied that he had a bachelor’s degree, however, through this process he admitted he only attended one fall/spring semester of junior college (1992-1993) before deciding that it was more important to work full-time at that point in his life. His courses were in business and finance and the next job that he landed was at a bank and less than six years later he became the Vice President of the branch. Then he had a career change and went into sales. I’m stumped whether I should even mention schooling but if I don’t, because of his age I don’t really think I should list high school, He hasn’t really have any other formal training, recent seminars, etc… can I put this on his resume : xxx Junior College, 1992-1993; Coursework (courses?) in Business and Finance?

    Thank you for your time and advice.

    Reply
    • kgillet

      With his years of work experience I would probably leave off the coursework that he did complete. Unless he plans on going back to school to finish his 2 or 4 year degree, companies most likely will not care about a few college courses taken over 20 years ago.

      Reply
  10. Sanjay Singh

    I have one subject not cleared in by BBM degree. But i have a 16 years of work experience. Now i have come to a mode where in i need to apply for a job. But when i check the job profile they mention degree is required.
    I am bit confused how to calculate credits in semester system where in i have not cleared one subject in semester 4.

    Thanks in advance

    Reply
  11. Kay

    Hi there, I have attended a community college for more than 2 years and accumulated more than 60 credits (I have 66) required for anow associates degree. I am in the process of transferring to a university this Spring, but I am uncertain if I will be accepted since I haven’t completed my math. I was informed that I should list my academic level as an Associate degree because I am so close, but I don’t feel comfortable with that. How would you recommend I list my academic experience. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Hi Kay,

      Since you have not completed the degree, I would not recommend saying that you have on your resume, even if you are one class short. Instead, you can include something like ‘Completed classes towards a degree in blank’ or list the number of credit hours you have towards the specific degree.

      Reply
  12. Karen Reed

    Hi, I’m retiring from the military and I have 30 years…I’m 50, should i start with over 30 years experience or over 20…I was just thinking over 30 might preclude me from some positions as they may be looking for younger…

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Karen,
      First off, I’d like to say congratulations and thanks for your service. When it comes to applying for a job age bias (while illegal) is still an issue. In order to avoid throwing out there how old you are, try just saying ‘years of experience’ rather than a specific number.

      Hope this helps.
      Katelyn

      Reply
  13. allie

    Hi! I’m helping my husband edit his resume. His educational background is 2 different schools (one a community college and one a university) studying history (which will not be relevant to any of the jobs his is applying for). He went to school for 3 years and did not complete his degree. Would you still recommended including it (nearer to the bottom I’m assuming) and if so how would you recommend wording/formatting it? Thanks!

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Hi Allie,

      Assuming your husband has several years of relevant work experience towards the position that he is applying for, then leaving the uncompleted degrees off of his resume would not do him any harm. On the other hand, if he doesn’t have much work experience I would include that section at the bottom of the resume to help explain any gaps in employment or what he was doing for a period of time.

      Try phrasing it like:
      Earned XX credits towards a _____ Degree at _____ College.

      Hope this helps,
      Katelyn Gillet

      Reply
  14. Anny

    Hi! I am struggling with my resume. I worked as a server for the last 5 years. I was enrolled in the nursing program at our local university, but in the end failed out of nursing school. My overall gpa at the time was 3.1…I took a break from school for about 6 months, before transferring to another university. currently I’m on track to graduate at the end of the year and I have a 3.9 GPA. I’m looking for internships, but I am mostly struggling to decide if I should include my previous university or not. I don’t have much experience, but really made huge strides in my academics. Thank you!

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Thanks for your question. I have 2 different suggestions for you. First off, if you transferred to a new university to complete the same degree, then I would list the name of the first school and then the one you are currently enrolled at. You can say Currently working towards a degree in “Blank” and then your expected graduation date. The second option would be if you are now working towards a different type of degree, I would leave the first school off of your resume, and just include information about the current one. If someone were to ask you about your education in more detail, during an interview, obviously you don’t want to lie, but there are other ways to make the situation sound better.

      Hope it helps.
      Katelyn

      Reply
  15. js

    Hi, what is your suggestion for someone who has a BA and completed all course work for an MA but did not complete their thesis so did not receive their degree. I have almost 20 years work experience since then. Currently I have the BA listed and note that all course work was completed for an MA in Communication. Thank you!

