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How to Write an Eye-Catching Activity Resume

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activity resume bookYou probably never knew that taking French could help you with anything other than learning the correct pronunciation of “macaron” and the crucial definition of “escargot.” Who knew it could also help you with your college applications? Whip out those dual-language dictionaries and look up the word “résumé.” The translation is pretty simple: a summary or recap. Many schools will ask you for an “activity resume,” and the Coalition and Common Application have separate sections specifically for activities and extracurriculars, so it’s really easy to overthink this piece of the application. If you’ve never written a resume before, getting started can be incredibly daunting, but remember: it’s just a straightforward summary of your education and experience. You can get creative in your application essay.

In fact, these two parts of the application – the essay and the activity resume – can often build on each other. So, if you’re wondering what you should do now that you’ve taken the SAT and your AP exams, the answer is start working on your activity resume! As you flesh out this list of your experiences and accomplishments, you’ll start to get a feel for the snapshot an admissions officer will see when scanning through your application. You’ll spark memories that could turn into essays, and you’ll begin to notice where your resume seems incomplete. After working on your resume, you might realize, “I have so much more to say about your Student Senate campaign!” or, “It’s really clear that I’m an excellent baseball player. Maybe I should write about something else to show that I’m well-rounded and different from the other baseball players applying to college this year.” But for now, we just want you to take a deep breath, remember that this is just a summary, and follow these five steps.

1. Pick a Clear and Consistent Format

Googling “resume examples” or “resume templates” will yield an array of results that are strikingly similar. A professional resume format might be spot-on for job applications, and it might even be perfect for your own extracurricular experiences (if, for example, you had jobs or internships in high school and didn’t participate in many clubs), but it’s not necessarily the most appropriate set-up for an activity resume. As you’ll see below, there are very specific ways that you should categorize and organize your work, which may not fit neatly into the standard professional format. So test out a few different options before you settle on one. Try a grid or timeline; check out what other applicants have done. The idea is to pick a structure that will clearly showcase your accomplishments and which will easily work for each section you create.

2. Create Sections Strategically

Yet another reason to deviate from the professional resume format: a typical resume tends to have two main sections, education and experience. Your resume will be easier to read, and paint a more dynamic picture, if you come up with more specific categories to describe your main activities and accomplishments. Some examples that we see fairly frequently include: school activities, athletics, arts, publications, summer programs, employment, and volunteering. You get the gist. Just remember not to get too granular. Any section you create should contain more than one or two lines. You may need to get creative in combining your sections. For example, we know a lot of folks who combine their employment and volunteering experience into a single section. You’ll figure a lot of this out by trial and error, and at the end of the day, you’ll have a resume with headings that already speak volumes about who you are as a student and person.

3.  Make Your Growth Clear

Chances are, if you’ve been in the chess club since freshman year, you’ve taken on some additional roles and responsibilities over the years. So, instead of simply saying, “Chess club, grades 9-11,” consider breaking it down: “Chess club, member, grades 9-10” and “Chess club, treasurer, grade 11.” You can do this for any activity: Did you become a starter on the soccer team during your sophomore year? Did you slowly move up the ranks in the school newspaper? As your roles and responsibilities change, you can create new lines on your resume to reflect your growth, commitment, and leadership over time.

4. Limit Descriptions to the Highlights

Another reason to create specific sections, and to offset your leadership roles, is that description space is at a premium. The Common App and Coalition provide strict character limits, and admissions officers don’t look to your resume for your life story (that’s what the essay is for). Contain your descriptions to 1-2 sentences that detail your primary responsibilities or accomplishments. For activities that are close to your heart, save the intimate details for an essay. You may not want to write about any of your activities in your personal statement, but many schools will ask you to submit a supplemental essay about an activity of your choice. So remember, this isn’t your only shot to expound on the importance of JV squash.

5. Don’t Undersell Yourself

In your lifetime, short as it may seem, you have accomplished a lot. When you limit yourself to the specific activities that have defined your school life, you overlook lots of other key experiences. So, when you begin the resume-writing process, throw in the kitchen sink. List out anything you have done that isn’t a class in school that has had an impact on you in the past 3-4 years of your life – any program, any job, any club. Group all of these activities into categories and begin to flesh out your roles and growth. Suddenly – ta da! – you have a robust resume that reflects many facets of your stellar personality. Of course, you don’t want to overdo it. Limit yourself to high school and be honest about your work and commitment. You can do this. Actually, you’ve already done it.

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