Graduate applications contain many parts and usually include a resume of some sort. You might find it easy to upload your current resume and focus more on other parts of the application. This is tempting, but your resume offers crucial insight into your background and experience to the admissions team. You want it to stand out just as much as the rest of your application does.
5 Tips for a Better Resume
The good news is that with a few tweaks to your current resume, you’ll have a wonderful addition to your graduate application.
In most cases, your resume will be used for finding a job and not used for applying to schools. This means that the information on your resume is likely work-centric rather than education focused. However, when it comes to graduate resumes, you want your education to stand out. Make your education one of the first things listed on your resume.
You need your school(s), major(s), minor(s), years, GPA, and even the GPA in your major if it’s higher than the overall. Feel free to include standardized test scores if they help your case. Of course, do list relevant job experience, but you don’t need a whole paragraph on the summer you worked at a pizza restaurant. Instead, make sure you’re listing all your involvements with the university like student groups, awards, papers, and presentations. If you took any relevant or challenging courses, you may want to list those as well.
When creating your resume, you want to show off your best self. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to make up things to look impressive, but it does mean that you should include anything that may separate you from the rest of the candidates. This includes Dean’s List achievements, departmental awards, any type of leadership position, assistantships, internships, and volunteer service.
On some job applications and resumes, these things may seem irrelevant and take up unnecessary space, but on a graduate school resume, they’ll enhance your image as a student, leader, and person. It shows the school that you’re likely to be active in their community which is something they’re definitely looking for.
Ultimately, you want to put as much useful information on your resume as possible. However, this doesn’t mean you want your resume spanning three pages. Some schools will ask for a CV, or Curriculum Vitae, which is an education-centric type of resume that can take up more than one page. However, if the graduate admissions officer is sorting through loads of applications, the last thing they want is a long resume. In fact, they might even stop reading after the first page. This means that you should experiment with your resume and find ways to fit as much information onto one page as possible. Now, don’t put everything in a tiny font to do this. Learn ways to minimize words and maximize effects. Write fragments instead of sentences and play with readable font sizes by making your headers a tad bigger and your descriptive texts smaller.
Much of what the last paragraph talked about also filters in some design techniques. You might have gotten away with a bland-looking resume in the past, but now you really want it to stand out. Take a look at resume examples online to get an idea. Play around with different fonts that are stylish and readable. But above all, maintain consistency when creating your resume. It is a good idea to distinguish your headers (like Education, Work Experience) from the rest of your resume with a larger font, bold, italics or underlines. If you do this, just make sure everything stays consistent and easy to read. A resume that looks like it was made with care will stand out to any admissions team.
Of course, your resume definitely serves as a highlight reel of your professional life, but don’t put something on there that didn’t happen. Should you be successful in your application, you may be asked to interview with the school. It’s likely that they will bring up certain aspects of your resume and ask you to talk about them. If you’ve lied on your resume, it will come across quite clearly that you have no idea what you’re doing. You absolutely don’t want this to happen, so put your best foot forward and just make sure that it’s your foot.
What to do if you lack job experience
Many students contemplating their grad school resume right after undergrad worry about their lack of work experience– especially when competing with applicants with multiple years’ worth of bullets on their resume.
Lack of work experience is a legitimate concern, but it definitely shouldn’t stop you from applying. In fact, as was recently observed by professors at Harvard Business School, “younger students tend to be more open to learning compared with older students who tend to be more cynical or think that they’re beyond academic environments since they’ve already had substantial real world experience.”
What we’re hearing from admissions departments of graduate programs across the country is that the average age of those applying—and those accepted—is trending younger. Top programs in business, education, engineering and public policy are seeing younger, less experienced applicant pools. Reasons include:
- a soft job market
- a high unemployment rate (especially for those ages 22-29)
- a generation looking to spend their futures working at something they genuinely care about rather than what has traditionally been deemed “a good choice” by society.
For younger, less experienced applicants who want to stand out, it’s important to make sure you are highlighting your commitment to your chosen graduate discipline. Your story should communicate why you need to study this, why you need to study it at this school, and why now.
Years of experience on your resume are not the only way to demonstrate those characteristics; you can also let them shine through qualitative admissions factors. Target areas you can demonstrate your passion and commitment, like:
- your personal statement
- interviews where you can demonstrate your passion and commitment
- undergraduate coursework relevant to what you’re planning to study
- internships and volunteer activities that showcase your leadership, research capabilities and dedication to your future.
Your resume will also benefit from strong quantitative factors. Top GRE scores are a key differentiator, as they are one of the few data points with which admissions departments can compare everyone who applies. Some key factors to consider:
- Studies show that the highest median GRE scores are achieved by those aged 22-23
- GRE scores are good for 5 years
- A strong GPA also proves you can excel in the classroom—a great indicator of graduate school readiness.
Finally, all graduate school applicants, no matter what kind of story your resume tells, should do the following for any programs that interest you:
- get in contact with programs early
- attend open houses
- tour the programs and sit in on classes
- speak with all students, alumni and professors that you can
Don’t just focus on whether or not your credentials are enough for a program; also seek insight into whether the program will be a good fit for you. And it always helps you if a program can associate your face with your application– it never hurts to be able to separate you from the pack.
After you’ve finished these steps, you should be good to go! It may be in your best interest to proofread it one more time to make sure everything is spelled and written correctly. You could also have trusted friends and professors look over it as well to give you some advice.