Following some advice I read on this website, I decided to de-emphasize on my resume the fact that I dropped out from college, but put a few bullet points mentioning my achievements. I basically followed the advice to only mention the years but not write any degree.

It looks a bit like this (bogus but equivalent details here for sake of privacy):

  • 2008-2011, Stanford University, Management Science & Statistics
  • Bill Gates Award for Highest Achieving Student in 2010
  • Sponsored research and publication in Harvard Business Review: "title"

In addition to this I have 3 years of rich work experience which I also detailed well in terms of achievements and performance.

After a few interviews, I finally received some offers. However, none of the interviewers ever asked any details about my education, if I graduated or which degree I got, etc. - so I also steered away from mentioning that I dropped out. People generally were very happy with my experience and focused a lot of the conversations on work.

Must I explain the full story at the interview even if not asked?

Should they question me after I accept the offer and work for a few months, am I justified to say that I was not asked about it, so I didn't feel it was necessary to reveal that information?

Another way to put this question is: am I obliged to explain my dropping out story even if nobody ever asks about it at the interviews? Would I be guilty for withholding an important detail?

How should I represent this on my resume without it looking misleading (but also not drawing too much attention to the "dropping out")?

Note: I perfectly understand and agree that grades are not as important as work achievements in later years, and my own career growth has proven me that. However, when I look for a new job at a new company, all I want to do is somehow underline that I am associated with a prestigious institution and have achieved some highly relevant and remarkable things during education, including some prestigious rewards recognized by my industry - and all of that despite not graduating. I hope this makes sense.

4 Answers 4


You never claimed or implied that you graduated, did you? If you didn't, then you aren't lying or being misleading and HR can't and won't nail you for either lying or misleading.

People made up their minds to make you an offer and their decision to make you an offer was, in my opinion, a sound one. If you vehemently disagree with their decision, by all means, let them know how you feel right away.

Don't second guess somebody who weighed the pros and the cons and made a business decision in your favor. They were paid to exercise their judgment, and that's exactly what they earned their paycheck doing. If you have not been lying or being misleading in your resume, then they already know that you didn't graduate, you have nothing to reproach yourself and your inclination to harp on the fact that you did not graduate is just being disruptive. Have some faith in other people's considered judgment and leave it alone! Believe it or not, you are not the only one on the face of the Earth who is not a dummy! :)

Listen, if your role and the roles of those who made you the offer were reversed, you'd have absolutely no trouble making the decision that they made. Enough with the self-flagellation and self-punishment - find yourself another hobby, and hopefully a hobby that does not involve self-cutting, self-piercing and whatnot. Jeez :)


No, you don't have to explain anything said in your resume if not asked.

But it should be clear enough that you dropped out from your resume in my opinion, which it isn't currently.

I'd consider the example you gave in your question to mean you completed your degree (not simply 'de-emphasizing' that you didn't), so many might consider that lying. And lying on your resume is a big no-no.

I assume having what you said in your resume be true is an implied term of your contract (I'm not a lawyer), so having it discovered that something isn't could nullify your contract, i.e. giving your employers the right to immediately dismiss you, if they so choose.

Might this being discovered eliminate you from the interview process, or losing the job offer? Yes.

Might this being discovered a few months down the line lose you the job? It's possible (and more likely if your performance up to that point is below excellent).

As for how to make it clear in your resume, I might opt for "partial", "interrupted" or "incomplete":

2008-2011, Stanford University, Management Science & Statistics (partial)

If say you dropped out during your final year, you could perhaps also say e.g. "(up to final year)", which would show your progress more clearly ("partial" could mean you spent a few years repeating the same few subjects before dropping out). I wouldn't do this for any year other than the final one.

You can also list the most significant of the courses you've completed (followed with an "etc."), or how many you've completed (out of the total number).

If you have a "good" reason for dropping out (like needing to look after an ill loved one, not like financial difficulties or boredom), you could also say "interrupted due to {reason}", but if the reason goes beyond 1 or 2 words, I'd say an interview or your cover letter might be a better place for this information (explanations don't really belong in a resume).

Consider mentioning dropping out on your cover letter (with a reason if you have a good one, otherwise a simple "I unfortunately wasn't able to complete my studies") if it can make you look good, i.e. you can show that you've committed to further educating yourself after dropping out, although there's a risk there in highlighting the fact that you dropped out, which might've been missed otherwise (at least during the initial screening).

Most of the above applies if it wasn't too long ago (if it was a decade or more ago, I'd do no more than say "partial" on your resume - focusing on this will probably bring unnecessary attention to it, which should've been on more recent and important things).

Also related: Incomplete studies. Should it be included into resume?

  • 3
    Actually, it is clear Because the OP did not supply a graduation date nor did he specify that he got the degree. If he fills out an employment application, he is going to be asked if he graduated and he will have to answer "No". If you insist, he could add in the resume that he completed x credits toward the Management degree. Commented May 4, 2014 at 13:45
  • 7
    @VietnhiPhuvan The most common assumption from just specifying a year is that that's the year of graduation. If stating both start and end years, I presume the assumption would be that those are the start and graduation dates, respectively. Commented May 4, 2014 at 14:08
  • 1
    You know what they say about ass-umptions :-) If he had studied with any paper at the end he would have said so.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 20:32

Fill first page of your resume with skills and achievements. Put education on the bottom of second page of your resume, like:


  • 2008-2011, Stanford University, Management Science & Statistics (completed X of total Y credits)
  • other education stuff, including certifications etc.

IMHO it would be very honest total disclosure, and it allows you to be considered on strength of your skills and accomplishments, not education.


BTW, there's no great shame in dropping out if you later "dropped back in" and got the education you needed. Some folks really aren't ready for college right after high school -- they haven't decided what they want to do with their lives, or they need a bit of maturation time to focus themselves. (See Judi K-Turkel's book, Stopping Out -- it was written in 1976 but it's still valid.)

As you get further into your career, college grades -- and college itself -- become less relevant than what you've done in the real world. If you have a history of completing projects, the fact that you didn't complete college is less relevant.

So: I wouldn't lie or mislead on the resume. I wouldn't go out of my way to call attention to this either. I WOULD want to have a good answer ready when someone asks you why you dropped out, so they don't have the impression that you're likely to give up and walk away from other things without a very good reason.

Remember that you're competing against folks who have graduated. You need to be able to sell yourself as being at least as good a candidate as them, possibly better. And college teaches more than just specific courses; it's also an intensive course in learning how to learn efficiently, and in many cases that's actually part of what the employer is looking for.

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