You went to college, but didn't finish – that's okay because you can still put it on your resume!
They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Sometimes you start down the road to a destination but don't complete the trip. That doesn't mean your progress is for nothing.
When it comes to college, even an unfinished degree may be something you'll want to let people know about. It doesn't matter whether circumstances prevented you from finishing, if you made a conscious decision to quit, or if you're going to finish it but just haven't yet. The steps you took in your academic career could be the thing that unlocks future employment doors.
But how do you put an unfinished degree on your resume? As it turns out, it's not difficult or something to be avoided. In this article, you'll find out when to include an unfinished degree on your resume plus some examples of how to write it.
Some college is often better than no college
All employers care about is whether you'll be able to do the job they have open. They'll want to see how your skills and knowledge align with the job description. This is of the utmost importance when writing your resume.
Consider the following:
Were any of the courses you took relevant to the job you're applying to?
Did you participate in, or complete, any major academic projects that would demonstrate the practical application of skills and knowledge?
Did you participate in any relevant clubs or extracurriculars that would pique a hiring manager's interest?
What type of independent study or research have you taken part in that would demonstrate initiative?
Do you have any certifications that improve your knowledge?
What skills did you acquire while you were at college? How are those relevant to the job you want?
Did you take on any leadership roles in college? Think about things like fraternities, sororities, and student government.
How does your professional network look? What did you do to build it up?
All of this is meant to shift your thinking so that you can focus on valuable experiences rather than your unfinished degree.
How to put an unfinished degree on your resume
Even though your focus should now be shifted from, “I didn't finish my degree, now what?” to “What skills and knowledge do I have that employers want?” you still have to include the fact that your degree is incomplete if you want to talk about it on your resume.
Adding a degree in progress on your resume
Sometimes, you'll run into an opportunity to apply for your dream job, but you haven't quite finished your degree yet. Pursuing your education shouldn't stop you from applying for the position you want. However, you want to be honest about the fact that your degree isn't complete yet.
At this point in your career, the Education section of your resume will look a bit like a Work History section, because you'll put more details about your degree and where you're getting it. At this point, because of your need to emphasize how your skills, knowledge, and coursework align with what's required in the job, you'll need to include those things on your resume. You also need to let a prospective employer know approximately when your degree will be complete.
Here's an example of how to include a degree that's still in progress on your resume:
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology | XYZ University | Expected completion: 12/2024
Relevant coursework: Introduction to Psychology, Psychology Research, Statistics, Psychology in the Workplace, Organizational Behavior, Coping Mechanisms, and Behavior Change.
Internship: ABC School District, Teacher Support Program
PRO TIP: Only include your GPA if it's 3.5 or higher. We wrote a comprehensive article about when and if you should include your GPA on your resume. Click here to read it.
The inclusion of relevant coursework and an internship provides a great opportunity for you to inject relevant keywords into your resume. Those keywords will help your resume to be found by the applicant tracking systems that an astonishing number of employers use to weed out unqualified applicants.
Adding a degree you're not going to finish on your resume
Almost everyone has gone through a period of indecision regarding their degree plan. Some even change their major in college multiple times before landing on a path that suits them. Perhaps you've decided that college is no longer in your future or won't serve you very well in the career you've chosen to pursue.
It could still benefit you to add it to your resume. You could even include some details such as relevant coursework, if you need to get some keywords into your resume. As long as you keep the focus of your Education section on skills, achievements, and experiences gained during your time at school, an unfinished degree shouldn't make or break your candidacy for a job.
PRO TIP: Position yourself as someone with practical knowledge and a strong skill set to win that coveted interview offer.
Here's an example of how to add an unfinished degree that you're no longer pursuing to your resume:
Bachelor of Business Administration | XYZ University
Completed 80/120 credit hours, including finance, management, and marketing
Served as President of the Finance Club
Executed market analysis project that connected business with target market
In this example, you've shifted the focus away from the fact that the degree isn't finished. Instead, the reader – a hiring manager or recruiter – gains insight into your experiences, adding value to your application and demonstrating how you'll benefit the new team.
Don't forget the cover letter
The beauty of having a cover letter that complements your resume in situations when something needs to be explained can't be overstated. While your resume affords you some opportunity to dive into how your history aligns with the job opening, your cover letter lets you expand on the narrative to make it clearer.
Providing extra context in your cover letter to emphasize your skills can help you to stand out as a top candidate among the hundreds of other people applying for the same position.
Address the unfinished degree on your cover letter
You'll start a paragraph of your cover letter by quickly bringing up your unfinished degree. Talk about how a shift in your career focus has led you to change your mind on college. Emphasize that your desire for practical experience won out, as you felt that would be the best way to add value to future employers.
“I began my formal education working toward a Bachelor of Business Administration, but decided that it would serve future employers better if I had practical skills in marketing.”
Highlight skills you've acquired
Just like you did in your resume, talk about how your skills make you a great match for the job that the new company has available. Use verbiage from the job description to tailor your cover letter to the needs of the position.
“The coursework I finished, especially the courses in marketing and finance, has equipped me with a solid foundation in analysis and strategy planning that brings companies and consumers together to improve sales and profits.”
Mention achievements - employers love achievements!
Any time you can talk about something you've achieved, you show prospective employers value. By witnessing your past accomplishments, they get a real sense of what you can do for them.
“When I was the President of the Finance Club, I consistently found ways to automate manual processes to save time. One such process improvement reduced a 5-day turnaround to 2 days.”
Leverage your practical knowledge
Having an unfinished degree isn't the end of the world, as long as you can turn your educational experiences into a narrative that shows you're a determined individual with the right practical knowledge. In this sense, you're not someone with an incomplete degree, you're an engaging professional ready to make solid contributions to prospective employer teams.
Don't let an unfinished degree hold you back. Why not let us help you to craft a compelling resume that shifts the focus to your skills and achievements in a way that will land your resume at the top of the pile? Submit your resume now for a free resume review!