A resume can – and should – look very different depending on the individual it is representing. The focal points of a veteran executive’s resume will be very different from that of a recent college graduate. However, whether you’re a recent graduate or a seasoned professional, you need to include a section on education within your resume.
Not only is it extremely important to showcase your qualifications and the skill level you have achieved, but it will also go towards a higher score on the applicant tracking system (ATS) – the computer algorithms that a lot of organizations use to filter out resumes before an actual person views them.In this post, we will delve into how to list your education on your resume, depending on a few key factors.
Why is including education on your resume so important?
At the most basic level, a clear education section demonstrates that you have a solid academic background and the basic knowledge to thrive in any environment. Your education can also be a point of connection or conversation. For example, you might be an alumnus of the same university or share a major with the hiring manager. Maybe you went to a rival school or university and can get into some friendly trash talk.
The point is, education is a shared experience most people can understand and talk about, regardless of their current professional position.
There are, however, many different approaches on how to convey education on a resume. Differences in style, placement of the section, and what is included can speak volumes, so you need to get it right from the start.
In this blog, we are going to go over the many different approaches you can take when adding education to your resume. It also includes ways in which you can construct the section aesthetically, where to place it, and what information to include.
How to present education on your resume
The key to effectively presenting the education section on your resume is to ensure that the most current information is the easiest to spot. There are a few techniques you can use to maximize the use of this strategy.
Your highest level of education should be first
Resumes are generally written in reverse chronological order, where the most recent information is displayed first. That means placing your highest qualification at the top of the education section.
EXPERT TIP: If you’ve been to university, there is no need to state your high school qualifications.
There are some exceptions. Let’s say, for example, you have an advanced degree in psychology. Recently, you’ve grown unhappy in that industry and have been working on transitioning into technology. You went back to school and took a bunch of courses that are relevant to the tech industry.
In this situation, you will want to list your relevant coursework higher, even though your psychology degree is more advanced, from an educational stance. Why? Because the coursework has more relevance to the position you are applying for. While an advanced psychology degree may be impressive, it doesn’t go towards explaining why you’d be a success in the tech industry.
Let’s look at some examples of different types of education sections.
2022 Master of Social Work (MSW)
NYU School of Social Work, New York, NY
2019 Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, NY
In this simple example, notice how the highest level of education (Master of Science) is listed above the second highest level (Bachelor of Science). This is the pattern you should always follow unless you’re transitioning between industries.
As discussed earlier, if you are transitioning to a new and unrelated industry to that of your degree, the education on your resume should look something like this:
2020 Graphic Design Certification
The New School, Parsons Digital Design, New York, NY
2011 Master of Science in Information Technology
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
2010 Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
University of Idaho, Moscow, ID
Notice how even though a graphic design certification is the least advanced degree, it is placed at the top of the education section. Again, this should ONLY be done in situations when you are changing direction and aiming to get your foot in the door of a new industry where your old degrees would be irrelevant.
Drawing attention to the important parts
There are a bunch of options when writing the education section on your resume. Depending on the listing, you’re going to want to draw attention to the most relevant parts of your resume. This includes the education section as well.
How can you draw attention to the education on your resume? As previously discussed, listing the most important and relevant qualifications first is essential. After that, you can draw attention to the parts you really want to be noticed by altering the text. If you went to a prestigious university, you might want to draw attention to this by bolding the text. If you want the hiring manager to notice your major first, put that part in bold.
The same rule applies throughout the resume’s education section. Your resume should look neat and be consistent. So, if you’ve bolded up your college name, make sure all the educational establishment names you’ve listed are in bold as well.
In summary, use text alteration to draw attention to the parts you want noticed while at the same time making sure that it maintains a clean appearance.
What information to include in the education section of a resume
There are a few pieces of information that are absolutely essential for any effective education section. This includes:
The general rules for including GPA on your resume are as follows:
If you graduated in the last four years AND your GPA is over 3.5, include it.
If you graduated over four years ago OR if your GPA is below 3.5, DO NOT include it.
