The education section is an easily overlooked part of any resume — which doesn’t mean it should be an afterthought. If you’re a current student or recent graduate, or if you’re applying to jobs that require a specific degree, you’ll know you need to put some thought into it, but the same is true even if you’ve been in the workforce for a while. Here are some of our best tips for how to structure it, including how to make the most impact without letting it take over more space than it needs.
Should you lead with work experience or education on your resume?
The convention is for your work experience to sit at the top of your resume, but there are some situations where that doesn’t apply.
If you’re a current student and don’t have a lot of work experience, it’s fine to lead with your education section. It’s the most recent (and likely most relevant) experience you have. Leading with your education also prevents anyone who’s skimming over your resume from assuming that you’re simply inexperienced or unemployed, when the reality is that you’re in full-time education. It’s also okay to include your degree if you haven’t officially graduated yet — simply list it as “expected May 2021” (or whatever date applies).
The same applies if you’re a recent graduate. If your education is still the most relevant or most impressive experience you have, list it first.
The last exception is career changers. If you’ve gone back to school as part of the career change process, you can list your education first. A new qualification is more relevant than your experience in a different industry. It also provides important context for your application, as a resume that solely focuses on your past experience in a different sector might otherwise be confusing to a hiring manager.
If the situations above don’t apply to you, and you don’t have another good reason to list your education first, stick to the standard convention as lead with your work experience. Employers primarily want to know about your work history and achievements, so unless your education is very recent, you’re better of focusing on your professional accomplishments.
Other things to consider when writing your Education section
Don’t lead with your experience section (unless you’re one of the exceptions mentioned above), but don’t leave it off entirely, either. This is particularly important if your education is relevant to the role you’re applying for, or if you have a degree that’s required for the position. The only time you should consider not listing a qualification is if it isn’t relevant and it could make you appear overqualified — for example, if you have PhD in mathematics and are applying for jobs as an entry-level salesperson.
If you have postgraduate qualifications, list all your degrees, not just the most recent. You may think your bachelor’s degree in art history doesn’t matter if you have a master’s in engineering and are applying for jobs as an engineer, but it’ll look weird if you leave it off altogether.
Your education section shouldn’t include high school, unless you’re a high school student. If you are, you can list extracurriculars and other achievements, but those should be taken off as soon as you have something more relevant to replace them with.
It’s totally fine to leave the graduation date off your resume, unless you’re a recent graduate. Once you’ve been out of school for a few years, it’s common practice to omit the date (and a good idea for those who want to avoid any potential age discrimination).
Structuring your Education section on your resume
In most cases, your education section only needs to be a line or two underneath your work experience. The longer you’ve been in the workforce, the shorter it should be. Your education section should list what school you attended and what degree(s) you obtained.
If you have multiple degrees, list them in reverse chronological order with the most recent first.
If you’re a recent graduate
As a recent graduate, it’s better to leave your graduation date on your resume. If you don’t have a lot of work experience, a recent graduation date makes it obvious why.
Unlike more experienced hires, recent graduates can and should use your experience section to highlight your achievements. This includes awards, student initiatives, study abroad programs, language proficiency, key leadership skills, and any major accomplishments.
Remember that your resume is about presenting you as a strong applicant for a position rather than about adding as much information as possible. Normal resume rules apply — if it strengthens your candidacy, leave it in. If it takes the spotlight off more impressive work experience, take it off.
If you’re a current student
If you’re still studying, your education section can be a lot bigger, since you’re unlikely to have a lot of relevant work experience. You should include any major accomplishments, including awards and involvement in extracurricular activities, but only list your GPA if it’s particularly impressive (above 3.5). Any part-time work experience or internships can go in the work history section of your resume.
If you know when you’ll be graduating, go ahead and list the expected date.
Generally, you shouldn’t include your high school information once you’re in college, as it’s no longer relevant. If you do, keep it strictly to one line.
What you should include in your education section?
If you’re a current student, it’s fine to list study abroad on your resume. You can list the experience under the host school, making sure to note that it was a study abroad program.
Coursework, on the other hand, generally doesn’t belong on your resume. This is especially true if you’re an experienced hire. If you have real work experience, including coursework will look strangely out of touch.
The exception to this is if you have skills the job requires that you haven’t listed elsewhere on your resume. In that case, you can consider including it very briefly in your education section to make sure your resume gets past automated resume screeners and bots.
Other certifications and qualifications can go on your resume, but be critical about what you list. Just because you have a qualification, doesn’t mean you need to list it — your resume should only include things that are relevant and that strengthen you as a candidate. This could include certificates, technical qualifications, and other types of continuing education — as long as they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for. You also don’t need to list every conference or seminar you’ve ever attended. Keep it limited to substantial qualifications that help you stand out.
What does and doesn’t belong in the education section?
Everything on your resume should have a single purpose: Demonstrating that you’re a good fit for the position you’re applying to. This means:
- Tailor your resume. Add or remove experiences and qualifications from your experience section as necessary to fit each specific role.
- If you don't have much work experience: Expand your education section when you don’t have a lot of work experience, or if the experience you do have isn’t particularly relevant. On the other side, if your work experience is extensive or impressive on its own, anything else you add risks taking focus away from the parts you want to highlight.
- If you’re a career changer, fresh qualifications can help bridge the gap between your old industry and the new role you want.
Don’t waste space with irrelevant information. It’s better to keep your resume brief — even if it’s under one page — than to pad it out with fluff.