Once you have a draft of your résumé, your next step is to write brief descriptions for each activity or relevant experience. To do this effectively, you should use powerful language and emphasize your efforts and impact within each activity.
Emphasis on Impact
Admissions boards are looking for applicants whose interests have led them to go above and beyond their responsibilities. The spikes of interest that you display in your experience section should demonstrate the impact you have had in your various academic and extracurricular communities. When drafting your descriptions, consider the following questions:
What impact did I have?
- Remember, your impact could be quantitative or qualitative.
- Quantitative impacts are measured with numbers and will concretely demonstrate your impact. For example, “I raised money for the American Cancer Society” does not sound as impressive as “I spearheaded a campaign that raised $10,000 for the American Cancer Society, double what was raised in previous years.”
- Qualitative impacts describe success that isn’t measured by numbers, but is related to leadership, entrepreneurship, achieving challenging goals, and interpersonal skills.For example, “Led a team of 5 to first place finish in National Debate Championships.”
Did I achieve any recognition or honors for my involvement in this activity? If so, why?
- While you may include a separate honors section, you may also integrate any recognition you earned for each activity. For example, if you were named Employee of the Month at your after-school job, consider what characteristics helped you earn that title. If you undertook major projects in your community and received recognition, describe the project and the kind of an impact it has had on your community.
Language that Packs a Punch
Because your descriptions should be brief and to the point, you can follow this simple formula for packing as much information as possible into one sentence: I did X as measured by Y by doing Z. For example: “I increased readership of the newspaper by 30% through quality reporting and advertising.”
In addition to using this formula when applicable, you should also pay attention to your language use. Instead of focusing on your responsibilities, use language that demonstrates how you went above and beyond your tasks. Powerful language emphasizes your impact and sounds more impressive to a reader. For example, the verbs below sound stronger than weak language like “helped,” or “participated.”
Weak language, by comparison, is vague and does not highlight your accomplishments. For example, if you have already stated you that were student council treasurer, writing “Managed the group’s money” as a description does not tell the reader anything new. Instead of focusing on your basic responsibilities, use language that highlights your impact. This means being specific and using dynamic verbs like the ones listed above.
- Student council: Increased fundraising by 40% by implementing social media campaign
- Newspaper: Pitched and authored several front-page stories on subjects ranging from current events to school athletics
- Traveled to Paris on a research grant, conducted extensive archival research and published resulting article in peer-review journal
- Developed and spearheaded trial studies as a research assistant
Describing Your Academic Awards and Honors
As you’ve read in “Short and Sweet: Listing your Awards,” you should focus descriptions of honors on the selectivity and level of recognition of the award. Similarly to your activity section, you should focus on dynamic language and quantitative evidence to help convey the importance of your award. For example:
- Only student in department of 150 candidates to receive departmental honors for senior thesis.
- Selected as finalist in regional science fair with over 400 participants.
By using quantitative evidence here, you demonstrate the selectivity of your award and show readers that your achievement was not only personally rewarding, but also a testament to how you have distinguished yourself from your peers.
- Use quantifiable evidence whenever possible
- Focus on your impact rather than your basic responsibilities
- Carefully choose dynamic language that emphasizes the importance and impact of your role.
With strong, detailed descriptions of your activities, you will show readers that not only did you have relevant experience in your field, but also that you will be committed to achieving excellence in your future career.