IT Resume 101: Crafting Your Education Section

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Last Friday, our IT Resume 101 series got started with an overview of some IT resume basics. This week, we'll turn our attention to one feature common to almost any resume: the education section. Below, you can find some common tips and tricks on how to get the most out of those hard years in school, whether you've just left or you've been out for a while.

As always, no rules here should be considered strict, since suitability of design or content can vary widely depending on your background. Rather than offering a check-list, therefore, I've tried to provide a decision making process for crafting your own IT resume.

What Needs To Go In An Education Section Of An IT Resume?

Since IT changes so rapidly, even a cutting edge degree may feel out-of-date within a few years. While "Education" might not be your most important section, though (especially if you've been out of school for a while) it remains a valuable one, with certain expectations. Even if you include nothing else, you need the following information in your education section:

  • The name of the school, and its location
  • The dates attended (or, if you prefer, the year you graduated)
  • The degree awarded

You have lots of options for formatting, of course. I would recommend, though, staying consistent with the formatting in your job history section, in terms of what's italicized, bolded, or capitalized. The name of the school is like the name of a company, and the degree is like your job title. Consistent formatting increases professional appearance of your IT resume.

That's really all you need to include. But here are some frequent questions (and additional opportunities) that sometimes arise when crafting the education section on an IT resume.

What If I've Attended More Than One School?

If you've attended a school full-time for one academic year or more, consider including it. It doesn't matter if you never earned a degree from the school; including it establishes your background. Being a full-time student is a full-time investment in your future, and there are often very appropriate reasons for leaving after a year or two (though you should be prepared to provide these reasons in your interview).

If you've only got a few credits from a school, you probably don't need to include it. This is especially true for isolated classes -- if you attended junior college for a summer, for example, to get some here and there credits that were subsequently applied to your degree.

Oh, and if you have international/study-abroad experience by all means include it. You may even want to format those schools as separate entries.

What Else Can I Put In My Education Section?

If you're light on professional experience, here is additional information you could include in the education section of your IT resume:

  • Major Projects: An impressive senior project (or even a semester long one) can be a potential bullet point under the school's information. The best projects demonstrate technical proficiency, and can show insight, initiative, and diverse skill sets, especially if they line up well with your target job.
  • Relevant Coursework: First a disclaimer: you don't need to list every course you've taken. Most IT managers know the usual degree requirements, so paraphrasing your transcript gobbles up space while communicating little. You should, however, include any relevant electives -- again, especially if they're up your target job's alley. These don't have to be only IT courses, by the way. If you're applying for an IT job at a construction company, they may be very interested in those engineering courses you took while exploring potential majors -- such background can show awareness of the field, and sensitivity to industry climate.
  • GPA. Information: If you have a general GPA that's 3.0 or above (a respectable average) include it. You can also determine subject area GPA, calculating only courses earned towards your degree, and excluding general education or elective credits. Many students show more aptitude for courses in their major, and sometimes have considerably higher subject GPAs. Finally, take GPAs out to the second decimal point, and don't round up; if you earned a 3.65 it is unethical to say you earned a 3.7. NOTE: Before including a GPA, check to see if your target job has any minimum GPA requirements, and that you meet them.
  • Faculty You Worked With Closely: This is especially true if they have a reputation outside of academia, or have published in places familiar to your target job. If you drop a name on your resume, though, make sure your relationship with the person is substantial and positive enough to sustain follow-up questions.
  • Any Honors and Scholarships

If your resume starts to swell, of course, consider trimming these details.

Where Should I Put My Education Section?

Conventional advice often places the education section first, for several reasons. First, it can establish your theoretical knowledge, which is then enhanced by the practical experience of the job history section. Leading with the education section is especially popular with IT newbies, since the most impressive -- and current -- part of a recent grad's background is usually the degree. Listing your education first can also play into the chronological organization of a resume, emphasizing your biography. So there are some good reasons for placing this section first.

Having said that, on-the-job experience usually trumps education. Consequently, your education section will likely move nearer to the end of the resume as your career matures.

Should I Combine My Education Section With My IT Certifications?

If you only have a few certifications (so few that they'd look skimpy in a section by themselves) consider listing them in your education section, while making sure the headers match the content. If you list certs along with your degrees, for example, the heading should read "Education and IT Certifications." If you separate these features, revise the headers accordingly.

If you have a great deal of technical proficiency, of course, you'll want to give it a section all to itself -- and part three of this series, which will be published next Friday, will cover tips for your technical skills section of your IT resume and options for how to do this.

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Alan Ackmann

Alan Ackmann teaches professional and technical writing at DePaul University in Chicago. His work has appeared in a variety of journals, and he is the author of the following Pluralsight Courses: Fundamentals of Written Proposals; Writing Process Instructions and Directions; and Resumes, Research, and Writing on the Job Hunt.