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Wrttien by: CAPD Associate Director Meredith Pepin
If you feel like you have nothing to put on your resume, don’t worry. After advising hundreds of students on these documents, I know you have more to offer than you think! I frequently meet first-year college students who believe they can’t include many of the things they did before college on a resume. You absolutely can—and you should—until those get outranked by all the other awesome things you’ll accumulate over the course of your college career. Even if you’re a freshly minted high school graduate, you have valuable skills and experiences employers want, and this guide can help you showcase them.
Read on to learn about what goes on your resume, how to format it, and what else you can do to ensure it makes you shine—and to see our college resume example.
What Goes on a College Resume
In setting up your resume, you should use a few core sections to help you easily lay out all the information a recruiter is looking for when they make quick decisions about whether or not to interview you. (And yes, recruiters do skim, reportedly spending an average of 7.4 seconds making their first pass on a resume, so you want to make a good impression fast).
It’s traditional to start with your basic contact information at the top of your document including your name, email, phone, and the city and state where you live. Use your full name (and maybe bump up the font a point or two because you’re a big deal!), and if you have a nickname you prefer, you can include it in parentheses.
Use your college email as it’s typically professional and establishes your educational brand. Now is also a good time to check that your phone’s voicemail greeting is up-to-date. In case a recruiter calls while you’re busy—or you don’t recognize the number and swipe it to voicemail—this greeting could be their first impression of you. Even recording something as simple as, “Hello, you’ve reached Christine. Please leave a message and I will return your call as soon as possible,” can help them feel confident they reached the right person and that you’re able to present yourself professionally.
Your physical location can be based either on your school’s address or your permanent home address. If you’re targeting opportunities in one location or the other, include the most local address so they know you’re familiar with the area (and likely won’t have a problem finding housing).
Pro tip: Save space by listing your email, phone, and location all on one line. If you have a LinkedIn profile, you can add that in your contact information section as well. The result might look like this:
For college students, education should be right below the contact information on your resume. This immediately orients your reader to the fact that you’re a current student and conveys important information, like what you’re studying. What you include in your education section can also demonstrate that you’re a good match for the opportunity you’re targeting, increasing your chances of a recruiter call.
The basics you should always include are:
- Your school’s name
- Your expected graduation date
- The type of degree you’re pursuing: For example, you might write “Bachelor of Arts” or “Associate’s Degree.”
- Any majors, minors, or concentrations: If you’re applying to opportunities in these areas, this will help an employer see you already have some knowledge and a motivation for working with them.
Depending on your personal strengths and what jobs you’re applying for, you might also want to include:
- Your GPA: But only if it’s strong. (It’s usually good to include 3.5 and above.) If you stumbled through some of the general requirements you had to take but nailed all the courses in your major, consider adding two GPAs—your cumulative GPA and your major GPA—to show you have stronger grades in your chosen discipline.
- Standardized test scores: If you’re applying to opportunities in quantitative fields, like finance or consulting, you might consider listing standardized test scores like the SAT or ACT.
- Relevant coursework: Selecting and highlighting three to five classes that match closely with the specific opportunity you’re applying to is a really fast way to tailor your resume and make you a more attractive match. For example, if you’re targeting an internship in computer science, you can list your “Introduction to Python” and “Introduction to Algorithms” classes.
- Other colleges or universities you’ve attended: If you’re a transfer student or you studied abroad at another university, adding these schools can signal that you have other strengths, such as cultural awareness or language skills, or give you a chance to highlight key classes you took elsewhere.
- Your high school: If you’re shooting for an opportunity local to your high school or went somewhere well-known, then you may want to keep that as your last entry for educational experience. Otherwise, high school is the first entry to cut when you’re short on space. It has gotten you to where you need to be, but the focus should now be on the higher-level degree you’re working on and you should dedicate as much space as you need to boast about all of your amazing college accomplishments!
Here is an example of what a completed “Education” section might look like:
Candidate for Bachelor of Arts degree, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN
Double Major: Political Science and Economics ∙ Expected Graduation: May 2023 ∙ GPA: 3.7
Relevant Coursework: Introduction to Political Theory, Politics and Human Rights, Global Interdependence
The experience section is where the real substance of your resume lives. This is the chance to show a snapshot of the jobs and internships you’ve had (if any), the work you did, the skills you used, and your accomplishments. Let’s talk about what experience you can include, how to pull out skills and demonstrate your value, and what it should look like on the page.
