How to Write a CV for Graduate School: 7 Expert Tips

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In addition to GRE scores, transcripts, and a personal statement, your graduate school application will likely require a curriculum vitae (CV). But what kind of information should you include on a CV for graduate school? And how can you make sure your grad school CV leaves a lasting impression on admissions committees?

Follow along as we explain why graduate schools look at CVs and how CVs differ from resumes. We’ll also teach you how to write a CV for graduate school and give you our top tips for crafting a cogent and high-quality CV.

 

Why Do Graduate Schools Want CVs?

Like personal statements, CVs are a common grad school application staple (though not all programs require them). A grad school CV serves the same basic purpose as a regular CV: to secure you the job you want — in this case, the position of “grad student.” Essentially, the CV is a sales pitch to grad schools, and you’re selling yourself!

But what exactly is a CV? What specific purpose does it serve for grad schools during the admissions process?

A CV is basically a longer academic version of a resume, offering a summary of your academic history, research interests, relevant work experience, honors, accomplishments, etc. For grad schools, the CV is a quick indicator of how extensive your background is in the field and how much academic potential you have. Ultimately, grad schools use the CV to gauge how successful you’re likely to be as a grad student.

 

CV vs Resume: How Are They Different?

Most grad schools call for either a CV or a resume and will specify which document they prefer on their application requirements pages. If a program doesn’t indicate a preference for one or the other, it’s your choice.

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Personally, I’d opt for a CV, as a CV offers you far more space to elaborate on your academic and professional experiences than a resume does. (I’ll explain more about the amount of space on a CV in just a moment.)

But how different are these two documents, really? More than you might think.

For one, CVs are more widely used in the field of academia, while resumes are used more for professional fields. In other words, CVs focus predominantly on your academic history — not on your professional history.

CVs are also typically longer than resumes and can be any length (typically two or more pages). On the other hand, resumes are only a maximum of one or two pages.

The following table presents an overview of the differences between CVs and resumes:

CV Resume
Length Multiple pages (usually 2+) 1-2 pages
Content Covers entire academic history in detail; more elaborate than resume Focuses on professional history (i.e., employment and workplace skills); more succinct than CV
Purpose Used for grad school; fellowships; academic, research, and scientific positions Used for non-academic positions in private and public sectors; grad school*
Objective Statement Not typical for CVs; instead, include academic, teaching, or research interests Optional; place at beginning of resume

*Although resumes tend to have a stronger emphasis on employment and professional achievements, they may be used for grad school as well, depending on the program. For example, M.B.A. programs typically require resumes instead of CVs.

 

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How to Write a CV for Graduate School: What Should You Include?

Now, it’s time we go over how to write a CV for graduate school. To start, a great grad school CV will always include the following basic info:

  • Your name and contact info: Include your full name, home address, phone number, and email address. Place this info at the very top of your CV. I recommend increasing the font size of your name and bolding it.
  • Page numbers: The best places to put these are the top-right corner, the bottom-right corner, or the bottom center of each page. You can also write your last name beside each page number.

Next, the content: the bulk of your CV for graduate school will consist of various sections accompanied by headings. As a general rule, always emphasize your education as well as any professional experience, achievements, or activities directly related to your field of study.

Below are common categories you can use on your CV for graduate school followed by specific topics to avoid on your CV. For additional categories, refer to page 2 of this Rice University PDF.

 

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Grad School CV: What to Include

Here, we give you a variety of potential categories to include on your grad school CV. Categories are listed in alphabetical order.

 

Community Service

Use this section to highlight any (relevant) volunteer work or activities you’ve completed. You may title this section “Community Service,” “Volunteer Service,” “Volunteer Work,” etc.

What to include:

  • Titles of your positions, if applicable
  • Names of organizations or institutions for which you volunteered or are currently volunteering
  • Dates (month and year)
  • Locations (city and state)
  • Short descriptions of your responsibilities, accomplishments, or skills obtained

 

Education

An overview of your education is a critical component of the grad school CV. This section should always come at the beginning, after your name and contact info. You may title this section “Education,” “Educational Background,” “Academic History,” “Academic Background,” etc.

What to include:

  • Names and locations (city and state) of all higher institutions you attended or are currently attending
  • All degrees you received or are currently working toward
  • Your major and minor
  • Your graduation date (month and year) or expected graduation date
  • Titles of any theses or dissertations you wrote or are currently writing
  • Names of any advisors or professors who assisted you with a thesis or dissertation
  • Academic honors (if you have multiple honors, consider listing them in a separate section)
  • Your GPA (optional)
  • Study abroad or other coursework, if relevant

 

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I have extensive experience with English literature, American literature, and chocolate cookies.

 

Employment

For this section, try to include only relevant work experience. If you would like to write about any irrelevant work experience, don’t spend a lot of time elaborating on it — just describe the position briefly.

