Writing the College Resume

How to help your teen best capture her accomplishments

When I was writing my college resume just four short years ago, I remember feeling slightly lost, and I have to admit that my first draft was nowhere near stellar. Now that I’m a junior at Cornell University, I think I might know what I'm doing.

Whether your teen is applying to college in December or in a few years, there are plenty of ways you can help him to build a successful resume. Although not all colleges ask for one, your child should submit a resume anyway. One that’s written well provides an admission officer a succinct overview of your child’s accomplishments, and it can also highlight what cannot be conveyed through the rest of the application.

An Outline

Heading: Name, address, phone number, and email address.

Education: High School, High School Address, Expected Year of Graduation. Consider including GPA and class rank if known. Don’t include this information if it is not impressive.

Extracurricular Activities: List all school activities and outside hobbies, and be descriptive! Remember that not every admissions officer is familiar with all student organizations and activities.

Volunteering Experience: List any and all community-service efforts, and be sure to outline exactly how your child contributed, and to what cause they aided.

Leadership Experience: If your child was a leader in a school organization, be sure to include his responsibilities and how he impacted the group. Capitalize on this section! It can often be the most impressive.

Honors and Awards: List all accolades and recognition that your child has achieved through high school. Be sure to include how many people participated, if it would be impressive to an admissions officer.

Special Skills: Only include relevant special skills—for example, if your child is fluent in another language or has experience building a website. The admissions officer at your teen’s dream school does not need to know that Sally can juggle!

Job Experience: Include all long-term jobs, especially if your child will be getting a recommendation from his employer. Start with the most recent, and include any special recognition or awards.

One more category to consider: Every student is different, so every resume should be, too. Don’t be afraid to make your own additional category that is specific to your child. For example, the music group I was a part of in high school afforded me the opportunity to record on multiple CDs, so I had a section called Special Projects, in which I described these experiences. Here are a few other examples: Special Summer Programs, Leadership Conferences, College Classes, Special Performances, etc.

And, don’t forget: For all activities, it is not necessary to repeat yourself! For each item, list years participated: Simply choose the best category for the accomplishment. For instance, if Sally was the captain of the soccer team, include that in leadership experience rather than extracurricular activities. If you your child does not have the experience to fill out one or more of these categories above, don’t worry! Simple don’t include it. It is important to capitalize on the truth and her strengths than to to lie or exaggerate.

Don’t be Modest

All this said, remember, a resume is about “selling” yourself. Include all accomplishments that have made an impact.

Admissions officers want to know why Sally is so special, and her resume should tell them that. If everything on your child’s resume is true, there is nothing to worry about. There is no clear-cut formula for a perfect college admissions resume. Ask your teen if he thinks that it represents him as best as it possibly could. If the answer is yes, then you’ve done it right.

Employ the art of action words. Using powerful verbs and action words is the key to a successful resume. For example, if Sally was in the Chemistry Club, and she wrote: “I helped my teacher clean equipment,” she would not be properly conveying her accomplishments. This statement is vague. A better example would be: “Assisted with the proper maintenance and cleaning of chemistry-specific equipment and utilized proper lab technique.” It is important to never use “I” in a resume. It is not necessary to write in full sentences. It is more important to be concise, but continue to be specific!

Consistency is key. A consistent format is heaven for a college admissions officer. Every piece of information should be presented in a straightforward way. You’re trying to create a good impression, not get lost in confusion!

Keep to the one-page limit? This seems to be the golden rule for everyone: A resume is one page. However, a resume is an opportunity for your child to show who they are and what they have done. She might not be able to accomplish that in one little page. It’s not easy! And sometimes, it is just not possible. It should not be necessary to cut out valuable content from a resume. If you find yourself sitting at the kitchen table with your child trying to decide if Club Soccer was more important than Club Basketball, don’t decide! Keep them both! Generally, if every word on your child’s resume belongs there, it should stay. Simply stated: Don’t skimp out, but don’t go overboard.

