While the Common Application provides space to write about your accomplishments and experience, some university-specific applications may ask you to upload a résumé. Having a solid résumé before entering college is an enormous benefit, and will also help as you apply for summer jobs and internships. A professional and eye-catching résumé will attract the attention of admissions boards, and highlight your achievements and experience. Prompt’s Writing Center can help you turn a blank document into a polished résumé that will attract attention and showcase your achievements.
What do readers look for in a résumé?
- The first thing readers will notice is the résumé’s format
- Is it clearly presented, or convoluted and padded with unnecessary information?
- Is there enough white space so readers can differentiate between sections?
- Does it prioritize relevant information that will catch a reader’s eye?
- Then, readers will look at your grades and test scores, which you should include if they are strong.
- Next, readers will skim your headlines and focus on your experience and activities.
- Readers will then go through your bullet points. Learn about how to write dynamic, impact-focused descriptions of your activities in Writing Powerful Descriptions.
- Finally, readers will look at any other additional sections, such as hobbies or skills.
Your first priority should be to achieve a streamlined, polished format. Readers will only spend a few minutes reading your résumé, so all of your information should be clearly presented, and relevant information should be prioritized.
Formatting Your Résumé
Since format is the first thing a reader will notice, you should consider downloading one of Prompt’s recommended formats. If you’re not working from a template, you can follow these guidelines to ensure that your résumé is easy to read and prioritizes the most important information, including your GPA, your achievements and accomplishments, and any activities that are especially relevant to your intended college major.
Nuts and Bolts
Remember, you want a clean and polished résumé; the format is not an area to get creative in or show your zany sense of humor through liberal use of clip art and Jokerman font. Keep your format simple to make your résumé easy to read.
- Choose a basic font like Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond, Arial, or Lucida Sans. Times New Roman and Arial are the most commonly used fonts.
- Your font size should be no smaller than 10-point font, and no larger than 12-point. Typically, 11 point font should be large enough for the résumé to be clearly read, but also allow you extra space.
Number of Pages
- Try to include all of your information on one page (at most, 1.5-2 pages). Admissions boards are reading thousands of résumés and need to read quickly, so your résumé should make efficient use of limited space.
- White space is your friend. It might be tempting to change the margins in order to cram more information on the page, but try to leave the margins standard. If you want just a little more space, you can adjust the margins to 3/4” for the top and bottom, and keep the standard 1” margin in the sides. Other options include ¾ inch or ½ inch on all sides or ½ inch top and bottom with ¾ inch sides. Ideally, you should set your margins before you begin writing the résumé as formatting can become frustrating if you have to change it later.
PDF versus Word
- Check the application guidelines to see if there is a preferred format for uploading your résumé, but use PDF if possible. Also, make sure to look at the PDF file before you submit it, in case of there being any formatting errors.
- Try to keep the number of bullet points under each section to between 2 and 6. Less than 2 bullet points will indicate that you may not have accomplished much, and more than 6 can become overbearing. At the end of each bullet point, do not use a period, but just end without any punctuation. Punctuation is not needed as bullets are generally not sentences, and the periods unnecessarily add extra marks to the page. Try to keep each bullet point to one line if possible, and do not go over two lines. Remember to include a 1 to 3-point space between the bullet points to improve readability.
Organizing Your Content
- Your name should be in a larger font size than the rest of the résumé. I would recommend somewhere between 24 point and 36 point. Your name should be bold, in all capital letters, and centered. The name and the contact information are the only items that are centered.
- Centered beneath your name should be your basic contact information. Your contact information should include your email, phone number, and current city. While many people include their mailing address, you could choose to skip it, and instead use the space to include a website or appropriate social media account.
- There are two main sections every résumé should include: Experience and Education. Your Education section should be brief, and include the name of your high school, expected date of graduation, and your GPA and test scores if they are competitive. Your Experience section can include after-school jobs and extracurricular activities.
- We will go into more detail about including and describing leadership roles in Playing the Game: Making the Most of the Activities Section, but if you held any title in an organization, it should be located under the name of the activity and should be italicized, but not bold.
- You should also include the time you spent doing any activity or job. As we discuss in Playing the Game: Making the Most of the Activities Section, colleges want to be able to gauge your participation in each activity. On the left hand side of the page, on the same line as the name of the activity, write the amount of time you held each position. For example, on the same line as Orchestra, write “September 2012-June 2015”
- A well-organized résumé will be the first thing that readers notice as they evaluate your candidacy. By paying close attention to detail and ensuring that your résumé is clear and readable, you will have an advantage over candidates with less professional presentation. Once you have a rough draft of your résumé in its format, you can begin editing the content to make sure that your descriptions are both dynamic and highlight your achievements and interests. Establishing a consistent and effective format will serve you later as well, as you advance in your career and return to tailor or edit your résumé.