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Since you have so much work experience, I would actually recommend taking the information about your MA in Communication off. Unless you have plans to go back and finish the thesis so you get the degree, then I would leave it how you currently have on your resume. Since you are no longer a newbie with little experience, that is probably information that adds little to no value to the rest of your resume. Hope that helps.

      Katelyn

      Reply
  16. Yi Li

    thank you for the information! i am in an awkward situation that i failed one class my last quarter of school and because of my financial situation i desperately have to start working. Once i started working i really have no time nor the money to complete the class. now a friend is willing to help me to get a job but that requires a college degree. to me this is a life changing opportunity and i am struggling on what to put on my resume. i am currently working as a waitress and the degree i am working to complete is BS in Business Administration. Looking for some guidance. Thank you!

    Reply
  17. Yi Li

    okay i am sorry. i want to modify what i just posted. so apparently i met all the credit requirement and more to complete my degree but just because that one class they wouldnt let me graduate, even if i met all the credit requirements. in this case what should i put on my resume?

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Yi,

      Thanks for your question. In this situation, I would suggest just including that you completed x number of credits towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. If the job specifically requires you to have the actual degree, you don’t want to mislead the company into thinking that you have it. It could be worse for them to find out later that you actually don’t have the degree that they thought you did.

      Hope this helps,

      Katelyn

      Reply
  18. Jimmy

    Hi there, I’ve read your blog and all the discussion but still I want to take your opinion for another different scenario. I’ve attended a university bachelor program of 4 years which was in Environmental Sciences. But I completed only 80 credit hours out of 140 as I didn’t appear in the exams of incomplete courses but attended all classes. After that I decided to enter the field of travel and tourism leaving that program incomplete. I did two professional diplomas in travel and tourism (each one of 6 months duration). Now I’ve 3 years of experience in travel industry in my home country and I am looking for a job in Dubai (UAE) in the same field. Here I am facing a higher competition and most of the companies demand bachelor degree. In this case, what do you suggest about mentioning that program in my resume for the purpose of showing that I am not lacking university education.
    Thanks and Regards

    Reply
    • kgillet

      Jimmy,

      Thanks for your question. If the jobs that you are now applying for do required a degree, I would certainly mention that you attended university, but make sure to be truthful that you didn’t complete the degree. Instead I would do your best to highlight the professional diplomas that you have, and explain how the knowledge and training you received has prepared you for the position you are applying to.

      Hope this helps.
      Katelyn Gillet

      Reply
  19. Déna

    Hi,

    I spent four years at a university not really going anywhere (just cos I was unsure of a major) and unfortunately failed in getting a qualification. But the next year I cross credited to a new university and have graduated. Do I include the first university I attended?

    Reply
  20. AJ

    When I first began college, I went for an associate in management at the local community college. Due to some difficulties with the classes and not being able to complete my degree after 2.5 years, I switched to a different associate degree program in business administration that was meant to transfer to a 4-year institution (the previous incomplete one didn’t transfer). Some of the classes from the management degree counted towards the business administration one. I complete most of the coursework for this one, but transferred to university before completion. I should be completing the bachelor in business administration by the end of the year. I’m not quite sure how to list my education at the community college and if I should even list the first attempted degree in management. I usually list the student internship I did as part of my requirement for the management degree (I didn’t receive college credit due to a paperwork issue and my professor refusing to give me credit despite having put in the hours) as work experience, along with the job I held as a pizza delivery driver as they’re my only work experience so far.

    Reply
    • Jessica Chislett

      Hi AJ. I would just include the current program you are in on your resume with the expected graduation date to avoid confusion and a busy resume.
      For example:
      BS in Biology Expected Graduation Date: December 2017
      University at Buffalo

      If you are worried about the time gap, you could always add something like this:

      University at Buffalo – Buffalo, NY Expected Graduation Date: December 2017
      BS in Biology

      Erie County Community College
      Completed coursework in Business Administration

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
  21. Abinaya

    Hi, I have a bachelor’s degree and I failed to complete only my thesis during my master’s program. Now I have about 2.5 years of work experience in a different field from my master’s. Should I just mention the credits I’ve gained or should I leave it out? Please help.

