How to Write Your College Resume
On a basic level, a resume involves writing five key sections: the professional summary, work history, skills, education and contact information. Before you begin writing any of those sections, you’ll first need to gather your professional information, such as previous job titles, dates of employment, lists of skills and any certifications or qualifications.
Once you’ve got a good bulk of that information, you’ll need to tailor it to the job for which you’ll be applying. One resume won’t work perfectly for every single job for which you apply. The key to making a top-performing resume lies in making one that responds to each role’s specific needs. Let’s get started.
1. Prepare to write a resume.
Narrow the job search: As a college student or recent graduate, you may choose from different types of jobs: a part-time job to make some quick cash while studying or, perhaps, an internship to get practical experience in your field. You may even want to start looking for a full-time job as your graduation approaches. Once you have made that clear distinction, you’ll be able to narrow down the skills, work experiences and qualifications you should be focusing on in your resume.
Make a list of skills and achievements: Compile a list of all your skills and your previous roles, including your official job titles and dates of employment. Make a note of any significant achievements you have accomplished in these roles or in school, as these will strengthen your resume. You should think back and pinpoint these strengths because they will become the essential parts of your resume.
Study the job ad: A resume shouldn’t be a document you recycle for every job application. Instead, you should fine-tune it to highlight the skills and qualifications the employer will value the most. Thoroughly scan the job ad for repeated skills and keywords to add to your resume. This insight will help you curate your skills section and work history to better tailor them to the job for which you’re applying.
Browse resume examples: As a college student, you might have never written a resume before. Browse trusted, professionally-made resume examples for your desired role to understand better how a resume should look. These resumes have real-life examples of skills and experiences you can use as a guide to writing your own.
2. Choose the correct resume format.
Once you’ve done your prep work, you need to learn which kind of resume is best for your current professional situation. Resumes are categorized into three formats, which highlight different professional strengths. Choosing the appropriate format ensures you showcase your strengths to their highest potential.
Functional format: The functional resume is all about skills, so if you choose this, you’ll need to spend a lot of time crafting your multiple skills sections. This format is particularly beneficial if you have little formal experience but lots of relevant qualifications and skills for your desired position. Let’s say you’re a marketing major who’s participated in a couple marketing competitions and you’re ready to get professional experience in the form of an internship. The functional format will be the best choice when writing your resume.
Combination format: In combination resumes, you need to put a lot of effort into the work history and skills sections. This format is excellent for college students because you’ve probably had some professional experience here and there as well as valuable skills acquired through education. If you’re a college student with limited experience applying for your first formal job related to your degree, a combination resume is a great choice.
Chronological format: Chronological resumes focus on the work history section, meaning that’s the section you should put in the most effort. Although generally impractical for college students (unless you’ve had 10+ years of work experience), this format is ideal for those candidates who have had a long and consistent career and lots of accomplishments. For example, suppose you’ve been working for years in office management and decided to get a master’s degree in computer science to increase your chances of getting hired. In that case, you could use a chronological resume to showcase your extensive experience.
3. Add your skills.
You should carefully craft your skills section to display your most valuable assets regardless of the type of resume format you choose. Every skills section should be diverse and include a balanced amount of soft, hard and technical skills. Let’s go over what these skill types mean.
Soft skills determine your ability to work in the most efficient way possible. In a way, soft skills are descriptors of how you work. For example, some soft skills can be conflict resolution, time management, leadership and collaboration.
Hard skills relate specifically to the type of work you do and the industry in which you work. You can learn hard skills through education or practical experience. As a college student, some hard skills you might possess are writing, typing speed, basic math skills, budgeting and proficiency in a foreign language.
Technical skills have to do with your ability to use specific digital tools in various roles and industries. For example, college students can have technical skills like Microsoft Office Suite expertise, knowledge of Adobe programs and proficiency with email platforms like Gmail or Outlook.
We’ve compiled a list of general skills college students in a broad range of degrees can apply to their resumes. Browse through these skills, pick the ones that truly represent your abilities, and include them in your resume.
