Tips to Write a Resume for Your Grad School Application

As you prepare to apply to grad school, you may find yourself constructing a number of resumes. As you look to get into the grad school of your dreams, an updated resume is a must—and there are plenty of tips to help you make your resume unique, provide all the necessary information, and present the best version of yourself.

While a resume for a grad school application may look a little like a resume used for other purposes, it’s different in many ways. As you begin to put together a stellar resume to hopefully secure you a spot at your top institution, keep these tips in mind.

CV or resume?

It is important to determine the specific requirements and goals of your program as you attempt to determine whether a resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV) is the most effective choice. For most programs, a CV, which emphasizes academic background, teaching/research experience, awards, publications, and honors, is the better choice.

A CV is longer, more detailed, and differently tailored than a resume, so you’ll likely have to create a new document.

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How will you format your grad school resume or CV?

A CV or resume can take liberties with format, so think about the order in which you’d like to present your accomplishments. This will vary based upon the program to which you are applying and the specific skill sets and experience you have. You can customize your CV as needed for different applications, but you’ll almost always include the following:

  • contact information

  • education

  • publications

  • professional presentations

  • honors and awards

  • teaching experience

  • research skills/experience

  • relevant work experience

  • references

If you don’t have adequate information to fill in each of these sections, remember that it is okay to omit them as necessary. In fact, it may make your application stronger if you focus on highlighting your true achievements and avoid “filler” content.

Be a thoughtful editor to your resume or CV

Often, it can feel like you need to fill all of the space on a page to offer a competitive CV or resume. That isn’t the case—relevant career or research experience will do more for your application than the first part-time job you ever had. Stick to the information that positively contributes to your application and cut the extras. You should almost never include activities or experiences from high school, as it can weaken your overall document and make you seem desperate to fill space—there are exceptions, however. Perhaps one of those activities was particularly relevant to your goals now—you may have taken an impressive leadership position at the time that helped build your current portfolio, or you may still be helping that organization as part of its alumni committee.

If you’ve still got some time before submitting your application, work to gain experiences that will fill any gaps now. Even a new volunteer experience or research position has a place on a CV or resume, and it is never too late to begin!

Ensure your resume or CV is concise

While you might expand upon your experience in an essay, a resume or CV should be short. You want to present as much information as you can in a limited space. Instead of writing complete sentences, focus on clarity. For example, if you helped ESL students learn idioms as an English tutor, you might write “Taught ESL students” in your CV. Consider also adding specific numbers when possible—i.e. you might add to that, “Taught 3-4 ESL students per month.” This helps demonstrate exactly how much and how often you contributed in your various tasks, rather than just giving a generic statement that could be inferred many ways. Below are a few more examples of how to quantify and enhance your listed achievements:

 Achievement  How to Quantify it
 Wrote articles for XYZ publication  Wrote 3 weekly articles for XYZ publication
 Tutored students  Tutored 5 students per month in math and science
 Managed budgets  Managed monthly budgets of $___

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Because you’ve got to convey more information with less space, word choice will be important. Use strong verbs that give an accurate sense of the work you did. You’ll also want to be consistent in your tone and tense, so pay attention to language as you work through your resume or CV.

Think about how content is consumed

More and more, we take in content that is fast and easy to digest. There’s a lot of material out there, and we’ve only got so much time. As you prepare your resume or CV for grad school applications, keep this in mind. You’ve got a few seconds to catch the attention of someone, so make it count. Use bullet points and white space to your advantage.

The bottom line about grad school resumes / CVs

A strong resume or CV provides an excellent building block for future applications and jobs, so your time is well spent. By keeping your material concise, relevant, and well organized, you’re more than likely to make a lasting impression on grad schools. Best of all, you’ll have the foundation of a great resume to use later on. Good luck!


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