October 7, 2013

College Admission Resume Advice

or...How to Make Your College Admission Resume Stand Out With Well-Crafted Descriptions

The college admission resume may be short (just one or two pages!) but it tells admissions officers a lot of valuable information about you. It may seem like it is something cut and dry—either you did a lot of activities and won a lot of awards, or you did not.

However, in reality, it's not so black and white. Someone with a medium level of involvement in activities with a very well-written resume may appear more impressive than someone who is super-involved but has a mediocre resume.

(Of course, the best case scenario is to be very involved and have an amazingly-written resume.)

Here are three tips to make your college admission resume snap, crackle, and pop. I have also included an example of a good write-up and a bad write-up of the same activity, so you can see the difference that the wording can make!

1. Play up, not down.

In the real world, modesty may be a virtue, but not in the world of college admission resumes. Many students fall into the self-defeating trap of reporting just the basics of what they did, instead of playing up their accomplishments. Let me make something clear: I am not saying you should lie or embellish. Besides obviously being unethical, if caught, you might not end up going to college at all. I am saying that you should explicitly mention accomplishments that could impress. For example, if you were student council secretary, and you chaired three committees, you should mention it, even if everyone else on student council chaired five committees!

2. Word the descriptions for maximum effectiveness.

Under each activity, you will have one or several bullet points describing what exactly you did. Many students are confused about how to format these. You should not use long, complete sentences, nor should you use short phrases that do not go into specifics. Instead, start each bullet point with an action word, and follow it by specifics about what you did.

3. Be selective about what you include.

In an ideal world, your resume could be the length of the phone book, with long descriptions of every activity. Unfortunately, in the real world, the admissions officers read thousands of these, and they have to be limited to a page or two. Thus, you have two options. You can write it in .5 point font, in which case admissions officers, particularly the aging ones with weak eyes, will not even skim it. Otherwise, you will be forced to pick and choose what to include in the descriptions of the activities. Make sure to include anything that shows leadership, creativity, or any other quality you want to stress. If you are lacking room, you can leave out mundane activities.

Now, it’s time for examples.

Effective description:

Student Government Association, Grades 10-12, 10 hours/week

Position held: Secretary

· Managed all student council documents, correspondences, and meeting minutes

· Spear-headed public relations campaigns for activities organized by student council

· Organized Shadybrook High Dance Marathon, which raised $7,000 for cancer research

· Served as head of the Homecoming, Super Saturday, and Spirit Day committees

This is an effective description because it emphasizes the accomplishments of the applicant while being honest. It leaves out the more mundane and less important aspects of the position, while giving the reader a good idea of what the position actually entailed. It includes impressive specifics, and conveys leadership qualities. The wording is clear, and gives all the important information without being too long-winded.

Ineffective description:

Student Government Association, Grades 10-12, 10 hours/week

Position held: Secretary

· Student council meetings were very fun, and sometimes trying! There were many spirited debates about Spirit Week colors. I attended these meetings every Tuesday afternoon from tenth to twelfth grade!

· Posted flyers about dances, bake sales, etc.

· Meeting notes

· Dance Marathon

This position is unclear and unimpressive. It simultaneously gives too much and too little information. It includes complete sentences with unimportant details about the meetings, which is frankly too much information. Even worse than the irrelevant sentences are the short, unspecific phrases, which tell the admissions officer little about what was actually done. It plays down what the applicant did rather than playing it up. This makes the applicant seem less impressive than she actually is. Lucky for you, you will not make these mistakes on your resume now!


  1. Including a personal statement with your college application can make the difference between getting accepted or getting denied. It's an exercise that's worth the time and effort you put into it. Don't make the mistake of thinking that your GPA and extracurricular activities speak for themselves. Make sure your application shines and sparkles by writing an effective personal statement.

  2. I definitely agree. One of the things a lot of colleges are looking for is a hint of your personality and work ethic, so they know "WHO" they are acccepting into their college, and not "WHAT".

  3. Just helped my son with a number of applications. With all the "online" apps now, it is pretty rare that you get the opportunity to describe you activities as per 2 and 3 about. You are limited by the number of fields and allowable characters enterable. Many forms are drop down lists, not free form text boxes.

  4. Do you guys know that once one completes 2 years of community college one can transfer to a four year institution for 2 more years right? I don't personally see the difference, it still going to be 4 years for the barchelors degree either way. And in some cases, the classes in community colleges are as hard as any other.