Building Your Resume

Jessica_LiBy now you’ve probably figured out that many colleges (especially public state universities and liberal arts colleges) ask for an ‘optional resume’ in addition to the Common Application. For those of you who’ve applied for summer internships, jobs, or selective academic enrichment programs, the task at hand is all too familiar – present your classroom and extracurricular experiences in a concise, systematic way to highlight your forte. Resume-writing can be both tedious and rewarding, after all, and condensing four years into a single page is a brain-racking exercise. But don’t fret! Quest Scholars can give you a lift!

Here are some tips:

Formatting is king. We always say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ yet writers often spend a considerable portion of their budget hiring graphic artists for a flashy, catchy design to momentarily detain a few potential buyers. Similarly, boosting the aesthetic value of your resume will leave a favorable impression on distant admission officers. A Google search would yield hundreds of visually-pleasing templates, but designing your own is a good way to showcase your personality. All resumes should be compartmentalized into basic information (including contact information), education, extracurricular activities, jobs, and honors/recognitions. Remember to triple check bullet point alignments, color scheme complementarity, and font changes. Lastly, it’s a good idea to convert your final sample to a PDF document in case the receiver uses a different version of Microsoft Word causes distortions.

Don’t be cryptic. Whether it’s coding in different computer languages or perfecting techniques in ballet, more times than not your field of expertise is not familiar territory to your readers. For example, consider the description “investigation into effects of (insert mysterious protein name here) on signal transduction pathway of MAPK” versus “study of cell cycle changes due to a foreign protein.” Obviously, the first is not only a tongue-twister, but a brain-baffler. And unfortunately, the human mind will not register details that it doesn’t comprehend. While it is important to be professional, enigmatic clauses are not conducive.

Specificity rules! With the growing competitiveness of college admissions, ‘buffing up’ resumes may seem like a common practice. I strongly discourage you from stretching the truth—not only does that engender ethical concerns but also discredits your application. However, a clever strategy to resume building is increasing specificity—the number of students you tutored, the amount of funds you raised, or the total service hours you dedicated to a club. Be succinct and vivid when describing your past engagements.

What is your resume trying to show? You should always ask yourself this before finalizing it. Granted, you will not have space to detail every bit of your works, so you must select with discretion. I suggest revisiting your application essays and reflecting on your passions. Centering your resume on one academic discipline or showcasing multiple facets of your intellect are both solid approaches, but you must design the image you want to create.

Not all colleges ask for resumes but it is helpful to bring a copy to your interviews. One last incentive: resume-writing is a useful life-long skill, and the admissions cycle definitely prepares you in this respect!

Jessica Li, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’18