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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

How to Craft a Resume for Graduate School Applications

Resumes are an important part of graduate school applications. However, they are an art that is difficult to master. You have to be precise and concise while also providing important detail about your life’s greatest accomplishments.

Applying to graduate school is very different from applying for a job. Although resumes for any application you submit will look similar, they certainly shouldn’t look the same. The goal is to keep the admissions committee engaged so that they want to look more thoroughly at your other application materials. The resume is often the first thing they examine which is why it’s so important to ensure it draws attention.

Resumes should reflect your greatest accomplishments but they should also be professionally written, easy to read, and error free. They should also give a glimpse into who you are as an individual and why you are passionate about the field you want to pursue.

In this piece, we share four tips for creating your resume for graduate school applications.

1) Start with a Strong Template

It’s important that your resume is well organized. Most programs don’t want to see a creative format. With the exception of some art schools, it's advised to stick to a standard resume format. Remember, what is most important is the content you include, and how easy it is to read that content, not necessarily how pretty the resume looks.

That said, it’s critical that what is most important stands out. This is where organization is key. The resume needs to be easy to read and easy to follow.

There are many templates online you can use. Most are quite similar. Pick one that appeals to you and adjust it as you need.

There are a few general guidelines to follow. Firstly, it’s best to use at least an 11 or 12 point font. Additionally, it’s important to use a professional font such as Times New Roman. Most resumes shouldn’t be much longer than two pages. At the top of your resume, your contact information should be prominent. Make sure that your name is easy to read and your email address is easy to find. Some people also include a link to their LinkedIn profile or a professional website.

Each primary heading should be bolded followed by a list of your roles or honors. Under each role, there should be a bulleted list explaining your key accomplishments. In general, you shouldn’t use more than four bullet points. Remember, being concise is key. Reviewers don’t have long to examine your resume. It’s also important to leave adequate space between each heading and each description so that it is easy to scan.

Most resumes include work experience, education, awards/honors, volunteer activities, skills, and membership in notable organizations. That said, if you haven’t, say, volunteered, don’t add that section to your resume just because some resumes include that section. Stick to what is most relevant to your own personal and professional background.

2) Gather the Information You Want to Share

Next, it's important to organize all of the information you want to include on your resume. Typically, this includes your degree information, GPA and test scores, relevant coursework or certifications, work experience (including internships and research positions), extracurricular activities and corresponding leadership roles, and volunteer experience. It’s helpful to have all of this organized in front of you so that you can easily pick out the most relevant information to actually put on your resume.

Remember, there isn’t much room on a resume. You can’t put every accomplishment you’ve ever done. You have to pick and choose your greatest strengths and what you think sets you apart from the rest of students in an applicant pool.

It’s better to pick fewer things to include and provide more detail on the achievements, than to list everything you’ve ever done but provide no compelling information. For instance, take off the experience you have waitressing during one summer at college, if you’ve done things more relevant to your career. Waitressing can provide fantastic work experience, and in some cases, you should absolutely include this information. But, if you’ve also had an internship in the industry you want to pursue, it could be advantageous to provide more context for this internship instead.

Additionally, if you have fewer than five years of work experience, it’s best to lead with your educational experience. Provide a list of your degrees, certifications, notable coursework, and any academic honors. It can be helpful to review your old transcripts if it’s been a while since you’ve been in school.

In addition to helping you organize, gathering all of your accomplishments prior to starting to write your resume is important so that you can ensure all of the information you include is accurate. Your test scores must be precise, the names of organizations and institutions need to be spelled correctly, and the dates you include must be accurate.

3) Be Concise

Resumes must be concise. No admissions officer has time to read an essay on your resume in addition to your personal essay. Resumes are looked at briefly to determine if the rest of a student's application warrants an examination.

Resumes are meant to be a summary, not a book. If it feels too long, it probably is. Remember too that this isn’t the only component of your application. You don’t need to list everything you’ve ever done that could help your chances of admission. You just need to pull the reader in enough to want to read more about you and examine the rest of your application materials.

In general, two to three bullet points per entry are plenty. Use these bullets to discuss specific duties of a role or various accomplishments. It’s great to quantify these accomplishments whenever possible. For instance, if you brought in more money to an organization, specify how much. If you helped grow an organization, specify in what way. Even more important, is to help readers understand your contribution to the organization as a whole. For instance, if you increased revenue by a specific percentage, that’s wonderful. However, if you explain that this percentage is four times the company average, that helps readers to better understand the magnitude of your success.

Numbers should always be integrated within a sentence. Make sure that you are explaining the numbers you use. Your bullet points shouldn’t just be filled with percentages.

It’s also important to use specific vocabulary. Action verbs can be incredibly helpful. For instance, “supervised, established, created, organized, led, oversaw, implemented, expedited, optimized, launched, pioneered, propelled, orchestrated, and leveraged” are all great examples of action verbs.

It is a good idea to examine the program of interest and what words they use throughout their website, and particularly, on their admissions page. See if you can utilize these keywords in your own resume. If the program emphasizes they are looking for leaders, try to implement words that imply leadership throughout your resume (where applicable, of course). Don’t pretend to be someone who you are not, but be sure to showcase your greatest strengths in this document. Don’t sell yourself short.

Make sure that every word you write on your resume has a purpose. For instance, it’s often said to, “leave the muscle, lose the fat.” The words you use should be clear, concise, and to the point. They should be descriptive of your role but any extra “fluff” should be eliminated. Eliminate any words like “the” and “a” to make your sentences more concise.

4) Make Sure There Are No Errors (Get Feedback)

Even if you spend hours or days or weeks working on your resume, it’s easy to have small errors. Have someone else proofread your final draft to make sure there aren’t any formatting errors or grammatical errors. These will be red flags to anyone who reads the resume.

Also ask your reviewer if there is anything that is unclear, could be explained better, could be quantified better, or could use more descriptive words. A description of a role that seems perfectly clear to you, may be confusing for a new set of eyes.

Another thing that can help is reading your own resume out loud. You’ll be able to catch grammatical errors this way as well as sentences which could be structured better or use more description.

This step is also critical because someone who knows you well may be able to point out remarkable accomplishments which you failed to include on your resume. Maybe they think a skillset you have hasn’t been emphasized enough. Or perhaps a role you served completely slipped your mind when writing the piece.

In Sum

All in all, writing a resume is an art. It shouldn’t happen overnight. First, it's important to pick a strong template and to take your time thinking about and gathering all of the information you want to include. Crafting bullets to highlight your greatest strengths in each role you have served takes time. When you’re done, it’s important to get feedback from those close to you who know you well. Have a close friend or mentor review your resume for grammatical errors and clarity.

Remember that your resume isn’t the only part of your application. However, it is an important component which can determine how much time is spent evaluating the rest of your application materials.


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