Work Experience and College Applications

It’s important to include work experience on your college application, but applicants often wonder how this should be done. Here are some actionable tips on how to discuss past and current jobs in the different components of the college application.

Your Resume

You should include your work experience on your resume because it can show that you are responsible, hardworking and able to balance multiple commitments at once. If you have had only one or two jobs, you may mention those entries under a single subsection called “Work Experience” or something similar.

However, if you have held several jobs and they span different sectors – for instance, as a salesperson, customer service representative and babysitter – you may want to categorize your work experience under more specific labels.

In any case, list your job experiences in reverse chronological order, putting the most recent item first and working backwards in time. However, if there is one entry you want to emphasize – because you worked there a long time, for instance, or it relates to your intended major – you can place it first.

Finally, consider omitting short-lived work experience that may not contribute anything meaningful to your application or that could even work against you. For example, if you worked somewhere for only a few days and then quit, it would be best to leave that information out.

Letters of Recommendation

Because letters of recommendation are composed by third parties, you cannot directly influence the information they contain. Ultimately, it is the recommender who decides what to write. However, you can and should give each of your recommenders a copy of your resume.

This gesture ends up making the task easier for recommenders, as it means they can pull from concrete data rather than basing the letter on thoughts, observations or other points they may struggle to put into words or remember.

If you are especially close to your recommenders, you may be able to meet with them and hint at which work experience you would like them to mention in the letter. However, because this may come across as imposing to some, you must use discretion.

Your Essay

Your college application essay is the ideal place to elaborate on the work experience that you highlight on your resume. However, most students choose not to make their entire personal statement about work experience. Instead, they find a way to cleverly weave it into their essay, perhaps devoting a few lines or even one or two paragraphs to it.

The point is that the work experience you mention should cast you in a positive light and be well-integrated into the essay. It shouldn’t read as an afterthought or out-of-place point you are trying too hard to squeeze in.


College interviews also constitute a perfect opportunity to discuss any important work experience you have gained in high school.

Imagine, for example, that you worked at a hospital cafeteria one summer and from that experience you discovered a passion for nutrition. You could bring up this experience if asked about your intended major or where you see yourself in 10 years. For instance, if you get the question about your major, you could respond: “While working at the cafeteria of X Hospital, I realized I have a love for nutrition when … Now, I’d like to pursue a major in health science or dietetics, so I can … ”

Additionally, you can incorporate work experience if the interviewer simply says, “Tell me about yourself” or asks why you are interested in that college.

To the former question, you might respond that you are a hardworking humanitarian, as evidenced by your summer work or volunteer experience at a specific hospital. To the latter, you could mention that the university’s prestigious health science program is particularly attractive to you, explaining that you first became interested in the field due to your work experience at the hospital.

There is a tactful way to mention work experience for nearly all interview question types. Regardless of the question, though, always discuss work experience through the lens of what you learned or discovered from it, or how you grew from it as a student or person.

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