The university where I did my undergraduate studies in informatics in has basically three independent requirements for graduating:

  1. Finishing a certain number of all the courses available (some are required, some were optional). Each course has a final exam at the end of the semester and many of them also have several exams during the semester.
  2. Completing a 6-month placement in an actual workplace, relating to the subject of the university course.
  3. Composing an essay on a subject that the student and a professor agree on together, then presenting it to a committee.

I was successful in (1) and (2), but I never completed the essay to the professor's liking and gave up. Presently, it wouldn't be possible to "go back" and complete it or begin another even if I wanted to.

The main reason I did not complete the essay was that I really hate essays. I began it, continue to work on it through employment and during an MSc course, but in the end the professor thought it was still too short so I gave up.

After my 6-month placement as a software developer, the same company re-hired me as a regular employee and remained there for 4 more years.
Afterwards I successfully obtained a Master's degree (the course for which didn't require an undergraduate degree nor writing another essay).
I believe these facts are enough to demonstrate that the reason I never graduated was not incompetence in my chosen profession.

My question basically has two parts:
a) How to describe my undergraduate studies in a CV? I could simply list the university's name and the years I studied in it, even my average grade for my studies, but I think that may mislead people into thinking I did graduate.
b) If I get to the interview stage, how do I explain the reason I never graduated? I feel that "I hate essays" wouldn't be a very appealing explanation, but it's the truth.

I think matters are further complicated by the fact that the country I live in now is not the same as where my undergraduate studies took place and as a result prospective employers will be unfamiliar with the way that university worked, which means that not graduating would sound worse to them than I believe it is unless I explained (as I did above).

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    Although probably not a problem for four-year-experience jobs, you may want to work on the essay-hating before you are ready for more senior jobs. You may need to write reports, management summaries and similar, and present them to meetings of executives - not very different from writing an essay and presenting it to a committee. Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 23:19
  • 1
    @PatriciaShanahan I too had trouble writing essays and reports at school and university - I realise now that it was mostly due to the very particular way in which academic writing must be done. The kind of reports, proposals, and documentation written in the real world is vastly different.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 0:15
  • @NotGraduate Are you able to get a synopsis of your degree with grades for all the other modules? This will help offset the overall "did not complete" with a guide on where your skills and accomplishments are.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 0:16
  • 4
    @HorusKol: It's not always about the type and quality of the work. I think the aspect that really needs working on is the "gave up because I didn't like it" concept. I'll hire someone who tried and failed before I consider someone who gives up or never tries. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 16:39
  • @JoelEtherton No doubt that needs to be addressed (and I think already has suffficiently), but the OP still needs to show he has something for the three or four years he spent studying.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:57

6 Answers 6


Studied Philosophy at University of Paris Oct 2008 - Aug 2011

Do not list a degree you don't have. If they ask about your studies, be upfront and honest. Since you already have at least 4 years of experience they may not even ask or care about your studies. Do not list the grades, because at that level of detail it would be weird not to mention that you did not finish, and they could interpret that as lying.

When it comes to why you didn't graduate, you need to figure out what exactly prevented you from graduating - "I hate essays" as the sole reason is not believable. There was some reason you were distracted from finishing your studies, maybe it even was a minor depression - don't invent something, figure it out. Once you know the reason, you need to figure out how to assure someone this same issue won't affect your work at the company you're interviewing with. Then you know what to tell them.

  • 8
    adding to this: "I hate essays" is a poor reason, which will look unfavorable to an employer. Every job entails some aspect which may not be liked, but needs to be done. People evading these tasks are a detriment to the whole organization. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 11:04
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    If you told me in an interview that you didn't graduate university over an essay you didn't complete because you "hate essays", I'm going to wonder what will happen should I ask you to do something else reasonable that you decide you "hate".
    – DLS3141
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 16:51
  • The beginning of your answer confuses me a little: Is the "Studied philosophy at..." line an example of how I should list it, or of how I shouldn't? Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 17:42
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    @NotGraduate The first line is the answer, the rest is fluff text, a.k.a. additional information. You list the relevant and accurate information: What you studied, where you studied, when you studied. If they are interested in your education, they will realize that not listing a degree means you don't have a degree, and they will ask you about it.
    – Peter
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 17:50
  • 1
    He's got a Masters - who's gonna CARE about the degree? Jeez. List the School and the years and what you were studying towards - just don't list the grade (because obv you don't have one.) I bet nobody even notices.
    – tonydev314
    Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 9:09

You seem to have two questions in this post. First, how to list an unfinished degree. Typically you just add a qualifier to the entry in your resume and you have any number of choices: unfinished, interrupted, postponed, deferred prior to graduation, "all but essay" (for interviewers familiar with the structure of your education system), ...

If your undergraduate studies were in a different field from your Msc and unrelated to your current work, simply list it as "unfinished" or "interrupted" and list your Msc above it. Managers will assume you changed to a different field and won't think badly of you for it.

