Sep 27, 2018

Writing a high school résumé that ‘works’

Wash U provides for resume uploads.
Of the over 800 Common Application member colleges and universities that are “live” as of this writing, about one-third, have made specific provisions for or even require the submission of a résumé. And these include Brown, Colgate, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Penn, Vanderbilt and Wash U.

But while they bear similarities in purpose, a high school résumé is quite unlike a document a job seeker might use to impress a Fortune 500 company. For one thing, there’s usually less content. For another, the audience is entirely different and doesn’t care much about the bells and whistles professionally-prepared résumé frequently feature.

In other words, if you want a résumé that ‘works’ for college admissions, forget the shadowing effects, the funky typeface, and the overuse of the bold function. Instead, put most of your effort into listing your accomplishments in a clear, concise, and easy-to-read document.

It’s really not all that hard. Begin the process of developing content for your résumé by brainstorming your high school career. This may require help from your immediate support team like parents, mentors or friends.  Mom and Dad tend to have a particular focus on you and everything you’ve done since you first toddled across the living room. They can be great resources for this project.
Start with the 9th grade and make note of all activities, honors, memberships, and enrichment programs. Don’t leave off summers especially if you did something other than sleep or text friends for 3 months.

Next, begin to organize the information into major categories: honors, extracurricular activities, community service, sports, enrichment, special skills, work experience. Use whatever categories work best for the information you’ve collected, but keep in mind the general blocks of information requested on college applications.

Then organize individual entries by category and date. Be specific about positions, titles, organizations and locations. For example, if you were a “pitcher” for the JV baseball team at Oakton High School in Vienna, VA, say so. If you were a “pitcher” for the FPYC, forget the acronym and say Fairfax Youth Police Club, Fairfax, VA. Acronyms can be really annoying.

Similarly, if you manned the cash register at the Clock Tower Thrift Shop in Centreville, you might want to list it as Volunteer Cashier, Clock Tower Thrift Shop, Northern Virginia Family Service, Centreville, VA.

Don’t overlook special skills and certifications. They not only show accomplishment but also suggest more than a passing interest in an activity. If you’re on the computer team, you may want to list under skills that you can program in Java, C++, Python and HTML. If you are a swim instructor for the Oak Mar Adaptive Aquatics program, you may want to list your Red Cross lifeguard certification.
In these cases, the activity, skill or certification show deeper interest—passion even—to use a trendy term. Also note that there’s no place on most applications to show these kinds of skills and certifications, yet they could be key to making your case about depth of involvement.

When you’re ready to transfer your raw data to a document, use a format you think accommodates your information well and looks attractive. At the top, establish a “letterhead” by listing your name, address, phone number (home and cell), and email address. Later in the game, you can add your personal Linked In URL.

By the way, if you’ve been “BuggerPicker333” or “FoxyLady” since middle school, preparing your résumé might be a good excuse to go to something a little more professional. And if you’ve been calling yourself “SoccerStar” and you don’t play soccer or you’ve been “HarvardMan2025” since your parents bought you the sweatshirt, you might want to rethink the handles.

The body of your résumé should be grouped by category, and entries should be listed chronologically. Usually most recent to oldest is best. Feel free to use bullets or other tools to streamline your descriptions, particularly for employment or volunteer entries. Make sure your descriptions are specific and use lots of action verbs (“▪ supervised and managed all aspects of local fundraising initiative”).

And keep in mind, that some of the most selective colleges in the nation are transitioning to Committee Based Evaluation (CBE) methods for reviewing applications. In a nutshell, this means you will get about eight minutes to make your case for admission. For those colleges providing for resume uploads, you may want to make sure your résumé is “top-heavy” with your most relevant/important skills and accomplishments at the top, assuming that time may not permit a full and detailed review of your résumé content. In other words, the reader may not ever get to the last entry of the document, so order your material accordingly.

If space permits, you may want to include a list of hobbies or special interests—like knitting, guppy breeding, exotic bird watching or fantasy football. Use your discretion and don’t include hobbies that make you seem strange—well not too strange. But if your interests paint a fuller portrait of who you are, go for it.

Also, do not be afraid to add “live” links to your résumé. At a minimum, your email address should be live as well as any links to online media you have created. For example, if you created and actively maintain a Facebook page or a website for an organization or cause in which you are involved, feel free to include those links. Or if you have a private YouTube channel featuring sports highlights, a speech you gave, or a recital in which you participated, include it. If you’ve created a personal website to showcase your art or a blog to air your views, include those links. Just make sure that you include the entire URL in case the reader can’t click on the link and needs to copy-and-paste the web address.

And finally, don’t go over two pages. Usually, one page will suffice. Students who have been heavily involved in competitions, sporting events, or performances may need extra space. But definitely keep it to two pages. One exception would be an “expanded” résumé prepared for the University of Texas-Austin. That admissions office doesn’t seem to care how long the résumé is as long as it covers the great expanse of your accomplishments in detail. But for the most part, high school students shouldn’t have a need to exceed two pages.

A résumé is a marketing piece. It won’t work if there are spelling errors, the format is messy, and you’ve otherwise not taken care in the preparation of the document. Ask your parents, your counselor, or someone you trust to proofread and go over your content for accuracy and completeness.

Once you’ve finished, you may want to turn your resume into a PDF to attach to emails. But be sure to keep the original file for future editing and expansion.

Your résumé should be a living document. Don’t just leave it as a dust-collecting file on your computer. Tweak it regularly by adding entries or updates. It should be ready for printing or email at a moment’s notice.

And now and again take a moment to appreciate all you've accomplished!   

This is the third of three articles on the importance of résumés in the college application process. A list of colleges providing for résumés uploads on their applications may be obtained by emailing: 

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