Seven Last-Minute Ways to Improve Your College Résumé


It’s crunch time! The deadline to submit an application to your dream job, a cool summer internship, or your top-choice graduate program is nigh. If you’ve never written a résumé before, you’ll need to start from scratch—and hurry!—but let’s say that you know the basics and you have a draft in front of you. You’ve run out of time to work on your résumé the old-fashioned way (i.e. with long-term involvement in extracurricular activities, a job, or university research), and you’re wondering how to boost your college résumé in a pinch. Specifically, what are some easy, last-minute ways to improve your college résumé?

A girl shows her resume to a man and asks for last minute ways to improve a college resume.

Take a four- or eight-hour online course.

If you’re looking for an easy way to add something new (and legit) to your résumé, look no further than an online course, many of which can be completed in just a few hours. You have a lot of choices, too. LinkedIn Learning, which partners with Lynda.com, focuses its courses on professional skills, which may appeal to prospective bosses or internship supervisors. For a monthly fee of $29.99 plus tax, you can access any courses on the platform. If you are looking for a free alternative, consider edX or Coursera. Both of these platforms tend to host academic classes, meaning that they’re similar to the ones you’d find in your university’s course catalog (and they may require a number of hours of study), but there are also some options for students hoping to improve their computer skills.

No matter what you choose, you can improve your résumé last minute when you learn new skills. Not only will you be able to claim knowledge of programming, a foreign language, marketing, or any number of soft skills, but the fact that you went out of your way to take a nonrequired course speaks volumes to just how committed to learning you really are.

Expand on the responsibilities and activities you’ve already listed.

When asked "What's great about you?" Andy responds "I'm nice."

Parks and Rec / Giphy

If you think your résumé has too much white space, don’t fret. Many students haven’t yet stepped out into the world of full-time jobs and professional development, so you aren’t alone if working concessions at a local movie theater was the only job you’ve ever held. The good news is, even without half a dozen work experiences under your belt, you can still flesh out the activities and jobs that do appear on your résumé. The key here is detail.

Let’s say you worked that concessions job. A lot of effort went into it, I’m sure. You greeted customers; you operated the register; you prepared food; you cleaned the counters and floors at the end of your shift; you trained a new employee. Use those relevant details to your advantage and give readers a better picture of what your job entailed. Maybe it was something like this?

  • Committed to working three four-hour shifts every week after school and was twice named employee of the month
  • Greeted customers promptly upon their arrival and provided helpful customer service as they ordered food and beverages
  • Operated the iPad register system smoothly to facilitate multiple payment methods and balanced the cash register at the end of the shift
  • Upheld health department standards behind the counter and in the lobby and maintained a clean and safe environment
  • Provided support to newer employees and thoroughly trained one new hire during my last month in the position

Voilà! With those details and action verbs, that description looks much better than just “Worked concessions.” And you know what? It gets rid of a lot of white space, too.

List your skills, even if they don’t fit cleanly elsewhere.

So, you picked up some HTML back in high school when you tried to start a blog? You grew up speaking Russian at home? You received your scuba certification on summer vacation? Even if you learned those skills in an informal setting, they can bring your résumé to life and make you seem more human. Consider adding a skills section below the sections about your education and work experiences to quickly improve your résumé.

  • Languages: ________
  • Computer programming: ________
  • Software: ________
  • Design: ________
  • Organization: ________
  • Communication: ________
  • Leadership: ________
  • Other: ________

Filling in those blanks based on your strengths, if relevant, is a quick way to make your résumé better without resorting to BS. Plus, listing your skills makes it easy to highlight key details about yourself.

Rupert Grint shown at two different ages

Rupert Grint / Giphy

Get rid of outdated accomplishments.

You’re slowly but surely working toward building a professional résumé, and holding on to outdated achievements isn’t doing you any favors. In fact, listing an achievement from your childhood not only seems immature but employers may assume that you haven’t actually accomplished anything recently. So, a last-minute way to improve your college résumé? Cut the fat.

Some rules of thumb: If you’re a senior in high school, get rid of the middle school accomplishments that are still listed on your résumé. If you’re a senior in college, delete everything from high school (unless it’s something, like a summer job, that continued into your college years). College underclassmen may decide to keep some of their achievements from their last couple of years in high school on their résumé, but no matter who you are, use your best judgment. The bottom line is that you should update your résumé with every major life change. You are constantly growing, and until you settle on a career path, your résumé should reflect your most recent achievements.

Complete a boatload of volunteer work on a short service trip.

Volunteering looks best on a résumé if you dedicated yourself to the activity over time. To really wow an employer, you’ll find it’s preferable to start volunteering at the local hospital or animal shelter as a freshman and stick with it throughout your college career. That said, if you have a little time to spare before you must submit your application, start now! Some community service looks better than none at all. If you’re very short on time, consider taking a weekend service trip with your church or an alternative spring break volunteer trip. These types of trips are so immersive that you can complete a month’s worth of service hours in a fraction of the time.

A woman pointing at herself and smiling.

The Voice / Giphy

Add coursework that’s relevant to the job or grad program to which you’re applying.

As a college student, you may find that most of your experience is academic. Not to worry; play up your strengths! Some students elect to include a relevant coursework section on their résumés, which they tailor to each job or internship to which they apply. If you’re applying to a job in a national park, for example, you could list your coursework in biology, ecology, or geoscience. If you’re applying to work as a camp counselor at a summer camp, include that class you took about the issues in contemporary education. And if you’re applying for a retail position? Your business courses will look just fine.

Take it to your college’s career center.

Have someone look over your résumé before you submit it. Ask your friend, your work-study supervisor, or better yet, your college’s career center. A career counselor’s job is to help you begin your career, and they have seen hundreds of résumés. They can tell you if the formatting is wonky, if there’s a typo you missed, or if something seems unclear. Some career centers require appointments and others have walk-in hours. Contact yours as soon as possible, especially if deadlines are drawing near.

There aren’t many last-minute ways to improve your college résumé, but the above tips can help you in a pinch. Next time, work on your résumé over time to ensure it’s as good as it can be, but in the meantime, best of luck!


About Gwen Elise

Gwen is an avid traveler who feels most at home in Kentucky and Argentina. Her closet is full of dark dresses, and her walls are papered in colorful maps. She likes to make puns, read, write, and translate to and from Spanish, and she misses Vassar College, her alma mater, which helped her get better at all of those things.

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