A truly great resume should highlight your achievements and immediately answer the hiring manager's top-of-mind question: "Can this person solve my problem?" Not only should the education section of your resume be concise, but it should also relate to the job you are seeking.
If you're a recent graduate, you'll need to put a bit more focus on your education section since you likely don't have a lot of professional work world experience yet. You don't want to include every single course you've ever taken, but you also don't want to merely list your credentials.
Before you start emailing your resume to potential employers, let's look at some things you should and shouldn't do within the education section of your resume. By the time you finish reading, you should know what you need to do to impress!
The Dos for Your Education Section
Below are a few things to keep in mind when writing this resume section.
List your education in reverse order. (The same goes for work history—use reverse chronology. "Functional resumes" are confusing, and most managers don't know how to read them.)
Here's how to write about your degree on a resume:
- If you have a master's and a bachelor's degree, make sure to list the master's degree first, followed by your bachelor's degree.
- If you're still pursuing a degree, your resume should make clear that your education is in progress. Follow this example: "Master of Business Administration degree candidate; anticipated completion May, 2020"
- If you have additional certifications, break them out and list them in their own section. For example: "Additional Certifications: Scrum Master, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, Certified Public Accountant."
Only include your GPA on your resume if you are a recent graduate, and only if it is above a 3.5. In most industries, a GPA is not a deciding factor in entry-level hiring. A few still want it (investment banking comes to mind), but most do not. If you're a recent graduate, you should also include any academic honors, such as scholarships, dean's list, and cum laude status. Again, this is only for recent graduates. Everyone else should leave their GPA off the resume!
List your college experience on your resume even if you did not graduate. Here is how to put your unfinished college education on a resume in a way that shows your progress:
- List the number of credits you have earned, along with the major you pursued, like this: Completed 90 credits toward Bachelor of Arts, Economics, 1997-2000.
- If your degree is in process, you should note that as well. For example: Bachelor of Science, Business Administration. University of Miami. Anticipated graduation date: May 2019
The Don'ts for Your Education Section
Below are a few things you need to avoid doing when you write this resume section.
Don't embellish or falsify things. This is obvious, but must be restated. Lying about anything on your resume is grounds for termination. In fact, the #1 thing that people lie about is having completed a degree when they have not.
Because education is known to be the top resume lie, it is also something that is frequently verified. Just because the hiring company does not ask for a transcript of your college or high school records does not mean that claims about your education are going unchecked.
It is very easy to validate educational credentials. Do not lie. Take it from a former member of Walmart's public relations team.
If you have more than five years of work experience, don't lead with the education section of your resume. Hiring managers will be more interested in your work history and your accomplishments in your career than in your degree. Also, if you've attended multiple institutions to earn your degree, only list the institution that conferred the degree upon you. It doesn't matter that you started at a community college and then transferred to a four-year university. All that's important is that you have the degree.
If you have fewer than five years of work experience, it is not necessary to put the date of your degree in the education section of your resume. The more practical experience you have, the less important a degree becomes.
The one exception to this rule is in an academic or scientific curriculum vitae. Those fields are very concerned about educational history. If you are writing a true C.V., then you should lead with your education. Ensure that you list your degrees in order of hierarchy—you'd be shocked by how many people have extensive education sections in which their doctoral degrees are listed last! Include your thesis/dissertation topic and advisor, if applicable.
Education is Not Everything
What gets you a job? You and your achievements, and your ability to connect those achievements to the hiring manager's business need!
You don't do that by going into your interview and talking about your views on symbolism in 1950s film noir. You do that by ensuring you gain practical experience while you're a student, either by working part-time, or by doing an internship. Yes, part-time retail jobs teach important workplace skills, such as cash management, customer service, and inventory management. An internship can provide more "professional" experience related to your major. If you've held a job while working on your degree, or if you've done an internship, be sure to put those on your resume.
Let's be clear—having a degree does not get you a job. Forty years ago, a bachelor's degree was almost a guarantee of a job upon graduation, and a lifetime career. Those days are gone. While those with degrees tend to be compensated better than those without, this is not a hard and fast rule. You must be able to talk to your interviewer about your experiences and the knowledge you gained, and relate those to the role for which you're being considered. Best of luck!