Sep 4, 2020

Resumes may be more valuable than ever for students without test scores

Note: This is an update of an article posted in past years

High school students who invest time creating resumes may be handsomely rewarded in the

college admission process. Of the Common Application member colleges and universities that are “live” as of this writing, over 300* — or more than one-third — have made specific provisions for submitting this handy document.

Resumes haven’t always been so popular. In fact, there remains a lingering controversy over the appropriateness of asking students to develop and maintain resumes throughout high school. And a few colleges are quite deliberate about not including them as part of their applications.

In her college admissions blog for the University of Virginia, Associate Dean of Admission Jeannine Lalonde makes a point of repeating, “The Common App allows each college to turn the resume function of the app on or off. It is OFF for UVA. UVA does not accept resumes. The application presents information in a systematic format, which allows us to zero in on pertinent information quickly.”

On its website, Tufts clearly states, “Keep in mind that the Common Application is your one chance to show your extracurricular engagements: we are not able to accept a supplemental resume of activities.” And the University of Miami agrees, “Applicants should not submit additional resumes. Although the Common Application limits the number of activities you may report, this is typically more than enough space for most competitive applicants to communicate their most important and relevant commitments.”

But they are in the minority, and many college advisers and lots of colleges very much disagree, especially as everyone scrambles to find new sources of information to enhance a “holistic” review of applicants not submitting test scores.

On its face, a resume represents an opportunity to collect, keep track of and reflect on accomplishments. And it’s likely to be a document the student will maintain, using different formats and styles, through college and beyond.

But beyond “telling” the story of a student’s career throughout high school, a thoughtfully constructed resume will also “show” the kinds of nonquantifiable character traits colleges are increasingly anxious to capture and evaluate in the admissions process. For example, the length of time a student participates in an activity can show persistence. A job title or position might suggest leadership. Carefully chosen action verbs describing an activity might portray responsibility, organization, creativity or self-motivation. The “look” of a resume might also suggest attention to detail—or not!

And recognizing the power of this document to provide this kind of information, a number of colleges specifically refer to the resume as required, recommended or encouraged for students applying without test scores.

But there’s no reason to include a resume with a college application if it totally duplicates information contained in other parts of the application, unless of course, the school specifically asks for one. And a number of colleges or programs outside of the Common App system do, including Georgetown University and the College of Charleston Honors College.

For students using the Common Application, basic extracurricular-related information may be presented in the Activities section, which provides space to describe involvement in ten activities. Within each activity, the Position/Leadership blank allows 50 characters to give a solid indication of your position. A new field was added this year that allows 100 characters to identify the organization name and possibly location. A third field allows 150 characters to provide insight into what you’ve done and any distinctions you earned.

The Coalition provides space for Activities/Experience in the Profile section of the application. Students may enter up to eight activities and are asked to specify “the two experiences outside of your academic program that are most important to you.” For each activity, the student is allowed 64 characters for the activity/experience name (Cashier, Wegmans Grocery Store, Fairfax VA), as well as 255 characters for “a description of your experience” and an additional 255 characters to “List any individual distinctions you earned in this activity or experience.” 

Students using the Universal College Application (UCA) may enter up to seven “Extracurricular, Personal and Volunteer Activities” and up to five employers or job-related activities for a total of 12 entries. While the characters allowed are more limited (35 for extracurricular and 32 for jobs), students are encouraged to provide more details in the Additional Information section.

But for some students, these activities sections are still limiting and don’t provide enough of an opportunity to showcase specific accomplishments or direct attention to relevant online content. In this case, the applicant has a couple of options. 

First, check college-specific questions for additional opportunities to provide details about extracurricular activities. This is where some Common App members have made provisions for an upload of a fully-formatted resume. These include:

  • Boston College
  • Brandeis University
  • Brown University
  • Bucknell University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Davidson College
  • George Mason University
  • Howard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Lafayette College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Northeastern University
  • Northwestern University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Santa Clara University
  • Tulane University
  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • Vanderbilt University

Coalition members providing for resumes place the option in the Upload section of the application. Some examples are

  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Clemson University
  • Colgate University
  • Florida State University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Texas-Austin
  • Vassar College
  • Washington University in St. Louis

Note that a handful of Coalition members placed their Additional Information questions in the upload section of the application and seem to invite documents such as resumes. Similarly, the UCA provides for fully-formatted resumes by allowing PDFs to be uploaded in the Additional Information section of the application. But before acting on this plan, it’s wise to check with the college first to see if they’d like a copy of your resume as part of your application for admission. They may not!

In addition to asking outright for a resume, a number of institutions make provisions for an applicant to provide a URL on the Coalition or Common Application. The UCA not only dedicates a question to this, but also makes the response conveniently “clickable” for the application reader. This is another way students may provide a resume on a personal website or via LinkedIn.

And sometimes colleges specify they only want a resume as part of a “portfolio” or “arts supplement” submitted through a separate portal. Columbia University and Princeton University are among those falling into this category.

A resume can be a very powerful document for pushing your college candidacy forward. It can serve to color between the lines or provide extra detail beyond what may be crammed into a standardized application form. It can also serve as vehicle for showcasing links to websites, blogs, videos or other online media. And above all, it can provide insight into character traits colleges may very well value above scores.

If given the opportunity, use it. But make sure it reflects well on you and contains accurate and up-to-date information.

*For a FREE list of colleges providing for resume uploads in 2020-21, email: