How to Improve Your Resume This Summer If You're Applying This Fall

Are you staring at your resume and experiencing a mild sense of panic wondering how you're going to beef it up between now and the time you submit your applications this fall? 

You may be tempted to sign up for a flurry of impressive-sounding activities, but remember that quality matters a whole lot more than quantity. Admissions officers know what resume padding looks like. In fact, they have a finely tuned antenna for that sort of thing. Any activity where you list your main contribution as "member" — i.e. just showing up — isn't going to count for much. 

You’ll also have to list start dates for your jobs and activities, as well as hours per week, when it comes time to apply. It will be completely transparent if all of a sudden you discover a grand passion for immigrant aid volunteering, or sustainability work, or the inner workings of the Dodd-Frank Act three months before you apply. Track records matter.

What about life-altering and horizon-expanding trips abroad? If you have the opportunity to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip this summer, go for it. Nobody will fault you for that, and the chance may not come again. But don't feel pressured to spend time and money trekking around Nepal just for your applications. Truly, you do not have to trek around Nepal to make yourself a good admissions candidate. (Side note: And no admissions officer — not a single one — needs to read another essay about how you went to Guatemala for three weeks and encountered poor people and had an epiphany because they are so happy and now you're a better person.)

A better approach would be to dig deeper into the things you're already doing, whether it's a job or an activity. Take on more responsibility. Demonstrate leadership ("demonstrate" means you have to be able to prove it). Commit more of your brainpower. Find creative solutions to problems. Work on skills you want or need to improve. And learn from people around you. Bring your A game every single day. That's the absolute best thing you can be doing for your resume this summer.

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).