Should Resumes Be Submitted With College Applications?

Tips from the experts
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If your student is a teenage prodigy who spent her spare time in high school interning at a cancer research laboratory and founding a charitable organization that distributes prescription glasses to children in Zimbabwe, then being asked to formulate a resume as part of her college application might sound like a perfectly natural proposition. It’s easy to summarize such prodigious achievements in resume form if your child happens to be a wunderkind with a list of accomplishments longer than most MacArthur Fellows. 

Yet, for most 17- or 18-year-olds who happen to be mere mortals, the task of writing a resume might feel rather intimidating. Worry not! Here is everything you need to know about college application resumes, beginning with the most important question.


Do My Student’s Prospective Colleges Accept/Require/Encourage Resumes? 

You’ll definitely want to make sure your child checks the admissions websites of every one of his prospective colleges, as policies run the gamut from “required” to “not allowed.” For example, Cornell University’s prestigious School of Hotel Administration requires applicants to submit a resume with their application. On the other end of the spectrum, the University of Virginia explicitly states: “We do not accept resumes, research papers or supplemental application items …” 

More in the middle, MIT, which uses its own application, warns that applicants “are welcome to submit a supplemental resume, but submitting a resume instead of filling out our activity list can hurt you (so don’t).” 


If Optional, Will a Resume Add Anything to Your Student’s Application Profile?

This is the essential question that applicants need to ask themselves when determining whether or not to submit supplemental information to a “resume-optional” institution. There are, after all, plenty of admissions officers who are annoyed by the inclusion of extraneous submissions from applicants. When you’re responsible for sifting through 111,266 applications at UCLA and a student has included a dozen writing samples and a seven-minute video about her passion for live action role-playing, annoyance may only be the tip of the emotional iceberg. 

To a slightly lesser extent, the inclusion of a student resume that restates everything verbatim already laid out in the activities section of the Common App will also cause consternation for busy admissions professionals.


Tips for Writing a Strong College Resume 

If it ends up that one or more of your student’s schools of interest require or recommend the submission of a resume, make sure he or she does the following:

1. Include sections for education, experience and honors. These three headings will serve him well in this venture — and they align pretty closely with the Common App format.

2. Pay attention to chronology, accuracy and clarity of descriptions. Your student should only include items that genuinely add something to her candidacy.

3. Take advantage of the extra space. If your student has captured a number of impressive national, state or local awards, and was unable to fit them in his Common App honors section, a resume presents a wonderful opportunity to tell the committee about these achievements in glorious detail.

4. Elaborate on work experiences in greater detail. This is particularly wise if her experiences relate to her field of study, or demonstrate leadership. The same goes for community service. 

If your student’s prospective colleges give him a black-and-white answer to the question of resume submission, simply follow the school’s directives. If one or more of his potential schools encourage enclosing a resume with his application, then go about creating one, remembering the tips outlined above.

If your student plans on applying to a number of competitive schools this fall, chances are a resume will come in handy at some point during the application process. Therefore, it may be good idea to knock this task out prior to the frenetic start of college application season.


Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at


Categories: College Planning