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Resume Mistakes: Properly Format and Abbreviate Your College Degree(s)

You could be making major mistakes in formatting and abbreviating your college degrees on resumes, CVs, and other important employment documents.

Whether you are a new college graduate, still proudly eyeing your freshly-minted diploma, or a seasoned professional, a costly mistake could be damaging your employment chances. As hard as you worked for your degree(s), you may be formatting or abbreviating them incorrectly, making your education less attractive to potential employers. This mistake is particularly costly for recent grads—your resume will likely begin with your most recent education, forming potential employers' first impressions about your qualifications. Here are a few tips to keep you out of hot water:

1. Know Your Degree. If you're really not sure, check your diploma or call your school. No one will take you seriously if you're not sure what you've been spending the last few years earning. I recently overheard a presentation on resume writing: the presenter listed her most recent degree as "Masters of Education of Arts Curriculum and Instruction." On her syllabi, she touts herself as "Jane A. Doe, M.Ed." In fact, the presenter was a recent graduate of a school that only awards the Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in Education with a concentration in Curriculum and Instruction. If this teacher runs into anyone familiar with her alma mater, her competence and professionalism will be severely undermined.

2. You are only one person. You do not hold a "Bachelors of Arts" or an "Associates in Science" degree precisely because there's only one of you. While you can have a Bachelor's degree in a field, this is roundabout way of expressing it. Stay concise; just list what's on your diploma.

3. Your College Rules: Abbreviates are Supposed to Make Things Easier. It's up your college to determine what your degree is and its acceptable abbreviation. What one school calls an "M.A.Ed." may simply be an "M.A." at another school. Also, if you have an unusual degree or standard abbreviation and are applying for a job outside academia, you are better off spelling out your degree rather than leaving employers to figure out what an "A.M.," "S.M.," or "Ph.B." is. Finally, if your school awards degrees and prefers abbreviations in English, don't abbreviate your degree in Latin—you'll just look silly.

4. Redundant Honors are Redundant. Latin honors are still relatively common: "summa cum laude," "magna cum laude," "cum laude," and "thank-tha-laude" (just kidding about that last one). The Latin word cum means "with" in English. If you list your degree as B.A. with Honors and cum laude, savvy employers will question how much it really means.

5. Semicolons Are Your Friend. Commas can be used to separate several items of equal importance or two items of unequal importance—however, they should not be used to separate several items of unequal importance in a list. Don't be afraid to use semicolons or appropriate spacing. While technically incorrect, "B.A., English, Psychology" isn't going to raise any flags. However, "B.A., Phi Beta Kappa, Summa cum laude, English, Psychology, State University" begins to resemble alphabet soup. Don't be afraid to go with "B.S., Mathematics; State University."

6. Both or Nothing. The general consensus is to use appropriate periods when abbreviating degrees or to omit them altogether. Thus, "Ph.D." and "PhD" are correct. However, "B.S" makes the reader wonder if the other period grew legs and ran off the page while he or she wasn't looking.

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Comments (1)

I see you've written your first article - Good job and many happy returns!