How to list a high school diploma on a resume: Why earning a diploma makes a difference

Posted on April 07 2020

Student working on his resume.

There was a time when people still had a chance to get an interview for an entry-level job even if they didn’t have a high school diploma. Those days are long gone, though, and hiring managers now expect people to include their high school degree on their resume.

“It’s literally the first thing I look for,” the manager of a restaurant recently told us. “I know some people leave school before graduating for reasons that are out of their control, but I don’t have the resources to figure out who had legitimate reasons and who didn’t. When I see a diploma on someone’s resume, it tells me this is a person who shows up and does the work they need to do. And that’s the kind of worker I need.”  

So how do you list a high school diploma on your resume? Here are three important things to consider: 

Don’t just list your degree

Most people don’t list elementary school and middle school or junior high on their resumes. Everything starts with the high school diploma. 

But 90 percent of students leaving high school today are doing so with this certificate. So while simply stating you have a diploma differentiates you from the 10 percent of people without a high school degree, it doesn’t do anything more than that.

Making yourself stand out is the key: What classes did you take that would be relevant to the work you are seeking? What “soft skills” did you build? What clubs or sports were you involved in? 

The purpose of a resume is to let potential employers know what they’ll get when they hire you. At a minimum, in most cases, they’re looking for someone who earned a diploma. What will they get above and beyond that when they hire you? Include a few short sentences or bullet-pointed list of what you learned or did while you were earning your diploma. 

I don’t have a diploma yet — what should I write on my resume?

We’re often asked by students what they should write on their resume if they dropped out and do not yet have a high school degree. That’s easy: They should make sure potential employers know they are still working on it.

On a section labeled “Education” on your resume, let people know where you went to school and how far along you’ve gotten so far. If you dropped out — particularly for reasons that were beyond your control — put that on your resume. This explanation doesn’t have to be long. (And, in fact, it absolutely shouldn’t be — hiring managers are busy people.) Just write in one sentence or one bullet point why you left. For instance, you might write something like: “I left during my senior year to care for my sick father.” 

After that, briefly explain what you’re doing to finish what you started. For instance, you might write: “I have re-enrolled through The American Academy and am currently three credits away from my diploma.”

I am about to graduate. What should my resume say?

If you’re getting close to graduation and are confident you know when you’ll be graduating, include that date on your resume as well. (If you’re proud of your grade point average, you can include that, too. You can simply write something like: “GPA through junior year: 3.5”) 

Remember, a resume is sort of like a promise. When you write a resume, you are making a pledge to a future employer that the person described in this document is the person who will be working for them. As such, make sure your resume accurately reflects the progress you have made and are expected to continue to make toward earning your high school diploma.

People who get jobs as hiring managers do so because they like connecting people to life-improving opportunities. Because of this, it is not unusual for a hiring manager to take a chance on someone who doesn’t quite have their diploma yet, if they are confident that person will get it soon — even in jobs for which a degree is required. If someone takes a chance on you like this, you don’t want to let them down by breaking a promise you made in your resume. 



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