How to Create a Resume for a College Application

Learn how to build a college application resume

Mother helping daughter fill out College Applications
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Writing a college application resume that's geared toward the school you want to attend can help you win over the admissions committee and earn you a spot in the "accepted" pile. Once you're in college, you can update and use the same resume to apply for internships and jobs for the next phase of your career. Like most resume writing, the most important (and difficult) part is getting started.

Elements of a Resume for a College Application

Your resume should give undergraduate admissions committees a brief rundown of your grades, past jobs, awards, leadership activities and presentation skills, and creative capabilities like music, art, writing, or interpersonal skills.

The purpose of the resume is to demonstrate that you have what it takes to succeed academically and socially at the college. To that end, the resume should usually include the following items to paint a complete picture of you: 

  • Heading: Include all your personal information, including your name, address, phone number, and email address. If you have a personal website that showcases achievements relevant to your career goals, you may want to include it in this section.
  • Academic profile: List your high school and the dates you attended on your resume for a college application. Include your specific class ranking or a general percentage ("graduated in the top 10% of the class") if you think it will strengthen your application. Also highlight any advanced coursework you've completed, such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.
  • SAT/ACT scores: List the highest score if you took the test more than once.
  • Co-curricular activities: Include any school-affiliated clubs, musical groups, or sports teams you took part in.
  • Extracurricular activities: Mention out-of-school groups or activities in which you participated (babysitting, for example). They, along with your co-curricular activities, will show that you have a diverse background and aren't one-dimensional.
  • Employment history: This can include part-time jobs at businesses as well as internships, research experiences, job shadowing, summer programs, and study abroad programs.
  • Skills: Include any languages you are fluent in, computer skills, software skills, and soft skills like leadership or communication to increase the odds that you will get accepted.
  • Volunteer experience: Having volunteer experience on a resume for a college application shows that you care about the world around you and are willing to work for the betterment of your community.
  • Recognition: List the achievements you are most proud of, including any honors or awards.
  • Hobbies and interests: Focus on hobbies that are indirectly related to your intended degree program (photography for a media program or travel for an international relations program, for example).

You don't have to include all the above items in your resume, but include any that would make you the most attractive candidate for the program.

Study up on Your Intended School

Most schools look for applicants who completed rigorous coursework, extracurricular activities, and volunteer work. But if you're applying to a specialized school, it may have unique requirements that you should include in your resume. For example, a performing arts conservatory may require applicants to have substantial prior artistic training.

In addition, while most schools don't ask you to declare your major in advance of admission, some large universities require prospective freshmen to declare the division of the school where they intend to obtain a degree. That particular division may have unique expectations of applicants that should be highlighted in a resume. For example, an engineering division may expect incoming freshmen to have completed physics or a certain number of years of general laboratory science.

The best way to determine what your school and intended degree program require is to review the website for undergraduate admissions, and, if applicable, the division of the school where you intend to obtain your degree. Including the recommended criteria mentioned there in your resume will prove to admissions committees that you're qualified.

Tips for Writing an Effective Resume for a College Application

When you're ready to write your resume, follow these tips to stand out in the admissions process:

  • Be concise and direct. Don't use flowery language. Remember: You're trying to impress the admissions committee with your credentials, not with your prose. Save that for the college essay.
  • Limit your resume to one page. After all, you don't have that much experience yet. If you absolutely must go to two pages, you should have enough content to cover a good portion of the second page.
  • Mention unique experiences. They will help set you apart from other candidates.
  • Don't embellish your background or accomplishments. Making up or exaggerating things on your resume can be damaging.
  • Use active rather than passive voice. Say that you "helped triple the number of customers for the lawn mowing business from 10 to 30" and not that "the number of customers was doubled," for example.
  • Emphasize specific achievements over general responsibilities. For example, rather than say you "tested water samples," say that you "researched, wrote, and presented laboratory findings of water quality using samples from Hovey Pond in Chelsea, Massachusetts."
  • Proofread the resume several times. This will help you catch spelling and grammar mistakes, which can cause your resume to be rejected no matter how accomplished you are. Try leaving the resume for a day before going back to proofread it. Likewise, scan the resume from bottom to top to catch any remaining errors or typos. You only get one chance to leave a great first impression.
  • Have one or more people look at your resume before you send it out. This will help you avoid glaring omissions or errors.

Provide anyone who has agreed to write a recommendation on your behalf with a copy of your resume so they are better prepared to discuss your background.

Resume Formatting Tips

Although the look of your resume is up to you, there are a few general organizational and appearance guidelines you should follow:

  • Arrange your educational and work experiences in descending order. You should begin with your most recent experience and work your way back in time as you move down the page.
  • Use bullet points so that your resume looks clean and can be scanned easily. Begin each bullet with an action verb, and don't repeat verbs. If you use "Studied" in one bullet point, find another word for your next bullet point.
  • Employ a consistent style. For example, if you use abbreviations, commas in lists of items, or title case capitalization for section headings, stick with the same format throughout your college application resume. The same applies to dates and the use of bold font and italics. Keep the spacing and the font style the same between sections.

College Application Resume Template Examples

Use this resume section as an example of how to write and format your own accomplishments. The Balance also provides several resume templates you can use to condense your achievements into an easy-to-read format.

Education:

  • GPA: 3.85/4.0
  • Graduated third in a class of 425 students
  • Attended Harvard University ‘s Summer Pre-Law Program

Experiences:

  • Co-Curricular Activities:
  • Treasurer, Student Government Association, Grades 9-12
  • Captain, Soccer Team, St. George’s High School, Laramie, WY, Fall 20XX– Spring 20XX
  • Volunteering:
  • Fundraiser, Make A Wish Foundation, 20XX
  • Volunteer, Domestic Violence Shelter, 20XX

The Bottom Line

Your resume for a college application should be a brief snapshot of you at this point in your life—ideally no more than one page long. Make it memorable but also easy to scan and understand to put your best foot forward.

Finally, be yourself—don't exaggerate or make information up. But do include all the experiences and accomplishments needed for the admissions committee members to form an accurate impression of you so that they can accept you without hesitation.