Don't just apply to college… Position yourself.

Why Does a High School Student Need a Resume?

“Am I My Resume?” -Edward Kleban, A Chorus Line.

resumeWhy does an 11th or 12th Grader need to create a RESUME? After all, the high school guidance department already asks for a “brag sheet,” that usually includes a template for recording one’s activities and accomplishments. The Common Application and state university applications include forms for academic awards and extra-curricular activities. So why do I ask my college counseling clients to develop a resume as well? This post lays out my perspective on resumes for high school students.

filmguyfocus“Positioning” is a marketing term, but it is not about phony packaging; it is about honest, clear communication of an applicant’s unique strengths that are well matched to a college’s needs. Every element of a student’s college application should work hard to authentically communicate those key strengths.

A resume is a proactive communication piece, through which the applicant can “own the narrative” and organize one’s activities and accomplishments based on common themes. This approach is more effective in getting across one’s unique competencies than just offering a laundry list of activities on a form. When you apply for a job, you don’t just fill out an employment application; you provide a resume as well, so you can say what you want to say, in the way you want to say it.

There are at least five separate purposes for which a high school resume should be developed:

counselaframgirl1. Guidance department input. If the guidance counselor asks for a “brag sheet,” even with an activities form, the student can include a resume in the package as well. The resume will help the guidance counselor understand more clearly what the student is all about, and may even pick up on some of the communication themes to use as “ammunition” in the counselor recommendation. The national student-to-counselor ratio is 459 to 1, according to the National Association for College Admissions Counselors (NACAC). In a large public high school, where the guidance counselor cannot realistically get to know each student, your teen can stand out from the crowd by offering the clearest possible communication of his or her distinctive strengths.

Young Cheerful Indian Mathematics Teacher in a Classroom interacting with the class

2. Teacher recommendation input. The teacher recommender’s role is to describe direct experience with the student, but a resume suggests a “big picture” perspective of what the student is all about. It can jog the teacher’s memory about the student’s strengths that a teacher with many students might forget, or even communicate some areas of involvement beyond the classroom that the teacher did not even know about. The goal here is never to put words in a recommender’s mouth, but to offer helpful “ammunition” in a way that makes a busy teacher’s task of writing recommendations easier. The teacher will appreciate the input, and most probably will incorporate some of the information into the recommendation. A resume can also be offered to a teacher recommender for an elite summer program or a high school honors program such as National Honor Society, as well as being attached to the applications for such endeavors.

3. Summer opportunities. The summer between junior and senior year is the ideal opportunity to explore areas of interest that the student is considering studying in college. For example, a student interested in medicine might seek a volunteer position at a hospital, first aid squad, or research lab. The student can develop a resume that offers a theme in science competence and medical interests in order to land one of these volunteer positions. Then, of course, the summer job can be added to the resume to further enhance the strength of the pre-medicine theme. Each year, by adding experiences, the theme becomes more robust and powerful.

interviewgirl4. College Interviews. Many colleges conduct admissions or alumni interviews. The interview policy varies by institution. Some “highly encourage” admissions interviews (e.g., Carnegie MellonUniversity of RochesterWake ForestHamilton), while some encourage interviews with alumni  (e.g.,  BrownGeorgetownPrinceton).  Many universities (particularly state schools) do not offer interviews at all, except for honors programs, elite joint degree programs, and scholarships.

Some interviews are evaluative and some are merely informational, but are always a good idea (your student will learn more about the school and show demonstrated interest, which is essential to admissions officers in many colleges). Just as you as an adult jobseeker would never walk into an interview without a resume, nor should your student. Not only does it give the interviewer a focal point for discussion, but it also ensures that the resume will be placed in the student’s file (more communication in which the student “owns the narrative.”)

manshakehands5. Foundation for Future Resumes. Your adolescent will compose many resumes throughout college, graduate school and his or her career. This is the first of many. View this exercise as practice, as well as the recording of one’s experience as a high school student, which can later be collapsed down to less detail when the student gains more advanced professional experience in college and beyond. Learning to think about one’s background and experience with “resume logic” will serve your son or daughter well throughout his or her career. Moreover, my high school clients who have developed resumes are usually pleasantly surprised at how much they have done when they see it all laid out in an organized, themed fashion. A resume can be a source of pride and a boost to an adolescent’s self-esteem.