Here are a few examples of GPA inclusion:
2020 Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
University of Idaho, Moscow, ID
Here is another example of GPA inclusion in a more detailed education section:
EDUCATION & TRAINING
University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business | Calgary, AB
Bachelor of Commerce, Finance (Expected 2024)
Major GPA: 4.00 | Cumulative GPA: 3.82
Awards: Alexander Rutherford Scholarship, Entrance Scholarship, Jason Lang Scholarship
Relevant Coursework | Relevant GPA: 4.00
Investments & Security Analysis, Financial Accounting, Futures and Options, International Finance, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics
As you can see, if included, your GPA should be a part of, but not the main focus of, your education section. The reason for this is simply because it’s not the main thing employers are looking for.
To add more meat to the bones of the education section, especially if you’re a recent graduate with little work experience, you can add in relevant coursework. This gives the hiring manager more of an idea of, theoretically, what you can do.
Including extracurricular activities or honors
If you are a recent graduate, it might be appropriate to list extracurricular activities or any achievements you obtained while at college within the education section. It is wise, however, to exclude anything controversial, such as religious or political activities.
2022 Bachelor of Science in Maths & Economics
Montana State University, Bozeman, MT
Led a group project on Newtonian Mechanics, winning First Prize at the Maths Fair
Always include any honors on your resume, as they look great and will set you apart from the rest of the crowd. Even if you graduated more than four years ago, an honor is still relevant and presents you in a good light.
2022 Bachelor of Arts in Drama
University of Wyoming, Cheyenne, WY
Awarded Best Drama Student
In short, you will want to include extracurricular activities as it shows passion and motivation. The same can be said for including any honors. If it is relevant, include it.
Should you include your graduation year?
This totally depends. Keep in mind that including your graduation year on your resume will usually give away your general age range. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on the job you are applying for and the message you want to project.
A rule of thumb is to include the date you graduated in the education section of your resume if you graduated within the past five years, but not once you have bagged some proper work experience. Once you are deep into your career, the year you left college becomes a moot point that potential employers will not be interested in.
EXPERT TIP: For more information, check out our post on 7 No-Fail Resume Tips for Older Workers (+ Examples).
What about including ongoing education?
You should include any ongoing education, clearly stating that you are in the middle of the degree or course. There are easy ways to include ongoing education on your resume.
University at Buffalo, New York, NY
Bachelor of Science in Biology (due for completion in June 2024)
Relevant Courses Taken Include: Intro to Biology (85%), Chemistry 101 (74%), Microbiology (70%), and Organic Chemistry (63%)
As you can see, it is obvious to the reader that the degree is ongoing, yet it still makes it clear what modules have already been completed and when it is scheduled to be finished.
Should you include incomplete courses?
It is up for debate about whether to include courses or degrees that you’ve started but have no intention of finishing for whatever reason. Overall, it is best not to include them as it shows a lack of commitment. Plus, as you haven’t finished the course or degree, you can’t really claim it as a qualification.
Where to place the education section on your resume
If you are a recent graduate with no relevant work experience under your belt, put your education at the top, underneath the profile summary.
If you are a recent graduate with internship experience, put the education section below your work experience.
When changing career paths, and if you’ve undertaken relevant coursework related to your new direction, place it at the top.
In all other scenarios, the education section on your resume goes at the bottom, after the career summary.
Expert Tip: For more information on organizing resume sections and laying them out effectively on the page, check out ZipJob’s blog on 7 Resume Headers and Sections You Need (+ Examples).
Land the interview
Every section of your resume is important. The education section is no exception. It demonstrates commitment and a certain level of knowledge. It can also be a topic of conversation with fellow alumni or rivals. You never know what will catch the eye of a hiring manager. It could be just the thing that lands you the interview!
Good luck with your job hunting.
Now that you have a good idea of how to go about presenting your education on your resume upload your finished document for a free resume review from ZipJob. You will receive honest and trustworthy advice that can get your resume from “meh” to “WOW.”
Elizabeth Openshaw, Editor & Content Writer, Elizabeth Openshaw, Editor & Content Writer
Elizabeth Openshaw is an Elite CV Consultant of 11 years based in Brighton, UK, with an English degree and an addiction to Wordle! She is a former Journalist of 17 years with the claim to fame that she interviewed three times Grand Slam winner and former World No.1 tennis player, Andy Murray, when he was just 14 years old. You can connect with her at Elizabeth Openshaw | LinkedIn.