Top 12 Tips to Perfect your College Application Resume – Part 1

With most colleges now requiring a resume as part of the college application package, students will benefit greatly from learning how to craft a proper resume. And while many of the generic tips floating around the web can be useful, there are certain things a college application resume must include to be a winner. Because of the number of tips and the length of my commentary, I will be splitting these tips into two posts. Look for the continuation to come soon.

Why do colleges require a resume?

Sometimes the format of a typical college application does not allow the candidate to highlight his or her strong points. A resume is basically a brief, at-a-glance brag sheet that you can use to draw attention to all of the accomplishments you feel are important to define who you are, but that didn't quite make it into your personal statement.

How should the resume be structured?

Professional resumes will generally lead with work experience and discuss an individual's professional career. Colleges are not interested in you as a worker so much as they are interested in you as a scholar. As such, many of the typical rules for resume structure do not apply to college applicants. In general, following this format will work for you:

  • Heading:Make sure to include a heading on the top that states your name and any other important identifying information. Many colleges will identify you with your social security number, so putting this information in the heading is helpful. A university may also assign you a special applicant number that can be used in lieu of your social security number.
  • Overview: Take approximately 3 short sentences to write a mini biography about yourself. If you speak more than one language, mention it. If you're the science fair champion four years running, mention it. If you have the highest GPA at your school, mention it. Highlight your strongest features. Imagine yourself as a news reporter that needs to capture the readers' attention in only a few lines. Make the admissions officer want to read more about you. Naturally, anything you include in the overview should also appear in one of the later sections.
  • Education: After the heading, lead with educational information. The name of your high school and its address will go here. Follow that with your GPA and, if you know it, your class rank. Class rank can either be stated by percentile (such as "top 5%") or by actual numerical rank (14 of 326). Any sort of academic distinction may be placed here as well, such as if you earned an International Baccalaureate full diploma or a special state distinction. Do not list your academic awards here, however, as those will come later.
  • Activities: Any clubs, programs, community service organizations, sports, or other activities you were a part of during high school should go here. You should try to limit the list to only about 8 entries, so if you have more than that, choose only your most important 8. If you have less than 4, try to think of some organized event you participated in to include. Remember, it does not have to necessarily be a school-sponsored program; activities through your church, community center, or of your own personal drive (bands, etc.) may be included. Each activity should have a short, one sentence description using strong, active verbs. For example, rather than just saying "Band", say, "Marching Band First Trumpet 3 years, performing in 57 school games and in two regional competitions."
  • Special Projects: Something that you did once or twice but that could not necessarily be considered an 'activity' may go here. Participation in a science fair, history day project, one-time volunteer effort, or other special events may be included. This category is not vital, so if you cannot think of any special project you participated in, you may omit this section. You should limit your list to 3 entries and provide a bit more detail about each than you would have in the Activities section (about 2-3 short sentences). If you have held a steady job during high school, feel free to add your position here with a few descriptive sentences. You should also change this section's title to something like "Experiences".
  • Awards: Don't limit yourself here. This section can be a simple laundry list (though you should explain any awards that do not have an obvious title) or may include more detailed descriptions depending on the amount of awards you have received. Feel free to overlap in this section with other sections (for example, you may mention the science fair in Special Projects, and then also mention that you got first place here), but avoid listing too many awards for the same event. Mentioning your placement in each of the three years you went to History Day is fine, but outlining each of your 67 Speech and Debate victories is too much. Remember that many accomplishments may fit in this category even if you never received a trophy, medal, or certificate.

You don't have to limit yourself to just these sections. If you have a special, extraordinary experience that warrants its own section, feel free to include it. Look around on the Internet for other student resumes and see the kinds of things they include for some ideas for what you might want on your own resume.

How long can the resume be?

Don't listen to the old rule that a resume cannot be longer than a single page. Feel free to go up to 2 pages if you need the room.  Keep in mind that a resume is more like an outline than an essay; it should not be dense with information, but rather be an easy-to-follow bulleted list. If you simply have too many activities and awards to keep yourself limited to one page, do not cut information out. Instead, expand onto a second page without worry (unless, of course, the application guidelines tell you to use only one page).

Should I include stuff from before high school?

Generally no unless the activity continued into high school (such as playing in the middle school band and in the high school band). Colleges are generally not interested in your pre-high school experiences.

This concludes part 1 of the college application resume tips list. Check back for part 2 with even more tips!

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I don't think any of my college applications required resumes. Should I have sent one anyway?

