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5 Ways to Make Your High School Resume Stand Out

Believe or not, resumes aren’t just necessary for college and beyond. Resumes can help you find a job, win different scholarships, and are great additions to college applications. No matter how much life experience you’ve had, it’s important to craft a high school resume that showcases your biggest skills and strengths. Here are five ways to polish your high school resume.

1. Start with your education

woman in a gray sweater taking notes on white paper
Anna Earl on Unsplash

Begin by putting your high school and year of graduation down, followed by your GPA. It might also be a good idea to include a “relevant courses” section that lists courses that were either particularly challenging or in the realm of what you’re applying for. For instance, if you’re applying to a scholarship specifically for students who intend to be math majors in college, it might be useful to say that you’ve taken Honors Algebra, Statistics and AP Calculus. This way, scholarship programs can see that you’ve taken the courses that will allow you to succeed academically as a math major.

If your high school doesn’t offer honors or AP classes, or you just haven’t taken any, don’t worry; there are other areas on your resume where you’ll be able to shine.

2. Add in meaningful extracurriculars

/ Unsplash

I don’t mean include that one Green Club meeting you attended or that one week you sang in the school choir — you should only be including extracurricular activities on your resume to which you’ve made a meaningful contribution to. So, if you’re president of your high school’s mock trial team, include that! You can discuss your position as president, how you lead team practices and discuss the competitions you attend. But you don’t have to be club president or captain of a team in order to put it on your resume, either. If you’re the goalie on your high school’s soccer team, you can totally say that! 

Kaylee Rotondo, a senior at the University of Massachusetts Lowell studying nursing, recommends adding volunteer experience to your resume as well. “I added volunteering for Relay for Life to my resume and it helped me land a job in the oncology department at my local hospital,” she says. Any position where you demonstrate real leadership and service to an organization is always worth a spot on your resume. 

Remember, quality over quantity. Jobs, colleges and scholarship programs don’t care if you’ve been in a million clubs if you haven’t truly made an impact in them. You’re much better off only listing the activities you’ve done that you feel as though you have greatly contributed to and garnered valuable skills from. If this means you only list three activities, that’s okay! Jobs, colleges and scholarship programs would much rather see that you spent all of your time doing great things within three clubs, rather than spreading yourself so thinly that you put minimal effort into participating in ten clubs. 

Additionally, it’s not enough just to say that you write for your school’s newspaper; play up your experiences so that they don’t come across as boring or repetitive. If being a writer for your school’s newspaper means writing, editing and attending meetings, add that to your resume! Just three or four points on each activity is enough to show people that you are a strong and reliable participant in your clubs.

If you feel as though all of your activities are extremely relevant to whatever it is you’re applying for, cut down the list to three or four activities that highlight different aspects of your experiences. While it may be nice for potential colleges or employers to know that you’ve written for four different magazines, you’re much better off focusing on two of those magazines. Then, choose other activities that highlight your non-writing and/or editorial skills. If you can show that you have held a wide variety of positions that require a wide variety of skill sets, you’ll be golden.

3. Include your work experience

Black woman learning
Photo by Nappy.co

If you’ve ever had any sort of work experience, whether that be babysitting or working part-time at the mall, it’s definitely worthwhile to add it to your high school resume. Having work experience shows that you’ve assumed some responsibility in your life and have gained valuable skills in areas like customer service, communication and time management, skills that will definitely appeal to future employers, colleges or scholarship programs.

Always be sure to use a variety of action verbs when describing your experiences; action verbs show that you take initiative and are able to make strides in your activities. If you were the lead on a project, use terms like “managed,” “oversaw,” or developed”; if you won some sort of award or successfully completed something within your extracurricular activity, use terms like “attained,” “earned,” or “demonstrated.” Indeed also offers a great list of 195 action verbs that are perfect to use on your resume.

If you’ve never had a real job, get creative! You can say that you walk your dogs, mow the lawn every weekend, or pick up your siblings from school every afternoon. It’s also worthwhile to include any forms of volunteering and/or community service you’ve done — perhaps you volunteer at soup kitchens, or pick up trash at the local park, or tutor children on the weekends. Remember: the most important aspect of your high school resume is highlighting that you have contributed in meaningful ways to the activities you’ve been a part of, so it’s okay if you’ve never had an official job before. Doing what you can with the opportunities you’ve been given is what matters the most — and don’t forget those action verbs!

4. Add in any other relevant skills and awards

Person holding white scroll
Photo by Ekrulila from Pexels

It’s always useful to include any additional information that highlights your general abilities. If you’re well-versed in programs like Microsoft, Adobe, or different social media apps, be sure to include them! You can also include more “soft” skills, which are the non-technical skills that illustrate how you behave in an environment and showcase bits of your personality as well. Soft skills can include skills like public speaking, a strong work ethic, or leadership.

If you’ve ever won any awards, now’s your chance to show them off! These awards can be your position on the honor roll, recognition for outstanding work in a class, or trophies for your sports team. No award is too small to include, as long as you won it while in high school.

5. Formatting is essential

woman holding clipboard with resume on it
Pexels / cottonbro
Your resume should only be about a page, which is why you should only be including the most relevant material on it. You can find a ton of resume templates online or through Microsoft, as well as on Canva. For the basics though, the top of the page should include your full name, home address, email address and phone number. All headlines should be bigger than the body text and bolded, as well as in a readable font, such as Arial or Times New Roman.

Before even beginning to draft your resume, it may be useful to make a list of the most important pieces you want to include so that colleges, employers or scholarship programs will focus on them. By tailoring your resume according to your strengths and the program you’re applying for, you’ll stand out more than a generic resume would. So, if you’re applying for a scholarship that asks you to demonstrate your skills in science, your involvement in your high school’s science club and your work in AP Chemistry should be heavily emphasized on your resume. Similarly, if you’re applying to work a retail job, skills like great communication and customer service are very important. 

Building your resume is no easy task, but it’s a great way to show off the best parts of you for a future job, college, or scholarship. No matter what you’re applying for, perfecting your high school resume will undoubtedly make you stand out.

Becca is a senior at Emory University studying English and Political Science. When she's not writing or stressing over homework, she can be found reading, rowing, or listening to Ed Sheeran on repeat.