How to Discuss Work Experience When Applying to College

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

Your CV

You should include your work experience on your resume, as it can show that you are responsible, hardworking, and able to juggle multiple commitments at once. If you’ve only had one or two jobs, you can list those entries in a single subsection titled “Work Experience” or something similar.

However, if you’ve held multiple jobs and they span different industries — for example, as a salesperson, customer service representative, and babysitter — you might want to categorize your work experience under more specific labels.

In any case, list your professional experiences in reverse chronological order, placing the most recent item first and going back in time. However, if there’s an entry you want to highlight — because you’ve worked on it for a long time, for example, or it relates to your intended major — you can put it first.

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

Letter of recommendation

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

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

If you are particularly close to your recommenders, you may be able to meet with them and let them know what work experience you would like them to mention in the letter. However, as this may seem imposing to some, you should exercise discretion.

Your Trial

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

The thing is, the work experience you mention should cast you in a positive light and fit well into the essay. It shouldn’t be read as an afterthought or irrelevant point that you’re trying too hard to sink into.

Interviews

College interviews are also a great opportunity to discuss any significant work experience you gained in high school.

Imagine, for example, that you worked in a hospital cafeteria one summer and that experience discovered a passion for nutrition in you. You can bring up this experience if you are asked about your planned major or where you see yourself in 10 years. For example, if you receive the question about your major, you might answer, “Working in the cafeteria at Hospital X, I realized I liked 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’re interested in this college.

To the first question, you might answer that you are a hardworking aid worker, as evidenced by your summer job or volunteer experience at a specific hospital. To the latter, you might mention that the university’s prestigious health sciences program is particularly appealing to you, explaining that you first became interested in the field because of your work experience at the hospital.

There’s a tricky way to mention work experience for almost every type of interview question. Whatever the question, however, always discuss the work experience through the lens of what you learned or discovered, or how you grew out of it as a student or as a person.

Maria D. Ervin