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How to Write a Resume for College Applications

A resume is a marketing piece. It won’t work if there are spelling errors, the format is messy, and you’ve not taken care to prepare the document.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   09-11-2018

BrainGain Magazine

Some American colleges recommend that you to submit a resume along with your application, while others forbid it. You’ll need to do the leg work to figure out what individual colleges prefer.

When should you submit a resume?
For instance, the University of Austin encourages college applicants to provide optional materials like résumés and letters of recommendation. “A student may choose to submit an expanded résumé offering additional information about their achievements,” says the University of Austin, one of the largest institutions in America, which is divided into 18 colleges. It has over single-campus enrollment, with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and over 24,000 faculty members.

On the other hand, don’t submit a resume if they don’t ask for one — following instructions is a key application strategy. In her blog on college admissions, Jeanine Lalonde, Associate Dean of Admission at the University of Virginia, makes a point of repeating every year, “The Common App has a resume upload function and lets each school decide whether they want to use it. We are one of the schools that turned that function off.” She makes it clear the university prefers the straight-forward Common App activity section over the “various ways” people present their activities on resumes.

Of 689 Common Application member colleges and universities, at least 224 — or about one-third — have made specific provisions for or even require the submission of a resume.

Formatting is key
Make your resume easy to scan. Divide information into sections with clear headings, bulleted lists, and a consistent font. Use a system of organization that works for you.

Length of the resume
Organize the information in your resume into an easy-to-read document that is no longer than two pages. Usually, one page will also suffice. Although students who have been heavily involved in competitions, sporting events, or performances may need extra space.

Be honest and accurate
Colleges know how to spot inconsistencies in your application materials, and they won’t hesitate to call your counselor to verify information that doesn't seem right.

Categories to break up the information
It’s a good to start off with the 9th grade and make note of all activities, honors, memberships, and enrichment programs. Don’t leave off long summer or winter breaks especially if you did something other than sleep or text friends for two months.

“Next, begin to organize the information into major categories: education, academic 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,” writes Nancy Griesemer, highlighting the importance of résumés in the college application process.

It works well to tabulate the information in your resume under these salient categories:

  • Heading with your name, address, and e-mail
  • High school academic information with your graduation date, marks, class rank, and SAT/ACT scores
  • Academic awards, publications, honors, and other achievements
  • Leadreship roles. Start with with the strongest leadership role listed first. Briefly describe the activity, your role in it, your contribution to it, the school year you participated, the leadership positions you held
  • Community service. Describe the activity and how many weeks and hours per week you contributed.
  • Work experience. Describe your internship and your job profile, the name of the company or NGO, where the organization is based, and your designation.
  • Hobbies and special interests. Reflect on your special interests to give color to your resume.

Ultimitely, it is important to remember 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,” says Griesemer.

According to Katherine Ernst Mehta, CEO and Founder of Edvanta Consulting, in addition to a resume, you should also have a digital portfolio to document and share samples of your work.

A digital portfolio can take many forms: a personal blog or website, a source code repository, photo or visual arts albums, or music or video clips. A digital portfolio complements your resume by illustrating your work and interests, and giving better insight into who you are,” writes Katherine Ernst Mehta in

Mehta says that with both the resume and digital portfolio, less is more. “It’s far better to have fewer high-quality works, or list fewer positions to which you’ve devoted significant time, than to try to pad your resume or portfolio with dozens of works, or activities in which you’ve had very limited involvement,” writes Mehta. Colleges want to see what you’ve devoted the most time to, to better understand what you’re passionate about, and what you can contribute to their campus.



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