    Reply
    • Jessica Chislett

      Hi Abinaya,
      Since you have a four-year degree, I would leave the uncompleted degree off.

      Reply
  22. Tony

    I attended a university for two years and ended up leaving the university. I went back to school 2 years later and got an Associate Degree. I have 17 years experience in IT but my studies were not related to IT. Should I list my colleges on my resume? Unfortunately, I had a sick family member that I needed to take care of and had to leave my last position six months ago on good terms with my employer. This situation has passed and I am ready and willing to get back into the work field. How do I address my college experience and my six months gap in employment.

    Reply
    • Jessica Chislett

      Hi Tony,
      I would put your Associate’s Degree on your resume, even if it doesn’t relate to IT. Employers are always looking for some sort of education.
      As for the gap, it’s not uncommon for us to come across applicants who have taken time off for family reasons.
      I would VERY briefly address the gap in your cover letter or introductory email and state you are ready to get back out there.
      You can mention the gap was for family reasons in your interview and provide them with great references to clear the air.

      Reply
  23. Valence Taylor

    I have attended college on and off for several years. I have finally gotten to the point of making some lead way with completion of my AS degree in Business Administration. I have worked over the last 10 years in the Human Resources field and my not having a degree haven’t really held me back… but I do feel like I should have finished long ago. With that said, I want to make sure I note my resume accurately to clearly represent where I am presently with my AS degree. I have 51 out of 60 credits until completion of my degree. Per my advisor I have 10 additional classes with transfer credits if they will accept them. I just want to let my employer know how serious I am .

    Reply
    • Jessica Chislett

      Hi Valence,
      I would put:
      Associate’s Degree in Business Administration Currently Enrolled
      Name of College

      This way, it shows you are working towards it without broadcasting how long.

      Reply
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  27. Ruby

    What if you finished all the credits needed for your degree but are unable to graduate because of the money owed to the school? So technically you have finished the degree but aren’t able to pay off the amount in time to participate in graduation. So how would you go about that in supplying that information in a resume?

    Reply
    • Jessica Chislett

      Hi Ruby,
      Unfortunately, a lot of organizations do a background check and they will find out that you technically did not graduate.
      I would leave the status as Currently Enrolled until the situation is resolved.

      Reply
  28. Roy

    Hello, I have a question. I am 55, I went to 3 different schools,I did 67 college credits all combined. Now that my kids are independent , I would like to pursue a bachelor degree on line how you may suggest me to list the schools?
    Should I list the all three even I did not finished ?
    What might be the chronological order?
    Thank you so much , keep up with your good work.!

    Reply
    • Jessica Chislett

      Hi Roy,
      Once you complete your online degree, I would take off the other 3 colleges and just list your current Bachelor Degree.

      Reply
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  31. kent

    I dropped out at the end of my third year of college because I have a rare disease. I did transfer with an associates degree. I’m not planning on going back to college. Should I use my university experience on my resume or only my A.A. Degree?

    Reply
    • Jessica Chislett

      Hello,
      It’s always important to remember to personalize your resume for the position you are applying for. If the coursework you took in your third year relates to the position you are applying for, list the college followed by Coursework in _____. If it doesn’t relate, I would simply just list your Associates Degree.

      Reply
  32. Kelly M.

    This was the first link that popped up on my Google search which is crazy because I have an unfinished Bio degree from the University of Buffalo… Thanks for the fitting examples!

    Reply
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  35. Ashley Clayton

    Hello I am 37 years old and I went to college for three years in my early 20s and received about 70 credit hours at a community college and then the University. My major was psychology. I never completed my degree but I do have those hours. For 10 years now I have ran my own Business of an online antique store. I am applying for a position of an antique specialist. Should I list my college education or focus more on my years of experience in the field that I’m applying for?

    Reply
    • Jessica Chislett

      Hi Ashley,
      Although in this case I don’t think it’s necessary to add it, it also doesn’t hurt. If you do decide to put it on your resume, make sure it’s at the bottom as your experience is more important here.

      I would list it like this:
      Name of University
      Completed coursework in psychology

      Reply
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