7 Simple Tips for Writing a Compelling Grad School Resume
7 Simple Tips for Writing a Compelling Grad School Resume

So, you’re preparing to apply to graduate school. There’s lots to do, like ordering transcripts, taking any necessary exams, writing a statement of purpose and asking for letters of recommendation.

But there’s one more item you shouldn’t overlook: writing your graduate school resume.

Wait … what?

Yes, you generally need to submit a resume with your grad school application. A grad school resume is similar to a standard professional resume, but it has a specific focus: how your previous education and experience have prepared you to undertake advanced study. And like a professional resume, it should tell a compelling story about you.

How do you go about writing a standout grad school resume? We asked two admissions experts from the University of Washington for their top tips. Here’s what they shared.

1. Put Your Education First

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Resume Template

How should you organize your grad school resume? Check out this template for one layout example.

On most professional resumes, your education comes at the end of the document. Not here!

Because the specific objective of this document is to get admitted to graduate school, you should list your education on the first page. This section should prominently include details like:

  • Undergraduate degree and major (including the school you graduated from)
  • Your undergraduate GPA
  • Other degrees or certificates you’ve earned

You can also include academic awards and roles with campus organizations here. Or, if you have enough of these, they might warrant their own section (see tips 3 and 4).

It’s also valuable to include info about courses you’ve taken that are related to the degree program you’re applying for. (Here’s an example of a place where you might tailor your resume to fit the exact program you’re applying to.)

“The resume is a great place to showcase courses that meet prerequisites for the program,” says Crystal Galván, a graduate adviser in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at UW Bothell. “Even though you’ll also submit your academic transcripts, you can use the education section of your resume to highlight particularly relevant courses.”

2. Show all your work

The admissions committee wants to see the evolution of your career and get a full sense of who you are, so go ahead and include your entire professional work history — even if it stretches the document to two or three pages.

“More is better on the grad school resume,” says Randell Hernandez, director of admissions for the Executive Master of Business Administration at the UW Foster School of Business. “In the Executive MBA program, for example, we’re looking to understand the totality of an applicant’s experience — to get a sense of your career growth and the impact you’ve had in different roles.”

For someone applying to an MBA program, for example, that means including specific details about leadership or management responsibilities in each role. It also means quantifying the impact you had (e.g., “Led department to 20% increase in sales year-over-year”). If you’re applying to law school, you’ll want to emphasize any experience that relates to the legal field. And so on.

3. Don’t Forget Research Projects and/or Fieldwork

Any research experience — including capstone or research projects you are or were involved in — is important to include [on your resume].

Crystal Galván, graduate adviser, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at UW Bothell
Even though this is not a formal curriculum vitae (CV), your grad school resume is a great place to include any research experience you have, workshops you’ve been involved with or articles you’ve published. You can include them even if they aren’t directly related to the academic field you’re applying to, because that shows accomplishment and expertise.

“Any research experience — including capstone or research projects you are or were involved in — is important to include,” according to Galván. “This demonstrates your engagement with academia, and that you’re up-to-date with research in the field. If you’ve hosted community workshops or presented at any academic conferences, be sure to include those as well.”

Did you win any academic awards? Be sure to include those, either in the Education section (noted above), in this section or in a separate section (if you have more than one).

Your research experience can be listed in its own section on your resume. This allows it to stand out and makes it easier for admissions readers to find.

4. Unpaid work counts too

Remember that a prospective graduate program will value all your experience, not just what you were paid for. Internships and volunteer roles (both on and off campus) help illustrate what you're passionate about and how you took the initiative to make a difference in your profession or community.

“We appreciate leadership experience in all areas, including professional associations, civic groups, etc.,” Hernandez says. “Recruiting and motivating a group of volunteers requires next-level abilities that can directly apply to an MBA student’s ‘day job.’ And these commitments also offer a window into a candidate’s humanity.”

This content can be placed in its own section (possible header: “Leadership and Extracurricular Activities”). It should be located below your professional experience.

5. Write clearly and proofread carefully

Nothing spoils a first impression like typos and grammatical errors in a resume. If this isn’t your strong suit, have a friend who’s good with words read it over for you. Many times, fresh eyes can catch things that you miss.

Also, it’s possible that you use a lot of cool abbreviations and insider terms in your field. Those should be left out of (or spelled out on) your grad-school resume.

“I see a lot of acronyms in applications, especially from people coming from the tech field or the military,” Hernandez says. “Remember that you’re giving this to an admissions reader who may know little or nothing about your particular job function or industry. It’s important to use terminology that people outside your field would understand.”

6. Link to your LinkedIn

The world often judges us by our online presence, and grad school reviewers are no different.

“It’s natural to want to Google someone, so it’s a good idea to include a LinkedIn profile link on your resume,” Galván says. “LinkedIn is a great way for applicants to illustrate their expertise, professional experience, skills and education — beyond the resume.”

7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

When in doubt, reach out! The advisers and other staff at the graduate schools you’re interested in are there to answer your questions about the application process.

“People do themselves a disservice sometimes by not seeking guidance from the graduate program about what their resume should include,” Hernandez says. “Most of our MBA programs at the Foster School offer application workshops, which include detailed guidance about resumes. We also supply that content on our website.”

Learn More

Want to discover more helpful content about grad school? Check out our go-to guide for applying to graduate school for links to additional articles.

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

Author David Hirning

David Hirning

David Hirning is an accomplished writer and editor with extensive experience in both tech and higher education. He began his career in journalism, then spent over a decade as an editor at Microsoft, where he worked on Encarta Encyclopedia and related reference products.

David worked for six years as a full-time writer and content manager at UW Professional & Continuing Education. He also operated his own editorial consulting business, with stints at leading companies like Amazon and Expedia, and taught English for two years in Costa Rica.

David has served as an instructor for the UW Certificate in Editing program and as a teaching assistant for the UW Certificate in Storytelling & Content Strategy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University and a Certificate in Literary Fiction from the UW.

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