During the arduous process of putting your CV together (or résumé, for that matter), it can be easy to overlook the importance of the education section. Indeed, in many cases – especially for graduates or those with little work experience – your qualifications will be the first thing recruiters look for, so it’s vital to get it right.
Luckily, we’re here to help. Whether you’re still at university or an experienced professional, we’ve compiled a quick guide which includes information on what to leave out and what should be included. So, if you’re on the lookout for that next career opportunity and you want employers to know that you’re qualified for it, read on – this is how to write your CV’s education section.
Where Should it Go on the Page?
The first decision you’ll need to make is where exactly on the page it will go; after all, there is generally no right or wrong way of laying out a CV. In most cases, education or work experience will occupy the top segment of the page but knowing which one comes first depends on your particular circumstances.
If You Recently Graduated
If you have just left college or university, then odds are that your educational achievements will currently far outweigh your work ones; therefore, it makes sense that the emphasis is on your academic performance to date. Of course, any student jobs or internships that you were involved in should be listed in your employment section, too, but at this point your performance in the classroom takes precedent.
If You Recently Retrained
If you’ve been in the world of work for a significant period of time but decided to go back to school and retrain, then you should list your new educational qualifications first – particularly if you’re transitioning to a totally different field. The transferable skills attained during your previous employment will still hold a lot of sway, but recruiters need to identify straight away if you possess the academic requirements they are looking for in your new venture.
If You’re an Experienced Professional
If you have made headway in your career already and aren’t looking to significantly change direction, then your work experience should come first. Your education is still relevant, but recruiters will be more interested in your experience, the role-specific skills you have acquired and your achievements at work to date. As a general rule of thumb, the longer it has been since you attended school, the less important your education is.
If You’re Applying for an Academic Role
If you’re writing an academic CV, then obviously your academic credentials are going to be the most important thing on the page. You will also be required to go into a lot more depth about each qualification that you hold.
If You’re Applying for a Technical Role
The same practice applies for technical CVs. If you’re applying for a highly specialised IT role, for instance, then it’s recommended that your various certifications, diplomas and other relevant qualifications are listed first. Again, this is because recruiters need to see easily and clearly that you fit the basic criteria for the position.
What Order Should They Go In?
Once you’ve decided where on the page your qualifications will go, you need to put them in the right order. Essentially, the golden rule is that your most recent credentials should be listed first, with everything else in reverse chronological order. This is because the newer a qualification is, the more relevant it is – especially if you have a high-niche postgraduate certificate.
Should I List Bad Grades?
Unless specifically instructed in the job description, you don’t have to necessarily list bad grades. Provided they were passes, it is fine to say ‘9 GCSEs, including Mathematics and English’ even if they were all poor scores. In most cases, you will be prompted to submit your subject grades separately during the application process, anyway.
If you are conscious that this might be an issue, you can always explain in more detail during the interview process. Alternatively, you might consider resitting a certain qualification. If it’s a requisite for your chosen position to hold a B grade in Mathematics, for instance, why not attend evening classes and try again? Aside from meeting the criteria, your commitment and attitude will look hugely impressive, as well.
What Information Should I Provide?
In terms of what you actually need to put for each of your qualifications, the absolute minimum is listed below for both degrees and non-higher education qualifications.
Whether it’s just an undergraduate degree or with additional postgraduate courses, too, the layout should look something like this:
Type of Course
You should make it clear what kind of degree you studied, such as Bachelor of Arts, Master of Business Administration or Bachelor of Science. These can be abbreviated to BA, MBA or BSc, respectively. If you received your degree with honours, then you should denote this as BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons).
If you received a grading, you should list it. Grading systems differ by country, so stick with the one that you were given by your university.
Ensure you give this as the correct title as given by your university; for example, if your degree was in ‘Ancient Greek History’, then don’t just write ‘History’ – give it its full title.
In some cases, where you graduated from can be just as important as what you actually graduated in. Therefore, ensure you make it clear where you received your degree. List the name correctly, too; it might be common to say Cambridge University, but the name of the institution is actually the University of Cambridge.
In most cases, the location of the university will be obvious from its title. This isn’t always the case, though; not everybody knows that Duke University is in North Carolina, for example. Many institutions have multiple geographical campuses, too, so it’s important to clarify.
You should denote when you started and when you graduated. Ideally, this would include both the month and the year, although as you progress further into your career, just the year will suffice. If you are an older candidate, then avoid the temptation to leave the dates out in an attempt to mask your age; recruiters will automatically think that you’re trying to hide something, and it will likely work against you.
For Non-Higher Education Qualifications
The format for non-higher education qualifications (including high school qualifications) should be similar to the one above, with the final result resembling something like this:
As mentioned above, you don’t necessarily have to put your individual grades, although if you have impressive scores, then you are definitely advised to list them. Bear in mind that as you gain more work experience and your overall CV starts to pad out, your pre-university studies will become increasingly less important. Indeed, once you have been working for 10+ years, you can drop this stage of your education completely.
Should I List Activities and Societies?
For a graduate CV, yes. This is because, again, you won’t have much work experience to sell yourself with and so the extracurricular activities you were involved in become more important. Being part of the varsity netball team might not equate to much in terms of hard skills, for example, but it is concrete proof that not only can you work as part of a team, but that you are naturally driven to succeed, too.
For more experienced professionals, it becomes easier to sell these points based on your work history alone. But if you were involved in a particular society or club that is highly relevant to your role, then there is no harm in listing it as well, as long as it is exactly that: relevant. If you’re hoping to take on a budgeting role, for instance, then being a former member of the maths society might just give you an edge; those three years you spent in glee club, however, probably won’t.
What If I’m Still in College or University?
If your studies are still in progress, then you should list the qualifications that you are working on, noting that you haven’t completed them yet. Ideally, you should also attribute any predicted grades that you may have been given. You will likely need to prove them too, by the way, so don’t tell everyone you’re on course for straight As if this isn’t the case.
Take into consideration what you’re going to be using your CV for, as well. If it’s to apply for internships or graduate positions, then you need to emphasise every aspect of your education, going into detail about your modules, seminars and societies. If you’re just using it to apply for a part-time job at Starbucks, though, then that symposium you attended on tangential filtration can probably be overlooked in favour of some soft skills.
What If I Didn’t Finish My Studies?
If you didn’t finish your studies, then don’t panic; this won’t necessarily go against you. For starters, there are a multitude of reasons why a person may have abandoned their initial education, and many employers recognise this; you will be given a chance to explain during your interview
Perhaps more importantly, though, the large majority of employers simply care more about what you have done since. If you dropped out of your philosophy degree at 20, but by 25 you’ve developed into a sales machine that constantly exceeds your regional targets, then rest assured: recruiters will only be interested in the latter.
It’s for these reasons that you don’t necessarily have to mention your previous education if you didn’t finish, although if you spent a considerable amount of time on your course, then it may be wise to briefly explain what you were doing for those two years.
As you can see, there are several things to take into account when listing your qualifications; they are only one part of your overall employability profile, though. Check out our guide on how to list your skills, too!
Did you find this article helpful? Let us know in the comments below!