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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

How to Improve your Resume for Graduate School Applications

So, you’re thinking of getting a graduate degree. Perhaps you’re about to graduate college, are mid-way through your career, or in some other position in life all together. If you’ve decided it’s time to pursue graduate education, there may be some things you’re worried about.

In this piece, we offer some advice regarding how to improve your resume for graduate school applications. Remember that applying for graduate school is a bit different than applying for jobs.

In general, there are a few standard things which admissions committees are looking for on your resume. These are educational experience, work experience, and awards and other accolades. Of course, these will vary a bit depending on the type of graduate program you are applying to. Further, which aspects are most important will depend on the program.

For instance, for those pursuing an MBA, having at least two years of work experience is incredibly important. If you’re getting a degree in the medical field, having hours shadowing in a hospital setting can be very beneficial. It’s important to consider the type of degree you’re applying to.

1) Education

As you are aiming to further your education, it is important to make it clear to the admissions committee what education you already have. It is often recommended to put this information first on your resume for grad school applications.

As with all things on your resume, you should list your education in reverse chronological order. Clearly state the name of the degree you received, the name of the institution from where you received the degree, and the year you graduated. Here, you can also mention any accolades regarding honors. For instance, if you graduated summa cum laude, you should mention that here. If you were on the Dean’s list or President’s list, you can also mention that.

If you hold any certificates, you can also mention these in this section. If you don’t have a certificate, it could be useful to consider. Particularly if you’re going to graduate school for a different field than you studied in your undergraduate, earning a certificate first can be helpful. These certificates can demonstrate that you are committed to learning and particularly interested in the field of study.

2) Work Experience

Typically, the second section on a resume outlines your work experience. Most graduate degrees do not require that you have work experience. However, work experience can be incredibly valuable to share. It can demonstrate responsibility, dedication, commitment, and leadership. Further, it can set you apart from other applicants who don’t have the same experiences.

Work experience demonstrates that you can be successful outside of the classroom.

If you have work experience which relates to your desired field of study, this is even better. Be sure to use a few bullet points to describe exactly what your role was, what you learned, and what skills you now possess because of the experience.

If you don’t yet have work experience and you have time prior to when you apply, try searching for a paid internship in your field of study. Or, you may find a research assistant role (paid or unpaid) which provides worthy experience. These kinds of roles can help you more seamlessly transition into graduate school education, in addition to helping you get accepted.

Don’t be afraid to highlight research roles which were short term. Even if a project was just a month long, highlighting this on your resume can demonstrate that you have the capacity for such positions. Take some time to really think about your history, there is more than likely some experience which would be beneficial to include that you hadn’t thought about.

3) Honors and Accolades

The next section on a resume typically outlines your honors and awards. Think about what may be particularly relevant for the graduate school you’re applying to. Did you participate in any honors seminars? Perhaps you received an award for an academic paper or an award for travel for an academic purpose.

Sometimes the hardest part about crafting your resume can be remembering all of the things you’ve done.

Other Sections

Outside of those three primary sections, there are some other things you may want to include on your resume for graduate school.

4) Extracurriculars

You may think that extracurriculars aren’t important for a graduate school application, but they certainly can be. Extracurricular activities show that you are well-rounded. Additionally, if you served in any leadership roles within your extracurricular activities, this demonstrates skills which can be incredibly valuable during a graduate program.

Further, some extracurricular experiences are directly relevant to your graduate degree. For instance, perhaps you are pursuing a graduate degree in political science, and you served in your student government association during your undergraduate career. Make sure to highlight that on your resume.

If you are still working on your undergraduate and you haven’t been very involved, think of ways you could be. Graduate schools want you to be involved in the community. Make sure to choose something that interests you and ensure that it is a commitment you can actually commit to. It can be easy to over-commit yourself. Choose your extracurriculars wisely and put all of your effort into them.

Some schools offer professional organizations which can be particularly helpful both for a resume, and for networking. The connections you make in places like these can turn into life-long relationships with those who have similar aspirations.

If you’re out of school, focus on in what ways you can get involved with your community.

5) Notable Courses

It can also be advantageous to mark notable courses you’ve taken on your resume. This is particularly true if the program you are applying to has stated that certain courses would be particularly beneficial. Taking recommended courses prior to applying can demonstrate in a real way how motivated you are to learn and succeed in the program.

A good number of students begin a program and then drop out. It’s critical to demonstrate how committed you are to your education.

6) Volunteer Work

Volunteer experience can also be helpful to mention. Particularly, if you have experience volunteering in a way that is cohesive with your career goals. For instance, perhaps you are trying to go to law school and spent some time volunteering in a law firm, assisting the paralegals.

This kind of experience can be particularly helpful if you are going back to school for a kind of profession which works to help people. For instance, those going to school for social work or education may particularly benefit from volunteer experience which demonstrates their passion for caring for others.

7) Skills

Finally, adding a section which explains your skills can be helpful. This is particularly true of hard skills such as specific programming languages, analytical skills, project management, grant writing, and more. You should typically only list these skills if they are of particular importance or relevance to your graduate program.

You can also choose to list soft skills such as conflict resolution, leadership, and communication. Although it’s easier to exemplify these traits in person through an interview, listing what you think you are particularly good at can be very helpful. These skills give insight into who you are as a person, as well as what exactly you can bring to the program.


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