How to Write a CV for Grad School

A student typing her CV on a laptop

When researching the requirements for the graduate programs I would be applying for, I panicked when I read a CV was required for my admissions application. I knew a CV was something like a resume, but the only place I remember hearing about it was on a boating show. If you feel similarly unprepared for this major requirement of the graduate admissions application, don’t stress! We’ve got the answers to the most common questions and even a template below to help you create a CV that will impress any graduate admissions committee!

What is a CV and How Does It Compare to a Resume?

To define a CV, let’s first define a resume as it is more well-known and widely-used.

Resume

A resume (or industry CV to some) is a document used when applying for professional experiences, such as jobs or internships, to give the hiring committee/manager a snapshot of your qualifications. It often includes your contact information, education, work experience, skills and certifications, and references. Resumes are meant to be brief overviews, so they are usually 1-2 pages long with minimum elaboration.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

An academic curriculum vitae (CV) is a document used when applying for academic experiences, such as graduate school or fellowships, to give the admissions committee a thorough understanding of your academic experience with your chosen field of study. Similarly to a resume, you still include contact information, education, and professional experience, but the CV has areas built in for more elaboration such as: publications, conferences, teaching experiences, honors and awards, etc. Because a CV is a more in-depth document, they tend to be 2+ pages long. The more experience, the longer the CV.

RESUME CV
1-2 Pages 2+ Pages
Tailored for a professional audience

(private/public sector employment, internships, some grad school programs)

Tailored for an academic audience

(most grad school programs, fellowships, grants, scholarships, academic research positions)

Snapshot of your qualifications to perform a job Thorough picture of your capability and involvement in an academic field of study

Important Note: pay close attention to your program and university admission requirements. There are some programs (like MBA programs) that require graduate school resumes instead of CVs, and there are some universities that require graduate school resumes instead of CVs. ALWAYS tailor your admissions application to the program/university for which you are applying.

What Should I Include in My CV for Graduate School?

The good thing about a CV is that it allows for more individual tailoring toward your unique experience. There is information you should ALWAYS include and there are definitely things you’ll WANT to include if you can, but you get to choose what gets showcased. We will be detailing below the must have and the most common categories that are included on a CV, but if you have other experiences that don’t quite fit the given categories we provide, adapt your CV to you!

The “Must Have” Categories

  • Personal contact information
    • Name, address, phone number, and email
  • Research interests
    • 1-2 sentences on what you are interested in researching at the university
  • Educational background
    • Undergrad and post-undergrad education only
  • Relevant employment/work experience
    • Include employment that is relevant to what you are applying to do. Don’t put your summer lifeguard job down for your chemistry graduate application!

The “If You Have It, Include It!” Categories

  • Teaching experience
  • Research experience
  • Leadership or collaborative experience
  • Relevant volunteer experience
  • Relevant extracurriculars
  • Publications
  • Conference presentations
  • Fellowships/grants/scholarships
  • Honors and awards
  • Relevant certifications
  • Academic/professional memberships
  • Notable courses
  • Languages

What If I Don’t Have Enough Experience?

We are all unique, so every CV will look different. If you are noticing you do not have the experience you need or want for a category, don’t be discouraged! You have some options.

Option 1 – Leave It Off

The first option is to leave that category off completely. When I applied for my psychology PhD, I did not have any academic research experience even though I knew the admissions committee would be looking for it. What I chose to do instead of making something irrelevant fit was to leave the research category off of my CV and spend more space highlighting my professional work experience and my research interests.

Option 2 – Get the Experience

Another option is to find opportunities to get experience in those areas. If you do not have any conference presentations or any publications, but you know that would benefit your CV, start connecting with some of your professors or even your current employer and ask if there are any opportunities to be involved in those experiences.

Option 3 – Ask!

If you are concerned that your lack of experience will disqualify you from admissions, you can always ask. Reach out to the graduate admissions advisors or a department faculty member and ask if it is a concern and what advice they have for you to gain that experience before you apply. When in doubt, always ask!

How Should My CV Look?

Keep It Clean

The admissions committee has to read A LOT of CVs, so making it harder on them to read will hurt your chances. Your graduate admissions CV is not the time for elaborate fonts, colors, or graphics. You want something that is easy to read and easy to navigate. You have PLENTY of work you need to do on your application, so don’t waste your time trying to format a document. There are a lot of well-formatted, free and paid resume and CV templates that are available online (we have one too! Check it out!).

Keep It Simple

When writing your CV, write clearly and directly. Start descriptions and bullet points with action verbs and use clear sentence structures focused on one idea. Avoid repeating information (including action verbs), and when revising, take out unnecessary words and phrases.

Keep It Logical

The organization of your CV is ultimately up to you and what you feel best tells your story, but you need to make sure it follows a logical progression. For example, I wouldn’t want to talk about my education experience, go to my volunteer experience, then circle back to my education experience. Chunk like categories as much as possible and introduce broader ideas (education) before getting into the more narrow categories (research and teaching experience).

A final note, when organizing within sections, always follow reverse chronological order with the most recent and relevant experience listed first.

How Can I Make My CV Stand Out?

Here are a few suggestions on how to make your CV stand out:

  1. Tailor to the university. Different universities value different traits and different levels of experience. Research the university and the program and take notes on what they are looking for in their current and future grad students. Be sure to highlight those traits and experiences in your CV.
  2. Use powerful language. Saying exactly what you mean in a short amount of space with a strong vocabulary and clear sentences communicates to the faculty that written communication is a strength.
  3. Focus on your results and accomplishments instead of your responsibilities. For example, instead of saying, “Managed a team of six.” Say, “lead a team of six to become the highest ranking sales team in the company through the implementation of metric analysis.” If you can make your accomplishments and results quantifiable, do it!

Conclusion

Your CV is an incredibly important part of your application for the graduate admissions committee and for you. Not only does it reveal a lot about yourself and your background to the admissions committee, but it is the culminating list of everything you have done to get to this moment. All of the hard work, all of the sacrifice, all of the growth you’ve experienced will be here, on this document, and everything you learn and experience in grad school will only be added to it. Congrats on getting here! You got this!

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Author

  • Kelsey Crowson

    Kelsey is an admissions instructor at Magoosh. She graduated from Utah State University with a B.S. in English, history, and psychology education. Upon graduation, she worked in a middle school in Wyoming teaching literature and composition while also teaching her students the art of navigating adolescence. After being in the workforce for five years, she sought out Magoosh for help with GRE test preparation and admissions questions to help her pursue her goals in furthering her education, and just recently accepted to pursue her PhD in school psychology at her alma mater. She is eager to share her experience with graduate admissions and continue to help others achieve their educational goals!

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