The 2020 college resume: here are the Dos and Don’ts of what to include

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For all the aspiring professionals out there killing it in class by day and preparing their career resumes by night, have no fear: the world of work is excited to welcome you in as another cog in the corporate machine. That is, as long as you have a good college resume.

Very little can make or break your job application as quickly as a resume. Samples of your work are important, sure, and a good cover letter can go a long way. But nothing hits a recruiter right in the funny bone like a good college resume. It’s your own personal 8.5 x 11-inch tribute to yourself, designed to show off just how much you’ve mattered to the world over the years of your life. 

However, college students, especially younger ones, can find constructing their college resume to be a daunting task. After all, how much has anyone really accomplished by this point in their lives? Besides, you know, Mark Zuckerberg.

Even if you haven’t invented a world-famous social network or been going to Harvard, having a relatively minimalistic academic history and college career isn’t the end of the world. Here’s how to tackle college resumes with skill and craft.

Do include relevant experience

This one should be fairly obvious to anyone who’s spent even a few seconds researching how to write good college resumes, but still, it should be said: keep your resume as targeted as possible. No one needs to know about your basket weaving prowess if you’re applying for a clerical job that revolves around typing on a computer all day.

If your desired job is in, say, a journalism field, emphasize your major (if it’s related to writing or news production), your GPA—if it’s great—and any relevant internship or job experience you might’ve been lucky enough to have had up to this point.

Ideas for inclusions on college resumes:

  • Major and GPA (if well above 3.5 overall and in major)
  • Relevant internships or extracurricular activities
  • Any related work experience or relevant personal pursuits

Don’t try to fill the page with irrelevant details

Having a slim, trim college resume isn’t a bad thing, and it’s lightyears better than having a fat resume loaded with unimportant filler. If you have to pick between a slightly shorter resume that’s all killer, zero filler, or a fat resume that’s loaded with nonsensical inclusions, go with the former.

“But wait,” you might be asking. “I literally only have my school career to my name! I have no internships or jobs under my belt.” That’s perfectly fine, assuming you’ve done well in school and picked your classes wisely over the years.

If you’re applying for a job in a particular field and have taken classes that directly, or even tangentially relate to the position at hand, bringing those up is great for multiple reasons.

First, these classes will show you have a history and interest in learning about the field. Secondly, you’ll be priming yourself for an interview where you can discuss what you’ve learned thus far. And thirdly, if the classes were any good, odds are you’ll have some sample work from them that you can use to show off your relevant skills in your job application. And voila! You’re now on a competitive level with those who have actual job experience on their college resumes.

Naturally, of course, the person with actual job experience will likely have a bit of an edge over you, but there is a lot to be said for a college student who can demonstrate a targeted approach to their college career and has some school-made work samples to show off.

If you’re not sure how to fill your college resume with only a few items from the school, just include bullets beneath each item going over your greatest scholastic accomplishments in greater detail. For example, if you won a prestigious award, briefly bullet what steps you took to achieve that victory if said steps will relate to the duties you’ll have at the job you’re applying for.

Alternatively, if you have a bit of a job or internship experience under your belt, your college resume should practically write itself.

Don’t include on college resumes:

  • Unrelated details of any variety
  • Bad job/internship experiences that will reflect poorly on you
  • Irrelevant padding on any relevant content

Do format your college resume properly

Are you including your name and contact information at the top? Do you have separate sections for your academic and professional experience? Are you using an acceptable font and standard one-inch margins?

You can check out one of our own resume templates here. Additionally, The Balance Careers has a nice guide on college resumes that includes a solid template, if you want a resume model to work off that’s more college-focused.

Indeed also has a college resume template available for educational purposes, so cross-reference between the three sources listed here to find a personal stylization that works for you.

Notice that all of these college resumes have a few things in common, including minimalistic design choices (no fancy colors, or borders, or anything artsy) and the same length: one page. There’s an old saying that unless you’re the president, your resume should be no longer than one page. Especially for college purposes—no one expects a student to have enough legitimately important accomplishments to require a resume larger than a single sheet of paper.
Ideas for inclusions on college resumes:

  • Contact info up top
  • The best, normal 1-inch margins and standard fonts
  • Bullet points to help keep resume one page long

Don’t lie on your college resume

Even if it seems tempting to fudge the truth a little here and there to look extra good on paper, it’s not worth it. Seriously, if you’re even considering bumping your GPA up by a fraction of a point just to look good, don’t do it.

At no other point in your life will employers care more about factual accuracy than when reviewing your application while you’re in college or fresh out of college. They’ll know you’re an untested variable and will want to see if you were successful in college, as well as if you’re being honest about how successful. You do not want to lose your first potential internship or job offer because you lied about volunteering or some other benign, innocuous thing.

If your academic career went poorly, your GPA is in the toilet, and you’re truly ashamed of what your resume looks like when it’s truthful, then your best bet is to get a job, any job, that’ll take you as-is and work your way up from there.

Lying fresh out of college, or while still in college, is asking to be blacklisted permanently from certain industries while you’re still in your youth. Some employers might be forgiving or overlook small discrepancies, but that’s really not a risk you want to take while you still have a clean ledger.

Besides, lying is for rookies. If you did well in school, have an extracurricular activity or some work experience in your history, and know a thing or two about proper formatting, you’ll do just fine showing employers the honest truth about yourself

Don’t include on college resumes:

  • White lies such as fibbing about receiving a small scholarship
  • Major lies such as claiming you were valedictorian if you weren’t
  • Any sort of lie you cannot safely escape from if questioned about