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Building a College Résumé

By Jeannette Webb
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #86, 2009.

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Jeannette Webb


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 themselves.

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 school.

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 application.

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 is.

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!

Ordering Activities

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 high-school lives.

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 www.aiminghigherconsultants.com.

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