When going through the college application process, you may find some schools will request a resume. This requirement may confuse you as you may think of a resume as something only used by people looking for a job. And if you’re a high schooler with no work experience (and therefore no resume writing experience), you may find the task incredibly challenging.
You don’t need work experience to write a strong college application resume. If this is your first attempt at writing a resume, take heart. The basic process and principles of building a good resume are straightforward and similar to what you’ll find later in the working world. Follow the process we’ve outlined. You’ll be able to use them again when you need to write a new resume for a college internship, your first job out of school, and beyond.
To build your resume for a college application, follow these three steps:
Step 1: Brainstorm things you’re proud of
Use details about your high school academics, extracurriculars, or any other area of your life so far. Maybe you’re proud of having been on the debate team, ranking in the top 10% of your class, or teaching yourself HTML outside school. Below is a list of life areas to help you start brainstorming:
- Academics and Education (high school GPA, class rank, honors or awards)
- Community Service
- Foreign Language Proficiency
- Hobbies and Interests
- Personal Accomplishments (as one example, Florida State University invites applicants to give information on their resume about “family contributions such as caring for siblings or sick relatives”)
- SAT/ACT scores
- School Clubs and Societies
- Summer Coursework
- Technical or Computer Skills
- Travel or Study Abroad Experience
- Volunteer Experience
- Work Experience
Don’t be concerned if you only have information for a few of these areas. This list will help you cover areas that might be worth brainstorming for your college resume. Also, don’t worry at this stage whether the information you’re generating is well organized or even relevant to your college application — we’ll get to that in Step 2. For now, just jot everything down as it occurs to you. The only rule is that it must be things you’re generally proud of having done, achieved, or participated in.
As you complete this first stage, here are some pointers and parameters to keep in mind:
- Try restricting yourself to only brainstorming in “I” statements, as in “I earned an A in Calculus. I participated in spring track all four years of high school. I was a server at Domino’s last summer. I helped my restaurant place #3 in the region for customer service….” This writing method forces you to stay focused on what you’ve done and achieved rather than possibly going off on tangents about other people and events that wouldn’t fit in your final resume.
- Colleges and universities generally want students who are engaged, diligent, open-minded, and curious about the world. They also like to see a student can effectively balance schoolwork with their extracurriculars and other commitments. So when you’re brainstorming, try to view your experience through this lens and write down anything that speaks to your developing or showing these qualities.
- The college resume is a great way to capture information you otherwise couldn’t fit anywhere else in your application. Particularly if you’re filling out the online Common Application, you’ll run into strict character limits that may keep you from giving as much detail as you’d like about a particular school or life area. So try and use your resume brainstorming to fill what would otherwise be an information gap in your overall application.
Step 2: Filter out any irrelevant info
Once you’re done brainstorming, you should have compiled a list of (unorganized) details about yourself that you feel good about. Of course, this isn’t a resume, but it is the best possible foundation for one. Your next step is to go through and delete any details that don’t relate to your college application.
This may seem a little daunting at first, but you can make it simple by reviewing just one item at a time, always asking yourself the same yes-or-no question: “Does this overlap with the types of things I’d be doing as a student at this particular college?” If your answer is No or Probably Not, delete that detail (or at least move it to a different document for the time being — perhaps it’ll make the cut on your application for another college).
To help find the right answer for each item you review, take cues from what you know about the school. Refer to their website, brochures, notes from the campus tour, or any other information you’ve gathered that reminds you what the school is known for and what you’re most drawn to. For example, say you brainstormed a lot of details about your participation in high school track and the race times you achieved, but the college in question doesn’t have a track program (or it does, but you just aren’t planning on continuing at the college level). You can pare back your high school track experience on your resume to just the basics since it wouldn’t factor into your attending this college. On the other hand, if you’re proud of doing track because it helped you gain a strong sense of dedication and collaboration that aligns with the college’s stated values, this can be useful to point out on your resume.
In all cases, remember that your resume isn’t meant to be a comprehensive overview of you or your life experience. Instead, it’s meant to focus on only those aspects of your experience that will matter to a college admissions officer in determining whether you’d be a strong addition to their campus community. Try to view your brainstorming notes through that person’s eyes, and you’ll gain the best insight into what details you can safely leave off your college resume.
Step 3: Organize the details that remain
Group the remaining information into section categories (refer to the above list if that helps). Then you’re ready to plug them into a template and finalize your resume. A few pointers on this last stage of the process:
- If you took the brainstorming approach of writing in “I” statements, in many cases, you could simply remove the pronoun “I” and any articles (“a,” “an,” “the”) that appear later in the sentence, and that will give you the “tight writing” style expected on resumes.
- Put your resume sections in order of their relevance to your college application. Completing Step 2 above should help you quickly know which sections are generally most and least relevant. But know that in virtually all college applications, the most relevant part of your experience so far will be your high school education, so that should probably go first.
- For any broader statements you’ve written about your general strengths and qualities, plan on using those as the basis for a profile paragraph at the top of your resume. Including a summary is a great resume strategy for any career stage or transition since it lets you call the reader’s attention first and foremost to your top strengths and most relevant experiences.
After completing these three steps, you’ll have a compelling resume that showcases all — and only — the details that can help you get into college and thrive there. What’s more, it will give you a solid idea of how you can build an effective, focused resume for the many career opportunities to come.
Sample College Application Resume
- Sample Resume
123 Carpenter Street
Philadelphia, PA 12345
Diligent and engaged Student with strong academic performance in high school, including an A average for Mathematics. Enthusiastic collaborator with early leadership success across multiple school athletics and extracurricular activities. Naturally curious and eager to explore and understand new topics.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN HIGH SCHOOL, Philadelphia, PA
August 2017 to June 2021
3.7 GPA | Top 10% of graduating class | A average in all Mathematics classes, including AP Calculus
SAT scores: 760 math, 680 verbal (1440 combined)
School Athletics & Activities
Spring Track Team
Co-Captain – Senior year
- Voted into team leadership role; coordinated with the head coach to help organize meets and answer various questions from team members
- Served as a valued mentor and resource to underclassmen
Member – All four years
- Gained and demonstrated a strong sense of dedication and teamwork
- Contributed to team’s placing in the top 4 out of 18 high schools in the region for three consecutive years
Member – Junior and Senior year
- Collaborated closely on a 10-person team to form and organize compelling debate arguments
Host & Server, Domino’s Pizza, Philadelphia, PA
Summers 2018 and 2019
- Greeted visitors and took and served food orders in a fast-paced environment
- Proposed several changes to the order entry process for servers and delivery drivers, leading to greater efficiency and collaboration among the two groups
- Helped restaurant place #3 in the region for customer satisfaction in July and August 2019
Hobbies & Interests
Avid reader (6+ books per month)
Advanced proficiency in Spanish (A- average for classes taken in all four years of high school)
Microsoft Office (advanced Excel)