If you are a teenage prodigy who spent your spare time in high school interning at a cancer research laboratory and founding a charitable organization which distributes prescription glasses in Zimbabwe, then being asked to formulate a resume as part of your college application might sound like a perfectly natural proposition. It’s quite easy to summarize your prodigious achievements in resume form if you happen to be a wunderkind with a list of accomplishments longer than most MacArthur Fellows.
Yet, for 17/18 year olds who happen to be mere mortals, the task of writing a resume might feel as absurdly impossible as being asked to perform an act of alchemy. Tasked with magically creating pure gold from a menacingly blank MS Word document, crazed thoughts begin to flood your mind: The only people agonizing over a resume should be middle-aged executives who were downsized after a hostile corporate takeover, whatever that is…I’m a senior in high school for crying out loud—I go to school and work the cash register at CVS in the summers. What more do you want from me!?
Try to take a deep breath as you emerge from your Mike-Judgean nightmare and back into reality. In the following article, we will explain everything you need to know about college application resumes, including:
- Determining whether your colleges forbid/require/encourage/or accept resumes
- Resumes for scholarship consideration
- Resumes for admissions into Honors Colleges
- If optional, is it still worth submitting a resume to prospective colleges?
- What should a college applicant’s resume include?
Let’s begin by looking at universities where admissions officers would rather poke their eyeballs out with a plastic spork than review an undergraduate applicant’s resume.
Colleges that do not accept resumes
Some schools fully recognize that you are, in many cases, not even yet a legal adult, let alone one whose career accomplishments would necessitate a resume. The University of Virginia explicitly states: “We do not accept resumes, research papers, or supplemental application items…” In 2018, Duke University adopted a similar ban on resume submission for undergraduate hopefuls. Yale is a smidgen less concrete, warning that, “generally speaking, applicants should not submit additional resumes.” The New Haven gatekeepers go on to elaborate that they have zero interest in hearing about more than your ten most recent/important activities already included elsewhere in the application. Tufts University is another elite institution that is a full-fledged member of Team No-Resumes. Before you submit a single resume with one of your applications, carefully read the admissions homepages of all of your prospective schools to make sure that they don’t have a comparably discouraging language.
Colleges that require resumes
On the other end of the spectrum, certain schools/programs such as Cornell University’s prestigious School of Hotel Administration require you to submit a resume with your application. The vaunted Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester has an identical requirement. Resumes will also be necessary for all pursuits within the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater & Dance. The University of Wisconsin-Madison only demands a curriculum vitae from prospective undergraduate business students. While many universities used to require the submission of resume for all incoming students, regardless of major, it is rare to come across such a mandate in 2019. Florida State University is one of the more prominent schools that still falls into this category.
Colleges that encourage resume submission
The College of New Jersey says that “applicants are encouraged to mail in an Activity Resume to detail involvement in clubs and organizations, employment, internships, volunteering, education, etc.” Business-oriented Bentley University applicants are instructed not to hesitate in sending a resume along with their application. Southern Methodist University strongly encourages homeschooled applicants to submit an activities resume, but does not place the same expectation on traditional applicants. Washington State University asks undergraduate applicants 25 years and older to strongly consider submitting a CV, but they do not have the same demand of the regular applicant pool.
Colleges that consider resumes
MIT, which uses its own application, warns that applicants “are welcome to submit a supplemental resume, but submitting a resume instead of filling out our activity list can hurt you (so don’t).” Interestingly, MIT’s application only leaves space for you to list four activities, six fewer than the Common App allows. Columbia University will consider resumes as well but encourages applicants “to convey the breadth and depth of your extra-curricular pursuits within the Activities section of your admission application.” Only in extreme cases is it necessary to include a separate document. Similarly, Penn will accept resumes but makes clear that, “All of the information that we feel is crucial in making an admission decision is contained within our required documents.”
Scholarship applications may require a resume
Many private scholarship applications will request or require the inclusion of a resume, so if you plan on applying to one or more such 3rd party contests, it will be necessary to create a resume, even if your prospective colleges do not ever desire to see it. However, before you dedicate too much time to applying for private scholarships, revisit our article on How to Find College Scholarships for a breakdown of where most scholarship money actually comes from and how you can position yourself to receive the most aid possible.
Honors College applications sometimes require resumes
Florida International University’s Wilkes Honors College states that “To strengthen your Wilkes Honors College application, we encourage you to submit a resume and academic research paper.” The College of Charleston’s Honors College flat-out requires a resume. The Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin goes even further, requiring an expanded resume and practically begs for detail warning applicants that, “This is NOT a place to be overly concise.” Clarkson University’s Honors Program also requires a CV but conversely limits the document to a one-page maximum.
Will a resume add anything to my application profile?
This is the essential question that applicants need to ask themselves when debating whether or not to submit this extra info to a “resume-optional” institution. There are, after all, plenty of admissions officers who get annoyed at the inclusion of extraneous submissions from an applicant. When you are responsible for sifting through the 111,266 applications at UCLA and a student has included a dozen writing samples and a seven-minute video about their passion for LARPing, annoyance may only be the tip of the emotional iceberg. To a (slightly) lesser extent, the inclusion of a student resume that restates everything verbatim already laid out in the activities section of the Common App will also cause consternation for super-busy admissions professionals.
A fair way to weigh whether an optional resume adds any value to your overall submission is to make a list of the impressive things about yourself not included anywhere else in your application. If that list ends up containing nothing of actual committee-swaying quality, consider shutting down the whole operation. If there are indeed brag-worthy achievements on your list that, for one reason or another, cannot be included in the regular application and are resume-appropriate, fire away.
How to write a resume for your college application
Okay, if you’ve made it to this point then you must be one of those uncommon applicants for whom a resume is either a) required/recommended; or b) will add something significant to your application. Here are some tips for writing a meaningful college applicant resume:
- Most basic resume formats include one’s Education, Experience, and Honors. These three headings will serve you well in this venture, and take note—they align pretty closely with the Common App format.
- Follow the same general advice that we provided in our piece on How to Complete the College Application Activities List. Pay attention to chronology, accuracy, clarity of descriptions, and remain dedicated to only including items that genuinely add something to your candidacy.
- The Common App activities and honors sections have notoriously strict character limits that can make some activities and distinctions frustratingly difficult to fully convey. If you have captured a number of impressive national, state, or local awards and were unable to fit them on your Common App honors section, then a resume presents a wonderful opportunity to tell the committee about these achievements in glorious detail.
- Also include your work experience in greater detail, particularly if it relates to your field of study or demonstrates leadership. Likewise with community service. While it’s better to assume progressively more responsibility in one or two volunteer organizations as you ascend through the grades, some students spread themselves around to a host of charitable causes, often through their place of worship. In this instance, a resume will actually be the best format in which to share your varied efforts with the committee.
Final thoughts on resumes and college admissions
If your prospective colleges give you a black-and-white answer to the question of resume submission, then simply follow their directives. If one or more of your potential schools does encourage enclosing a CV with your application, then go about creating one, remembering the tips outlined above. Chances are that a resume will come in handy at some point during the application process—whether one of the schools on your list requires/recommends/accepts them or if a scholarship or honors college opportunity is in the cards.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent education consultant. He is a co-author of the book The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).