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  • Writer's pictureJason Flurry, CFP

Uncovering the one super ninja move that gives you an unfair advantage on your college application

Using this often overlooked secret can mean the difference in success and failure at the college of your dreams.

Have you ever heard of Dustin Johnson? Well, if you’re not a follower of golf, that’s understandable. Let me fill you in. Dustin is the leading scorer in professional golf at the moment and his skill and prowess on the links has earned him a cool $5.6 million in the first half of the year so far. Not bad, huh?

Now here’s another question. Do you know who Brandon Harkins is? Even golf fans may not know this name, but yes, he’s another pro golfer whose score averages are just 3% behind Dustin’s. That means he’s a pretty awesome golfer too, but let’s look at his earnings year to date. Brandon has only earned $703,600, or $4,896,400 less than the guy who’s only 3% better than him. And that’s just for half a year. Big difference, right? ABSOLUTELY!

But what does this have to do with college? Everything!

See, the difference between being very good and being the best is often very small – only 3% in my golf example. And when you’re applying to college and the field is just as competitive as the professional golf circuit is, you want to use everything you can to your advantage. The outcomes can be just as life changing as the differences in earnings these fellas are making too!

Gaining An Unfair Advantage One of the best ways to set yourself apart in the college application process is by having a winning resume. Resumes are not usually required, but they are a wonderful way to go above and beyond what the typical application requires to show that you’re the absolute best choice for them to make.

Quite often the format of the college’s application doesn’t allow the candidate to highlight all of his or her strong points. So a resume is basically a brief, at-a-glance brag sheet that you can use to draw attention to all of the accomplishments you feel are important to define who you are, but that didn't quite make it into your personal statement or activity list.

In addition to sending a resume to the colleges where you will be applying, your resume will come in handy when you go to ask for letters of recommendation, do interviews, and apply for scholarships too. Most people you’ll ask for recommendation will only know you based on the role they’ve seen you play at school, in the community, as an athlete, etc. having a resume showing them ALL of your accomplishments and interests creates a nice “wow factor” that will certainly enhance their desire to recommend you. And having your life’s highlight reel packaged and ready for interviewers to see will make a tremendous, positive impression they won’t soon forget.

How should the resume be structured?

Professional resumes will generally lead with work experience and discuss an individual's professional career. Colleges are more interested in you as a scholar than as a worker. As such, many of the typical rules for resume structure do not apply to college applicants.

In general, following this format will work for you:

o Heading: Make sure to include a heading on the top that states your name and any other important identifying information. A university may assign you a special applicant number that can be used in lieu of your social security number. If so, include it in your contact info in the footer on each page.

o Overview or Objective: Take approximately 2-3 short sentences to write a mini biography about yourself. If you speak more than one language, mention it. If you're the science fair champion four years running, mention it. If you have the highest GPA at your school, mention it or highlight your strongest features. Imagine yourself as a news reporter that needs to capture the readers' attention in only a few lines. Make the admissions officer want to read more about you. Naturally, anything you include in the overview should also be supported in one or more of the later sections.

o Education: After the heading, lead with educational information. The name of your high school and the month and year you’ll be graduating will go here. Follow that with your GPA and, if you know it, your class rank, which can either be stated by percentile (such as "top 5%") or by actual numerical rank (14 of 326). Any sort of academic distinction may be placed here as well, such as if you earned an International Baccalaureate full diploma or a special state distinction. List the number of Honors, AP Courses, and Dual Enrollment courses you will have completed by the time you graduate. Colleges want to see that you’ve challenged yourself in addition to getting good grades. And finally, list your ACT and/or SAT score here. Show both the composite score and the individual scores for each section. If you’ve taken SAT Subject tests, list them here in the same way too. Do not list your academic awards here, however, as those will come next.

o Awards: Don't limit yourself here. This section can be a simple laundry list (though you should explain any awards that do not have an obvious title) or may include more detailed descriptions depending on the amount of awards you have received. Feel free to overlap in this section with other sections (for example, you may mention the science fair in Special Projects, and then also mention that you got first place here), but avoid listing too many awards for the same event. Mentioning your placement in each of the three years you went to History Day is fine, but outlining each of your 67 Speech and Debate victories is too much. Remember that many accomplishments may fit in this category even if you never received a trophy, medal, or certificate.

o Activities: Any clubs, programs, community service organizations, sports, or other activities you were a part of during high school should go here. You should try to limit the list to only about 8 entries, so if you have more than that, choose only your most important 8. If you have less than 4, try to think of some organized event you participated in to include. Remember, it doesn’t have to necessarily be a school-sponsored program; activities through your church, community center, or of your own personal directive may be included too. Each activity should have a short, one sentence description using strong, active verbs. For example, rather than just saying "Band", say, "Marching Band First Trumpet 3 years, performing in 57 school games and in two regional competitions." We often title this section “Leadership Experience” or “Volunteer Experience.”

o Special Projects: Something that you did once or twice but that could not necessarily be considered an 'activity' may go here. Participation in a science fair, history day project, one-time volunteer effort, or other special events may be included. This category is not vital, so if you cannot think of any special project you participated in, you may omit this section. You should limit your list to 3-4 entries and provide a bit more detail about each than you would have in the Activities section (about 2-3 short sentences). If you have held a steady job during high school, feel free to add your position here with a few descriptive sentences. If so, you should also change this section's title to something like "Work Experience".

You don't have to limit yourself to just these sections. If you have a special, extraordinary experience that warrants its own section, feel free to include it. And, use the framework of other successful students’ resumes as a guide to help you word things and to prompt your memory for things you may have forgotten. Your resume will be unique to you, but feel free to borrow from others who have creative ideas to share. Just keep it clean, straightforward, and well-organized so it is inviting to read and effective as a valuable addition to your admission application.

How long can the resume be?

Don't listen to the old rule that a resume cannot be longer than a single page. Feel free to go up to 2 pages if you need the room. Keep in mind that a resume is more like an outline than an essay; it should not be dense with information, but rather be an easy-to-follow bulleted list. If you simply have too many activities and awards to keep yourself limited to one page, do not cut information out. Instead, expand onto a second page without worry (unless, of course, the application guidelines tell you to use only one page). Be sure to put your name and “Page 2” in the footer section of any additional pages in case they get separated later.

I’ll be back next time with more tips on how to write a winning resume. Email me at if you’d like a couple of samples to use as guidelines. Sometimes seeing everything laid out as a final draft can help you build your own framework for success.



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