There are many reasons for parents to leave most of the college admissions work to their child. After all, you can't go to college for them, so the student needs to be in charge of choosing the college, completing the applications, taking the ACT/SAT, asking for letters of recommendation, participating in extracurriculars, etc. But there is one college admissions project that is perfect for the parents to do: the activities record/resume.
What's an activities resume?
The activities resume is a list of everything that has happened to your child outside the classroom during high school. This includes clubs and activities, lessons, summer projects, achievements, awards, etc. starting right after 8th grade. You know that college is looming, even though your 14 year old won't pay attention for at least a couple of years. Beginning and updating the activities resume is a way for moms and dads to get a jump on the college admissions process.
You have the data, write it down
I know you have a place where you keep all the evidence of your kids' greatness. I have a drawer in my kitchen stuffed full of xeroxed band concert programs, 4-H awards and old standardized test reports. It's in reverse chronological order, because after the paper had sat on the kitchen counter the requisite number of days, I'd just shove it in the drawer on top of whatever else is in there. When it came time for my boys to fill out their applications, suddenly it was important to know what they did when. What exactly did they do that showed leadership or community service? What honors and awards had they won?
For #1 son, I was blindsided, and spent a lot of time reconstructing a list of what he had done. But he had only applied to one school. I was in for a shock when #2 son applied to schools who required the Common Application. Not only did they want to know what he had participated in, but also when, and for how many hours a week and how many weeks a month! Luckily, he was mostly homeschooled for middle and high school so I had expected to have to document a lot for him to even get into college. Believe me, I dove into those records to help him fill out all that info for the Common App, and even then we were puzzled about how to allocate hours, etc. I was working with another student a couple weeks ago, trying to figure out how many hours he'd spent working crew at the local Children's Theatre. Eight shows a year x 20 hours per show: was that too generous or too conservative an estimate?
A Better Way
By the time it was #3 son's turn to apply, I was ready. As soon as #2 son sent in his applications, I created an activities resume for #3. I had used a Word document for #2, but kept #3's info in the Notes section of my computer, as you can see above, which made it much easier to update and to cut-and-paste into online applications. In individual notes for each grade, I just listed every thing he'd done, every honor and award he'd received, all the community service, everything that could be considered leadership. Some things counted twice: 4H was a gold mine. He was president of the club for 1 year, had volunteered to teach a class on Discovery Day (both leadership, Discovery Day was also community service) and had won a gold award for drama and outstanding performance (honors and awards). (The required yearly 4H record book was also invaluable for reconstructing activities.) Scouting is a similarly rich extracurricular.
The document below for a sample Word document. You'll notice it's not a literal resume so much as a list of activities. I've highlighted the various entries according to their category. Light blue is community service, purple is leadership, green is music, red is drama and yellow is academics.
(The colors and formatting are by way of explanation for this essay. I didn't send it to the colleges this way.)
Not only is the activities resume handy for completing college applications, it can also serve as a "brag sheet" when asking for letters of recommendation. Most high school teachers will not be completely familiar with what your child does outside of school. (It's always better to choose those who know the whole student, but that's not always possible.) Even if they have known your child for more than a couple months, it is helpful to give them a hard copy of the activities resume to help jog their memory.
If you start right now to create an activities resume for your future college student, you won't be sorry. The only additional thing I'd suggest is that you keep track of how many hours per week they do the activity in case you need to use the Common App. A good format, based on the requirements of the Common App, can be found on the College Match website by Dr. Steven Antonoff. He has a lot of other great worksheet resources under the "Writing" tab. I also highly recommend his book, also called College Match.
Talk Back! Have you created an activities resume for your student? Was it helpful?
Lessa Scherrer is an college admissions consultant who has worked with college-bound students for many years. She is a member of NACAC and WACAC and also teaches ACT Prep, speed-reading, college study skills and college-level writing.
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