Whether you decided to pursue a different opportunity, are currently on hiatus, or academia just wasn’t for you, there are any number of reasons you may not have completed your degree. The good news is, even an unfinished degree can demonstrate valuable skills. So does it belong on your resume? Maybe. Before you include an unfinished degree on your resume, it’s time to ask yourself a few questions.
Why include an unfinished degree on your resume?
Like anything else on your resume, an unfinished degree only belongs there if it strengthens your candidacy. That said, there are a few situations where it’s probably a good idea.
It aligns with the position you’re applying for
If your degree is relevant to the field or specific position you’re applying for, it’s a good idea to list it on your resume even if it’s unfinished. This is more true the less experience you have in that field — if your coursework, projects, or other degree-related activities highlight technical skills and experience recruiters are looking for, then it’s adding value to your resume and should be listed.
To explain an employment gap
Having a resume gap isn’t a big deal, but most hiring managers will still be curious about it. Taking time off to pursue a degree — even if you didn’t graduate — is a perfectly acceptable reason for a longer gap and is unlikely to raise any further questions.
To highlight skills
Chances are, you picked up some relevant technical skills during your studies, especially if it’s in a similar field to the one you’re applying for jobs in. If you’ve never worked in that field, some employers might be wondering how you gained some of the skills on your resume — listing your unfinished degree not only gives additional context for how you’ve used those skills, it also provides an additional spotlight for those competencies.
To showcase relevant experience
Listing education on your resume often isn’t just about the degree itself, but about the experience you gained while pursuing it. If you engaged in internships, volunteer work, university activities, research, publications, or even coursework relevant to the jobs you’re now applying for, all of that is worthy of inclusion on your resume.
If you’re currently pursuing a degree
You don’t need to have graduated already to include a degree on your resume. If you’re applying for jobs as a current student — including if you’ve been on hiatus for less than a year — listing your degree with an expected graduation date signals that you’re looking for entry-level work post-graduation.
When not to list an unfinished degree
There are a few situations when it’s best to leave an unfinished degree off your resume. If your academic performance was poor or if you were dismissed from your degree program for cause, leave it off. You also don’t need to list an unfinished degree if you’re well established in your career, as you’ll likely have far more relevant experience to talk about instead.
How to list an unfinished degree
If you’re a current student
You can still include your degree on your resume if you haven’t graduated yet — in fact, if you’re applying for jobs in a related field, you definitely should. You should put your education section at the top of your resume, since that’s likely to be your most relevant experience, and list an expected graduation date. It’s okay if this changes — employers understand that things don’t always go exactly to plan.
If you’re currently on hiatus, you don’t need to change the way you list your degree unless it’s been over a year. Within this timeframe, you can still legitimately consider yourself a current student.
For more tips on what to include in your education section, check out our guide on how to list education on your resume.
To explain an employment gap
If you spent two years at university and didn’t work during that period, including your unfinished degree is a great way to explain that time without raising red flags. Simply list the university, dates of enrolment, course of study, and credit hours completed. There’s no need to specify that the degree is incomplete — as long as you don’t list a graduation date, that should be obvious from context. For example:
Boston University (2020-2021)
Bachelor of Arts in Communication — Completed 20 credit hours
You can list this as normal in your education section, or in the space where there would otherwise be a gap in your work experience section.
If you’re currently employed in a related field
If you currently work or are applying for a job in the same field, listing an unfinished degree can help illustrate relevant technical skills. This is especially true if you completed any noteworthy research, projects, or volunteer work as part of your degree and are still in the early stages of your career.
List the unfinished degree in your education section to give context for your achievements. The accomplishments themselves should be listed in the relevant section of your resume — for example, the experience section for paid or volunteer experience, or a projects or additional section for research or publications.
If you don’t have any other relevant experience
If you lack more relevant experience to put on your resume, including volunteer work, you should list your education section first on your resume and expand on your achievements from your unfinished degree. You can list coursework or achievements underneath the degree itself or in a separate projects section.
If you plan on going back to school
If you plan on going back to finish your degree in the near future — and it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for — you can address this in your cover letter. This doesn’t need to be a long explanation — just a sentence or two is fine:
I’m currently on hiatus from my degree at [University[ to focus on my career at [Company]. However, I’m committed to returning to school in January 2022 to earn my [type of degree you’re pursuing, eg. BA].
Listing coursework and GPA
In most cases, whether you graduated or not, you don’t need to list specific coursework or a GPA on your resume. The exception to this is if you’re a current student or very recent graduate — as soon as you have some relevant experience in your field, it’s time to take those things off. If you do choose to include them, make sure any coursework listed is relevant to the specific job you’re applying for, and only include your GPA if it’s particularly impressive — if it’s below 3.5, you can skip it and nobody will question the omission.