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Are you in the middle of college prep and beginning to freak out because—on top of everything else—you need to write a resume for the college admissions office? Relax! Everyone has the makings of a resume in their background. You just need to know how to get started.

Since the purpose of a resume is to present your most relevant information about concisely as possible, the best resumes are straightforward and clearly presented. To get an idea of what yours might look like, take advantage of the experience of older siblings or friends, and ask to take a look at theirs. You can also find examples of good resumes on the Internet or in resume-writing books.

When you want to go to college, every little bit counts

If you must write a resume as part of the requirements to get into college, your resume should do more than just present your educational background and job history. You should include any school activities and extracurricular activities that enhance your credentials: the computer knowledge you gained in school, your experience teaching Sunday school, and the work you did with your town’s recreation program. Activities like these paint a picture that help the people in college admissions get an impression of you and what you will bring with you to the campus. By making a potential college aware of those activities, interests, and abilities, you will show them that you are focused, well rounded, and trustworthy. They will also notice that you did all those things while executing top-notch college planning and earning good grades in your college-prep classes. Not too shabby!

Consider your audience and your college plan

Perhaps you tutored young students and are now intrigued with the idea of becoming an elementary school counselor. That tutoring experience might be perfect for your resume. You could include a phrase such as “demonstrated maturity and responsibility tutoring third-grade students in math in after-school sessions.” This highlights your skill at an academic subject as well as your experience working with young children. The chances are good that you can easily modify or delete that facet of your history if your college planning takes you in a different direction.

You should also include meaningful athletics training and leadership responsibilities you have had, such as being the captain of your swimming team, excelling in ballet classes over the past six year, holding team memberships that display discipline and dedication. You aren’t stretching the truth and warping reality as you assemble content for your resume—your successful participation in such activities required you to have and use the qualities colleges look for in their students: self-discipline, high energy, dedication, and a desire for self-improvement.

Your college plan should be compatible with the references you provide

In most cases, your resume should include references from people familiar with you. Create a separate page for this list. First, provide your name, address, and phone number. Follow that with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of two to four people who can verify your skills and testify to the qualities you possess that will convince a college admissions office that you want to go to college and have taken your college prep seriously. Be sure you check with your references beforehand to make sure they’re willing to be listed and that they know what you have been doing to get into college.

Send a great cover letter to the college admissions office with your resume

Your cover letter introduces you and should make the admissions personnel want to read your resume. Draw the reader’s attention to experiences on your resume that best relate to the education you are seeking. Generally, a cover letter should be brief and to the point. But it doesn’t hurt to help the resume reader along by using your cover letter to draw the reader’s attention to the most pertinent information: “As my resume shows, community service has been an important part of my life for several years. I hope to be able to further develop this interest while attending…” Sell yourself!

Be absolutely certain that several sets of eyes get to check over both your cover letter and your resume. Examine them for spelling errors, factual errors, misspellings, mistakes in grammar, and other problems. You do not want an admission office to look at your cover letter or resume and see: “Please take a close look at me, Mr./Mrs./Ms. Decision Maker. I can’t spell the name of the state I live in, I don’t know how to make a verb agree with its subject, and I don’t know the year in which I was born. But, as you can see from the stain on my resume, I love coffee and your school. I’m certain that with all these attributes I will be an absolute asset to your school.”

Be ready to share your college plan if there are interviews

Some schools routinely interview their applicants. Others interview students when particular programs have limited enrollments or a scholarship or grant is in the offing. And, to some degree, any interaction with a college representative is an interview. (Of course, once you graduate, there are always going to be job interviews.) If you are asked to interview, think about how to present yourself. An interview may take place over the phone or in a face-to-face meeting (in which case you must dress appropriately!) In either case, view the interview as an opportunity for you and the other party to get to know one another a little better.

It’s normal to be a bit nervous—especially when asked why you want to get into college—but it helps to remember that the interview is also for you. It’s your opportunity to ask questions and gather the information about the school, its programs, and the faculty that will help you decide if you and the school or program are a good match. Always write a brief, sincere thank-you note to follow up an interview, even if it was very short or conducted by telephone.

Have confidence in the college admissions process

It is not an impossible task to get into college—there are many schools out there that will benefit from having you in their student body. You have a good shot at being accepted if you have done your college planning well, been purposeful in your college prep, have applied to schools that are well suited to your goals and aspirations, and have presented yourself in the best possible light. Good luck!

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