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A Perfect Curriculum Vitae (CV) for Graduate School Applications

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Preparing a compelling CV allows you to distinguish yourself and will prompt the reader to learn more about you. It is a selective summary of the most significant facts of your academic and professional achievements and highlights your accomplishments, experiences, and skills that could be transferable to the position you seek, and this makes you a good candidate for that position. A professor or admission committee member will only spend a few minutes reviewing your CV and this is why making a good first impression is very important.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” 

Will Rogers

CV vs. Resume

First of all, let us answer a common question: What is the difference between a CV and a resume? Concisely, a CV is mainly used for academic purposes, whereas a resume is usually used for securing a job in the industry and summarizes your professional experiences. In academia, faculty members usually look for research and teaching experiences, publications, mentoring capability, and received grants in your CV. Alternatively, industrial employers look for various skills depending on the position and tend to hire candidates with excellent analytical skills as well as interpersonal skills needed to get along with other colleagues. Finally, a CV includes comprehensive academic records, whereas a resume is typically brief and is written in 1-2 pages.

Content of a High-Impact CV

A CV usually includes several required and optional headings. The required sections include contact information, education, research interests, honors and awards, publications, work experience, software and technical skills, required exam scores (eg, TOEFL, IELTS, and GRE), and references. If you have extra space, you can add other information that may enhance your CV and add value to your application. The optional sections include the applicant’s biography, voluntary work, selected courses, academic or

extracurricular projects, and hobbies. In what follows, we comprehensively elaborate on the information needed for each section.

Required Sections


What to include

Contact information

·       Full Name

·       Permanent mailing address

·       Email address

·       Phone Number

·       Nice to mention: Your Linkedin, Google Scholar, and Researchgate profiles


·       University name, degree, and location (chronologically)

·       Thesis title

·       GPA (Out of 20)

Research Interest

·       Up to 4 related research interests (specifically tailored to the professor you would like to work with)

Honors and Awards

·       Short titles (chronologically)

·       Date back to undergraduate but no earlier than that (do not include high school)


·       Citations with hyperlinks to your papers

·       Bold your name and status of papers

·       Any submitted and in-prep. publications

·       Use a specific space for any conference presentations

Work Experience

·       Any related work you were paid to perform with a brief summary of tasks (chronologically)

·       Research and/or teaching experience

·       Use verbs related to these skills: analysis, communication, leadership, problem solving, creativity, initiative, and team work

Software and Technical Skills

·       Programming languages and your level of expertise

·       Commercial, general, and technical software

·       Laboratory techniques

Languages and Exams

·       English exams (eg, TOEFL, IELTS)

·       Other exams (eg, GRE, GMAT)

·       Dates, scores, and details of exams (mention “to be taken” if you are to take an exam in the future)

·       Languages and your level of proficiency


·       Reference’s academic email

·       Your relationship with the reference (eg, supervisor, advisor, course instructor)

Include some of the following optional sections only if you have enough space and they provide more value to your CV.

Optional Sections


What to include


Biography (Summary)

  • Not necessary in the CV
  • Only good to mention if it is impressive and eye-catching
  • Consider professor’s research interests

Extracurricular Activities and Voluntary Work

·       Elected positions (eg, leader of a section in a scientific association or conference, workshop organizer, executive member of an academic event, charity organizer)

Selected Courses

·       3-4 relevant courses in which you got excellent grades

·       Grades and level of study (eg, undergrad, graduate)

Academic Projects

·       Any relevant projects that could compensate for a lack of publications or work experience

·       Methods, skills, and software you are learning while working on these projects


·       Activities showcasing you as a multidimensional individual with a life-work balance

·       Activities demonstrating your ability to work in a team (eg, soccer)

Closing comments and general tips

  • Personal information unrelated to your academic and professional career should NOT be included in the CV (i.e., photo, age, race, gender, marital status, dependents). Putting your photo in CV makes you look unprofessional and may cause unconscious bias in the admission committee members.
  • Tailor your CV to the type of position that you are applying for so that it reflects the skills and experience that your potential employer or admission committee would value.
  • Use strong verbs to describe specific experiences and employable skills. It is a better way to show your abilities and potential rather than using generic and high-level claims. You can find a list of verbs in the appendix.
  • Make sure your CV is easy to follow. Organize information using headings in order of their importance and list information in reverse chronological order (list the recent ones first) within subheadings.
  • A CV is a professional document. Keep it simple and use just one or two colors when creating your CV.
  • Keep it in 2-3 pages and revise it carefully to make sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors in it.

Things to avoid

  • Making your CV unnecessarily long. 
  • Using incorrect information or lying.
  • Using tables, graphs, or figures.
  • Using unusual fonts.
  • Using an inappropriate or unprofessional email address. A CV is professional document, so do not use email addresses like bigboy3645@example. Instead, use an email address that includes your first and last name (or a variation of it), like anthony.smith@example or a.smith@example.

    Best wishes for your application!

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