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12 Tips to Perfect Your College Resume

Top 12 Tips to Perfect your College Application Resume – Part 1

With most colleges now requiring a resume as part of the college application package, students will benefit greatly from learning how to craft a proper resume. And while many of the generic tips floating around the web can be useful, there are certain things a college application resume must include to be a winner. Because of the number of tips and the length of my commentary, I will be splitting these tips into two posts. Look for the continuation to come soon.

Why do colleges require a resume?

Sometimes the format of a typical college application does not allow the candidate to highlight his or her strong points. A resume is basically a brief, at-a-glance brag sheet that you can use to draw attention to all of the accomplishments you feel are important to define who you are, but that didn't quite make it into your personal statement.

How should the resume be structured?

Professional resumes will generally lead with work experience and discuss an individual's professional career. Colleges are not interested in you as a worker so much as they are interested in you as a scholar. As such, many of the typical rules for resume structure do not apply to college applicants. In general, following this format will work for you:

  • Heading:Make sure to include a heading on the top that states your name and any other important identifying information. Many colleges will identify you with your social security number, so putting this information in the heading is helpful. A university may also assign you a special applicant number that can be used in lieu of your social security number.
  • Overview: Take approximately 3 short sentences to write a mini biography about yourself. If you speak more than one language, mention it. If you're the science fair champion four years running, mention it. If you have the highest GPA at your school, mention it. Highlight your strongest features. Imagine yourself as a news reporter that needs to capture the readers' attention in only a few lines. Make the admissions officer want to read more about you. Naturally, anything you include in the overview should also appear in one of the later sections.
  • Education: After the heading, lead with educational information. The name of your high school and its address will go here. Follow that with your GPA and, if you know it, your class rank. Class rank can either be stated by percentile (such as "top 5%") or by actual numerical rank (14 of 326). Any sort of academic distinction may be placed here as well, such as if you earned an International Baccalaureate full diploma or a special state distinction. Do not list your academic awards here, however, as those will come later.
  • Activities: Any clubs, programs, community service organizations, sports, or other activities you were a part of during high school should go here. You should try to limit the list to only about 8 entries, so if you have more than that, choose only your most important 8. If you have less than 4, try to think of some organized event you participated in to include. Remember, it does not have to necessarily be a school-sponsored program; activities through your church, community center, or of your own personal drive (bands, etc.) may be included. Each activity should have a short, one sentence description using strong, active verbs. For example, rather than just saying "Band", say, "Marching Band First Trumpet 3 years, performing in 57 school games and in two regional competitions."
  • Special Projects: Something that you did once or twice but that could not necessarily be considered an 'activity' may go here. Participation in a science fair, history day project, one-time volunteer effort, or other special events may be included. This category is not vital, so if you cannot think of any special project you participated in, you may omit this section. You should limit your list to 3 entries and provide a bit more detail about each than you would have in the Activities section (about 2-3 short sentences). If you have held a steady job during high school, feel free to add your position here with a few descriptive sentences. You should also change this section's title to something like "Experiences".
  • Awards: Don't limit yourself here. This section can be a simple laundry list (though you should explain any awards that do not have an obvious title) or may include more detailed descriptions depending on the amount of awards you have received. Feel free to overlap in this section with other sections (for example, you may mention the science fair in Special Projects, and then also mention that you got first place here), but avoid listing too many awards for the same event. Mentioning your placement in each of the three years you went to History Day is fine, but outlining each of your 67 Speech and Debate victories is too much. Remember that many accomplishments may fit in this category even if you never received a trophy, medal, or certificate.

You don't have to limit yourself to just these sections. If you have a special, extraordinary experience that warrants its own section, feel free to include it. Look around on the Internet for other student resumes and see the kinds of things they include for some ideas for what you might want on your own resume.

How long can the resume be?

Don't listen to the old rule that a resume cannot be longer than a single page. Feel free to go up to 2 pages if you need the room.  Keep in mind that a resume is more like an outline than an essay; it should not be dense with information, but rather be an easy-to-follow bulleted list. If you simply have too many activities and awards to keep yourself limited to one page, do not cut information out. Instead, expand onto a second page without worry (unless, of course, the application guidelines tell you to use only one page).

Should I include stuff from before high school?

Generally no unless the activity continued into high school (such as playing in the middle school band and in the high school band). Colleges are generally not interested in your pre-high school experiences.