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5 Lessons I've Learned From Creating My College Resume

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Your college resume is a snapshot of your accomplishments and a great way to showcase your value. Using lessons I learned can help produce a winning resume that gets noticed.

My College Journey and Resume

A college resume is a snapshot of a person's accomplishments and an effective way to showcase one's unique value. While my college journey may be different from most, I learned a few key lessons when summarizing it that might help anyone interested in crafting a resume that will get the right kind of attention from the people that matter.

One: Toss Unnecessary Information

A lot happened in my life between my early beginnings at community college and my decision to take the leap to a university: I got married, started a business, had children, and volunteered at a series of nonprofit organizations in my community. In fact, so much happened, I wasn't sure which information to include and which was unnecessary, so I turned to an advisor for help. My counselor recommended keeping my experiences pertinent to my field of study; that meant I could safely leave off time spent at the humane society. However, because I was entering the field of education, my adventures in homeschooling my children and work as a volunteer teacher's aide could stay.

Trash

By comparison, a younger resume writer may want to include additional volunteer experiences, especially if the resume is light; however, it's still important to be selective. If you tried out a club for a few weeks and didn't stick with it, or quit your first two jobs after a shift or two, those brief experiences won't help and may even hurt you in the long run, so leave them off.

Two: Formatting is King

A clean, clear format makes your resume easy to scan, allowing admissions personnel to find the details they want quickly. There are many ways to organize your information, depending on your preferences. CollegeData.com lists the following as some of the most popular choices for arranging information on a college resume:

  • Reverse chronological order
  • Type (school, community, personal, etc.)
  • Skill level
  • Importance

Formatting

Once I chose a format, I had to decide which sections to include. I used guidelines similar to those offered by the Chatham School District in Pittsboro, North Carolina, to arrange the following information in my document:

  • Heading - Position your name, address, contact information, and current or most recent school at the top of the document, regardless of the format.
  • Academic information - Omit most details listed on your high school transcript, but items like standardized test scores and class ranking could be beneficial.
  • Extracurricular activities - Athletic, club, and leadership experience look great here, but make sure they're pertinent. (Gaming club or after school D&D events probably won't impress the reader.)
  • Advanced skills - If you can speak a second (or third) language, write code, cut video, or have other advanced skills, include this information.
  • Work experience - Having and keeping a job shows initiative, responsibility, and work ethic, all things college admissions departments love to see.

Of course, there are other fields that could be important to the college you're applying to; your admissions advisor can help you choose the right one and refine your approach. This is a useful skill to learn now because you'll have to do it again when you're ready to apply for work outside of college.

Three: Quality Is as Important as Quantity

When I was speaking to colleagues and teachers about references, it was tempting to take letters from the first to offer. After all, they had experience in my field of interest, so their recommendations looked good - right?

Quality Over Quantity

Not exactly.

After reviewing the quality of their letters (some were more eloquent than others) and the prestige attached to their fields, I realized that not all of them would serve me well. I never told my friends which letters I withheld, but being choosy helped me stand out and gave an added air of credibility to my application.

The same was true of my volunteer, educational, and professional training experiences; not all of them translated well to my college resume. I decided to leave off certain opportunities to highlight the skills I knew had a better chance of getting me into the program of my choosing.

Four: Honesty Matters

I worked hard to keep my resume clean, clear, and concise and provide factual information with evidence to back it up. I didn't want any questions about my qualifications when I applied for my undergraduate program.

Honesty Counts

A colleague wasn't as careful.

While I don't believe she intended to lie outright, she did exaggerate some of her qualifications to make her resume more appealing. Unfortunately for my colleague, the program director noticed, and not only was she rejected from the program, but also lost her job when her employer found out that her employment resume contained the same falsehoods.

Five: Keep it Current

Your resume allows prospective schools to see what you accomplished during your high school - or in my case, actual - career. It's important that the information you provide be up to date: volunteer work you did as a cub scout, or those elementary school cookie sale records, won't impress the admissions team.

Current Information

Rather than listing all of your awards and memberships, CollegeView recommends limiting them to high school honors, clubs, and extracurricular activities. In my case, high school was a few years back, so I needed a more reasonable guideline. I spoke to Carley Willis, my curriculum advisor at Clark College and asked her what I should do. Her suggestion made sense: ''If you're an adult applying to a program, the general rule is to keep your volunteer and career experience to ten years - possibly less. Anything more than that looks like filler and takes away from the document.'' My experience was more than a decade old, but it was recent enough to give the school a clear view of my current level of experience and what I could offer their program.

The End of My Journey

As it turned out, I didn't need the resume: my school didn't require one as part of the admissions process. However, it was an excellent exercise that prepared me for writing professional resumes later on, and as far as I'm concerned, anytime I learn something, it's time well spent.

By Patricia Willis
November 2017
teachers applying to university

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