How to Address an Incomplete Degree on a Resume

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:

University at Buffalo                                         2010-2012
Coursework in Biology

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                                         In progress
BS in Biology

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