A Little Lie About Education on a Resume

Is it a lie to say you earned a college degree when you didn't really get it? Even if you had enough credits but just didn't get the actual degree?

Here's a question from Jim (not his real name) who wants to know if he can tell a white lie about education on his resume.

I Didn't Lie About Education on My Resume... Yet

Susan,
I have a question on how to properly list my academic level. I went to a four-year university and received over 135 credit hours. My degree plan required 130 hours, and of the 135 hours that I completed, 124 counted toward my degree plan.

I was recruited by a company prior to my graduation and never finished the remaining six hours of electives. Also, I've moved out of state and cannot go back and finish these classes.

Now that I have left the company that hired me as a college graduate, I'm wondering how I put this in my resume. Should I claim to be a college graduate and explain the situation when I'm in the interview? Or, do you have another suggestion? As you know, many jobs require that the applicant have a college degree.

I was very successful at my last job and worked there over six years.
-- Jim

The Truth About Lying on a Resume

Jim,
Lying on your resume is a serious issue. I'm glad you asked your question, so we can find an honest way around it.

You didn't really lie on your first resume -- you just didn't fulfill something (your degree program) that was in progress. So don't start lying now. If you do, you're apt to get stuck with that lie for the rest of your career, or at least until you get caught.

You see, employers know that a lot of job seekers lie about their education. So, many -- not all, but many -- employers take the time to contact colleges to verify applicants' degrees.

In your case, your college records show that you haven't completed all the requirements for your degree, which means you would be lying if you listed that degree on your resume. You'd probably get caught sooner or later in your career, which could cost you a job and hurt your professional image.

So let's see how you can avoid that for the long- and short-term. Here are my thoughts:

1. Is it possible that you have enough credits for a different degree? You might contact the college to ask if that’s possible. Maybe you could officially receive the other degree and then list it honestly on your resume.

2. If you intend to finish your degree (perhaps online with your old college or through another school where you currently live), list your education in one of these ways:

Degree (near completion), Major, School, City, State
Example:
B.A. (near completion), Business Administration
Harvard College, Cambridge, MA

Degree Candidate, Major, School, City, State
Example:
B.A. Candidate, Business Administration
Harvard College, Cambridge, MA

Degree, Major, School, City, State, graduation anticipated (date)
Example:
B.A., Business Administration
Harvard College, Cambridge, MA, graduation anticipated 2008

3. If you do not plan to finish your degree in the near future, use an approach like this:

Area of Studies, School, City, State, dates
Example:
Business Administration Studies
Harvard College, Cambridge, MA, 1996-2000

Whether or not you intend to finish your degree, place your Education section near the end of your resume. That way you won't draw too much attention to the fact that you haven’t completed your program. And not matter what, please don't lie about education on your resume.

13 thoughts on “A Little Lie About Education on a Resume

  1. Good article.
    If you completed part of a GRADUATE degree, but do not intend to finish, does it pay to put it on the resume at all, in the format you suggested (especially if you got good grades and is relevant to the industry you’re looking into)?
    Or is it better to leave it out?

    • CMichele,
      From what you’ve told us, I think you should put it on your resume for a few reasons:
      1. You said your graduate program is relevant to your job objective. So, having completed at least part of the program puts you ahead of job seekers who didn’t even start such a program. Right?
      2. I’m sure you worked hard to get as far as you did in the program. And, I’m sure you learned a lot of relevant information for your career in that field. Anyone who reads your resume will recognize that and see it has a positive.

      The down-side is that you didn’t finish (not uncommon in graduate programs), and you don’t want to look like a quitter. So, maybe there’s a way to address that on your resume without going into a long explanation.

      For example, is there any chance at all that you would complete your degree in the future? If so, you could put something like:

      Such-and-such graduate degree program (on hold)
      College
      GPA, etc.

      or a simple hint for leaving the program, such as:

      Such-and-such graduate degree program
      (concurrent with full-time parenting)
      College
      GPA, etc

      If you absolutely are not planning to finish, then you could simply say:

      Such-and-such graduate studies
      College
      GPA, etc

      Want to tell us more about your situation? Why aren’t you completing the program? Maybe I can come up with a more specific suggestion.

