Crafting an Effective Activities Resume

July 12, 2021
A post by Beth Anne Spacht, Associate Director of Admission

We learned last year that living in quarantine doesn’t mean putting life on pause. But it has changed the way we consider the definition of “extracurricular.” And to be honest, it’s a change I’ve hoped to see for many years! It’s important not to narrowly interpret extracurricular activities to mean “what I do after school, through my school.” The reality is that we want to know where you dedicate your time.

Following the disruption to regularly scheduled programming we experienced during the pandemic, we need to be kind to ourselves with this definition. Perhaps you’ve taken up yoga, tried your hand at badminton, or spent time delving into books you’ve been wanting to read for years but haven’t had the time. Maybe you’re working a part time job, helping to care for a younger sibling, training to improve your distance running, devoting yourself to religion or spirituality, or even exploring a new hobby. These are all perfectly legitimate items to mention on your resume. Just because you didn’t have traditional access to activities and involvement over the past year, doesn’t mean that time ran idle.

Here’s another way to think about this piece of your application. When we think about the traits that a liberal arts college develops, there are a few common themes that come to mind:

  • Ability to analyze data
  • Ability to work in teams and independently
  • Problem Solving
  • Leadership (ability to influence others)
  • Communication (oral and written)
  • Flexibility and Adaptability

For the record, these are also many of the top 10 Skills Employers Most Want In 20-Something Employees (Forbes). As we look at your resume, we’re hoping to glean evidence of these qualities already in formation. How are the areas where you’ve dedicated your time going to complement, add to, or enhance a residential college community? How do you translate that to your application? To get you started, here are my top 5 tips on crafting an effective resume:

List items in order of importance to YOU. There’s a 10-activity maximum on your application. We often look to the first 3-5 items to identify which activities the student holds closest to their hearts. Forefront the items you feel most strongly about – not the ones you think are most impressive. This will help us to quickly identify your values! A good practice? Write a master list of all the items you’re involved in and star the top few. This can help you to prioritize which items you truly care to mention.

Think beyond the box. One of the most memorable activities I’ve seen over the years was titled “succulent plant care.” From middle school through senior year, this student researched botanical care and maintained over 20 plants. Was this activity considered traditional? No. Was I impressed? Absolutely. It demonstrated sustained commitment, showed personality, and quite honestly – I can’t even keep one plant alive, let alone 20. That requires dedication! Keeping a broad definition allows room for you to consider elements of your personality that might transcend a traditional activity after school, but still show those liberal arts traits.

Make it count (quantify it!). This goes hand in hand with another recommendation I like to give: show the impact. Where’s the “why” in what you’re saying? There’s a difference between saying “I created face masks” and “I learned how to hand sew and created 150 face masks distributed across 10 local nonprofits to help the homeless community remain safe.” Which is more compelling? Show the reach, the networking, the problem solving – show the why.

Demonstrate Leadership. A good resume does not need to mean a long resume. This is a hill I will die on. While exploration is to be commended, I’d much rather see sustained commitment to a few activities than a scattershot approach without any substantive involvement over time. A good resume will also model the reach of that activity and show how you took charge and ownership over your involvement. That doesn’t have to mean you were club president! That might mean informal roles; organizing a running group, educating others on a new culture by delivering calligraphy lessons, or working with community leaders to create a volunteer opportunity for your school. All perfectly legitimate leadership roles, official title aside.

Proofreed, proffread, & proofread again. Last but certainly not least. No explanation needed. Just do it, please!