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8 Tips to Help You Craft the Perfect High School Resume

When it comes to applying for college programs, research opportunities, or internships, your resume is a powerful tool. It’s not just a list of accomplishments; it's a key that can unlock incredible opportunities. 


Think of your resume as a story of your skills, experiences, and ambitions. Starting to build this story early gives you an edge. Why? Because it’s not just about what you’ve achieved; it’s about how you’ve grown and what you’ve learned along the way. A strategic resume is more than an impressive list of activities and accomplishments, it should be a cohesive narrative that shows how you’ve developed and refined your academic passions and skills over time.


But the journey to a standout resume starts before you’re confronted with applications—it begins much earlier, at the moment you begin each experience you’ll include.


In this article, we’ll explore how crafting a solid resume from the early days of high school can set you up for success. We’ll uncover the steps to make your resume shine, making it your ticket to exciting research opportunities, sought-after internships, and your dream schools. Because your resume isn’t just a documentation of what you’ve done—it’s your gateway to a world of possibilities.


Let’s dive into eight of the most important tips for writing a truly impressive and strategic resume!


1. Use Quantifiable Details

Many activities or achievements are common among high school students, and overrepresented among candidates. But, of course, not all levels of participation are the same. The ways you engage with a given activity can be phrased in a very generic fashion that will make it hard to stand out among other applicants.


Here’s an example: Imagine two students are both members of their school’s debate team. A generic description might mention “attending regular tournaments”, “completing research to write cases and arguments”. Now, consider two student profiles: Student One competes every weekend, practices every day after school, and compiles a 20-page document with well-researched rebuttals to common arguments before each tournament. Student Two debates once a month, attends practices sporadically, and compiles the bare minimum amount of research to form a decent case. Isn’t this an important distinction for an evaluator to know? 


You should also extend this to how you “report”outcomes in your resume. For instance, if you are talking about a research project that you’ve undertaken, instead of writing “helped children in XYZ country gain access to drinking water” try to write in terms of ‘metrics’ - “built a water filteration system at 1/5th the cost of the market price. As a result of this, 500 children gained access to drinking water each month starting February (from 100 in January).”


When you write a resume entry, you want to come off as a “Student One”. To best accomplish this, make each entry as specific and detailed as possible, clarifying the exact nature of your participation. 


Though descriptive details are helpful, they aren’t objective — their relevance and significance can be open to interpretation, especially for evaluators unfamiliar with what top performance looks like in a given activity.  


So, to avoid ambiguity and best prove your success, the most effective strategy is to employ quantifiable details — impressive numbers and statistics can be universally understood, no matter one’s level of familiarity with an activity or experience. Provide the regularity with which you practice or compete in an activity. If you win an award, specify how many competitors you were up against. If you formed a new club, include the number of members you recruited. Objectively impressive numbers and statistics you provide will help turn a resume entry from good to great!


2. Employ Action Verbs

Using action verbs in resume entries isn’t just a matter of language; it’s a strategy that injects dedication and commitment into your experiences. Action verbs not only grab attention but also convey a sense of proactivity and achievement, demonstrating that you were more than just a passive participant and elevating mundane job descriptions into vibrant, engaging narratives. They allow recruiters or admissions officers to envision you in action, showcasing your active participation and impact within each role or project. In essence, these verbs propel your resume from a passive list of responsibilities to an energetic testament of your capabilities and accomplishments. Thankfully, there are a wide array of resources to help guide your word choices — this guide from MIT is a great starting point, listing effective action verbs separated into categories from Research to Accomplishments to Technical Skills.  


3. Order Strategically (When Possible)

Though traditional resumes submitted with job applications or graduate school admissions require you to list information chronologically, the Common Application and many high school internships allow you to choose the order of your activities. The majority of people are most focused when they first begin reading a document. So, if you pique Admissions Officers’ interest right away, you’re more likely to hold their attention as they continue reading. With this in mind, it is incredibly important to lead with your most exciting, unique, and impressive activities. 


Wondering how to determine this ranking? Typically, activities where you’ve held impressive leadership positions, achieved impressive awards or accomplishments, made impacts reaching beyond your school or locality, and participated in most consistently or long-term should take priority. 



4. Tailor your Resume with Readers in Mind

Crafting a tailored resume isn’t just about showcasing your past experiences; it’s about strategically positioning yourself as the ideal match for the internship or school you’re pursuing. Every opportunity has its unique set of needs and expectations. By tailoring your resume, you're essentially speaking the language of the institution or company, illustrating precisely how your background, skills, and accomplishments perfectly fit their mold. This approach allows you to present yourself as the candidate who not only meets but exceeds their criteria, demonstrating a profound understanding of what they value.


With each application you submit, be open to tweaking wording or emphasizing different components of your experience that most closely align with the priorities of the school or program.  It’s not about fabricating a new persona but rather about highlighting the facets of your journey that resonate most with their objectives. 


To figure out what to highlight or which keywords to use, start from the college’s or internship’s website — a strong example to explore can be found on Harvard Admissions’ Academic Environment page. As you research, keep these questions in mind: How do they describe their academic mission and values? What words do they use to describe their school community or the types of students they’re looking for? Which academic skills seem to be emphasized the most? Then, fine-tune your resume to match these criteria as best you can. 


A customized resume isn’t just a document; it’s your chance to narrate a compelling story about your “fit” at a college or program. It’s about strategically selecting and emphasizing experiences that directly correlate with what they’re seeking. This tailored approach transforms your resume into a persuasive argument, showcasing how your past involvements have equipped you uniquely for success within their specific environment. 