You may title this section “Employment,” “Employment History,” “Professional History,” “Professional Background,” “Professional Experience,” “Work Experience,” etc.

What to include:

  • Titles of positions
  • Names of companies for which you worked or are currently working
  • Dates (month and year)
  • Locations (city and state)
  • Short descriptions of your responsibilities, major projects, accomplishments, or skills obtained
  • Internships or part-time work experience, if relevant

 

Extracurricular Activities

Use this section to discuss any (relevant) activities in which you have participated or currently participate outside of school or work. You may be able to combine this section with “Community Service.”

What to include:

  • Titles of positions, if applicable
  • Names of clubs/groups/organizations
  • Dates (month and year)
  • Locations (city and state)
  • Short descriptions of your responsibilities, accomplishments, or skills obtained

 

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Mario’s favorite extracurricular activity is saving Princess Peach. Or maybe that was his least favorite.

 

Fellowships & Grants

If you’ve received any major academic, research, or teaching fellowships, grants, or scholarships, list those here. You may title this section “Fellowships & Grants,” “Fellowships,” “Grants,” “Scholarships,” etc.

What to include:

  • Names of grants
  • Names of grant providers
  • Amount of each grant
  • Dates (month and year) of grants (i.e., the time period for which you used or plan to use the grant)
  • Purposes of grants (optional)

 

Honors & Awards

Use this section to list and summarize any major (and relevant) honors or awards you’ve received. These can include academic honors, such as high GPA distinctions, and work- or research-related achievements.

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You may title this section “Honors & Awards,” “Honors,” “Awards,” “Academic Awards,” “Achievements,” etc.

What to include:

  • Titles of awards
  • Dates (month and year) you received your awards
  • Names of award providers (optional)
  • Where you received each award (optional)

 

Memberships

If you’re a member of any professional or academic organizations, list the names of those groups and your roles in them here. Generally, stick to organizations of which you’re a current member.

You may title this section “Memberships,” “Affiliations,” “Professional Affiliations,” etc.

What to include:

  • Titles of positions, if applicable
  • Names of groups or associations to which you currently belong
  • Locations of groups, if applicable

 

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Only the cutest kittens can be members of this adorable group.

 

Presentations

Use this section to summarize any major academic or professional presentations you’ve given, including exhibitions, speeches, and conferences.

You may title this section simply “Presentations,” or use more specific titles, such as “Papers Presented,” “Conference Presentations,” etc.

What to include:

  • Titles of presentations or papers, if applicable
  • Locations of presentations (city and state, as well as institution)
  • Dates (month and year) of presentations

 

Publications

Those who have authored or co-authored any books, chapters, articles, or reports related to their fields of study can list their works in this section. Be sure to write all of your publications as citations, using the citation style preferred by your field. You may bold your name in each citation for emphasis.

What to include:

  • Titles of publications or pending publications
  • Names of all authors (including yourself)
  • Publication or expected publication dates (month and year)

 

Research or Teaching Experience

This section highlights any research or teaching experience you have in your field. Those entering the sciences will typically focus on “Research Experience,” while those entering the arts or humanities will focus on “Teaching Experience.”

Relevant experiences can include full- or part-time employment, internships, university research, extracurricular projects, tutoring, etc. You may combine this section with your general employment section.

What to include:

  • Titles of positions
  • Names of companies, organizations, or institutions for which you taught or conducted research
  • Dates (month and year)
  • Locations (city and state)
  • Names of any advisors or professors you worked alongside
  • Titles of all major projects or courses taught
  • Short descriptions of your responsibilities, major projects, accomplishments, or skills obtained

 

body_mars_rover
The Mars Rover likes to conduct research all alone, millions of miles away from humanity. My introverted hero!

 

Research or Teaching Interests

This section is a convenient way of letting the admissions committee know what your current research or teaching interests are in your field of study. Place this section at the beginning of your grad school CV, directly after your name and contact info but before your education info.

You may title this section “Research Interests,” “Teaching Interests,” “Profile,” etc.

What to include:

  • A brief description (one to three sentences) of your research or teaching interests
  • Specific sub-fields, projects, or topics you’d like to research or teach as a grad student

 

Skills & Certifications

Use this section to list any specialized skills or certifications you have (ideally, ones that are relevant to your field). You may separate this into two sections, if desired.

What to include:

  • Any relevant skills, such as foreign-language skills or computer skills
  • Any professional certifications
  • Dates of certifications, if applicable

 

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Grad School CV: What Not to Include

Do not include any of the following on your CV for graduate school:

    • Private or personal info, such as your date of birth, marital status, social security number, etc.
    • A photograph of yourself
    • Anything related to high school (there are some exceptions to this, but it’s best to avoid mentioning anything that occurred prior to your undergrad career)
    • Too many irrelevant jobs or experiences
    • Anything unimpressive or anything that’ll reflect poorly on you, such as a below-average GPA

 

7 Tips for Creating a Stellar CV for Graduate School

We now know what kind of content goes into a CV for graduate school. But content alone isn’t enough — your CV must also look professional and follow a logical structure. In this section, I give you our top seven tips for creating a stand-out CV for graduate school.

