How to build your resume while still in high school

Experiences outside the classroom can help you get into college or get a job

A strong academic record is critical when it comes to applying for college, but the strongest student “resumes” also incorporate experiences outside the classroom.

Zanna Blaney, dean of student services at Bedford High School, said the key for students is to look for opportunities in which they have a genuine interest.

“Do what you’re passionate about,” she said. “Don’t just join activities because they ‘look good.’ Join them because you care. Join because you enjoy it and it enriches your life.”

Jennifer Chapman, school counselor at Moultonborough Academy agreed and added, “Students need to follow their passions, not just join clubs to bolster their resume. It shows to a college if you have a long list of things you don’t do well compared to a list of overlapping interests and involvements.”

Blaney cited her own experience working in college admissions as proof that colleges are savvy when it comes to researching a student’s resume.

“I all too often saw resumes that were several pages long, which seemed impressive,” she said. “However, when I took a closer look I would see one-year commitments in many activities or just volunteering with a group on a single Saturday morning. This type of resume doesn’t paint a picture of a student looking to impact his or her community, but a student eager to impress.”

Also emphasizing quality over quantity, Andrea Badger, director of College and Career Advising at High Mowing School in Wilton, said the best kinds of out-of-classroom experiences yield profound benefits for students, too.

“Extracurriculars, work, and service opportunities are great ways for young people to find out more about themselves while also learning job or life skills, such as cooperation and conflict resolution,” she said. “They also help to build self-esteem.”

Chapman said diversification of experiences is their mantra to students at Moultonborough Academy.

 “Throughout the year, we encourage students to do job-shadows, take challenging classes, take online classes, earn college credits through the Running Start program, and stay involved in sports and other activities that make you an interesting person,” she said.

Chapman said there are a variety of summer programs that enable students to pursue career interests that are otherwise unavailable at school. She said that just having a steady part-time job can speak volumes to a college admissions department. “It shows colleges and employers that you have responsibility and can relate to people,” she said.

Blaney agreed and said, “Some students have to help pay the bills for their family or can’t afford to belong to expensive sports programs and are concerned that they don’t have a good resume—that’s wrong. If a student is dedicated to the same after-school job throughout high school, that’s impressive.”

Pamela Carr, assistant principal at Seacoast School of Technology in Exeter, said other resume-building activities include getting involved in student government, the school’s community service club, or the school newspaper and/or yearbook. She said additional opportunities may also be available at area churches, local recreation departments, Kiwanis Club or Rotary.

“Your objective should be to show colleges or employers how ready you are to start working towards your career goals,” she said. “Just make sure you pick activities that you are truly interested in, as you will excel in them because you want to be there. You will build relationships with people who can then serve as references for you in the future and gain experiences that will prepare you for success in the future.”

Find the balance

Regardless of how a student looks to build his or her resume for college, substantial thought should be put into it. While extracurricular experiences are increasingly important, Badger noted students should not neglect their grades.

“In the college application process, extracurricular activities matter, but grades are the most important factor,” she said.

Even with that said, Blaney said balance in this day and age is critical, as the college admissions process has become increasingly competitive. “Every year, Ivy League schools deny admission to valedictorians,” she said. “Often times, this can be because the student is just that — only a student…Of course, colleges need to be sure that a student is a good academic fit for their programs, but how the student will impact their campus community is also very important.”

In finding that balance, Blaney said she has seen some students spread themselves too thin trying to do too much. She said that in these cases both the student and the program ends up suffering.

“I love the athlete that is in the fall production, works on the weekends and wants to create a new club at school,” she said. “However, I caution that student that they still need to earn strong grades, be social and get some rest…Striking the balance of what works for each student needs to be individually considered.”

Rob Levey is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire.

Categories: Advice, Career Outlook