5. Keep Track of Your Participation Consistently 

It can be difficult to remember every detail of your work and achievements, which can cause trouble when compiling material for your resume  — you might forget the exact name or ranking of an award, the number of students you recruited for a club, the amount of money you earned in awards or fundraisers, and so on. However, all of this information can be crucial for quantifying your achievements. So, maintain a record of any key updates on your participation in competitions, extracurriculars and other activities throughout high school — you’ll save time digging through documents to find information, and won’t be forced to leave out impressive details that you’re unable to confirm. So, don’t wait until you need to construct your resume to think about all of the things you’ve accomplished. Keep a running list of what you do with each job, extracurricular, or activity you’re a part of, so you’ll ensure that none of your hard work goes unrecognized. 


6. Include Skills & Qualifications

Though the most “traditional” resume content will focus on your work and/or volunteering experience and extracurricular activities and projects, this is by no means the only relevant information to include! Oftentimes, you’ll have skills and competencies that are not directly related to a resume entry or that do not easily fit into the activity description. These additional qualifications can be powerful additions to your application, especially if they relate to the field or tasks you’ll participate in. 


Do you independently study coding? List the programming languages you’ve learned, any specialized skills you hold, or impressive projects you’ve developed. This will put you at a massive advantage when applying to most STEM internships, programs, and college programs. 


Are you multilingual? Provide the languages you know, and specify your competence in the areas of speaking, reading, writing, and translating. Beyond relevance for language and/or literature study, this will make you an appealing candidate for internships or schools where you’ll be interacting with an international community. 


If you’re unsure where to start or what might be relevant, consider looking at “preferred qualifications” on internship postings or fundamental coursework at academic programs that excite you—this will reveal the skills an ideal candidate will have, putting you one step ahead in the application process. 



7. Make It Skimmable 

A truly unfortunate fact about admissions and recruitment is that the first read of your resume will usually be a quick one-to-two minute skim. Admissions officers for schools and internships are tasked with reviewing a massive number of applications with a limited turnaround time; on first review, they’re typically looking to identify candidates who aren’t sufficiently qualified to advance to the next round of evaluation. This means that if your resume isn’t immediately engaging to the reader, you may lose the chance for a more comprehensive review. 


With this in mind, format your resume in an intuitive and easy-to-read way, write content in bullet points, avoid convoluted wording, and eliminate irrelevant details that detract from your main points. Your goal is to make your impressive achievements impossible to miss!


8. Use AI as a Resource to Organize Information

Approaching the complex guidelines for creating the ideal resume can feel daunting — navigating the process of structuring and phrasing is no easy feat. If you’re unsure of where to start, AI models can be an incredibly useful resource to get the ball rolling.

One of the most useful ways that AI can help you out is with initial content generation, particularly helping you synthesize information in a clear and concise manner. 


When using these platforms, ensure you provide comprehensive details about your activities, projects, and volunteer work. AI excels in synthesizing vast amounts of information, so the more you input, the better it can distill and structure your resume. Additionally, take advantage of the AI's ability to tailor your resume for specific applications. Many AI-driven systems can analyze job or program requirements and help tailor your content accordingly, ensuring your resume aligns perfectly with the opportunity you're pursuing. Lastly, after the AI has compiled your information, review and refine the output. While AI is adept at organization and synthesis, providing your personal touch ensures the final result reflects your unique journey and aspirations. By utilizing AI strategically in this process, you can craft a clear, concise, and impactful resume that highlights your high school experiences effectively.


Wrapping up 

In conclusion, your high school resume serves as a narrative of your academic journey and aspirations. It transcends mere documentation, encapsulating your experiences and ambitions. Starting this process early is a strategic move in order to ensure you’re one step ahead in preparing for applications, providing the most strategic information to support your candidacy, and making your stand-out achievements impossible to miss. Since the smallest features of word choice, phrasing, and organization can have major impacts on your evaluation as an applicant, meticulous and ongoing work will put you in the ideal position to achieve your goals. 


Overall, your resume isn’t just a segment of an application; it’s a testament to your distinctiveness. Approach this endeavor as an opportunity to illustrate your singular trajectory and aspirations. Your individual story is at its core, and the resume serves as a vehicle to present your trajectory toward success. Take ownership of this process, ensuring it reflects your path and ambitions as you transition beyond high school.


Additionally, you can also work on independent research in AI, through Veritas AI's Fellowship Program!


Veritas AI focuses on providing high school students who are passionate about the field of AI a suitable environment to explore their interests.


The programs include collaborative learning, project development, and 1-on-1 mentorship. These programs are designed and run by Harvard graduate students and alumni and you can expect a great, fulfilling educational experience. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of Python or are recommended to complete the AI scholars program before pursuing the fellowship. 


The AI Fellowship program will have students pursue their own independent AI research project. Students work on their own individual research projects over a period of 12-15 weeks and can opt to combine AI with any other field of interest. In the past, students have worked on research papers in the field of AI & medicine, AI & finance, AI & environmental science, AI & education, and more! You can find examples of previous projects here


Location: Virtual

Cost

  • $1,790 for the 10-week AI Scholars program

  • $4,900 for the 12-15 week AI Fellowship 

  • $4,700 for both

  • Need-based financial aid is available. You can apply here

Application deadline: On a rolling basis. Applications for fall cohort have closed September 3, 2023. 

Program dates: Various according to the cohort

Program selectivity: Moderately selective

Eligibility: Ambitious high school students located anywhere in the world. AI Fellowship applicants should either have completed the AI Scholars program or exhibit past experience with AI concepts or Python.

Application Requirements: Online application form, answers to a few questions pertaining to the students background & coding experience, math courses, and areas of interest. 


One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


Image Source: Unsplash

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