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Writing an Impressive Resume for a College Application

Many applications allow for the addition of a resume. The resume is not required but can be advantageous in quickly summarizing your activities. This post is going to discuss the way you can customize your resume to be most effective for your college application. Yes, this is a resume which you could use to apply for jobs. However, what you focus on and how you write it is specific for the college application. If you don’t have time to read through everything, please remember that you should focus on results, be specific about leadership roles and be concise. However, here is the secret of the resume: you can format it in whatever way you want and with no limitations. It is like a backdoor to add information that you might not have had space or ability to include in the regular application!

General information about how to write a resume is available all over the internet, so we will exclude the obvious like contact information and expected graduation date. Do not worry if you do not have a lot of job experience. Your resume should be a maximum of one page and after including a header and formatting, there really is not much space. There is, however, space to get a short bio and include things that might be relevant.

For instance, the Common App has a maximum of 10 activities and the Coalition App has a maximum of 8. What if you did something on a short-term basis but it was consequential? What if you know another language and you used it for an extracurricular?

You can format the resume in any way you want. Consider the following sections which many people use: introduction (not too long), skills, education (expected graduation), awards/recognition, along with extracurriculars and work experience.

1. Resume Objective

A resume objective is a 2-3 sentence long paragraph that summarizes your motivation for getting into a college or for studying a specific major. As this is the first section of your resume (after contact information), it is the place for you to grab attention. A well-crafted resume objective will attract admission officers and encourage them to read the rest of your resume.

When writing your resume objective, you should aim to tailor it to the specific university/ major and highlight the achievements that give you an edge over other applicants.

2. Experience

Think towards your application and the story you want to tell. Is there anything you want to include? Work experience, if relevant, is great. Same with things that show leadership, ambition or proactive engagement with interests. For instance, say you taught an international group of students and learned intermediate Mandarin in order to teach them better. Or say you built an online shop and have revenue and learned programming to do it. Those are ambitious projects that can really highlight your skills.

Tip: Some students might also choose to add volunteering and community service engagements in this section. It is important to reflect on all aspects of your life that show you have the character, grit, work ethic, and skills to succeed in school.

When you list work experience in your college application resume, include 2-3 bullet points listing your main responsibilities, prioritizing any achievements you can show for. To get started, list out in bullet points everything you did in your role, including both major and minor tasks. Now see if you can combine any of those tasks—some major tasks will already imply other minor tasks in your list. Then, circle 2-3 bullet points that best highlight your qualifications, especially leadership and commitment. These are things you should include in your description. For more tips on how to phrase your descriptions, see our tips below in the section “Tips of Writing an Impressive Resume”.

3. Honors & Awards: Any significant honors and awards. Your achievements may range from school-wide awards to state-level, national, and international accomplishments.

4. Skills & Interests

If there is space, you should mention your top skills. Be careful, however, as this is a section that is easy to exaggerate and waste useful space. It is good to be sparing in this area and only include considerable skills, i.e., things that you are in fact proficient in and will add value to your future work.

Next to your skills, you should also include your levels of proficiency or experience. For instance, if you list Piano as a skill, you will want to include your grade level: Piano (Grade 7). For skills that don’t have an established system of certification or qualification, you can substitute for years of experience.

Tips for Writing an Impressive Resume

1. Keep it within 1 page.

This is not advice. This is a requirement for most colleges which will not even bother looking at a second page. If your resume is over 1 page, it will seem like endless exaggeration.

Many high school students mistake a resume for a CV and submit several pages of credentials. A CV, short for curriculum vitae, is an in-depth academic diary that provides a comprehensive listing of one’s credentials, including experience, certifications, publications, and professional membership. Meanwhile, a resume is a short summary of your experience and background relevant to the job (which in this case is being a college undergraduate).

2. Provide specific deliverables.

In simple terms, deliverables refer to the quantifiable services that you provided during your role. For example, if you are planning to teach a coding boot camp, you’re not just teaching a coding boot camp. You are teaching (a) specific language(s) to a specific number of students. The boot camp will last a specific number of days, and you will teach a specific number of hours per day. These specifics make up your deliverables. You can think of them like outcomes.

For each activity and experience you include, you should provide two to three bullet-points detailing your involvement in that role. You may provide more information for current roles or experience that are more significant to you.

Instead of vague, generic statements, think about the hard numbers that you accomplished. For example, rather than “fundraising for the school’s eSports club,” it is much more impressive to state that you “fundraised $2,000 to buy equipment for the school’s eSports club within one month.” By specifying the amount of money and the time frame, you make it much easier for admission officers to visualize how outstanding your performance is. In general, resumes work best when there are numbers but any kind of demonstrable or concrete change is perfectly fine.

3. Use strong action verbs & active voice. Avoid passive voice.

There is a way to describe your experience so that you show up as a motivated and proactive doer: use action verbs. Examples of active verbs include organize, lead, plan, facilitate, teach, serve, train, design, inventory, etc. Take a look at these two examples describing the same experience of the coding boot camp instructor in Tip 2:

Example 1: Tasked with preparing lesson plans and classroom materials for students.

Example 2: Designed daily lesson plans and printed classroom materials for six students.

While these two examples look very similar at first glance, Example 1 describes the work experience in vague terms (“tasked with”) without providing detail about the student’s actual accomplishments or actions. Consequently, it doesn’t communicate much about their qualifications. On the other hand, Example 2 was active, deliberate, and specific: it uses a combination of hard numbers and action verbs (“designed” and “printed”) to highlight what this student actually achieved in their previous role.

You should aim to write bullet points like Example 2. We encourage you to start your description phrases with verbs from the list above or other strong action verbs. Make sure to also avoid passive voice and limit your use of “help.” If you can say you “facilitated two breakout rooms daily about reading and literature for 10 middle schoolers,” write that instead of “helped facilitate…”

4. Keep it simple and professional.

Your resume is not a literary analysis, so keep the language simple, concise, and clear. Remember, your ability to explain complex things in plain terms will show that you understand your experiences well and can talk about them in a thoughtful way.

Make sure to use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You should also choose an easy-to-read font and keep the design professional or relevant.

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