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Whether you’re putting together a resume as a required piece of your college application or contemplating sending one along as a supplement, there are a few things to keep in mind when you get started.

Do lead off with what’s most important to you, not what you think the colleges want to see. As an admissions officer, I wanted to see what took up the majority of your time. I never understood why students would begin with two or three activities with minimal engagement and then bury halfway down the list the activity they cared most about. Think about what takes up the majority of your time, think about what brings you the most joy (hopefully those two things are the same) and list that activity first.

Don’t include superfluous or one-off activities that meant little to you. That one hour volunteer project you did that one time in 9th grade? Leave it off. This doesn’t mean you can’t include commitments from 9th and 10th grades if they continue to be meaningful to you, but if it wasn’t something you stuck with for any significant amount of time, cut it from the list.

Don’t include anything from before high school. I know, I know, people are still talking about your rendition of Peter Pan from 6th grade, but colleges want to know what you’re up to now.  Your activities from 9th-12th grades gave me a better idea of how you might contribute on my campus tomorrow.

Do include a description. Give the admission officer a complete picture of your impact, but be concise, skip full sentences and, leave out any obvious components. If you’re the captain of the basketball team, instead of saying you go to practice, share how you lead drills, take new players to the side to work on their skills, and help the coach put together the training schedule.

Don’t use obscure acronyms. We admission officers have seen enough lists to know the usuals like NHS, DECA, GSA, and SADD. But if it’s an abbreviation only used in your area or one you and your friend made up when you founded that club, PLEASE spell it out!

Do use a grid format with 4-5 column headers across the top including: Name (of activity), Description, (of your involvement), Hours/Week & Years, (use grades like 10th and 11th instead of years like 2015/2016), and an optional column for Awards/Positions.

Don’t forget about your unofficial activities. I can’t tell you how often I’d hear a student say “I don’t do it through school, I shouldn’t list it, right?” Wrong! If it takes up a substantial amount of your time, the college wants to know about it! Taking care of your younger siblings, religious activities, and part-time jobs are just a few examples of activities mistakenly left off of resumes. Have a passion for creative writing? Sure, list your role on the Lit Mag at school, but also tell them about the blog you write with all of those followers, how many fan fictions you’ve had published, and that novel you’ve been secretly working on. Just remember—describe the involvement.

And last, but not least:

DO SPELL CHECK AND PROOF READ! I’ll never forget the student who listed her volunteer activity at the hospital as a candy striper with two p’s instead of one.

Common App Resources CTA

Written by Tova Tolman
Tova Tolman is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Tova worked in admissions at Fordham University, Montclair State University, and Barnard College.