Five ways to build a great high school résumé

College Admissions

You’ve heard it before,Community Service.jpg and you’ll hear it again—colleges like to see their applicants do more than just excel in academics. They like to see involvement in extracurriculars, participation in the community, an active volunteering streak…maybe even a combination of all three! It can get exhausting to try to get all of these bases covered, but it also can—and should—be fun! Try these five steps to make pumping up your résumé not only a productive endeavor, but also an enjoyable experience. 

1. Choose activities not because they look good but because you enjoy participating in them.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised to hear how many students put themselves through extracurricular horrors in the name of a beefy résumé. Don’t do it! If you hate writing, don’t participate in the student newspaper. If you can’t abide sports, don’t volunteer to be a team booster. If you loathe your extracurriculars, you won’t enjoy them and—even worse for résumé-building purposes—your participation in them will be paltry and any leadership positions will pass you by.
2. Don’t be afraid to try new or unconventional things.
Just because you haven’t tried something, it doesn’t mean you won’t like it. Harvey Mudd College knows this, which is why they created a MANDATORY computer coding class for all freshman. Prior to the class, women--who often admit to being intimidated by computer programming--only made up 10% of the computer science graduates at their school. Now, however, women constitute 55% of computer science graduates! Proof that people often miss out on prospective passions due to intimdation or fear.

If you’re having a hard time thinking of groups you’d like to join, go with something you’ve never done before, or something that might not immediately seem like the perfect fit for your personality or skills. Go to a few meetings, participate in a few events, and see if it clicks. If it does—you’ve found a new hobby! If it doesn’t, you’ve learned what you don’t want to do, and can try your luck with another group. Don’t worry—you’ll eventually find something, and it’ll be all that much enjoyable because you took the time to really find out what motivates and interests you.
3. Don’t overdo it!
While some students struggle to find a few extracurriculars that interest them, you might find yourself on the other side of the coin: having way too many extracurriculars on your plate. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself involved in the student newspaper, yearbook, choir, drama, chess club, math club, team booster…and that’s just on Tuesdays! While keeping yourself busy is a good thing, it’s never a good thing to be so busy that you can’t really devote that much to any of your activities...or to your schoolwork. If you’re a freshman, being in a ton of student groups while you figure out what you want to do is fine—but by sophomore year you should aim to cut your list down to two or three groups to which you can devote considerable time and effort. Colleges would rather see extended, consistent commitment to a few groups that superficial participation in many. In addition, don’t worry too much about appearing “well-rounded.” Students who have very specific interests that are demonstrated through their activities fare just as well as students who present a broad, varied range of pursuits. Focus on doing what you love rather than what you think colleges want to see on your résumé.
4. Be consistent.
Once you’ve found the groups you want to be in, be consistent in your participation. Attend meetings, volunteer for events, ask for greater responsibilities, head up committees. Not only will this keep you abreast of what is happening in the group, it will also help you build rapport with the rest of its members—which will, in turn, make it easier for you to secure leadership positions (and letters of recommendation) down the line.
5. Aim to lead!
This should be the eventual goal of your participation in any student group, at least as far as résumé-building goes. While colleges like to see consistent participation in your groups, they like to see evidence of leadership even more. Once you’ve been in a group for a year or more, start thinking about which positions you’d like to campaign for and obtain your junior and senior years. Don’t just be a part a group—help keep it going in the right direction!
While you should certainly enjoy your four years in high school, it's important to remember that your choices now will ultimately affect your future.  Join groups that interest you or pique your curiousity, rather than clubs that your best friend's brother's girlfriend said were fun or looked good on a college application. Colleges enjoy learning about applicants that embrace their indviduality and their passions, and there is no place better than high school to learn who you are and what you enjoy.
For more information on how to improve your college applications, check out our Admissions Consulting.
Photo: "Annual Community Service Project at DMNA", courtesy of New York National Guard