Experience can cover a lot of things. It can be full-time jobs, part-time jobs, internships, or research. Unpaid work—like volunteer and community roles—counts too! Don’t discount the value these other kinds of experiences can add to your resume just because you didn’t earn money. You can leverage all of your experiences on a resume by pulling out transferable skills, or broader talents you’ve developed that will be beneficial even if you aren’t applying to the same type of role.
Take a significant class project, for example. That can be built out as experience as long as you’re clear it was for a class. If you worked on a group project, you probably collaborated on a team, organized, worked under deadlines, completed some independent tasks, presented your work to others, and had some kind of outcome. Even if you were doing something that might not seem widely applicable, like designing a rocket, many of those skills can transfer over to another role. Say you had to do cost comparisons for the materials you selected for your rocket, those same analysis skills could be useful to a business role or for a part-time job where you have to order supplies for a restaurant.
You can also create targeted headers for your Experience section(s) if there are themes that correlate with the internship or part-time job you want. Specific headers—such as “Research Experience,” “Marketing Experience,” or “Software Engineering Experience”—can immediately help your reader see that you’re aligned with the needs they have for their open role.
If you don’t have something that specific, it’s OK. You can still shift your experiences into categories like “Relevant Experience” and “Additional Experience.” For example, if you’re applying to research roles, you’d want to put any research related work under “Relevant Experience,” and your cashier job and website building side hustle would go under “Additional Experience.” These two headers are great for allowing you to bump the best of your experiences up toward the top of your resume.
Once you decide which headers to use, make sure each entry includes basic information—the title of your role, the organization’s name, the location, and the dates you worked there—along with bullet points describing what you accomplished. For example:
Intern, Minnesota State Senate, St. Paul, MN
June 2019–August 2019
- Researched prior legislation and current bills, summarized content, and identified alternate actions
- Coordinated the schedule for Senator Harriet Maxwell and kept accurate minutes for all meetings
- Drafted memos for important interoffice updates outside of normal meeting schedule
A skills section is a great way to make your most valuable knowledge and expertise stand out—and be easily spotted by a recruiter. Which skills belong in your own skill section depend on the jobs you’re applying for, so be sure to read the job description carefully to figure out what skills are most relevant for each particular role.
Skills that might appear in this section include (but are definitely not limited to): technical skills; software or other tools you know well; languages you can speak, read, or write; other job-specific skills like using a POS system or cash register; and, for some jobs, even your ability to drive different vehicles.
Once you’ve decided which skills are most important for this role, you can simply list them on your resume. If you have a few different types of skills, you can separate them into categories. For instance:
Languages: Spanish (Fluent); Russian (Basic)
Note that just listing your skills in a separate section isn’t always enough. You also want to make sure to describe how you’ve used key technical and job skills elsewhere on your resume (usually in the bullet points of your experience section).
Other Optional Sections
There are some other sections you can consider adding depending on your experiences and what your target employer might be looking for. For example, a consumer product firm might be looking for examples of design work. In that case you could add a section called “Design Projects,” which might include significant assignments from some of your academic classes or independent projects that you’ve developed in your spare time. Don’t be afraid to include links to your work if you’re submitting your resume online! (Just avoid hyperlinking out from important words, as this could trip up the online systems that scan most resumes.)
Another popular section is “Leadership Experience” where roles like being the vice president for one of your student organizations or being a co-captain for your athletic team would be a good fit. Employers love to see leadership themes on resumes, as it demonstrates the transferable soft skills they’re looking for like communication, collaboration, and initiative.
An “Activities” section can also demonstrate skills. If you dedicate time to learning more about consulting cases with your consulting club, you likely increased your analytical skills in a team setting, which is valuable for many business roles. If you’re an athlete, you can showcase your ability to manage your time, create or be part of a cohesive team, or organize and motivate teammates during practices. These skills gained as an athlete can be ideal if you’re applying for a heavily collaborative role. Additionally, if the activities that you’re involved in are directly applicable to the job, these are powerful to include as it demonstrates interest and dedication. So if you’re majoring in healthcare administration, adding that you’re a member of the Healthcare Society on your campus can be a major plus for an employer.
Any optional sections like these will usually need to be set up similar to your experience entries. Include the organization (or class), your role, the location, the dates you participated, and your key achievements. Here is an example of an entry you might put under a “Leadership” heading:
Head Delegate, Model United Nations, Northfield, MN
September 2019–April 2020
- Researched global topics such as human rights and sustainable energy and developed persuasive positions
- Represented Chile as a delegate in an education simulation at a conference with 2,000+ participants; negotiated with others and collaborated on common goals to deliver resolutions on political issues
- Liaised between the delegation and the Secretariat, serving as a first point of contact and resolving issues
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