How to Write a College Resume That’ll Get You Hired (Plus an Example!)
by Meredith Pepin at The Muse
James Woodson/Getty Images
When you’re in college, a strong resume is one of the first things that helps you land an internship or part-time job. It represents you to employers when you can’t be in the room (yet!) and is essential to convincing them to call you for an interview based on your previous experiences and current skills. Whether you have a resume you used for college applications or are starting completely from scratch, putting effort into your resume now gives you a higher likelihood of success and sets a solid foundation, making it a breeze to update in the future as you—and it—evolve.
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
6 Tips for Writing a Successful College Resume
From formatting to crafting strong descriptions, attention to detail can pay off when tackling your resume. Here are six tips to help you develop a great resume:
1. Choose the Right Resume Format for You
Your parents or other family members might share their resume and have you copy it because it has worked for them. But they’re at a different place in their career and their format may not be the best one for you.
There are three main types of resume formats for laying out your experiences, skills, and education—the functional resume, the combination/hybrid resume, and the chronological resume. The chronological format is almost always the best fit for college students.
With a chronological resume, you’ll list your experiences within each category/section in reverse chronological order (most recent to least recent, based on end date). Since this is the most traditional and common resume format, recruiters are familiar with it and can quickly see what you have to offer.
2. Be Clear and Consistent
In terms of resume formatting, there are a lot of small choices to make about things like font, style, and spacing. Whatever you decide, make sure it is easily readable, consistent, and not overly fancy. You could have the greatest content in the world, but if it’s too difficult or annoying to read, a recruiter is going to move on.
In order to make a document easy to scan, use clear headers for your sections. Maybe they’re bold and in all caps, or maybe they’re a couple font sizes larger, but they should be the same throughout your resume. The rest of your content should be consistent as well. For example, all your organization or previous employer names might be in italics, your dates all right aligned, your locations in plain text, and the titles of your roles in bold. Keeping things uniform helps the recruiter easily absorb all the relevant information you want them to have.
3. Make Sure It Can Pass Through an Application Tracking System (ATS)
Formatting is also important because your resume will likely pass through something called an applicant tracking system (ATS), a type of software that helps recruiters organize incoming candidate applications. Recruiters can apply filters or search for keywords, and the ATS will show candidates matching the desired criteria, making it easier to identify good candidates in large applicant pools.
In order for your resume to pass this first round and make it to the human who has the power to get you to an interview, the ATS needs to see you’re a good match. But there are formatting choices that can confuse an ATS—for example, some won’t read the content inside tables, text boxes, or graphics. And if the ATS can’t read your materials, your resume might be filtered out. (Read more about formatting your resume for an ATS here.)
This all means that using one of the fancy resume templates you see online isn’t necessarily the best move. Most basic formatting can be achieved with bolding, italics, and spacing, and you will still end up with a good-looking resume—meaning that starting with a blank document can actually be a better bet. (If you still want to use a template, we’ve curated 41 free ATS-friendly templates here.)
4. Create Impactful Descriptions
Give the descriptions you use for your experiences some TLC, as this is what recruiters will focus on once you’ve caught their attention. I often discover students undersell—or simply forget—all the things they’ve done that might be interesting and of value to an employer (including those transferable skills).
Here’s an exercise that can help. Reflect on an experience (such as an internship you had or volunteer work you completed) and quickly jot down what you did. You don’t need to have much structure for this—try it as a brainstorm. Think about answering some of these questions:
- What was your role?
- What were the goals for that position or experience?
- What tasks did you specifically do?
- What projects did you work on?
- Were there any side projects or tasks you completed?
- Who did you work with?
- What did you contribute?
- What did you accomplish? (Or what did/do you intend to accomplish? This can be a useful way to think about things especially when considering research or longer term projects that are still in progress!)
- Can it be quantified? Numbers can paint a clear and impressive picture of your accomplishments to someone reading your resume. You might write that you fundraised as part of the Student Government Association, and that will generally get your point across, but if you can say you increased SGA fundraising by 30% and were able to create two new social events attended by 100+ students each, that will make more of an impact. Look for ways to quantify your accomplishments wherever possible.
Once you have a good brainstorm, take the information you gathered and try crafting several statements using this formula:
Action Verb + Subject + Outcome/Purpose/Result (i.e. Accomplishment)
So you might say:
Organized a fundraiser event for 70 participants resulting in $1,000 in donations to a local hospital
Your descriptions are most valuable when leading with an action verb that reflects specific skills. For example, swap “Worked on” for “Collaborated on” and “Responsible for” with “Oversaw.” Other verbs I often recommend students use include:
5. Tailor Your Resume for Each Opportunity
Always tailor your resume to each specific job you apply to. Making it easy for the recruiter to connect your skills to what they are looking for can increase your chances of success. The job description is your blueprint and key to doing this. A couple of these exercises could help you identify what you’ll want to highlight.
- Activity 1: Take the job description and go through and underline everything you’ve had some experience in. This might be specific tasks, software/programs/tools, or qualities. Write a quick note in the margin to highlight when you’ve done that. Underline things where you have transferable skills too. For example, if you’ve used a software that is similar to a software they’re looking for, underline it. A recruiter should be able to see on your resume that you used similar skills and would be a quick study.
- Activity 2: If you aren’t sure which skills to emphasize, take the entire job description and pop it into a simple online word cloud generator, like TagCrowd. It automatically shows you the words most used in the description, which are likely of highest importance to the company or role. If you have those skills, make sure you mention them in your descriptions and mirror the language as exactly as possible (our friend the ATS will be looking for precise keywords!).
These activities can help you identify the right action verbs, keywords, and tools—like software—to weave into your descriptions. They can also help you decide what past experiences to include or which of your college courses are relevant to this role and which direct and transferable skills to highlight to make your resume a stronger fit for your target job.
6. Keep a Few Other Tried-and-True Tips in Mind
Here are a few other parting tips to keep in mind as you build your document:
- Avoid writing in first person (“I,” “we,” “our,” and “my” statements).
- Bullet points will make your document more readable—usually two to three per entry works well. But it doesn’t have to be even: Give more description space to the most relevant entries.
- Attention to detail matters. Proofread—not just for typos, but to make sure formatting is consistent (like date dashes). Employers will use your resume to make assumptions about how detail-oriented you are.
- Review any headers you put in all caps. Some spell checkers are programmed to assume that they’re acronyms and skip them.
- Ditch jargon and acronyms wherever possible. Don’t assume the reader always knows what you’re talking about. Sometimes the first person reading your document is a general recruiter and not familiar with the technical side of a role.
- Be aware of tenses. If you’ve completed an experience, those descriptions will be in past tense, and current roles can be described in present tense. (If you’re still actively involved in a role you can list the role through “Present,” and if more than one entry has the same end date, make a strategic decision to put the most relevant experience first.)
- Acceptable margins are usually between one and 0.7 inches.
- Pick a readable font, like Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman, and try not to go below font size 11.
- As a college student, stick to a one-page resume. However, you should consider keeping a longer version (called a master resume) for your own personal use. That’s where you keep a full record of your experiences to make it easier to pull out the relevant ones each time you tailor your resume for a specific job.
What Does a College Resume Look Like?
A college resume should showcase your education, experiences, and skills (direct and transferable!) in a clear way, while keeping in mind what is most relevant to your target employer. The resume below shows a student highlighting their relevant education and experiences specifically for internship opportunities in government and politics.