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After graduating high school, I enrolled at university to study subject A. But due to a combination of things (major health issues, family problems, isolation and no support) I didn't perform as well as I'd expected on my exams. This was the first time in my life I struggled academically and, being a true perfectionist, I was completely discouraged, thought I had no future in A and soon left the program. The following year when the circumstances improved I decided to enroll at program B which I'm now about to finish. It turns out I'm interested in both subject A and B and found out I could combine them in my future career.

After I graduate, when I start applying for jobs (that would ideally combine A and B) do I need to mention that I first enrolled to study subject A and essentially dropped out on my resume? Could not revealing this information be considered as lying?

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8 Answers 8

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"Europe" is not a country nor has it any job application rules across all countries, so I'll give you a German thought on this:

Omitting something is not lying, so you cannot later be fired if they found out what it is.

But, if you have a gap in your chronological CV, I will assume it's something so horrible that you would rather not mention it at all. Prison sentence? Substance abuse recovery? Joined a violent gang? I don't know, but if you cannot even mention it, it must be bad™.

So mention it. Keep it as short as you want. Give it the spin that you want, this is your ad space. Nobody knows your motivation for switching subjects. Just say you became really interested in B and less interested in A and then you switched. That happens. And someone who knows about A, even though they find B more interesting, is more of an asset to people in overlapping fields then someone who did completely different things alltogether.

So, do not leave a gap. A gap will be noticed very negativly. Keep it short. Don't mention negatives. Don't call it "flunked exams" or "dropped out". You switched subjects. Done. If they want to know more, they'll ask in the interview.

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"If you undertook any educational program which might have offered any bit of education that you consider to be relevant to the position that you are applying for ... tell me about it."

After all, Steve Jobs audited many courses at nearby Stanford University, in "obscure subjects such as 'calligraphy,'* and ... the rest is history. 🤠

But also: "if your past educational experience – negative or otherwise – (in your judgment) has no relevance to me in my business decision to hire you for a position, don't bother to discuss it."

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  • Could you please detail the logic link going from "Steve Jobs audited a calligraphy class" to "therefore you should or should not put your failed university year on your resume"?
    – Stef
    Aug 9, 2021 at 13:52
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I don't consider it lying, the resume is your presentation card, you put there the things you see as more relevant to the job you are applying for (I would not write that I have social anxiety on my resume or that time I started a Coursera career and never completed it).

I would think about adding it if you have a 1-2+ year gap, if not they will ask what did you do during that gap, go with a response ready. Change is not bad, you started something, in the course of it you saw there was a better fit for your skills/life goals/career/fun and you switched.

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In my opinion, leaving anything out in a resume, would make a recruiter suspect something or does not believe/trust you. Even though you’re not lying, it would appear that you’re hiding something. He/she might identify an empty gap, and ask you about it, and you have to explain it, It’s better to list a “failure” then to hide it. Did you acquire any skills whilst studying that course? Do you have a justifiable reason for not completing it? If both answers are ‘Yes’, you can answer “I was going through challenging times, and made the best out of the situation”… you did not get the certification, but you acquired new knowledge & skills which can be used in the future… perhaps current or future studies & work experiences.

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I would suggest you leave program A out of your resume. Only mention program B that you have received a degree for.

If you're concerned about showing a gap on the resume, simply drop your high school from it. If you have a university degree it's just a redundant piece of information anyway. You might think this is important as a new grad, but you'll quickly find that no one cares, and you'll end up dropping it anyway once you get your first or second job because it takes up valuable space in the CV.

I have a similar story where I have changed my field of study, resulting in a similar "two-year gap". I only mention the degree I completed in my CV, and omit the incomplete one and high school. I don't believe I have ever been asked about either of those. For background checks I would put in the high school and leave a gap - again, this is not something I have ever been challenged on.

Even if you intend to combine subject A and B later, I believe you'd be much better served by stating that "you have a keen interest in A" rather than mentioning an incomplete degree. My way of thinking here is that an incomplete degree will be seen as a negative to neutral at best, and during the first year you wouldn't pick up any tangible skills related to A anyway, while "having an interest" - and being able to back that up in an interview - will always be seen as at least a slight positive.

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This was the first time in my life I struggled academically and, being a true perfectionist, I was completely discouraged, thought I had no future in A and soon left the program.

Ok, spin it slightly more positive and keep it as an answer for the interview, but if I as an interviewer would come across such a self-reflection after a switch in studies I would see the whole thing positively.

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Also germany here:

Include it. I dropped out TWICE and I included it. Because I dont want any gaps and some companies actually treat it positively. I got better pay because of it. You just have to find good arguments why.

I for one told everyone that one I had to work to afford it, so I had a lot less time for studying. Secondly I am not good at just learning stuff by heart and vomiting it up on paper. I am a practical person who needs to KNOW stuff before being able to use it. I cannot just read two pages and next week repeat exactly what those pages said.

Something along those lines. Did actually help me get a good job. Many consider it a good thing that I am not just an "topic idiot" who just knows stuff but cannot actually use it.

So as others said, include it. Tell them why you finished A and give it a good spin.

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  • Thanks for sharing your experience. Did they ever ask you about the courses you took/passed or anything like that?
    – suncokret
    Aug 9, 2021 at 12:35
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    @suncokret that was also my concern, as I did not perform well the second time around. That was when I was actually working more than studying. The first try I did OK until the 4th semester. Surprisingly no one ever asked about specifics. Maybe what I struggled with the most or what was the most fun for me. But never did anyone ever asked for grades or how much I failed or anything like that. Most were happy to get a "cheap", (somewhat) university educated, software engineer. My workplace now didnt even ask at all in the interview. They only cared for my experience
    – bibleblade
    Aug 9, 2021 at 13:07
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Omitting is not lying but I would recommend being open about it. If you were a more experienced person. I would drop it completely. You would be judged primarily based on your past work experience and something that caused a delay to your degree is ancient history. However when you are starting out, your degree is far more relevant to the employer (its the only thing they have to judge you on). So I would add a 1 line explaining that you started a degree but didn't finish due to health reasons.

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