How to Write a Competitive CV for Grad School Applications
If you’re new to my blog, welcome, my name is Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu and I’m a first-gen Chicana grad school and productivity coach. Each year for the last 14+ years, I support new cohorts of grad school applicants in learning about the process of crafting strong graduate school application materials.
One common topic of conversation that comes up is a conversation on how to write a competitive CV for grad school applications. Applicants want to know what this document is, what it looks like, and how to make sure theirs is as strong as it can be.
I typically define what a curriculum vitae (CV) is and compare the differences between the CV and a resume, a document they’re probably more familiar with. A CV, I say, summarizes your academic background and achievements.
While similar to a resume, it’s more comprehensive since it’s longer and not necessarily always tailored to a specific job. CVs are typically used in academic settings where as resumes are more common in non-academic industries.
CVs can be as long as you want. I’ve personally seen a 50+ page CV from a distinguished scholar but don’t worry, as a grad school applicant, you’re more than fine with submitting a 2 page CV.
If you’re ready to start drafting your CV, here are my recommendations for things to consider:
Make sure to include your NAME and CONTACT INFORMATION at the topic, followed by an EDUCATION section listing all institutions you’ve attended, degrees earned, major or department you received your degree(s) in, and graduation dates. And yes, please include your community college degrees. I personally love seeing them! Go community college grads!
After the EDUCATION section, you can include sections that showcase your RESEARCH EXPERIENCE with program names, dates, your role or title, a brief description of what you did and any notable outcomes or achievements.
You can also add a RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS section to highlight your public speaking skills, especially if you’ve presented at a conference or symposium. For this section, I recommend adding the title of your presentation, the name of the conference, the location, and the date you gave your presentation.
Some undergraduates may have published their work and if you did that you can include a PUBLICATIONS section to highlight the name of the manuscript, the journal or other venue it was published in, and the date it was published. You can also list forthcoming publications (meaning, they have been accepted for publication), publications under review (and mention where you submitted it to) and/or manuscripts in preparation (which haven’t been submitted anywhere yet).
A popular section for undergraduates applying directly to graduate school is the HONORS AND AWARDS and/or a GRANTS AND FELLOWSHIPS section because you may have been on a dean’s list, received a national fellowship, or were awarded certain scholarships in college.
If you have any tutoring or teaching assistant experience, please include that in a TEACHING EXPERIENCE section.
Another common section to include is a LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE or SERVICE TO THE UNIVERSITY section that can include officer positions in student organizations, prominent campus involvement, or volunteer work in the community.
You may also have a WORK EXPERIENCE section, especially if you’re applying to more applied master’s programs or doctoral degrees. Make sure that when you describe the experience you focus on listing the skills you gained and your quantifiable achievements.
If you have field-specific abilities, you’ll want to highlight that in a SKILLS section. This is more common in STEM fields where applicants often list the software and technical skills they’ve acquired, however, social science and humanities applicants can list their research abilities in this section too.
Another section to include is a LANGUAGE section especially if you’re bilingual or multilingual. Please list the languages you know and the level of proficiency. Don’t include English. That’s a given if you’re received all your education and training in the US.
Two more common sections I see near the end of CVs from grad school applicants are a MEMBERSHIPS section where you can list memberships in national academic associations or honor societies as well as a REFERENCES section where you include the name and contact information of individuals who have agreed to serve as your reference and likely a letter recommender too. The reference section is optional but if you choose to include it make sure that you’ve asked these individuals if you can include them on your CV.
Formatting a CV is simple and straightforward. I don’t recommend adding bells and whistles to your CV. Use standard font like Times New Roman or any other serif font. Font size should be no smaller than 10 pt and no larger than 12 pt, with the exception of your name, which can be larger than the rest of the text. Margins should be one inch throughout all four sides.
Before submitting, look at CV samples in your discipline from department websites or from your own graduate student and faculty mentors to see standard formatting conventions and sections. Model yours after the common conventions in your field.
With a polished, well-structured CV that highlights your academic background and skills, you’ll give the admissions committee plenty of reasons to be impressed, increasing your odds of admission into graduate school. And if you need extra support, check out my podcast episode on “How to Create an Effective CV for Grad Admissions” and check out my 1:1 coaching services.