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Never Graduated: Should You Still List Your College Education On Your Resume?

The “Education” or “Qualifications” section is a crucial part of any resume. That’s why getting the best resume to get hired is so crucial to landing not only a job interview, but landing the actual job with the highest salary. However, if you didn’t graduate from college, you’re left with a dilemma of whether to list your college education or leave it out.

This guide will help you decide if it’s best to mention unfinished college degrees on your resume.

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Reasons to Include Unfinished Degrees on Your Resume

There are plenty of arguments in favor of including unfinished degrees on your resume. Here are some of the best benefits.

A Display of Honesty

Honesty is the best policy. There’s a lot of truth to that oft-repeated saying, especially for jobseekers. Whether you’re writing a resume or responding to an interview query, being honest will often get you far. Recruiters appreciate it, and they’ll typically prefer candidates who are up-front about their past, rather than those who try to hide it (or lie about it).

Sharing unfinished degrees on your resume is a great display of honesty. It lets recruiters know right from the off that you’re trustworthy and transparent. What’s more, you may even be able to spin your unfinished degree in your favor. You might have had a valid reason for leaving your degree unfinished (more on that below), for example. Or you might have learned a lot from the experience, making you a more skilled and better-rounded worker.

Valid Reasons for Not Finishing

There are lots of reasons why people might not graduate. Life is unpredictable, and things don’t always go the way we plan. Many people enter college expecting to have their degree in a few years later, but all sorts of unexpected events can occur in the meantime. That can make it hard or even impossible to hit your initial targets, and potentially even force you out of education altogether.

You might have to take time out to care for an unwell relative. Or to deal with your own health issues or personal matters. Tricky financial conditions can also make it hard to complete degrees and diplomas. Alternatively, you might decide that your chosen subject isn’t right for you, preferring to leave the degree unfinished and focus your efforts elsewhere. There’s no harm in sharing these kinds of stories with recruiters, as they demonstrate desirable aspects of your character.

man in the middle holding a business man on the left side in his hand and holding a man in a graduation outfit on his right hand

Lack of Experience

If you’re trying to write a resume quite early on in life, soon after leaving college, for example, you might not have a lot of experience to include. Even with other aspects of your academic life listed, as well as notable skills and achievements, your resume might still look a little thin. In that case, you might like to mention unfinished degrees to fill it out and give recruiters more information.

This allows them to see your full story so far, without any omissions or gaps. Plus, if your degree was in a relevant field to the role you’re applying for, it can still be valuable. Even if you didn’t graduate, you can at least show recruiters that you’ve spent time studying the subject and know something about it. That’s better than looking like someone with absolutely zero education in the sector.

Reasons to Exclude Unfinished Degrees from Your Resume

On the other hand, there are also several downsides of including unfinished education on your resume. Here are some reasons you might want to leave it out.

Experience Matters More

In general, recruiters put a lot of emphasis on experience. They’ll often favor candidates who can demonstrate that they’ve worked in similar roles or the same industry in the past. If you’ve got relevant experience for the job you’re applying for, it’s usually better to focus on that in your resume, rather than wasting space on unfinished degrees.

This helps to keep your resume concise and easily scannable, giving recruiters the most important info they need to decide if you’re the right fit. Similarly, if you’ve got other qualifications, certifications, or skills that are much more impressive than your unfinished degree, it’s best to focus and expand on them.

woman writing a resume with a pencil with the words "Tips for including education on a resume when you didn't graduate and 5 tips of what to not do

Irrelevant to Certain Roles

In some situations, your unfinished degree may have no real relevance to the job you’re applying for. Maybe you started a degree in a field like art history, for example, but decided to transition to something completely different, like finance. If you’re applying for a job as a financial analyst, there wouldn’t be much point in mentioning an art history degree you never finished.

For that reason, it’s important to tailor your resume on a case-by-case basis. If you’re applying for a job that is connected to your time at college, consider bringing it up. If not, just leave it out and focus on more important aspects, like skills you’ll need in the job or other achievements to impress recruiters.

May Be Seen as a Sign of Undesirable Traits

Thomas Edison. Benjamin Franklin. Albert Einstein. Walt Disney. Charles Dickens. History is littered with examples of amazing people who enjoyed incredible success, despite dropping out of college (or even high school). Regardless, some people – including recruiters – are still quick to judge those who fail to finish their degrees.

Certain recruiters may, for example, automatically assume that you’re someone who struggles with commitment or motivation if you list an unfinished degree on your resume. They might make various other negative judgments about your character, which can make it that much harder to get the job you want.

When to Include Unfinished Degrees on Resumes

Ultimately, the answer to the “Should you list unfinished degrees on your resume?” question is “It depends.” It depends on the job you’re applying for, the degree you didn’t finish, and how far you’ve progressed in your career. If you’re just starting out and need to fill out your resume, it’s usually worth listing all relevant education, even the degrees you didn’t finish.

If you’re a more experienced worker, with lots of other pieces of information to include on your resume, leave it out. It’s also not worth including if you’re applying for a job that has no real connection with the degree you failed to finish, as it won’t mean much to recruiters. Instead, focus on relevant skills and successes, teaming up with a great LinkedIn and resume writing service in Denver can help to make a fantastic first impression.

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