Margins and spacing are very important. Don’t be afraid to go outside of the 1-inch margin, and to shrink your font a size or two (But make sure it is still legible). If a little bit of formatting keeps your resume at 1 page, by all means, work the magic.

But, I have a confession: My college resume was two pages, and I used every inch of allowed space on that page with my size 11 Times New Roman. The college admissions officer clearly did not mind.

What Not to Include

While it’s important to shine a light on all that is special about your child, be wary of superfluous information that ultimately won't help. Really think about what’s necessary and try to avoid listing the following:

Special skills that are not relevant: For example, do not write “Skilled with Microsoft Word.” The understanding of basic technology is known and expected!

An unprofessional email address: Your child might still have a crazy email address (I fondly remember my crazy4pandas94@aol.com). You want the admissions officer to take your child seriously, so take a minute to check if sallysmith@gmail.com is available. If not, add a middle initial, or a couple of numbers.

A flashy font: Unfortunately, college admissions officers do not appreciate even the most fantastic of fonts. Choose standard Times New Roman or Arial.

Spelling errors: This is perhaps the most important thing to make sure you do right! Any resume, no matter how impressive, it is, will be glanced over and tossed if it has misspellings galore. Spell check is your friend, but read it over out loud to be 100 percent sure that there are no errors!

Grammar school accomplishments: If Sally won the “Sunshine Award” in seventh grade, it does not belong on a college admissions resume. Colleges are only interested in high school accomplishments. However, if Sally has been taking piano lessons since she was five, make sure to show this kind of dedication.

SAT/ACT/SAT II scores: These scores should be sent to the college separately. When looking at your child’s file, the admissions officer will have this information.

AP classes: Colleges should have a transcript already, so they will be able to see exactly what classes your child has taken. However, if your child has taken college courses during high school, highlight it.

References: Unlike a job resume, your child will compile letters of recommendation to be sent with their college application.

An objective: It should be assumed that the objective of the resume is simply to get into college. There is no need to waste precious space with this information! Exception: If your child is applying to a specialized program, this could be stated as an objective.

General Tips for Success

Writing more than one resume might be beneficial. If your child is applying to the college of engineering at one school, and a pharmacy program at another, consider tailoring two separate documents.

Don’t be afraid to ask for other opinions. Ask your child’s guidance counselor or even a family friend to look over the resume. You might be surprised by the improvements a third party will suggest!

Look back through planners, calendars, photos, emails, etc. to dig up some accomplishments that might have gotten lost over the years. Have your child go through their agendas for any missed opportunities as well.

Still have a few years until college-app season? You’re in a great position to plan ahead! Keep an easily accessible word document called “Sally’s College Resume.” Every time she does something that you might want to remember, just write it in, and include a quick sentence about the experience to jog your memory in the future. Don’t tell your child that you are doing this! Instead, encourage him to keep a similar document, and come college application time, you’ll be able to compare notes!

Whether she knows it, your child will start to build her resume at the beginning of freshman year of high school. While it’s not necessary to pressure her into any clubs or organizations, continue to encourage long-term hobbies and passions. Longevity goes a long way on a college resume, and can really display dedication.

Don’t be fooled by the idea that a student who is in 300 different clubs will get a spot at a top college. A well-rounded individual can sometimes come off as a student who is not focused. It is not necessary to join the Chess team and the Computer Club…and the soccer team and the dance team. An admissions officer might look at your child’s resume and think: Well, who is this person?

My passion was always music, and I got really involved in every club that I could that had anything to do with music. And, when I applied as a music major, I was able to say, “I want to be a music major and here is why.”

Overall, just encourage your children to be the best that they can be. If you do, they will end up at the college that’s right for them.


Cornell junior Cassidy Molina wrote a pretty stellar resume that landed her the gig as the summer editorial intern at Raising Teens.

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