As for how to explain this in an interview. Why do you care? You've been successfully employed for 4 years. In most fields no decent hiring manager should care about your formal education at this point.

If you do end up talking about it, say something like:

My undergraduate studies were complete apart from a final essay on X. While working on revising it I was simultaneously working at Y and following courses for my Master's degree in Z. As my MsC didn't require an undergraduate degree I eventually decided not to formally complete the latter and instead focus on my studies in Z and my work at Y. While I regret not being able to check off that final requirement, prioritising my Msc and my career still feels like the right choice.

Optionally mention how things you learned in your undergraduate studies were useful in your work.

You may also find Joe's answer here useful reading.


As a hiring manager and as a former college instructor, I approached your question from the point of view of how big an obstacle your situation would be to various decisions I would have to make. As a hiring manager, if I was considering you for employment, my decision would most likely depend on how well you were able to demonstrate required skills in the full interview process and how many qualified candidates there were that did not have such an issue. As you point out, the fact that you earned a Master's degree subsequently shows that you weren't just failing to follow through on an educational commitment. As a former instructor, if someone came to me even years later to try and resolve a situation like this, I wouldn't be able to promise anything, but I would try to help. If you couldn't get anywhere with that instructor, setting an appointment to have a constructive conversation with the division chair about it would be appropriate. My division chair had a great attitude of trying to figure out what we could do to support people reaching their goals (not prevent them), and although often the solutions to students' problems required effort on their part (that the student often declined to do), the answer was rarely that there was no possible way to salvage all the hard work and tuition that had been expended so far. I would definitely not be in favor of misleading someone, but stating your years at the institution without mentioning a degree is accurate, and hoping that questions don't arise doesn't make you a liar. Best of luck in whatever you decide.

  • Welcome to the site Mark, thank you for submitting an answer from experience. I had to downvote your answer because I strongly disagree with your final suggestion. Lying by omission is still lying and whenever a resume includes an education section it's assumed that the person graduated and obtained the standard degree that the education awards. Even if the OP can likely get away with this because he got a Master's afterwards, being caught misrepresenting yourself on your resume is a good way to have your candidacy rejected or to get fired for cause.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 14:08
  • 2
    I don't consider it a lie to state work in progress towards a degree or certificate, and I have seen that situation often, especially while recruiting on campus. Some list courses and class projects. It isn't a lie if they don't list classes they haven't taken. The best approach is to accurately describe what is relevant and that you believe qualifies you for the position, and in this scenario I believe the work in progress would be relevant. This does point out that it depends on the interviewer, and we are always in danger of assumptions that you never get the opportunity to defend. Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 1:49
  • "As a former instructor, if someone came to me even years later to try and resolve a situation like this, I wouldn't be able to promise anything, but I would try to help..." - I don't think the OP intends to go back to the university to finish his program. He has since moved on.
    – Brandin
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 10:53

Having a not dissimilar situation (different education level, but similar amount of time spent), I would focus on two sections:

  1. The skills gained in your undergrad studies. This point is essentially showing that you weren't slacking off, and that you learnt the things that you needed to learn, you simply didn't go through that final step. Point out the projects completed, the skills (hard and soft) that you developed and refined. Don't focus on what you didn't do, focus on what you did.

  2. The opportunity that shifted your course. You didn't flunk out of the course and go back home to wallow in a basement, you left your studies to pursue a more practical, hand-on education within a developing company. If you want to "get real" with the interviewers, you can mention something like, there weren't any essays to write, or they were willing to pay for the same work that the university wanted, but be careful with being flippant about things that may not be taken as intended.

The key points that you need to emphasise are what you learnt, and that you moved on.

Do be aware that it's not a typical path, so have answers prepared for questions like "why didn't you just keep your head down for the last stretch?" and "You were awfully close, wasn't it tempting to just go for that final piece of paper?". I wouldn't broach the topic myself, but be ready for it when they do.


You don’t.

Note the schools you’ve attended and the year you’ve ended you’re attendance.

Saying you’ve attended Such and such university and was majoring in such and such is not a lie.

There’s no need to express the conclusion if not asked especially with the successful career you’ve maintained despite of.


More power to you!! I’ve met/worked with MANY decorated with degrees and if they didn’t tell you you’d assume they’d never gone.


So this was at least 4 years ago? If anyone still cares in an interview you're applying for the wrong job. Seriously.

In software development everything prior to starting work is almost irrelevant. What matters to me as an interviewer is "Do you know your stuff?" I'd take a keen interest in where you've worked before and the projects you have done. Unfinished degree? Heck just state "personal reasons prevented me completing it at the time and then my focus switched to my professional career."

  • Interesting - downvoted but no comment to say what the person disagreed with. Note - I'm a technical interviewer.
    – tonydev314
    Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 9:07

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