In “Perfect Form,” we discussed the importance of submitting a clear, polished résumé. Once you have an easily readable format for your résumé, your next step is to strategically structure its content. Since readers will only be able to spend a few minutes with your résumé, you should follow the conventional formula that readers will expect and make sure that each item you include is relevant, specific, and focused on your impact and achievements.
Section 1: Education
Begin with the Education section, following the formatting guidelines in “Perfect Form” [link]. Your education section can be brief, but if you have top-performing test scores and a solid GPA (3.0 or above), you should include them. Your readers will already have this information from your transcript and official SAT and AP scores, but it never hurts to emphasize impressive achievements. Here is an example of what your education section should look like:
Central Valley High School, Williston, VT
Diploma expected June 2015
SAT Math: 720, Verbal: 700, Essay: 11
Note: If you transferred high schools, include the names of both schools, and add in italics the dates you attended each school. Otherwise, you do not need to include the dates you attended one high school.
Section 2: Experience and Activities
The Experience section of your résumé is by far the most important. Here you have the opportunity to show your readers how you spent your time outside of school, and the positive impact you achieved in your academic or local communities. Depending on your experiences, this section could be divided into two or three categories: for example, “Work Experience,” “Extracurricular Activities,” and “Athletics.” Only divide your experiences into sections if you have more than two relevant experiences per section. If not, one section should suffice.
Prioritizing your activities
Regardless of how you decide to divide your activities, these general guidelines will always apply:
- Order your activities chronologically, beginning with the most recent. If you are currently involved in several activities, include the most impressive one first. For example, if you’re editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and also your student council’s treasurer, put editor-in-chief first since it is a more impressive leadership role. Then, list activities you have been involved with in the past. (Read “Playing the Game: Making the Most of the Activities Section” to decide which activities you should include).
- Your bullet point descriptions of each activity should focus on your impact. If you had extensive responsibilities that a reader might not guess by your title, you could briefly describe them, but you should focus primarily on showing readers that you went above and beyond in your activities.
- Only include activities where you have enough content to write at least 3 and at most 5 bullet points. These bullet points should highlight your impact, specific role, and the effort you put into each activity. The example below demonstrates the candidate’s impact in the activity, while also painting a picture of the responsibilities and roles the activity entailed.
JOE’S DAILY HERALD
- Increased readership by 20% through local advertising and social media outreach
- Facilitated weekly editorial meetings with a staff of 15, including assigning stories and pitching ideas
- Responsible for copy-editing ~30 articles per issue, overseeing layout, and proofing galleys
Section 3: Awards and Honors
This is an optional section that you should only include if you won any awards or honors that are not already apparent on your transcript (i.e. Honor Roll). See “Short and Sweet: Listing Your Awards” to learn which honors and awards you should include, and how to effectively describe them in your bullet points.
Some candidates may want to include optional sections, such as “interests,” “languages,” and “skills.” Only include these sections if you have room, and if you feel they will showcase your unique passions. Most students are required to learn a foreign language in high school, so your intermediate French might not attract much attention, but if you speak three languages fluently, or taught yourself American Sign Language, a reader may be more interested. The same applies to the “skills” section. Colleges will assume you have a basic understanding of social media and Microsoft Office, but have you been building websites since middle school? Having a rare skill that is harder to master can be a bonus.
Consider your résumé as a self-portrait you can personally tailor and perfect. By using a clear format, and strategically selecting and describing the achievements that make you unique, you have control over how a reader will perceive your impact and interests. A clean résumé structure and well-written descriptions of your activities will contribute positively to a reader’s impression of your professionalism and achievements.