The title of this article is actually a misnomer. It should really be
“Building a Life and Then Getting It Down on Paper.”
Of all the counseling I do, this particular area seems to be of the most
concern for parents. “Are we doing enough? Are we doing the right
activities? Are we impressive?”
We must keep in mind that our kids’ high-school activities should NOT be
pursued for the purpose of getting into a great college alone. OK, they
help, but that should not be the real reason. They do these things to
grow and develop, to push the limits on occasion, to find out that they
are tougher than they thought. They do this to become all that they are,
to find a new confidence and joy.
Why Do I Need a Résumé?
As your children are building a worthwhile life, we want to get it down
accurately on paper. They will need a résumé to apply to college, to get
a job, or to qualify for scholarships.
You must understand that competitive colleges and big-name scholarships
have thousands of applications each year. Everyone has incredible test
scores, impressive transcripts, and outstanding resumes. In order for
homeschoolers to compete, our children have to be able to show that they
have pursued excellence and have spent their lives well. They do this by
showing an exceptional commitment to an activity or cause, by excelling
artistically or intellectually, or doing something out of the ordinary,
such as overcoming a major obstacle.
Colleges aren’t looking for cookie-cutter kids. They are looking for
students who have used their time well, who have made the most of the
opportunities presented to them or who have created opportunities for
How Do I Keep Track of All this Stuff?
In order to make a strong application, it is important to learn how to
keep track of activities and the hours spent doing them.
When my children were young, I kept records for them. In upper grade
school and junior high, I began giving them more responsibility for
keeping track of things. Each Friday I would remind them to record all
their volunteer work and activities.
In high school, kids should be on their own. I tried to make it easy for
them in the beginning when I designed our weekly assignment sheet by
recording weekly activities for them and letting them write down
specific responsibilities or hours spent. I included prompts to get them
to think through their week and write down special events. Eventually,
they were on their own.
Now, moms, it is tempting to do this for your children. Be forewarned
that if you are still doing this for your high school children, they
will be totally unable to cope with the scheduling demands of college.
Documenting A Life
You need to list specific activities and the hours spent each week. The
student needs to record any leadership positions, committees,
responsibilities, events organized, classes taught, numbers reached, as
well as any special competitions and awards.
If they attend unique events, such as a week at camp or a conference,
they need to keep track of the lectures, the activities they
participated in, and the time they spent doing each thing. Not only can
this help with the résumé, it also helps you be able to document
learning that can fold into a class for high-school credit. You can
separate out later what is volunteer service, what is work, and what is
This may sound like a lot, but if done daily or weekly it only takes a
few minutes. If you wait until your student’s senior year and try to
rely on memory, I guarantee you will forget many things and it could
take you days of digging in order to reconstruct the minute details of
his or her life.
Categories to Include
Once we have this documentation for each year, it is fairly
straightforward to put together a résumé or fill out a college
As hard as it seems, your student’s entire high-school experience must
be boiled down to one page. If someone with an MBA from Harvard Business
School can do it in one page, so can you! You basically have four
categories to report, other than course-based academic activities:
Co-curricular activities - learning-oriented activities that take place
outside of the classroom, such as debate or science competitions.
Schools look at this category to determine intellectual vitality
—whether your student loves to learn for the sake of learning.
Extracurricular activities - like sports, music, or Boy Scouts. Schools
want to see if your students are multi-dimensional or if they fit
certain stereotypes. They will look to see if your student is a leader
and visionary or just a passive part of the crowd.
Work experience - show the years employed, name of the company,
position/responsibilities, and hours spent per week.
Volunteer service hours - how many hours were spent doing things for
others without recompense. This doesn’t include hours of paid work
(which counts for work experience), or when school credit was being
earned (which counts for co-curricular activity). The point is not to
count the time twice.
What Does Leadership Mean?
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the term “leadership.” Not
all kids are leaders. Not all leaders are charismatic. Very ordinary
kids can be leaders when something is important to them. Basically,
leadership is assuming responsibility for the outcome of a meeting,
event, or project. It can be elected or assumed. Being a member of a
group is not being a leader; being responsible to carry out something
What Words Do I Use?
The words we choose to use in describing our involvement are crucial.
Here are some of my favorites: founded, trained, taught, implemented,
designed, facilitated, equipped, increased, promoted, organized,
scheduled, one of XXX selected nationwide. If the word truthfully
conveys what you did, use it!
Place the most important thing first; do not list activities
chronologically. List the overarching activity with total years of
involvement on the first line, then list various events, leadership, and
awards that fall within that activity. This can be a painful experience,
as you must smoosh four years of great stuff into a few lines. Be brave.
It can be done!
How you are trying to market the student will also affect the order in
which you present information about the student. If you are trying to
market an intellectual to MIT or Caltech, the academic information goes
first. If you are marketing a would-be statesman to Harvard, you might
put high-level leadership first.
If you thought consolidating all this on one page was painful, just wait
until we get to the college application. Stay tuned for the next issue!
Keeping Things in Perspective
The purpose of this column is to encourage you to do only those things
that result in the greatest personal growth for your student and that
truly benefit others, not to frantically grasp at anything that might
impress a college admissions office. However, by using simple
record-keeping and organizational techniques, we can then take these
meaningful activities and show colleges how our student have lived their
Jeannette Webb has worked with high school students for over 25 years.
In 2005, Jeannette received a Presidential Scholar Distinguished Teacher
Award. Jeannette teaches “Homeschooling Through High School” seminars
and is a college coach dedicated to helping homeschool students
matriculate to America’s top colleges. She can be reached through