28

I have 1 Bachelors degree and 2 Masters degrees. They are in different subjects, not closely related. I am now planning to apply for a PhD program.

Question: Do you think that I can only mention the most recent Masters degree and hide others? My last degree is closely related with this PhD program. Also, my grades were good in this recent Masters program, unlike the others.

To be honest, I am not happy with my other degrees. My performance was not good and they are not related with the PhD that I intend to pursue. For these reasons, I prefer to not to talk about them. Can I leave them off my CV? If, in an interview, they ask my education before my last degree, my plan is to talk about them briefly. Do you think this is acceptable?

  • 14
    You have 2 Bachelors degrees and 2 Masters degrees! Despite some weak points you mention in your question, I can not really understand why someone should hide his academic background. At least, you spent some time attending classes, studied for your exams, did some academic activities. In my opinion, it is not a good idea to hide your degrees. – Enthusiastic Engineer Mar 2 '15 at 15:38
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    a degree is a degree. it's worth the same amount regardless of your performance when earning it. if you have more than one, list them on your cv! you don't need to talk about them any further than simply saying you have them. – user428517 Mar 2 '15 at 17:45
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    If you omit those degrees, someone will ask what you were doing with those six(?) years of your life. If you would honestly answer that question with "I don't want to talk about it", then by all means exclude them from your CV. I expect that such an answer should sound crazy, however, and the choice of what to do should therefore be clear. – J... Mar 2 '15 at 18:23
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    @sgroves "worth the same amount regardless of your performance" I would argue that "summa cum laude" is worth more than no "cum laude" whatsoever. – TylerH Mar 2 '15 at 19:19
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    "a degree is a degree. it's worth the same amount regardless of your performance when earning it." That's not even remotely true. – David Richerby Mar 3 '15 at 20:47

11 Answers 11

18

As other have already said, you should not let your past degrees out of your CV.

I am just a bit surprised that they didn't emphasise the fact that it can be actually very beneficial for you.

You might not want to give right away your grades on the CV[1] but I think you should definitely mention them.

Doing a PhD takes time, motivation and perseverance but it also means asking yourself a lot of questions: those questions are related to the subject you are researching but also on yourself which can be pretty challenging.

Whatever you can hear, if you have a PhD program with a high rate of dropout or that take a long time to be achieved, it is not good.

Showing that you already have faced turning points in your life and managed to go forward (and have managed better) can be reassuring for the recruiters that you will do well in the PhD program:

  • That means you probably know yourself better. You are not keeping with a pre-establish path just because it is easy. (I suppose that you change field after due reflexion)
  • You change fields: This mean that at some point you have make a decision. Taking decision (particularly life-changing ones) is not always easy. Particularly, when this means starting 'again'.
  • You are motivated: doing a Master is not a piece of cake and you knew it but still you were foolish motivated enough to go through it another time.
  • On a side note, it also proves that you are not taken aback by what you might see as a failure and you actually try again.
  • Even if your grades weren't good in your previous track, they did improve while the later Master. Basically, you showed that you improved and developed through time. Which is a very good point for a PhD. It also means that you were right to change.
  • It also means that you have a broader view. Okay, you might not had good grades in your previous Bachelor and Master, but you do have them i.e. a committee of experts in the field considered that you know enough to have these degrees! Apart if you are considering a very technical PhD (and even though) doing a PhD (well really any research in general) is doing something that nobody else has done before. Granted you start from something, but then you are on your own. Believe me, having a broader view can be very helpful on the creative side.

And to finish, apart that lying or omitting key information can be seen as a huge breach of trust, I would like to ask:

  • Do you really see yourself rejecting your past?
  • Don't you want to do your PhD in a place where you know that you have been accepted as yourself as a whole?

Doing a PhD is not an easy process - not because the applications are though - because it is though. IMO, applications are just the quickest way and the least worse (and not actually the best) for recruiters to identify who are the people who would manage to finish it.

[1] Keep this for the interview, if they ask.


Disclaimer: I am French who has done a Bachelor and a Master in Organic Chemistry before doing a Master degree in Bioinformatics and actually doing a PhD in Bioinformatics in Cambridge,UK.

39

No. You should not hide anything that you have done -- in academic programs or in work experience. It doesn't matter whether you think that it is or is not related to the PhD application.

If you made mistakes, then address them directly in your application essay. What were the mistakes? What did you learn from these past mistakes? Who are you now, given your experience in these mistakes?