 

#1: Stick With Simple

A grad school CV is not the time to get creative! So err on the side of simple: opt for basic one-inch margins, use left alignment, and avoid all colors except black.

You should also start all of your descriptions with action verbs (and bullet points, if desired). In other words, avoid using full sentences and first-person pronouns (the only exception to this is the “Research Interests” or “Teaching Interests” section). In the end, this will produce a strong and effective CV.

 

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#2: Adopt a Logical Flow

All grad school CVs should follow a clear and logical structure to best showcase your positive attributes.

Ultimately, how you order the sections on your CV is up to you. However, you should always start with your educational background and then lead into relevant research, teaching, or work experiences. Most people wrap up their CVs with slightly less important info, such as memberships and skills.

Additionally, always use reverse chronological order (most recent to earliest) when listing multiple entries in a single section. This order let admissions committees immediately get a feel for your current activities and recent accomplishments.

 

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Don’t let anything interrupt the flow of your CV. Unless it’s a bunch of really cool rocks.

 

#3: Stay Relevant

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: always stay as relevant as possible in your grad school CV! In more basic terms, don’t pad your CV with a ton of fluff. After all, a major point of the CV is to prove you’re familiar with the field and are prepared to study it at an advanced level.

But staying relevant isn’t always easy. Some applicants have far fewer relevant experiences than others. For example, those applying to grad school directly from undergrad might not have any publications or research experience to put on their CVs.

If you’re in a similar situation, it’s OK to include a few less relevant entries — as long as you’re keeping such entries brief or are somehow tying them back to your field. Remember, the majority of your CV should focus on what you have accomplished in your field.

 

#4: Avoid Redundancy

Another tip is to avoid repetition. Content-wise, this means don’t list the same entry multiple times under separate headings. For example, it’s fine to put your cum laude distinction in your “Academic History” section, but there’s no need to write it again in your “Honors & Awards” section.

If you’re not sure where to assign something, go for either the earlier heading or the heading with the fewer number of entries to balance things out a bit.

You should also refrain from using the same action verbs. Doing so can make your CV sound rushed and uncouth. Instead, opt for strong, versatile words, such as those listed here on page 5.

 

#5: Use an Easy-to-Read Font

Treat your CV as you would any other formal document and use a simple font.

There is debate as to which fonts look best on CVs, but ultimately the choice is yours. Many people recommend sans-serif fonts, as they’re familiar and easy to read on mobile devices. This includes Calibri (the Microsoft Word default), Arial, and Tahoma. Another popular choice is Times New Roman (a serif font).

Avoid fancy or cursive fonts as well as any highly unprofessional ones such as Comic Sans. In regard to size, stick with either 11pt or 12pt and go a little larger for your name and headings.

 

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Trying to read a small font is like trying to see a snowflake as anything other than a cold, icy blob.

 

#6: Adhere to Program Requirements

As with any other part of your grad school application, be sure you’re following all of your program’s requirements for the CV portion.

Reading your application instructions carefully will reduce your risk of submitting an improperly formatted or subpar CV. If you fail to follow all of your program’s instructions, the admissions committee might have trouble processing your application, potentially disqualifying you! So for the sake of your application, follow all of your program’s rules.

For example, the Master of Arts in Japanese Studies program at the University of Michigan calls for the following:

“Academic experience (all postsecondary institutions attended, including any study abroad programs), work experience (including any summer and part-time jobs and internships), teaching and research interests and experience, professional affiliations, publications if any, and community involvement (e.g., any club activities and/or volunteer activities).”

With this program, you’re actually required to include your entire employment history, even if it means listing irrelevant part-time jobs. In this case, your program’s instructions take precedence. (However, note that you should always spend less space describing irrelevant positions.)

Also, take note of any page limits or formatting requirements for the CV. Most grad programs want applicants to submit their CVs as PDFs in order to eliminate the risk of formatting errors.

 

#7: Take Time to Proofread

Finally, before you submit your grad school CV, treat it as you would a final essay and proofread, proofread, proofread! Read it over several times to tweak awkward-sounding words and phrases and to identify any inconsistencies, typos, or formatting problems.

Don’t rely entirely on yourself, either. Ask a friend, family member, or professor to look it over and offer suggestions. Make your CV as perfect as it can be and you’re bound to impress admissions committees!

 

What’s Next?

Want additional CV help? Check out our stockpile of CV samples to learn what a high-quality CV for graduate school looks like. We’ve also got loads of customizable CV and resume templates!

Need to prepare a resume, too? Then read our expert guide on how to write a resume for grad school.

Looking for info on grad schools? Learn what grad school is and then familiarize yourself with all of the basic grad school requirements as well as the typical grad school deadlines.


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Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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