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Articles / Preparing for College / A Solid Résumé is Worth the Effort for More Reasons Than You Can Imagine

A Solid Résumé is Worth the Effort for More Reasons Than You Can Imagine

Written by Christina M. Burress | April 3, 2023
Photo by Sora Shimazaki

How To Craft a Résumé for a College Application

Building a strong personal résumé in your first years of high school is recommended by counselors, college & university admissions, and future employers. While some colleges just ask for an activities list, many college and scholarship applications require a résumé. While it’s pretty standard for first and second year high school students to have a blank, or nearly blank, résumé, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s never too early (or too late) to get started. Let’s take a look at the definition and components of a résumé, how to find meaningful activities to include, and why making one is a worthwhile exercise for more reasons that you’d imagine.

“Résumé” first came into usage in 1804 to mean "a summary” from the French résumé and "take up again" from the Latin resumere (etymology.com). For the purpose of this discussion, I invite you to think of your high school résumé as a combination of the two meanings: a summary of what you’ve taken up again and again. In other words, how does the résumé reflect your commitment toward mastery of certain skills (and interests) that you keep returning to?

A Snapshot of Your Life

Think of a résumé as a snapshot of your life. Imagine anyone who reads it would get a general sense of your interests, how you spend your time, and what you hope to pursue in the near future. There are lots of ways to organize a résumé, but here’s one format that works well for students.

  • Personal information: name, address, email, phone number, personal website.
  • Academics: name of school, address, projected graduation date, GPA (grade point average), class rank if applicable, test scores, listing of (AP) Advanced Placement or Honors classes.
  • Honors / Accomplishments: elected offices, awards, certificates, etc.
  • Additional Coursework outside of high school including independent research: name of school or program, address, short description.
  • Athletics or Clubs at school and outside: include year, level, position, and a short description.
  • Community Service: name of program, date, short description.
  • Independent Projects: title, date, short description.
  • Employment: job title, organization or company, dates, short description of job. Include internships and volunteer work here too.
  • Hobbies or other skills: languages, arts (music, visual arts, writing, movement), collections, reading, etc.

Finding Meaningful Activities

Great, you say, now that I have an outline on what to include, how do I find the clubs, community service, employment opportunities, or hobbies that will inspire me and help me grow as a person? Where do I start?

It’s good to start with yourself. That might sound odd, but we are often influenced by what others have in mind for us before we take the time to reflect on what we envision for ourselves. Be open to what emerges and dream big. I recommend pen and paper for this exercise so that you can look back on it and see the path from its inception.

Try these prompts to get you going:

  • List activities that you love to do in your free time like exploring, building, making, fixing, learning, teaching, reading, writing, problem solving, or any sport or physical activity.
  • List careers, jobs, or pursuits you are curious about. Don’t discount anything! It’s quite possible that the creative things you love to do in your free time are related to a future career.
  • List causes that are important to you. Local and national organizations working on environmental, social, religious, and political concerns welcome young volunteers and can even offer community service hours for certain projects and events. These organizations often offer summer internships or part-time jobs which can turn into a long term opportunity.
  • List things that you want to change or make better in your community. Maybe it’s time to organize your own group and collaborate with other community leaders.

Once you’ve reflected a bit, you’ll have more of a focus when seeking opportunities. Next, take advantage of all the resources at school and in the community.

  • Visit the counselor’s office and ask about club fairs, job fairs, and resources for extracurricular activities. Many student-run clubs happen on campus, but there are also district and county wide clubs that help students get experience in certain careers.
  • Visit recreation centers, libraries, and other gathering places to inquire about programs and upcoming events.
  • Ask other students at school what they are involved in and see if you can join them to check it out.

A Worthwhile Exercise: Chicken or the Egg?

Sure, many set out to build a solid résumé with the hopes of getting into their dream school, but there are other rewards to saying yes to more experiences.

  • Focus! If you take a good look, you might discover that the activities you choose are interrelated and help define a future path and purpose. Remember the definition I gave at the beginning? A résumé is a summary of what you’ve taken up again and again. Creating your résumé can help you uncover where your true interests lie.
  • Confidence! Trying new activities builds confidence and reveals where you want to spend your time and what really matters to you. When you say yes to joining groups, practicing strong communication, being accountable to yourself and others, and taking on leadership roles, you are saying yes to your future.
  • Whole Picture! Sharing your résumé with the teachers who are writing your letters of recommendation is the best way to ensure they have a whole picture of who you are in and outside of school.
  • Involvement! Some of the outcomes could be active in your community, secure a part-time job, intern at a company in an appealing field or volunteer for a few hours a week.
  • Make a Difference! Your involvement outside of school can make a difference to others, your town, and the world-at-large.

Summer will be here before you know it. Why not go through the exercise I laid out above and start looking out for activities you want to try? Sure, all your effort will make for a solid résumé, but equally as important, you’ll build self-esteem and get clearer on where you want to put your efforts as you pave your path to higher education and beyond.

Written by


Christina M. Burress

Christina M. Burress is a published poet and writer, educator, and facilitator on a mission to inspire writers to explore and reclaim their relationship with the natural world as a source for boundless creativity. She currently teaches at the University of California at San Diego Extended Studies' Creative Writing Certificate Program. 

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