See that photo up above? That’s of my dog, Tilly, after I said the words “academic resume” to her. In fact, say the words “academic resume” to anyone, canine or otherwise, and watch just about everyone’s eyes glaze over with equal measures of boredom and despair.

BUT, it’s time for a big shot of espresso, because you know what? The academic resume can be part and parcel of the college admissions process. And all of us here want to get into college, yes? Yes!

So, how to put together this boring beast and still manage to make it, well, not boring? There are ways, dear readers. There are ways.

nuts and bolts of academic resumes


First, let’s go over some basics. An academic resume is made up of these main pieces:

  • contact info (name, address, phone number, email address, website)
  • educational background (GPA, test scores (weighted and unweighted), class rank (if impressive))
  • involvement/experiences (community service, volunteer experience, work experience, extracurriculars)
  • awards/honors
  • special skills (e.g. hobbies, passions, languages spoken, computer skills, etc.)

An academic resume should be 1-page in length. It should be typed in a clean, simple font like Times New Roman. You should make this easy for your reader to scan (and, yes, assume they’ll be scanning). So, embrace white space.


The most important way you can make your academic resume stand out is with the involvement/experiences and special skills sections, since the other parts are pretty limiting and self-explanatory. Incidentally, these will mostly comprise what you include in your activities list on the Common App.

So, start jotting down ways you are involved in your school and community and what skills you bring to the table. When you compose this list, keep in mind that schools are looking for depth instead of breadth. So if you only volunteered at a local hospital once before you realized you faint at the sight of blood? Don’t include that.

Also keep in mind that involvement in your school and/or community doesn’t have to mean that you were student body president or treasurer of your DECA chapter. You can write about anything that you’ve invested your time in to the betterment of something or someone else. That means you can write about how you:

  • have a blog
  • play piano at the local senior center
  • play shuffleboard at the local senior center
  • have an Etsy store selling doormats you design
  • established Go Fund Me projects
  • had 12,432 views on YouTube for how to change the oil in your car
  • fixed up a 1971 Nova with your grandfather
  • are involved in your church
  • read with kids who aren’t native English speakers
  • are in charge of getting your siblings ready for and to school every morning
  • helped install signs along a local hiking trail
  • organized a Christmas parade float
  • have knit 62 pairs of booties for newborn babies at the local hospital
  • organized a kite surfing charity event
  • organized a mountain biking charity event
  • formed a comedy troupe
  • are the lead singer in your garage band

For the sake of an example, let’s say you:

  • are good at English and history, not as strong in math. You have a 3.5 GPA and a 29 ACT score.
  • are first clarinet chair
  • painted the sets for the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at a small, local theatre company
  • are a cashier at Fazoli’s
  • love to travel
  • love to read
  • volunteer at the local animal shelter

jane goodall reference


Unless you’re an aspiring Jane Goodall or Bill Gates, the list you come up with may feel pretty standard. And guess what? That’s OK. Because you know why? You’ve only lived on this planet about 18 years so far. Admissions officers know that.


While they scan your resume, they will still be looking for information about you to latch onto. The key here is to rely on details and numbers to make your entry stand out. 

Let’s take a look at how to do that with the involvement section.

Let’s take your work experience at Fazoli’s, that beloved Italian fast food chain that always feels a little bit fancy because they come around to the tables handing out breadsticks.

Here is how you could frame that entry:

Cashier, Fazoli’s, 2019-present
• serve the public
• trained to work drive-thru during busy times
• trained others on detailed computer system

Or you could frame it like this:

Cashier, Fazoli’s 2019-present
• trained fellow Fazolians on XYZ computer system to provide seamless service
• worked drive-thru, executing 23 Pay-It-Forward requests
• handed out 12,641 bread sticks with Tuscan hospitality, as enjoy working with public

See how this is more interesting? It’s even a little bit fun, right? Let’s use a more serious example. You could frame your set design experience like this:

Set designer, Aurora Theatre Company, spring 2018
• helped build and paint sets
• executed set changes during production
• led practice sessions to make sure scene changes happened seamlessly

Or you could frame it like this:

Set designer, Aurora Theatre Company, spring 2018
• built and painted sets for the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
• executed 12 set changes over 2-hour production
• led weekly 3-hour practice sessions with a team of 16 members to ensure flawless set changes

See how details give the reader more information about your involvement? See how numbers not only lend scale to the work you invested, but also give the reader something interesting to read about?

Now. I wouldn’t go overboard in being funny or cheeky, but I don’t want you to feel like you’re cornered by “accepted” resume language, which is so overused that it’s become cliché. For example, the descriptions “punctual,” “enthusiastic,” “hard-working” and “quick learner” can go; everyone could describe themselves this way.

lighthouse love


Similar to the way you jazzed up your involvement section, I want you to consider your special skills section. So often, students feel they should reduce this down to what languages they can speak or what computer skills they have. While they should include this information (tip: include to what degree (fluent/beginner) you can speak a language or have command over computer coding), there is other information as well.

Let’s take your commitment to reading National Book Award winners. Rather than “avid reader,” you should say what kind of reader you are. For example, maybe this is true: “have read every National Book Award for fiction winner since 1992.”

Isn’t that more interesting?

Similarly, if you love traveling, you might list how many states you’ve visited or, if you are specifically interested in an activity while traveling, you list numbers on that. So, if you love visiting maritime museums and lighthouses, you list how many you’ve visited in how many countries/states. The same would apply if you like activities like paddling or biking while traveling. You could list how many miles you’ve paddled along how many waterways or how many miles you’ve biked in how many states/countries.


Now that we have the biggest (and most interesting) sections of your academic resume nailed down, let’s look at the rest.

Your contact info should be pretty straight-forward, although you could succumb to one pitfall: your email address. Guess who I don’t want to email? knackerednancy@gmail.com and borntobebad642@me.com. Make sure you have a professional email address you can use. And if you have your own website, be absolutely sure you mention it.

When it comes to your educational background, the College Essay Guy recommends including one line in which you list special classes you took that will help you in your future major. So, if you took alllllllll the tough math classes because you want to be a cryptanalyst, list them.

So your educational background section will look like this:
North Laurel High School
GPA: 3.5 (weighted)/3.8 (unweighted)
ACT: 29
Relevant coursework: Calculus 3 (multivariable calc.), trigonometry

Your awards/honors section should be pretty straightforward as well. But if you list an award that is only known locally, make sure you offer a brief description for what it was for. So if you won the William M. Marks scholarship, for example, make sure to add, “an honor given to the student who lettered in the most sports in high school.”


While you do want your academic resume to be dynamic and interesting, you want to make sure it is honest and authentic. No good things will come from embellishment, particularly if your resume earns you an interview at your dream school. You certainly don’t want to go into your interview and be asked to converse in Portuguese when, guess what?, you only know how to say hello.


Speaking of interviews, make sure you bring your academic resume (preferably printed on some high-quality paper) with you. So, as you make your exit, you can slide it toward your interviewer and leave them with something to remember you by.

If you have any questions, as always, don’t hesitate to contact me at tara@swayessay.com