College students have a tendency to throw everything plus the kitchen sink into their resume. This makes some sense. After all, when you don’t have that much experience, you want to list as many qualifications as you have. As you gather more experience, though, there comes a time when you’ll have to cut some of that junk from college. The question is: When? It totally depends on who you are, what else you've done, what you're applying for and how impressive your degree is. The short answer, then, is keep it for as long as your college experience is a value-add. Think carefully about what each accomplishment is attempting to demonstrate. Generally, after about two - five years post-graduation, items from college will start to look silly. You don't have to cut everything at once, though. Some items might make sense to keep for a while, though others should be removed immediately. Some examples:
- Club Membership: This is usually the first thing to go. Joining a club doesn’t show much about your skills or experience.
- Leadership Positions: Many club leadership positions don't mean much other than that you were the most active member or relatively well liked. If you were just VP of Marketing for _____ Club, that really doesn't mean much. Unless you accomplished something impressive and unusual in that role that's impressive, I don't really care.
- Coursework: This is commonly added for programming or other roles where your classes are directly applicable. But remove this once you get your first job at the latest.
- Awards: It totally depends on the award. If you were valedictorian, this could be OK to keep for even more than 10 years -- as a single bullet in your college section.
These aren't absolute rules. I hesitate to even call them rules of thumb. Ultimately, your resume is supposed to highlight your accomplishments. The more impressive your post-graduation work, the more quickly you'll drop what you did beforehand. If your experience after school is mediocre, then you might continue to include your college information for a while. Here are some examples of where you might be justified keeping something for an unusually long time:
- You were the president of your sorority (graduated 15 years ago), and are applying for a position with someone who was a member but graduated several years before you. This can build a connection with the hiring manager.
- You're a programmer applying for a non-programming role that values communication skills (something which people might assume you don't have). An award like this might be valuable, even 10 years later: "Best Teaching Assistant: Voted by students as the best TA out of 500+ teaching assistants, after earning average ratings of 4.9 / 5.0 on communication skills."
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself:
- What does this award demonstrate about me? Does it show general success, or highlight particular skills?
- Are those skills or attributes valued?
- Are those skills or attributes adequately demonstrated by other items on your resume?
- By including this item on my resume, what else am I being forced to remove?