Resumes: An Exercise in Letting Go

When you get to college, do your high school achievements matter? In the grand scheme of things, they do- they have shaped your aspirations and habits that have made you successful. However, as you progress through your college career, high school achievements and activities become less relevant as you acquire additional work and internship experience.

Despite this natural progression, I often encounter upperclassmen who have trouble letting go of their high school experiences when designing their resumes. By the same token, I frequently speak with underclassmen who are confused with just how much of their high school experiences they should include.

Here are some tips for both groups:

sb101Underclassmen (Freshmen and Sophomores)

It makes sense that freshmen and sophomores are going to have the bulk of their resume filled with high school awards they were given and clubs that they were involved in, but when you begin to draft a resume early on in your college career, it is important to remember to pick only a few of relevant experiences and expand upon them in greater detail.

For example, if you are applying for a library or office position at your school as a freshmen, your job as a receptionist over the summer during high school or involvement as secretary of student council can be an opportunity for you to highlight the administrative and office skills you bring to the job. They key is not to create a laundry list of activities, but rather to create a thoughtful expansion of relevant experiences.

You can do this by beginning to structure your resume to include an education, experience, activities and skills section, and fill in appropriate and relevant experiences for the job that you are applying for with short bullet point descriptions of what the job entailed and what impact you had. Luckily, most employers understand that most high school students come with limited work experience and won’t penalize you, but it is nevertheless important to have a professional working document that you can update as your activities and experiences evolve.

As a sophomore, it is expected that you become involved in some capacity outside of the classroom- be it by having term time employment or being an active member of a campus organization- and your resume should also reflect your engagement. However, because you will find a mix of college and high school experiences to include, you can organize and consolidate your experiences in one of two ways.

  1. Regular Chronological Resume. Here you keep the main components and sections of your resume intact, but you order your experiences in a chronological order. The advantage of this format is that it is easy to read, logically structured and easy to follow.
  2. Division between High School and College Experience. If you find that you have an even split of relevant college and high school involvement, it might be effective to highlight your progression by creating sections for your high school and college experiences In other words, instead of having the standard education, experience, activities, and skills section, you can divide up your resume to have an education, college experience, high school experience, and skills section. 

Whatever approach you choose, it is important to keep in mind that the “experience” section can encompass both paid and unpaid involvement with an organization or job, so long as the skills are relevant for the position that you are applying for.

sb453Upperclassmen (Juniors and Seniors)

Come junior and senior year, high school achievements and experiences should not be included on your resume. By this time, you have already accrued a variety of different experiences in the workplace and leadership positions in organizations.

However, despite the fact that most recruiters are not really interested in your National Honor Society membership, or the Key Club blood drives that you volunteered for during high school, many upperclassmen leave them on their resumes and find it hard to let go of important achievements from their high school career. Though it is inadvisable to keep them in unless they are truly impressive and engagements that are still an active part of your life, here are some tips for how you can consolidate your high school information and integrate it into more recent and relevant college experiences:

  • Do not include memberships in organizations that a lot of students are part of during high school or awards that a lot of students receive. Examples include: being a member of the National Honor Society or a Quiz Bowl member.
  • Do include activities that you were a leader in, that you started, or jobs that entail a great level of responsibility and are not usually given to high school students.
  • Do not give long descriptions of the organization or your involvement in it. Simply mention the organization and the position.
  • Do consolidate your information on one line or bullet point under your high school in the Education section instead of listing them under experience or activities. This way, if the employer is interested in seeing what you did in high school, they will look under that section.
  • Do not include small school awards that most people outside of your school may not have not heard of.
  • Do include prestigious national scholarships or awards that are competitive.

What I’ve found useful is simply listing my high school in the education section and including two bullet points (one for awards and one for activities) where I list two important leadership positions from high school and two important awards that I received. However, you cannot see any trace of my high school experiences under my experience and activities section. If an employer cares, he or she can ask.

For most juniors and seniors, however, the most relevant experiences are the most recent. The key is to acknowledge this, and learn to let go of some of your proudest accomplishments and achievements in order to build a stronger resume.


Monika Adamczyk is a senior at Yale, majoring in political science with a concentration in classical rhetoric. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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2 Responses to “Resumes: An Exercise in Letting Go”

  1. avatar dmask says:

    I beg to differ on not mentioning rec’ing the merit scholar award on a resume. I also recommend would add grade point average, if high enough to mention and honor role, politics, class standing, any volunteer community leader roles as well.

  2. avatar Laura says:

    I think that, overall, these are some great guidelines! However, resumes are something that should be highly individualized. As dmask pointed out, if you did get some fantastic award or have achievements that help you stand out, I think you should make note of them. It’s important to realize that there is no real right or wrong when it comes to resumes. Just do your best and then get it out there!

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