6 Tips for Perfecting Your Resume for Graduate School Application
Most graduate programs require applicants to send in a variety of documents, including a resume. While you likely have already written several resumes in your adult life, don’t expect to simply dust off your latest version and send it in.
In order to make the best impression on the reviewers who will be reading your application, it’s best to start from scratch and customize a resume for the program you’re applying to. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to crafting a solid resume for graduate school.
The difference between a resume and CV
You might be surprised to learn that “resume” and “curriculum vitae” (or “CV”) are not interchangeable terms in the United States, although in Europe they are often used as synonyms. A resume focuses on your professional and extracurricular experience, whereas a CV focuses on your academic achievements. Both documents should include contact information, education, work experience, relevant professional skills and language proficiencies.
A good resume is concise, easily scannable and specific to the job for which you’re applying. The vast majority of applicants should have no trouble getting their resume to fit on one page. A CV, however, goes into far more depth and detail, and it can be as long as needed. It includes things like research projects, fellowships or grants, teaching experiences, publications, conferences, presentations and references.
How to write a resume for graduate school
Before you sit down to write, take some time to gather all the information you need. It’s imperative that all the dates, names, titles and other data mentioned in your resume are accurate.
If it’s been a few years since you’ve been in school, take some time to refresh your memory on what you achieved during undergrad. Review your transcripts, papers, publications, essays and projects and take notes on things you want to include.
Once you’ve done that, continue on to the first step below.
1. Start with a simple template
Although it may be tempting to try out a creative format in hopes of standing out in the crowd, resist the urge to make your resume overly designed. For the purpose of this document, the content is much more important than fancy graphics or an elaborate layout. Reviewers want to see a resume that’s proofed, easy to read, well-organized and full of relevant information.
You can access dozens of free downloadable resume templates in Microsoft Word. Don’t stress if you don’t find one that’s perfect, you can always customize it to accommodate other sections or information as needed. Whichever template you choose, it should include:
- 11- or 12-point font size
- Bold headlines
- Bulleted lists
- A serif font (e.g., Times New Roman, Georgia or Garamond)
2. Craft a clear and compelling objective
Your graduate school resume objective is a short statement at the very beginning of the document that describes what you hope to gain from attending grad school and why you’re qualified to enroll. In just two sentences or less, you must describe yourself, your strengths and/or relevant work experience, and what you want to accomplish in the program.
An example of a solid resume objective might be:
“An innovative educator with eight years of classroom experience seeking to join the Educational Leadership program in order to develop the skills needed to increase their impact by pursuing a position in school administration.”
3. Write in detail about your previous education
List all the schools you have attended in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent. Be sure to include the full name of the institution, city and state, exact title of the degree and major you earned, and your graduation date. Any impressive test scores, Dean’s list awards or other relevant achievements can also be listed in this section.
4. Highlight work and life experience
Graduate school applicants come from all walks of life. You might have a wealth of professional experience or practically none. Either way, your goal is to show how the responsibilities and tasks you’ve taken on in the past make you a good fit for the program.
Be sure to include your current and previous jobs. While you may be tempted to leave off past employment that’s unrelated or may not seem “good enough”, this could backfire and lead to questions about transparency or gaps in a resume.
In addition to employment, you can include things like:
- Tutoring or mentoring
- Study abroad experience
- Professional or academic affiliations/clubs
- Volunteer work (only include longer-term commitments — not one-time events)
In each entry, include two or three bullet points that cover your duties and accomplishments. Be sure to use action verbs and mention specific achievements where possible. For example, “Responsible for overseeing purchasing team and managing department budget” is much less illustrative than “Supervised six direct report employees on the purchasing team and managed a $200,000 annual budget”.
Pro-tip: Carefully read through the program page and identify important words and phrases. Incorporate these terms throughout your resume where applicable.
5. Include a list of relevant skills
This section of your graduate school resume is a great opportunity to illustrate your strengths. Don’t forget to mention hard and soft skills, as both are important for success in graduate school. Make sure they are all relevant to the work you want to accomplish in the program.
Some examples of hard (technical) skills include:
- Mastery of computer programs and software
- Language proficiency
- Coding ability
- Project management skills
- Grant writing (or other specific writing tasks)
A few examples of soft (transferable) skills include:
- Conflict resolution
- Problem solving
6. Make sure it’s clean and error-free
Submitting a resume that contains typos, sloppy formatting or other such errors is a big red flag to admissions committees. Luckily there are many ways you can avoid this scenario.
Once you’re happy with the content of your resume, run the document through spell check and review it carefully one last time. Then, read the entire document out loud. You’d be surprised at how many mistakes or improvements you’ll discover using this method.
You should also consider asking someone you trust to proofread it for typos that you may have missed. When it comes to important documents, having several pairs of eyes on it is a prudent idea.
Pro tip: If you don’t have someone available to proofread your resume, copy and paste text from the document into Grammarly.com for a comprehensive and free review of spelling and grammar.
Make a great first impression
Now that you have this actionable advice for creating an impressive resume for graduate school, you can begin working on this important part of the application process. As you continue collecting all of the other necessary materials, you’re likely curious about the financial side of things.
To better understand your options, check out our article “How to Pay for Grad School: 6 Things to Consider.”
Curious about what else you need to create a top-notch graduate school application? Review the requirements for Creighton University by visiting our How to Apply page.