- Erin, 04/12/08 at 12:44 pm

When I was applying for colleges, I don't remember having to send in a resume. However, in several of my courses, my professors required everyone to submit a personal resume for a grade. Whether or not it is needed to apply to a college, it would be beneficial for high schoolers to understand how to create a resume and how to use the proper formatting.

- Jenna, 04/17/08 at 11:50 am

Having recently applied to several Universities. I found that I got a better response from those Universities that were sent resumes, rather than those who received applications only.

- Marc Jenson, 04/25/08 at 1:38 pm

Absolutely fantastic post. With almost every college demanding resume before admissions these tips truly can be very handy while preparing one for the same. I feel the resume must be well-structured too and the order is also very significant. All the vital areas of your personality must be covered under 1 or maximum 2 page If needed. Thanks a lot!!!

- Selena, 06/28/08 at 2:03 am

Thanks for the tip! I've been increasingly paranoid that my resume is longer than a page. It's good to know that I don't have to be afraid to have detail.

- Kat, 07/27/08 at 4:52 pm

Good tips these. I'm surprised you suggest going against the rule of keeping your resume to 1 page, however we're not talking about job applications here.

The golden rules are to make sure that you spend 80% of your time perfecting the most important information - which is different depending on what you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a post college job, it's not really that interesting to read about how great you were at school at 14. In general your most recent experience is the most relevant.

Good stuff, cheers

- Dan, 08/01/08 at 4:34 am

I'm surprised there is so much talk about not having to d o a resume....I thought it was mandatory or at least very vital for college admissions.

- Tim, 08/05/08 at 12:38 pm

what are your thoughts about letters of recommendations? is it okay to send more than one?

- carol p., 09/08/08 at 1:04 pm

I googled "college resume templates" and got a lot of different ways to do a resume for college. What goes on the COVER PAGE? the actualy resume, should it look like this:
Sample Resume Format

Your Street Address
City, Country
Your telephone number

JOB OBJECTIVE (Optional) What's needed:

A short statement (no more than two lines) in clear, specific language
EDUCATION What's needed:
Name of certificate/degree received and year/month awarded
Name of school (location if not apparent from name)
Major scholarships/awards/honors received
Perentage of college expenses earned through summer or part time jobs

WORK EXPERIENCE What's needed:

Current job responsibilities in past tense
Past job responsibilities in past tense
Clauses, not complete sentences
Acronyms or abbreviations spelled out
Use different action verbs so non appears more than twice

[What's not needed: Employer phone number; Name of supervisor; The phrases "responsible for" or "duties included"; The headings "position", "job title" or "duties"; Capitalizing words unnecessarily; References to salary; Reasons for leaving pust job ]


Job, time frame, or context in which each occured
Numbers to quantify
Solid analysis of results
ACTIVITIES (Optional) What's needed:
Name of organization
Brief description of role you played
Dates of involvement
Accomplishments (with numbers to quantify)

SKILLS (Optional) What's needed:

One- or two-word description of skill and skill level
Correctly spelled names of software programs, hardware, or other equipment

INTERESTS What's needed:

Brief description of specific interests

? i am freaking out

- Cassie, 09/23/08 at 5:37 pm


When I applied for college (DePaul, WIU, EIU, UNO, NAU) they did not require a resume. What they did require, however, was honesty. Honesty is the best way to show these institutions who you really are. Tell them who you are, what you do and what you want to do. As for content in your resume, volunteer work is the best. It shows you do things out of good, not for money or for credit. If your school does require a resume keep it one page long and formatted in a way that is not overbearing to the eye. Long resumes do not get read.


- Susan, 10/22/08 at 11:48 am

Is there a Part 2?

- Melinda, 10/30/08 at 6:28 am

Adding your social security number to your resume is horrible advice. Do not give this information out unless absolutely necessary, and even then put up a little fight.

- that one guy, 01/24/09 at 8:04 pm

Always remember that colleges love to see volunteer work. In some ways, volunteer work is even more important than paying jobs. Also, don't just volunteer for the sake of volunteering; stick with an organization that you really believe in.

- Family Fairness, 03/26/09 at 11:54 am

Is there a part 2 to this article?

- Erla, 02/14/11 at 2:00 pm

im now a high school sophomore and i had my all awards and certificates in middle school. such as delf diplomate for french speaking, i have entered so many Cambridge english level exams cat-pet , i had diplomates from The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and some certificates because of orchestra and an award of choir(i've earned it in 5th grade with a middle school choir) but i dont know if they would be good since i got them in middle school

- Alice, 05/07/11 at 5:45 am

btw, im foreign but i wanna go to usa for university

- Alice, 05/07/11 at 5:51 am

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