June 1, 2012

College Application Resume Dos and Don’ts

The resume is an important part of your application. It is kind of like a Cliff’s Note’s guide to your application—it lists all of your accomplishments and activities on a single page. The way in which you design, word, and organize your resume can dramatically impact its effectiveness. Since most of you have never made a resume before, I've decided to put together a list of major dos and don’ts to help you with the resume-making process.

DO pay attention to how it looks. A neat, organized, professional-looking resume will make you seem like you have these qualities. A sloppy, disorganized resume, on the other hand, makes you seem, well, sloppy and disorganized. If it is a hard copy, make sure you print it out on resume paper with black ink. Regardless of whether it is online or a hard copy, make sure there are reasonable margins and a readable font. Split it into headings (such as activities, work, awards and honors), and put each heading name in a bold font. For more on format, see What to Include in a College Application Résumé and College Admission Resume Advice.

DON’T be gimmicky. This means no video resumes, no perfumed resumes, no glittery resumes, you get the idea. Yes, in Legally Blonde, Elle Woods’ poolside video resume got her into Harvard Law. Unfortunately, in the real world, a video resume will, best case scenario, give the poor overworked admissions officers a chuckle and lower your chances of getting accepted, and worst case scenario, get leaked on YouTube and make you infamous. Stick to the basics—they are the standard for a reason.

DO use action words when you describe what you did in each job or activity. These words make you seem proactive and like you have leadership qualities. They also make it seem like you actually were doing something in your activities and that you're not just a token member. Some examples of action words you can use are: managed, edited, spearheaded, organized, and coached.

DON’T make the resume too long. The resume should ideally fit onto one page, or two if you absolutely need more room. Please, do yourself and the admissions officers a favor, and leave out your starring role as Queen Esther in the JCC Purim play when you were in third grade. Leave out your dodgeball trophies from sixth grade. A good rule of thumb is to only include things from ninth grade and beyond. Of course, there are occasional exceptions. If you founded a global charity in eighth grade that you spent your high school years leading, you can include that. In general, though, do not include pre-ninth grade accomplishments.

DO give specific examples. This will give admissions officers a clearer idea of what you did in the position, and it will show that you are a can-do person with concrete accomplishments. For example, if you served as the community service chair of your youth group, put in a bullet point about how you organized the dance-a-thon for cancer research and raised 2,000 dollars. The more specifics and concrete details, the better!

DON’T use full sentences or paragraphs in the resume to describe what each position meant to you. That's not what the resume is for; it's what the essays are for. The resume should tell what you have accomplished during your high school years. It should list awards, honors, activities, jobs, education and travel programs, and what each of these entailed. Any reflections or analysis should be saved for your essays.


  1. Also, one suggestion: DO pick a topic for your admissions essay based on something you are passionate about.

  2. Very helpful! Thank you

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