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Resume Tips

Unfinished Degree On A Resume: 4 Examples

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So you never finished your college degree. That’s okay as some 40% of college students drop out before the graduation date. But should you bring up your unfinished degree on your resume? 

In this post, we’ll explain why you should put an unfinished degree on a resume and how to do it right. Let’s dive in! 

Should I Include College If I Didn’t Graduate?

In many cases, the answer is yes. Even if you never got to that part of being handed the diploma, attending a college has helped you develop many worthwhile core competencies, along with interpersonal skills. Plus, mentioning that you went to college can help avoid some awkward questions or negative assumptions. 

Here are four reasons to put unfinished college on a resume: 

  1. Showcase relevant research experience and coursework 
  2. Bring up some of the skills you’ve gained 
  3. Use your time at college to explain a gap in employment
  4. Demonstrate that you pursuing or open to pursuing further education

Should You Ever Leave An Unfinished Degree Off Your Resume?

Yes, in some cases it’s good to omit an unfinished degree from your resume.  For example, if you are an experienced professional, you don’t need to mention that you attempted to pursue an unrelated degree in your late teens.  Likewise, if your academic performance was exceptionally poor, or you were dismissed from school for cause, that may be best left unsaid. In all other cases, it’s best to mention your unfinished degree, than not! 

Can You Put a Degree in Progress on a Resume?

Yes, as a college student that’s what you are expected to do. Adding an in-progress degree to your resume helps the employer understand that you may be available for part-time work only. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to show some of the skills you’ve already learned! 

How To Put Your Unfinished Degree On Your Resume: 4 Examples 

After you are done with all the other resume sections, switch your attention to Education. But before you put down any details, consider your career goals. What idea are you trying to communicate to the potential employer? 

You may want to:

  • Address a gap in employment 
  • Show that you are still in school 
  • Explain that you are taking an academic leave 
  • Draw attention away from your unfinished degree 

In each case, you may want to use a slightly different format for your Education entry. 

We illustrate how to do that via the examples below. 

Currently Pursuing Degree on Resume Example

University of Arizona (2019 — Present)
Tempe, AZ
BS: Mechanical Engineering
President: Society of Mathematics And Engineering Students
Research Assistant: United Automotive Engine Efficiency Project

If you are currently enrolled in a program, put your latest entry at the top of the education section of your resume. Keep in mind that you can call yourself a current student if you have taken a hiatus of less than a year. 

In this case, you can include the name of the school you are attending, the date you started, and the degree you’re pursuing. You can also include any relevant memberships, research projects, or activities. 

Check our college resume example for extra tips! 

Incomplete Degree on Resume Example for a Working Professional 

For those who choose to go in the field, instead of pursuing a complete education, the unfinished degree can be leveraged to showcase the gained skills. 

But how do you style this? Well, you have several options. 

First, you can write a functional resume and can include all the skills you’ve gained in college to the ‘Skill Set’ portion of your resume. 

In that case, your entry might look like this:

Skill Set
HTML5 *****
Visual C **
A+ Certification *

Education
University of Texas (2018 – 2019)
Austin, TX
BS: Computer Science — Completed 24 Hours
Passed A+ Certification Examination
Completed Web Design Externship

Alternatively, you can include the work you’ve done in school as part of your work experience section.  Here are some examples of when this would be appropriate:

  • You were a paid TA or research assistant.
  • You participated in a dedicated research project with a commitment similar to a job.
  • In cases where you took part in an apprenticeship, internship, or study abroad program.

If the above sounds like your case, follow this example:

Work Experience
Computer Science Dept. (2018-2019)
Software Design Assistant
University of TX

Duties: Gathering user requirements, testing and debugging software, coding software modules according to designer specifications.

Education
University of TX (2018-2019)
BS: Software Engineering — Completed 18 hours
Work-Study Employee: Software Design

Don’t want to mention your unfinished degree? Check this resume example with no college degree to learn an alternative formatting approach. 

Sample Entry for Gap In Employment Due to College 

If your career history has this ‘blank’ in the middle when you were attending college, you should draw the employers’ attention to the fact that you were doing something productive and legitimate instead of working. 

In this case, here’s how to list a pending degree on a resume:

University of Arizona (2017-present)
Tempe, AZ
BA: Business Administration 
Currently re-enrolled 
Completed 30 credit hours in 2017-18 and then took an academic leave. 

Committed To Finishing A Required Degree

Should you give up on an opportunity simply because you haven’t finished your degree? Maybe not. If you’re a great candidate otherwise, an employer may be willing to hire you with the condition that you finish your degree quickly.

Of course, this isn’t going to work if you are years away from graduating. This is more appropriate for students who are within a semester of attaining their degree. 

To do this, list your unfinished degree on your resume first:

University of Arizona (2018 — Present)
Tempe, AZ
BA: Marketing and Administration 
Planned graduation date: June 2022. 

Then, address the situation in your cover letter. For example, you may write something like this:

“I’m currently on a two-semester leave from the University of Arizona as I focused on honing my skills as a part-time creative marketing consultant for Lululemon. However, I’m committed to returning to school in April 2022 to complete my BA and graduate by the summer.”

More Questions and Answers About Listing an Unfinished Degree on a Resume 

Don’t let an unfinished degree stop you from pursuing a great job! To maximize your chances of landing the job interview, frame your college experience as an asset, rather than a liability. 

And if you are still in doubt, our team answered some popular questions job applicants like you have about formatting the education section of their resumes!

How to list an unfinished Ph.D. degree on my resume?

If you didn’t complete your doctorate (yet or ever), you can’t put a Ph.D. title on your resume. Still, you can promote the type of research you did, especially if it’s relevant to the position you are after.

To list an unfinished P.h.D degree on your resume do this:

  • State enrollment years (e.g. 2018-present or 2018-2022) 
  • Write the university name 
  • List your research subject or title of your dissertation  
  • Add a note on how many years you’ve completed 

Do employers even check education on resumes?

This depends on your tenure. If you are an entry-level candidate without much work experience, then yes, employers will look closer at your degree. But the longer (and more compelling!) your list of work experience gets – the less time employers will dwell on your education section. In fact, most will pay attention to the extra professional training you did, rather the degree you’ve obtained back in the day. 

What to put on my resume if I didn’t go to college?

If you did progress beyond GED (which is fine for many professions!), you can put other relevant information in your education section such as professional licenses and permits, on-the-job training completed, professional courses and programs you’ve taken yourself (including online courses), or even foreign language skills. All of these are excellent “tellers” of your proficiency!

Is it OK to leave education off your resume altogether?

It’s okay to leave an unfinished, irrelevant degree as an experienced professional. But having a completely blank (or non-existent) education section on your resume may rub some employers the wrong way. So put either a quick note about an unfinished degree. Or focus on highlighting alternative education you’ve completed such as professional certifications, diplomas, etc. There are plenty of free and low-cost courses out there!

Do employers look at your college GPA?

Depends on your industry and seniority level. As a recent graduate, your college GPA may be seen as more important. After all, it indicates your ability to work hard and your passion for the subjects you are studying. But more senior professionals (think someone with 3+ years of experience) are rarely judged by their GPAs. So it’s okay to leave it off your resume.

Author

  • Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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