How do I explain a degree that took ten years to earn?
July 4, 2012 12:49 PM   Subscribe

I am about to graduate college ten years after I started and would love some suggestions on how to approach this topic in a job interview?

I entered a top 50 four-year university eleven years ago and received stellar grades my freshman year. During my sophomore year I became extremely depressed and began a cycle of alternating 4.0 GPA semesters with semesters where I either withdrew all together or earned a combination of Cs, Ds, and Fs. During my fourth year I was on track to graduate in Spring but was faced with another bout of severe anxiety and depression that caused me to end up in a hospital for a few days. My Professors all offered to help me with make up tests, etc. but I was in such a deep amount of despair that I applied for yet another medical withdrawal to prevent my transcript from having a Semester full of Fs.

I was four classes short of graduating and frustrated with the amount of time I was taking to earn a degree.. I decided to leave the University and applied for jobs in in a large city thousands of miles from where I was living. The resumes I handed to potential employers stated that I had graduated and I ended up working for three large companies in a six year period. To this day, I still can't believe that it was not discovered that I was lying but am extremely thankful I was spared the embarrassment that would have followed had the truth come out.

Towards the end of my sixth year in the city, I decided that I'd had enough of the industry and city I was in and decided to use my small amount of savings to take an extended trip to Europe. I figured this would also be the perfect opportunity to take the remaining classes and graduate. I am happy to say that I after a few months back in school I just finished the last of my classes and will be graduating in a month.

How should I go about approaching this situation with potential employers when I begin applying for jobs again? I know that I will not have to lie about having a degree anymore but certainly don't want to put that I graduated in 2012 when I was claiming I had graduated in 2006 all this time. Is it all right to not put a date at all? If they ask me point blank when I graduated, I will of course say 2012 but am also not sure how to explain why I graduated years after I began my formal career. All of the jobs I have my resume require 4-year degrees so I'm guessing it'll look odd to have graduated six years after I started working. I'd appreciate any input you all have regarding this situation.
posted by sely to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is it all right to not put a date at all?

Yes, provided that you're doing it as a way of conveying that you are applying for positions on the strength of your experience and not as disguising that you are a recent graduate. If you have been in the workforce for ten years, this is probably commonplace.

That said, I don't think recent graduation is the liability you think it is. Depending on the level of entrepreneurialism in your field, you can explain that you withdrew due to a health problem and subsequently decided to enter the workforce while the opportunities were there.

You are required to be truthful; you are not required to castigate yourself forever for lying. That said, you must truthfully answer questions about your graduation date in a straightforward way.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:55 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd just say you wanted experience before you graduated and thus went into the workforce. Or were offered a chance you couldn't turn down and so decided to take a break from your studies. (Which is sort of true.) That way you don't have to lie about your graduation date but can explain the gap.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:01 PM on July 4, 2012

I don't have any dates for my education on my resume. A lot of people leave it off so that employers can't make assumptions about your age. When asked, the way to explain this is, "I withdrew from school and then returned as an adult to finish my degree." This is really, really common.
posted by Houstonian at 1:03 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

The only reason I can think of where you would have to explain why you began working prior to the date you graduated is if you're in a field where a 4 year degree is an absolute requirement, like as a teacher for example. I don't think this would even come up unless you bring it up, but if it does you could always say that you had an awesome employment opportunity fall into your lap that you felt was worth putting your studies on hold for.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:04 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

If possible, put in a graduation date but no beginning date. Say nothing about taking forever. Lots of people take forever for lots of reasons. I took forever to get just an associate's. I had little to no work experience. My bachelor's remains unfinished. I was able to conveniently white wash the many years I was too ill to work by stating honestly that I was a homemaker and full time mom for a long time. If you don't make it an issue, it probably won't be. My first full time job was acquired at age 40 or 41. I worked for a Fortune 500 company for five years.
posted by Michele in California at 1:33 PM on July 4, 2012

just put the graduation date.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:38 PM on July 4, 2012

whups. posted too soon. just put the graduation date and don't include a year for high school.

and, yeah, lots of people take a long time to get their degree. this can range from money troubles to going off and working for a while to medical issues.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:39 PM on July 4, 2012

Depending on what state you are in, your previous employers may not be able to share any information about you. You might be able to tell potential employers that you were able to get your previous jobs by interviewing well or something like that. Or say you took time off during your senior year to work and then went back and finished (which is kinda true).
posted by twblalock at 1:52 PM on July 4, 2012

If I were you I would do my utmost to make sure you frame it very positively. Quite easily done I would say as 99% of the people who don't finish in four years (plus just a little extra if needed) just blow it off. You deserve the heartiest congratulations on your persistence.

