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Preparing a Standout Graduate School Resume

05 Nov

Applications to graduate degree programs tend to require more details than undergraduate applications, in large part because graduate admissions review committees are interested in a much more holistic picture of you. Thus, as part of your graduate school application package, most universities will require a resume.

Your resume offers critical insights into your experiences outside of school, and it will be a crucial element in making your application stand out among those of other qualified competitors.

Assume that most applicants will have the credentials to generally impress an admissions review committee; in this case, the challenge of crafting a great resume lies in part with its formatting and presentation. The resume that you present as part of a graduate school application isn’t the same that you would present to a potential employer. Here are a few tried-and-true adjustments that you can make to your resume to ensure you give the best impression when submitting your graduate application.

Change the Target of Your Focus

Perhaps it goes without saying, but applying for a graduate program is not the same as applying for a job. For that reason you should format your graduate school resume to place equal focus on your record of academic achievement and your professional history.

The first formatting change to consider may be the most obvious—place your education above the fold rather than your work experience. Make sure that you include all the schools you’ve attended, your major and minor areas of study, and your GPA. You may want to specify the GPA you achieved within your major as well, especially if it’s substantially higher than your overall GPA.

Also be sure to call out specific student groups, presentations, internships, work-study programs, papers and awards from your academic past that might help differentiate you from the competition. For instance, William & Mary looks for students whose activities display strong leadership abilities, as this can indicate a personal drive and capability to succeed in a graduate program.

Expound on Your Awards

In the world of employment, awards do not necessarily coincide with quantifiable results. But in the world of education, they often do. When applying to a graduate program, you have license to boast about the awards and certifications you have received from educational institutions and organizations.

If you’ve ever made the dean's list, make sure that this is prominently displayed on your graduate school resume. Include all leadership positions in all associations that are connected to universities or colleges. List all of your departmental awards and any internships or fellowships that you’ve earned through your academic pursuits. Even if you believe certain awards to be ancillary to your educational focus, list them anyway. Having a wide breadth of experience in your previous educational life showcases your passion for academia.

Admissions review committees are searching for students who will be active in their communities as well as in the school environment. This is especially true for William & Mary, whose Admissions Advisors look for students who are actively volunteering and who champion social justice causes. Many graduate programs have connections in the wider community that can be leveraged to provide opportunities for you if you show that you are interested. Utilize this opportunity to demonstrate how you have been a community contributor, and how you want to apply the things you have learned in the real world.

Be Space-Conscious

We’ve been expansive in describing all of our resume tips so far, but sometimes the best advice is to do as we say, not as we do. You do not want to have a resume that stretches to three pages in length. Your readers may find such a resume overwhelming to read and disrespectful of their time.

If a particular school that you apply to asks for a curriculum vitae rather than a resume, you can provide a document that is greater than one page in length. Otherwise, you should consider a single-page resume the standard format. With that in mind, you should be mindful of the accomplishments, activities and professional roles you list, as well as any descriptions you offer, to ensure you are making the most of your limited space.

Admissions review committees have many resumes to sift through, and these people are only human. If they find a resume that is well-organized and space-efficient, they will consider that resume with a higher degree of seriousness. Organizing your resume well showcases organization in your day-to-day life.

Be Honest

While you definitely want to showcase all of your accomplishments, you also want to remain honest. You can be sure that with highly contested positions within a graduate program at stake, Admissions Advisors and review committees will actually follow up on your references, and they’ll likely ask you to expound on resume elements during your interview, if one is required.

Remember that graduate school admissions review committees are looking for a mix of creativity and organization. You don’t have to come across polished and perfect yet, but you should be able to show that you’re working hard toward refining yourself. William & Mary’s Admissions Advisors find career changes or small resume gaps to be acceptable, especially if the change or time off was in service of personal growth. Show them your passion for learning and how this passion has been borne out in your previous experiences in academia.

Ready to get your application started for the Online Master of Education in Counseling from William & Mary? Our Admissions Advisors are always on standby to answer any questions you may have about the process, including what special elements to include and highlight in your resume. You can schedule a call at a convenient time, or contact them via email at