college admissions resume

Writing a Fantastic College Admissions Resume

Just your kid’s personal introduction to the school of their future. No big deal.

Grades, test scores, a high school diploma. For some colleges these are all a student needs to get admitted. For some… you only need a diploma. But for many schools – the schools that compete for the best students – the requirements include a resume. But this resume isn’t for getting a job – this one serves as your student’s personal introduction to the school of their future. A great college resume can make an enormous difference in the college admissions process.

What the College Resume Reveals

“Resume” (or if we want to get fancy, résumé) is a French word that means something like “a list of accomplishments.” When a student is constructing one for a college application, I encourage them to keep in mind why a college (or scholarship committee) wants a resume. A well-constructed “list of accomplishments” can show the reader several important things about a student:

  • What the student has achieved in school
  • What they do with their time away from school
  • What they consider important
  • Particular interests of the student
  • Evidence of how they manage their time
  • Experience with handling responsibility
  • Willingness to compete

These are just a few examples of what a resume may reveal about an applicant. The aim is to thoughtfully craft the resume to communicate the distinctives of the student. An honest resume can be a big help to an admissions committee if it accurately portrays someone’s high school years. At the very least, what is included in a resume shows how a student wants to be seen by the school.

Best Practices for Great College Resumes

As a college guidance counselor, I have seen a wide variety of resume styles. Some of them have listed achievements in chronological order, presenting a detailed picture of each year as it unfolded from the freshman year to the present. Other resumes grouped activities into categories: academic achievements, athletic involvements, school extracurriculars, work experience, and significant travel.

Although there are different resume formats to choose from (online examples abound), college admission personnel that I know are quick to point out that effective resumes are similar in some key ways:

  • Effective resumes clearly explain what a listed activity entailed (not just “I tutored,” but rather “I tutored four students in Spanish, three hours per week, for one semester”)
  • Effective resumes don’t assume abbreviations are known (not “FTT member,” but “Future Teachers of Tomorrow” member)
  • They list positions of leadership and show if the student was elected, appointed, or volunteered for the role
  • They show patterns of activities that indicate what has been important to the student

The Myth of the Renaissance Man

Okay, wait just a minute. We have been talking about crafting an effective resume. But even more important than the format is the content. While it would be tempting to focus on fonts, length, and maybe a few “bells and whistles” to catch a reader’s interest, the overall picture it paints is far more critical to its success in catching the attention of admissions staff.

Many parents and students assume that the high school resume should present a “well-rounded” high school career. But you would be wise to keep in mind that the so-called “Renaissance Man” or “Renaissance Woman” is a myth.

When I was in third grade, Mrs. Wood described Leonardo da Vinci as a “Renaissance Man.” She explained that term means he was brilliant in many different areas – painting, sculpting, invention, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, geology, anatomy, history, and botany. Since I wasn’t Leo’s high school counselor, I can only imagine what his high school resume looked like. Maybe under awards from his peers it listed “Mr. Well-Rounded”!

Fast-forward five hundred years, and I have high school students worrying that their resume does not show them to be so “well-rounded.” But the “Renaissance Man” and “Renaissance Woman” is a myth – or at least their desirability for college admissions personnel is a myth.

The truth is that colleges are not beating the bushes to track down a class of well-rounded students. Rather they are attempting to gather a well-rounded class: a recruiting class that is made up of some high quality “this,” and some very talented “that.” A mosaic made up of individuals, not a bunch of identical, interchangeable, well-rounded parts.

If a high schooler’s resume shows that they have invested their energies and talents in pursuing a singular passion or exploring one area of interest – and they have done it with determination and developing skill – then they have presented themselves as a unique ingredient… an ingredient that just might be a welcomed addition to the special blend of a new freshman class. (Read more about helping students focus their commitments.)

Be Intentional, Regardless of College Resume Format

Having a resume of a student’s high school years comes in handy in a variety of ways. Scholarship competitions often request them, a person asked to write a recommendation for the student might ask for one, and as we have said, many admissions offices require them.

However, some college applications contain a sort of “internal resume” instead. An application may list possible activities or roles, with boxes to check to show if a student was involved. There could be specific questions about clubs, teams, honors, or jobs – with room to give some context to the answers. In some cases, there may be a note inviting additional resume material that the applicant wishes to have considered.

It’s tempting to treat these “internal resumes” as less formal or less important than self-constructed resumes. A student may also ignore the invitation to submit an additional, formal resume, if they’ve already filled in some of this information.

But keep in mind that if an admission panel or scholarship committee wasn’t going to pay close attention to the answers, they probably wouldn’t ask the question. So encourage your student to spend just as much energy and focus here as they do when building a resume from scratch! Further, a student who has already done the work of building an organized resume will be better able to avoid the temptation to quickly fill in some blanks on an application to “get it over with.” By taking them up on the offer to share, the student gets to communicate a little more of what may set them apart from the pack.

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