In my opinion, if you aren't able or willing to talk about these "mistakes", then you aren't ready to enter a PhD program.

EDIT

My suggestion reflects a particular moral and ethical code, and it also reflects a certain culture (US Science, Engineering, and Social Science programs). It may not be appropriate in other cultures, and it may not suit your morals and ethics.

To the folks who recommend "only focus on the positives", my reply is "good luck with that". In my experience, admission committees (and hiring managers) are keen to find any weaknesses and problems. If none are apparent, they will ferret them out.

If OP leaves these off his/her CV, then there will be holes. If s/he doesn't address the holes in the application essay, then you are leaving it up to the admissions committee to fill in the holes with their imagination. I presume they will assume the worst. (In my experience, this can happen even with evidence of accomplishment.)

If these are included in the CV, then official transcripts will have to be submitted (this is standard in the US), and thereby the committee will see the full record, not just GPA for each degree program. And if s/he doesn't say anything about them in the application essay, the committee will probably draw very negative conclusions from them.

Finally, my suggestion to address the problems and learning in the application essay doesn't mean that it needs to be long or detailed. It could be a couple of sentences: "These degree programs were not as successful as I would have liked, and but thankfully I'm much the wiser now. I learned what I'm good at and what I'm not good at, and I learned what I really want to do in my career."

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    Although I agree you about including all degrees and I also like your attitude about addressing mistakes, I am not sure it is in practice possible to mention them in application essay. Committees generally ask for a max 2 page statement and the applicant has to use this precious space to provide some background, express their motivations, possible contributions and more. It is rather difficult to include something extras and keep the cover letter short and to the point. Let alone the case of committee members who are very hasty in reading these letters. – Pouya Mar 2 '15 at 12:01
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    I also generally agree with the answer (degrees shouldn't be hidden), but don't think that the cover letter (or CV) is the right place to explain/discuss potential mistakes at all. The point of the cover letter and CV is to highlight your strengths (naturally while still being accurate), not to focus on the potential weak points. If the multiple degrees are brought up during an interview you should be prepared to discuss them though. – fileunderwater Mar 2 '15 at 14:42
  • To add just a little to the conversation, not only is it important to address the mistakes you've made in the past, but it is required by almost every program to submit transcripts from every academic institution you've attended since High School. – Yasha Mar 2 '15 at 15:30
  • @fileunderwater, I'm not sure what you mean by "the cover letter". In the fields I am familiar with, there is no "cover letter" involved in the application to a PhD program. PhD admissions are not the same as applying to a job. I'm not sure where you got the idea that this answer was suggesting mentioning mistakes in the cover letter -- this answer doesn't mention anything about a cover letter at all! (It only talks about the application essay, not a cover letter. – D.W. Mar 2 '15 at 23:56
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    Although I agree completely that you should not leave off degrees, I disagree that an academic CV include all unrelated non-academic work experience. It's also not required that a CV include GPA although if you include it for one degree, people will wonder why it's missing for others. Finally, I've seen BAs listed without majors before and I don't think that's unethical. – Benjamin Mako Hill Mar 3 '15 at 1:23
14

Your CV should be an honest reflection of your background and all academic degrees should therefore be included. The people that will evaluate your application will probably also spot holes in your CV if you remove some degrees (e.g. wondering what you were doing during periods of time that are not covered by education or employment). However, you do not need to emphasize all parts of your education in the same way, and degrees less relevant for the current application can be downplayed (e.g. by not including poor grades directly in the CV).

That said, I also don't think that you should discuss the potential perceived ''problems'' with your extra degrees in your application (e.g. cover letter and CV), simply because the application should highlight your strengths and not focus on your potential weak points. Those are something for the evaluating commitee to consider and assess, and I don't think you will have much to gain from trying to be preventive.

Also, you definitely need to be prepared to talk about the other degrees during the interview process.

