high school resume

National champion in ballroom dance.  Raised money for and built a school in Cambodia.  Accomplished glassblower who work has been shown in art shows.  Worked as a physician’s assistant during international outreach trips with Operation Smile.  Published a popular cookbook for people with Celiac disease.  Synchronized ice skating team.

What do all these students have in common?  They were all what I would have called “rare birds” during my time in admissions – students who had an exceptional talent or ability in an extracurricular activity.  Their activity resumes stood out, clearly showing leadership, commitment, and passion for their interests.  For the most highly selective colleges, having a high school activities resume that stands out in a sea of talented applicants can make the difference between admission and the dreaded waitlist.

To be clear, not every student admitted to a highly selective school has something unusual on their resume.  Some are leaders in their school, some are heavily focused on one more conventional activity (like dance or robotics), and some are the all-around active kids who seem to be just strong members of their school community.  But for the true “rare bird” kids, the resume becomes even more important to make the specialness of what they do stand out beyond the strict character limits of the Common Application activities page. Here are a few tips for crafting that perfect high school activities resume:

  • Make it easy to read quickly!  As an admissions officer, I could maybe spend 20 minutes reading an application before making my decision.  With the transcript, test scores, letters and everything else, that left maybe 1-2 minutes to read and digest the resume.  I preferred students to use a grid format with the name of the activity, description, years involved, hours involved, and any awards/leadership positions listed across the top.
  • Concisely describe your role. Sometimes the hardest editing to do is quickly describe an activity that has become meaningful to you over several years. Use action words like “led,” “organized” or “coordinated” to describe your role (if appropriate) rather than passive words like “participated.”  Full sentences are not necessary; descriptions can be written in bullet points.
  • Group together similar activities.  Have you done a number of activities with a similar theme like service, athletics or music?  Put those activities next to each other on your resume so that your overall impact in that area can be seen.  For example, multiple service projects throughout the resume seems scattered, but grouped together could seem like a consistent commitment to serving others.
  • Bold awards or leadership positions.  By using font changes or bolding these important items, it will draw the reader’s eye to them – which is just what you want!
  • Resumes can be sent in through different methods, depending on the application.  Some colleges allow a resume to be attached to the Common Application supplement while others don’t.  If you feel your resume would add more info to your application and it can’t be attached to the application, ask your guidance counselor to send it in with your transcript, or mail a hard copy directly to the admissions office.
  • There are no right or wrong activities for college admissions  Students applying to college, even to the most highly selective colleges, do not need to have certain activities like sports or community service on their resume to be successfully admitted.  Admissions officers are looking for your genuine interests, whatever those may be.  Maybe those activities are within your school, or maybe those are activities you’ve found in your community or elsewhere.  But showing that you are a committed and involved student who would likely make an impact on the college campus is really what is most sought after.

Best of luck to you in crafting a stellar resume to make your application shine.

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Written by Mary Sue Youn
Mary Sue Youn is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Mary Sue was a senior admissions officer at Barnard College and Whittier College. Visit our website to learn more about Mary Sue Youn.