- Data analysis
- Data management
- Office management
- Mathematical skills
- Graphic design
- Social media management
- Social content creation
- Photo and video editing
- Event planning
- Event production
- Project management
- Verbal and written communication
- Creative thinking
- Critical thinking
- Conflict resolution
- Organizational skills
- Ability to work under pressure
- Ability to handle multiple tasks
- Takes initiative
- Expertise in Microsoft Office Suite, i.e., Word, Excel, Outlook
- Basic Adobe Photoshop skills
- Knowledge of project management software, i.e., Trello, Basecamp, Smartsheet, Monday
Although listed skills sections mainly belong in chronological and combination resumes, functional resumes center around an expanded skills section. Instead of just listing skills, choose three primary professional skills and list instances where you’ve exhibited your mastery of said skill.
Check out this example of an English major college student’s functional skills section to visualize it better:
- Proofread and edit monthly issues of the English department’s literary magazine, including opinion pieces, chronicles, poetry, short stories and academic essays.
- File, read and review 100+ monthly submissions for the literary magazine, making sure they follow institutional guidelines and proper academic formatting.
- Create social media copy and promotional materials for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and print advertisements.
- Compiled dozens of primary and secondary sources for research papers and one final thesis.
- Sifted through federal, state and local historical archives to deepen the scope and rigor of my thesis.
- Efficiently browsed online archives to find relevant peer-reviewed articles to reference in 10+ research papers which received A+ evaluations and glowing reviews.
- Revived a decades-long dormant institutional publication and single-handedly recruited a team of editors and volunteers to create an online and print magazine with 5,000+ monthly views.
- Sourced funds from institutions, government entities, cultural organizations and private investors to launch an online literary magazine and compensate workers fairly.
- Created a tutoring and literacy program for disadvantaged youth powered by volunteer students, teacher’s assistants and professors to provide supervised studies, tutoring, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and SAT prep for high school students in our local community.
4. Outline your work history.
When writing your work history section, each current or previous experience should include your official title, the name of the company you worked for, its location and dates of employment. Each role needs to be listed in reverse-chronological order, meaning you start with your current or most recent position first and work backward to your oldest jobs.
However, on functional resumes, the work history is much more limited, and you can omit the bullet points detailing accomplishments.
To maximize the impact of your work history section, you must do more than list your job responsibilities. Don’t simply write the daily tasks anyone in that job can do, but instead feature personal achievements that demonstrate how you overcame challenges or went above and beyond your plain duties. It also helps if you use strong action phrases and incorporate numbers to quantify your accomplishments.
For example, look at this work history entry for a Journalism grad school student:
Vox Populis Media Group, Journalist
Chicago, IL | 02/2016 - Current
- Pitch, research and draft long-form stories to promote investigative news topics.
- Interview 10+ sources, contacts and leads to collect information and quotes for news articles weekly.
- Report and write daily and front-page breaking news stories and publish real-time updates on social media and the online newspaper.
5. Showcase your education.
Your education section will consist of your current and past degrees listed in reverse chronological order. Each entry must include the degree title, the institution or institutions you attended (for example, if you transferred schools), attendance dates and graduation date if it applies to you.
Check out this example of an education section:
MS in Instructional Design and Technology | 09/2020 - Current
Walden University- Minneapolis, MN
Bachelor of Arts, Education | 09/2014 - 07/2018
Minnesota State University - Mankato, MN
6. Add custom sections.
Besides your main resume sections, you can also pack your resume with additional sections highlighting more skills, qualifications and professional insight that you may not accurately express in just a work history or skills section.
Custom Sections to Include in a College Resume
- Relevant coursework
- Extracurricular activities
- Volunteer work
7. Include your contact information.
In all resumes, you should head your document with your full name, email address, phone number, city and state, and — if appropriate for your desired role — professional social media accounts, LinkedIn or a link to an online work portfolio.