  • 5
    +1 for this: "I also don't think that you should discuss the potential perceived ''problems'' with your extra degrees in your application ... simply because the application should highlight your strengths and not focus on your potential weak points". Having seen this situation before, I completely disagree with MrMeritology's suggestion to discuss the previous degrees in detail. Focus on what's important for the application, the other degrees will be just two lines on the CV. Be prepared to talk about it if asked, but don't discuss it unnecessarily. – Szabolcs Mar 2 '15 at 15:37
  • @D.W. Well, it probably differs between fields and countries then. All phd admissions I've heard of (in Sweden) definitely included an interview, after a screening of the applications. Granted, PhD studies in Sweden are often paid positions and in that sense similar to a job. – fileunderwater Mar 3 '15 at 0:13
  • @Szabolcs - To clarify, I didn't suggest that the previous degrees be discussed in detail. He could choose to write nothing, or he could choose to address them in a single sentence, e.g. "These degree programs were not as successful as I would have liked, and but thankfully I'm much the wiser now." – MrMeritology Mar 3 '15 at 8:21
  • @fileunderwater In the US, it's very rare that PhD applicants get an in-person formal interview. Some programs even discourage any personal contact. Thus, all the weight falls on the written application, CV, transcripts, and recommendation letters. – MrMeritology Mar 3 '15 at 8:24
  • @MrMeritology In regard to an interview for PhD studies, I can only refer to the original question, which mentions an interview, as well as my personal experience. – fileunderwater Mar 3 '15 at 9:06
10

I would suggest to do not hide your educational background, simply because any degree you got does reflect a showcase of your commitment to a goal; regardless of your marks. And, more than anything, during your Ph.D. your commitment is essential.

7

I think you should include all your degrees in your CV. In order to get a job (including a PhD position) you usually have to pass two filters: the CV and the interview, and in this order.

If your CV is convincing enough and appropriate for the position, you may get an interview. However, if you leave your Bachelor and first Masters degree out it won't probably seem very convincing. The evaluators expect to find information on your Bachelors degree and blank periods of time, when they don't know what you were doing (your other Masters degree) won't help.

Just try to put yourself in the position of the evaluator. What does an incomplete CV mean? That you want to hide anything from them? What and why? That you are sloppy and you sent the application without properly checking that you included all the information? Not a good sign, in any case.

Now, just imagine at the end of the process the evaluator has one candidate (you) with a good Masters degree and no information on your Bachelor and ten others with different Bachelor and Master degrees and performances. The evaluator won't loose any time trying to figure out what your Bachelor degree and performance was and will decide to interview someone else. So, if you don't tell about your other degrees in the CV, you most probably won't have the opportunity to tell about it in the interview.

Remember also that not only your CV needs to be convincing, but it has to be better than the others. Having two Masters degrees is a competitive advantage, a point in your favour. So, do use it. Since you are not happy with those other degrees, I would also suggest you to try to find the good side of having made them. What did you learn, which skills and abilities did you acquire doing them that you can apply to the position you are applying to? Did it help you to know what you really wanted to do? And be prepared to answer (positively) to questions such as "why did you do a masters degree in such thing and then another one in such other thing?"

I hope you good luck.

PS: I have a BSc in Biology, a Masters and a PhD in Civil Engineering, and a MA in Specialised Translation. And it hasn't been a problem to find a good postdoc position.

  • That is some multidisciplinary background! – Davidmh Mar 2 '15 at 22:54
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    The question is not asking about getting a job; the PhD admissions process is different from the admissions process. As far as "the interview", in the fields I am used to, the PhD admissions process often does not include any interview. – D.W. Mar 2 '15 at 23:54
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    @D.W. I think is more country than field dependent. In most of Europe there is interview for the shortlisted candidates. – Davidmh Mar 3 '15 at 9:51
7

A particularly compelling reason to include all of your degrees is that the admissions process frequently has a minimum GPA requirement that includes your undergraduate degree and all graduate work. That means you are obliged to submit a complete record, and if you are found to have suppressed information, you can be expelled (I am aware of a case). Admissions committees usually have the sense to recognize that e.g. an MA in Film isn't relevant to a PhD in Physics, so discussion can be omitted.

3

As others have said, lying or failing to give an honest complete picture of (the relevant parts of) your background at any point in the application process is a bad idea. Here are a few reasons that I don't think have been mentioned yet.

  1. You are going to spend years of your life around the people in your Ph.D. program. If you are trying to somehow hide a particular experience from your life, you are going to have to keep up the lie for much longer than the admissions process.

  2. Some graduate programs give different offer letters to students with masters degrees than they give to students whose highest degree is a bachelor's. In particular, the requirements (in terms of timelines to complete certain degree milestones) for students entering with a masters degree may be different than those with a bachelor's. If anyone even felt like you tried to hide a certain degree and this affected your funding, they would not be happy with you!

