A resume can--and should--look very different depending on the individual it is representing. Everyone has strong and weak points to address. Of course, the focal point of a veteran executive will be very different from that of a recent college graduate. However, whether you’re a recent graduate or a seasoned professional, you want to include your education on your resume.
In this blog post, we go over how education on a resume should look 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 good background and the basic knowledge to succeed. Your education can also be a point of connection or conversation. For example, you might be an alumnus of the same university or shared 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. You should usually include education on your resume.
There are, however, many different approaches to a resume's education section.
Differences in style, placement of the section, and included information can greatly change the message you are sending with your education section. A change in the message will change the ensuing conversation. So, it is very, very important.
In this blog post, we are going to go over the many different approaches you can take when adding education to your resume. This also includes how to construct the section stylistically, where to put it, and what information to include.
Styling Resume Education Section
The key to effectively styling resume education sections is to make sure the most important information is easiest to notice. There are a few techniques you can use to maximize the use of this strategy.
Highest level of education should be on top
Of course, you want to put the education that makes you sound best at the top. This is almost always the highest level of education that you’ve completed.
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 that situation, you will want to list your relevant coursework higher even though your other degree is more advanced. Why? Simply because it has relevance to the position you're applying for. And, while an advanced psychology degree may be impressive, it doesn't do anything in explaining why you'll be successful in the tech industry.
Let’s look at some examples of resume education sections.
2015 Master of Social Work (MSW)
NYU School of Social Work, New York, NY
2013 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 on top of the second highest level (Bachelor of Science). This is the pattern you should always follow unless you’re transitioning between industries.
As we discussed earlier, when you are transitioning to a new and unrelated industry to that of your degrees, your resume education section should look like this:
2016 Graphic Design Certification
The New School, Parsons Digital Design, New York, NY
2007 Master of Science in Information Technology
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
2005 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 correctly placed on top. Again, this should ONLY be done in situations where you are transitioning into a new industry in which your old degrees are 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? As we discussed, listing the most important parts first is essential. After that, you can draw attention to the parts you really want to be noticed by altering the text. If you want to draw attention to the university name, bold that text. If you want the hiring manager to notice your major first, bold that part.
The same rule applies throughout the resume’s education section. Of course, you want your resume to look neat. So, if your layout or bold your major on one point, it’s important to do it on all the others.
In short, use text alteration to draw attention to the parts you want while at the same time, making sure that it maintains a neat look.
What information to include in the Resume Education section
There are a few pieces of information that are absolutely essential to any effective education section. This information includes:
The general rules for including GPA in on your resume are as follows:
If you graduated in the last 4 years AND your GPA is over 3.5, include it.
If you graduated over 4 years ago OR if your GPA is below 3.5, DO NOT include it.
Here are a few examples of GPA inclusion with various resume stylings:
2005 Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
University of Idaho, Moscow, ID
Here is another example of GPA inclusion in a more detailed education section:
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.
Relevant coursework is also something you can include if you don't have much relevant experience.
How Important Is Your GPA?
According to this recent study by National Association of Colleges and Employers, GPA is not as important as your actual major or other extracurricular activities:
For more details, check out our post on including GPA on your resume.
Including extracurricular activities or honors
If you’re a recent graduate, it is appropriate to list extracurricular in your resume’s education section. It is wise, however, to exclude anything controversial. For example, religious or political activity.
Always include any honors on your resume, they look great. Even if you graduated more than four years ago, a relevant honor still looks great.
In short, you want to include any benign extracurricular activities. It shows passion and motivation. Same idea goes with honors. If it’s relevant, include it.
Including graduation year
This completely depends on the message you want to send. What you should keep in mind is that including a graduation year will usually give away your general age range. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on the job you’re applying for and the message you want to send.
There is no “right” way of doing this so we’ll leave it up to you to decide.
for more information, check out our post on 7 resume tips for older workers.
Including incomplete education
You should include education even if you’re only partway finished with it. But, you must make it clear to the reader. There are graceful ways of including incomplete education on your resume, here’s a great example from KRG Staffing:
University at Buffalo 2010-2012
Completed 60 credits towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology
Relevant Courses Included:
Intro to Biology Chemistry 101
Microbiology Organic Chemistry
University at Buffalo, BS in Biology In progress
As you can see, it’s obvious that the degree is incomplete yet it still makes it clear what has already been completed and when it is scheduled to be completed in full.
On the other hand, if you are currently working on a degree or program, head over to our post on listing in-progress education.
Where to place the resume education section
If you’re a recent graduate with no relevant work experience under your belt, put your education at the top.
If you’re a recent graduate with internship experience, put education at the bottom
When changing career paths and if just added relevant coursework, put it at the top
In all other scenarios, the resume education section goes at the bottom
For more information on organizing resume sections and laying them out effectively on the page, check out our blog post on resume sections and headers.
Every section of your resume is important. The education section is no exception. It demonstrates commitment and basic 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. Your resume's education section could be the thing that lands you the interview!
For more awesome job tips, check out the rest of our blog here. Good luck on your job hunt and thanks for reading!
Jeffrey is one of ZipJob's co-founders and has been a blog contributor since 2016.