Persistence is one of the most admirable virtues.
posted by bukvich at 2:20 PM on July 4, 2012

99.9% of the resumes I see (and that is a lot of resumes) only put the tear the degree was received on their resume. You should never put the year you graduated from high school on your resume so no one will ever know how long it took you exactly. More importantly than that, no one is going to care either.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:22 PM on July 4, 2012

Hahahaha, it took me 32 years to complete my degree. The first time I dropped out of college, it was for a too-good-to-pass-up job that led to another, and another, and another.

I was doing jobs that normally required a BA decades before I got mine, but I finally decided I wanted that degree and I went back and graduated at age 51. There are no dates in my resume's Education section, only school names and majors. I will talk about graduating recently if I am asked specifically; otherwise I just let them draw their own conclusions.

It is really not a big deal that you didn't finish in four. Most employers don't care when you graduated, how long it took, or what you majored in. They just care that you did graduate.
posted by caryatid at 3:42 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

and don't include a year for high school

never put the year you graduated from high school

Once you graduate from college, in almost all cases I'd strongly recommend leaving high school off your resume completely.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:18 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I took 5 1/2 years to graduate from college, mostly because I couldn't decide on a major and switched schools halfway through. I put the year I graduated on my resume and no one has ever asked.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:26 PM on July 4, 2012

Say you got a job just before graduating, but recently went back to school to complete missing credits.
posted by xammerboy at 10:29 PM on July 4, 2012

One vote for no dates.

Make sure the education section on your resume is consistent everywhere, like your LinkedIn profile. Any discrepancies with te facts are red flags for recruiters.
posted by mozhet at 4:42 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't feel like the delayed graduation is a nasty secret you need to hide - it's just a complication or a long story you don't want to address in the summarized form of a resume.
I would say no dates on the resume, and when asked:
"I was studying at [University of State] between 2001 and 2006; I then [job X] and [job Y], until I formalized my degree in 2012 by finishing the final requirements."

It's perfectly fine to leave all dates out of the education section. The problem with including only the graduation date (2012) is that you'd be calling attention to an odd flow. The employment experience is a more relevant part of your resume than your degree. Your options are basically
1. BA University of State (no date); JobX (2005-7), JobY (2008-2009), JobZ(2010) and they might ask you what you've been doing since 2010, to which you reply that you've been travelling and taking classes, and if asked further that it was for your degree. Or they might have a form to fill out and specifically ask your graduation year, to which you say "2012".
2. BA University of State (2012); JobX (2006-8), JobY (2008-9), JobZ(2010) and they might be kind of confused, and would perhaps ask how you managed to get those jobs without a degree, to which you reply that you've been all-but-complete since 2005. Maybe some prospective employer will say "really? You worked for JobX in 2006 without a degree?" And you say "Yes. At the time we thought I would be finishing the degree much sooner, but that isn't the way it worked out."

In my opinion (inexpert), option 1 is less likely to raise a flag with whoever's skimming through the resume, and either case will result in a conversation during the interview that involves the same information.

The one thing to avoid saying (verbally, but especially in print) is that you graduated in 2006. Don't put this on any of your current resumes or internet job-sites. Try to make it non-searchable - if necessary, log back into your antique account to erase that if you ever claimed it. Your former employers might have stuff on file that claims this, but assume that nobody's going to ask them, don't worry about that, let it be water under the bridge. Your goal is avoiding broadcasting any of your dates, and to tell the truth when asked, to never be on record stating anything incorrect.
posted by aimedwander at 11:40 AM on July 5, 2012

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