By Charlotte Klaar

Résumés aren’t always required with applications to colleges, but when they are they represent an opportunity. Submitting an effective résumé enables you to present your best self by allowing you to emphasize your most noteworthy extracurricular accomplishments.

Students encounter problems with standard application formats. Primarily, knowing that extracurriculars are important, they object to the limited space available for activities. Extracurriculars are among the “soft” factors, along with essays, letters, and interviews, which you’ll use to build a case for admission to supplement your academic record, They are also one of the two places in which the student becomes a human being during the application process. The other is the essay. Application reviewers at colleges tell us that these areas help them put flesh and bones around a file that they received with only quantitative data in it.

As an example, the Common App has spaces for you to describe 10 different activities, but you must do so in no more than 50 characters each. For many applicants, this is insufficient space to describe an unorthodox organization or a leadership position. Two problems result:

  1. Forms don’t accommodate you if you want to describe your leadership progression in an organization, which is something that colleges value, and,
  2. Forms constrain you if you want to describe extracurricular activities that are uncommon. It doesn’t allow you to identify activities in your own words. It forces you to select from a pull-down menu.

Unfortunately, using a résumé to resolve form deficiencies is an option not available at all colleges. Colleges vary in their policies regarding résumés. Some colleges require a résumé and others won’t even accept one if submitted. Many colleges indicate that a résumé is optional, so, since nothing optional is ever really optional, you should submit one.

If you have an opportunity to submit a résumé, you should avoid shortcuts in its development. Don’t use a template from the web. They inhibit your ability to present your information in the manner that you see fit.

Although using as many words as you want in a free-form résumé is tempting, we advise that you keep it as short as possible. It need only draw the reader’s attention to those activities that you want to emphasize. These are the non-academic pursuits that will make you appealing as a potential addition to a college’s student body. Remember that your résumé is a selective representation of your activities, not a dumping ground for everything you’ve ever done. A good example of what not to put on your résumé is a description of every “Walk For …..” that you’ve done. Such activities show little passion for the particular cause. Gilding the lily is neither necessary nor advisable.

Students should avoid bragging, especially on their résumés. Among our culture’s social norms is the assumption that a person should be modest. If a person isn’t modest, it upsets expectations. Impression management, an art practiced by many successful people, is about subtly leading others to view you favorably. If an admissions officer thinks you’re trying too hard, they may be turned off by you, which is exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Your goal is to maximize your chances of being accepted by the colleges of your choice. Your résumé is one of the ways to make a positive impression on college admissions officers. Make the most of it!


Dr. Charlotte Klaar is Director of Klaar College Consulting, LLC and a trained facilitator for the Parenting with Love and Logic program. She has successfully counseled college-bound students for more than 26 years both in-person and virtually.