      • Would employers look negatively upon degrees not completed and indicated with a “concurrent with full-time parenting” or “oh hold” reasoning? Somehow I feel it is a catch 22. Would it be better to list relevant coursework in another section instead? Thank you in advance!

      • Hello Elaine,
        Most employers will not mind something like “concurrent with full-time parenting.” It shows that you are a hard worker and that your parenting does not prevent you from other time-consuming projects (such as employment).

        “On hold” is not a good way to say you haven’t finished your degree. You could simply list the program you were enrolled in without any dates. That would tell the employer that you have some college coursework without drawing attention to the fact that you haven’t finished that degree.

        For ideas on how to list Education without a college degree, check out: Resume Examples with No College Degrees

        Hope this helps!

  2. Great answer, Susan!

    You don’t need to look any further than the scandal earlier in May, 2012, involving the now-former CEO of Yahoo! to know that stretching the truth even a little is not a good idea.

    This fellow’s resume claimed a degree in accounting and computer science although his degree was, in fact, only in accounting. Fortunately few of us will be exposed for padding our resumes quite that publicly and painfully. But, it’s a lesson for us all.

  3. Do I list BOTH colleges on my resume if I did not graduate? I had over the required credits for an AS at one college but like “John” not all went towards the program of study.

    I then transferred 51 of those credit hours over to a University to complete a BS. While there I completed 18 credit hours. Would I list them both separately and if so how? Or would it look better to only list the University with the total credit hours that went towards the BS?

    Please advise.

    • Hello K,
      It’s perfectly fine to list only the university that granted you the BS. And you can list just one date: the year you got your degree.

      There’s no need to list the first college, unless there’s an unusual circumstance (for example, if you were applying for a job at that college or if you knew the hiring manager went to that college). Otherwise, I suggest you keep it simple and put only the university where the employer can verify that you did indeed get that degree.

      Thanks for asking your question, K!

    • Hi Cory,
      On your resume, there’s no need to state that your collage coursework is online. You can list it the same way you would list on-campus college work. Same for your degree, when you get it.
      Happy resume writing!

  4. I have a somewhat similar question to K. Danielle’s. I have previously attended a university where I earned approximately 59 credits towards my BS in Psychology (I have taken time off between some semesters during this time). When I transferred this information over to another institution, only 42 of those credits were accepted and applied toward my BS in Psychology with Business option (under the business option, I have taken accounting & business courses). My question is, how do I note this on my resume to show that my degree is still in progress at a new institution and has ended with former institution without completion?

    My current resume displays:

    University B, City/State – Jan. 2013 – Present
    Candidate for Bachelors of Science in Psychology with Business Concentration

    University A, City/State – Aug. 2007 – Dec. 2009; Jan. – Dec. 2012
    Candidate for Bachelors of Science in Psychology
    Cumulative of GPA 3.86 – Dean’s List, Fall 2008

    Many many many thanks!

    • Hello Donna,
      I suggest you delete all mention of the first school you attended. And don’t list the start date for your current school. Instead write something like: anticipated May 20xx.

      Employers don’t need a long account of all your academic moves. They care if you have a degree or are going to have one.

      In fact, listing one college instead of two will make you look more stable.
      Best to you in getting your degree!

  5. Hello Susan,

    I have a quick question regarding the same topic.In my case I finished only 2 out of 3 years of university ( Computers and Electronics field ) due to the fact that I needed to work so I couldn’t attend the classes..
    Now I want to apply for a job in IT since I have the experience as well.Should I add the university on my resume or just add the name and years when I attended but I need to add something that I don’t have a degree.
    Do you have any suggestions ?

    Thank you

    Kind regards,

    Ciprian Dobre

    • Hi Ciprian,
      You could list it something like this:

      XWZ coursework, LWM Univeristy, 20xx-20xx

      Happy job hunting!

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