(I realize you are only talking about leaving off one of two masters degrees, but item 2 may still apply to you if they view your "hidden" masters as applicable to the Ph.D. program and thus would factor it into a funding decision.)

3

By all means, put them in. You were not happy with the degrees and the topics. Which is great since it explains what you have been doing with your years (rather than just dangling your cojones from a balcony), and it is great since it highlights that you can stick with things that don't work all that well to some reasonable completion, and it is even greater since it shows that your current career path is a better fit.

If those other degrees and attempts would have excellent grades while your current grades were so-so, that would be much worse since it would make it likely that you won't persist with your current endeavors and might fall back to what you did earlier.

2

You can't omit them entirely, but you can de-emphasize them. I was in a similar position when applying for my Ph.D. program, as my B.S. was from a not particularly stellar school. The applications for a Ph.D. program will likely require you to be very thorough, so you will probably have to include them somewhere within the application packet. A case could perhaps be made for omitting the previous degrees from the CV on the basis that the school will definitely require you to submit all college transcripts, so they will know anyway, but as others have mentioned, you might be doing this at your own risk. Also, if it's just the GPA you're worried about, there is a simple solution -- just don't put the GPA on the CV, let them look at the transcripts if they want to know.

That said, once you get admitted, and especially once you have the Ph.D., you can start omitting the lower degrees from most things, like many fellowship and grant applications, and your CV for future job applications. People honestly don't care at that point, it becomes about papers, grants, and awards, not degrees or GPA. The only degree that will matter at that point is the Ph.D., and more the fact that you have one than exactly what field it's in or school it's from (unless it's Ivy or something, and even then it's not that big a help).

For the people trying to paint this as a clear, black-and-white moral issue, I would advise you to think a little bit more broadly. A CV is not your life's story, it is you making the case that you are a good candidate. Especially once you amass lots of prior jobs, papers, and awards, you have to start cutting things purely because of space, and it is naturally smart to keep the best-looking items. Obviously it would be wrong and very dangerous to fabricate items, but omitting items is a different matter.

  • 1
    A CV is not your life's story, it is you making the case that you are a good candidate. – CV almost literally means life’s story, and there are at least some cultures/countries where informing about it is its prime purpose. In such a country, omitting something like a degree (and the related studies) from it would be a very bad idea as it is regarded almost equivalently to lying. – Wrzlprmft Mar 4 '15 at 6:54
  • Fair point. I was talking from the US perspective, and it is good to know that it is different elsewhere. I do not think that etymology is very useful in determining contemporary usage of a term, though. – gilesc Mar 6 '15 at 16:23
-4

When it comes to a CV, if you can make enough relevant content that fills a both sides of an A4 sheet of paper then leave them off. If asked about your full education at say an interview you shouldn't deliberately leave them out but trust me, no employer wants your whole education they just care that you have the right experiences to do they job they have in mind.

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    I disagree. The poster is applying to a PhD program, not an outside job. In this case, listing all previous degrees is expected and a transcript from each would be required at every institution I have been involved with. – Corvus Mar 2 '15 at 16:36
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    @Corvus: Right, academia differs from industry here. In industry, a resume or CV is limited to 1-2 pages and only contains information the applicant thinks is relevant. In academia, a CV is as long as it needs to be to contain a complete history of your academic career; senior people often have CVs that are 10-15 pages long or more. – Nate Eldredge Mar 3 '15 at 4:53
-9

If the interviewers are more knowledgeable than you are, you can include all your degrees.

If they are less knowledgeable, you will loose by mentioning these degrees in your CV. You should mention them only if there is a law or regulation which forces you to mention them in your CV.

You should discuss this with a lawyer. You know what you want to do; the only thing you have to do is find whether the law supports you. I cannot give you legal advice myself.

(As a lighter answer, since a few people who answered here are telling you to include these degrees in your CV, you can join their institution! In that case, you can include everything in your CV.)

  • 5
    This is horrible advice. Most schools view lying on an application as sufficient grounds for revocation of admission, regardless of when the fraud is discovered. – aeismail Mar 2 '15 at 21:10
  • Is omitting information actually lying, @aeismail? – TRiG Mar 24 '15 at 11:23
  • If you are told to include all transcripts and you omit one or more, then yes, you are lying. – aeismail Mar 24 '15 at 11:44

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