Lying About Education on Your Resume: Myths, Risks, and Alternatives

Wondering how to avoid lying about your education on your resume? Read on for tips from a hiring manager about how to make your resume appeal to recruiters — while still telling the truth.

3 months ago   •   5 min read

By Rohan Mahtani
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As the job market becomes even more competitive, lying about your education on your resume might seem like the only way to stand out in a sea of applicants. Maybe you’ve already fudged the truth about your high school diploma or your college degree. Whether you’re considering lying on your resume or you’ve already made your decision, you’re in a difficult spot.

Of course, regardless of your situation, lying on your resume isn’t great. On the other hand, making your experience sound more impressive than they are is part of resume writing -so where’s the line?

In this article, we will explore how to structure your resume in a way that showcases your best qualities as honestly as possible.

Can you lie about having a degree or a high school diploma on a resume?

Lying on your resume about having a degree or a high school diploma isn’t a good idea. Employers almost always run background checks on new hires, and many jobs run a specific educational background check. If you lied about your education, it’ll most likely be flagged.

While there’s a slim chance you’ll be able to get away with your lie, think about whether the potential pros outweigh the cons. If your lie isn’t detected, you might get the job. But if you’re found out, your professional integrity and reputation will take a major hit. Plus, the hiring manager has every right to dismiss your application, even if you’re a prime candidate for the role.

Is it illegal to lie about your education on a resume?

Despite what your gut is telling you, lying on your resume usually isn’t illegal. It’s not a binding legal document, so it’s technically not illegal to fudge the truth on it.

However, there are some instances when lying on your resume does break the law. For example, if you sign a document certifying that the information you provided is true, submitting a resume with false information is illegal. Also, if the lie pertains to professional licenses, qualifications, or involves falsifying documents, there could be criminal consequences.  

If you’re working in a country based on work visas or immigration status, lying to gain employment can have severe immigration consequences, including deportation or being barred from re-entry. Similarly, it’s always against the law to lie on your resume if you’re applying for a job with the state or federal government (because it’s illegal to provide false information to government agents).

You can still make your education sound impressive without resorting to lying. Use the tool below for a confidential resume review and tips on how to enhance your academic achievements, no fibs necessary!

You lied about your educational background: What to do next

If you’ve already lied about your education on a resume, the damage is done. However, rather than let the chips fall where they may, be proactive about correcting the situation.

In these cases, the best thing you can do is withdraw your application. Here’s why:If you’re applying for a job that requires an advanced degree or specialty training — think teacher, technician, or social worker — rest assured your future employer will do some digging into your credentials. They’ll run an educational background check on you, and your lie will be unraveled immediately.

If you’re still in the early stages of the job application process, the hiring manager hasn’t run any type of check on you yet. You can preserve your professional reputation by withdrawing your application before anyone finds out.

On the other hand, if you’re applying for a job that doesn’t require any specialty certifications or degrees, there’s a chance your fib won’t be discovered. In this case, though, it’s still best to withdraw your application.

Take this as an opportunity to learn from your mistake so you can make a less risky choice in the future.

Tips for addressing education gaps on your resume

There are many ways you can jazz up your resume without outwardly lying. Here are some tips to help you honestly address education gaps in your resume.

If you have a lot of work experience: Don’t include an education section at all

If you’ve been leading a team of sales representatives for 10 years but didn’t graduate from college, why draw attention to the fact that you don’t have a degree? The experience you do have communicates way more about your work ethic and abilities than your lack of credentials.

If you have extensive work experience, you don’t have to include an “education” section on your resume at all. Save those conversations for when they come up in the interview.

If you attended some college: Include any education information

If you spent a semester or two at college but didn’t earn a degree, you can still include this on your resume. Simply list the institution without claiming a degree. For example, write, “XYZ University, Major: Sociology.”

Use the entry to highlight relevant courses you took while you were enrolled. If you’re applying for a customer service job, this is a great place to mention that Psychology 101 class you took your first semester on campus.

How to include a college on your resume without earning the degree
How to include a college on your resume without earning the degree

If you attended courses: Include these instead

The internet is full of digital courses you can take — and once you finish them, add your new credentials to an “education/certificates” section on your resume.  

Coursera and Hubspot are full of online certifications you can earn. Google has some, too. Adding these certificates to your resume is a legitimate way to bulk up your “education” section.

How to improve your resume without lying about your education

If you’re feeling insecure about your education (or lack thereof), there are ways to address it on your resume. Here are a few honest “tricks” you can try.

Focus on your skills and work experience

Who said your education needs to be listed at the top of your resume? Use that prime real estate to show off your skills and work experience.

You can also use this space on your resume to shine the spotlight on any relevant job skills you have. If you’re a self-taught computer programmer who never went to college, brag about your Python or Java knowledge instead. Get as specific as possible about the contributions you’ve made at other companies to showcase the impact you make when you’re on the clock.

Did you double your client’s email opening rate in your last marketing role? Document it in your resume. Maybe you established a new system in your office that reduced labor expenses by 20%? Write it down.

The more you can draw attention to the impact you make, the less employers will care about the degrees you have or haven’t earned.

If you’re unsure which of your skills to include on your resume, use the skills search tool below to get a list of hard and technical skills relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Get feedback from our resume optimization tool

The temptation to embellish or lie about your educational background on a resume can sometimes be hard to resist. But remember, a dishonest approach can bring more harm than good, and in many cases, the truth eventually surfaces.

But here's the good news: you don’t need to take that risk. Instead, you can let AI give your resume the competitive edge it deserves. Get actionable insights to revamp your resume, increase its impact, and boost your chances of landing that dream job with Score My Resume. Try it free today.

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