Crafting the Ideal Grad School Resume

Sudeepa Kolli
7 min readSep 23, 2023

One of the most debated elements of your application is undeniably your resume. It wields considerable influence in the decision-making process, offering a snapshot of who you are as a candidate. So, why not craft a resume that captures attention from the get-go?

The first thing anyone notices in that initial glance is the formatting. Clean, uniform, and devoid of unnecessary spaces — these are the hallmarks of a well-structured resume. Choose a readable font, ideally opting for classics like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri, in a size ranging from 10 to 12. But here’s a pro tip: strategically highlight important keywords and phrases. While emphasizing key details is crucial, remember, overdoing it can obscure vital information.

Now, you may have encountered various resume formats suggested by different folks for diverse purposes online. However, when applying to graduate school, a standard 1-page resume is the go-to choice. It should encompass your academic history, any prior work experience (if applicable), relevant projects, skills, and extracurricular activities. The only exceptions are for those pursuing art or design majors, where creativity knows no bounds — feel free to venture beyond the standard resume format to showcase your artistic flair.

Let’s start with the header — an essential component of your resume. It’s considered best practice to set it apart with a clear line, differentiating it from the rest of your resume. Your name should take center stage here, typically in a font size that’s nearly twice as large as the rest of your document. Additionally, consider including hyperlinks to your profiles on platforms like LinkedIn, GitHub, or your portfolio website (if relevant). These links can provide valuable additional information to interested readers, so it’s a good idea to have them readily accessible.

Now, here’s a crucial point: avoid adding your photograph. It not only detracts from the professional look of your resume but also consumes valuable space. Instead, let your qualifications and achievements do the talking.

Let’s dive into the Education section, start with your most recent educational experience, and work your way down to the earlier ones. For each entry, mention your major or field of study, the university you attended, your CGPA or percentage, and any noteworthy accomplishments or participation that make you stand out from the crowd. You can list all your educational achievements in chronological order — including any notable societies you were part of or achievements you’ve earned.

Alternatively, you can streamline this by creating a neat table summarizing your degrees, majors, universities, and CGPAs.

Then, create a separate section to highlight your achievements. This approach offers a clear snapshot of your academic journey and showcases your accomplishments in one concise section. Consider this approach if you have a wealth of achievements/co-curriculars beyond your educational background. In my case, after securing admission to Cornell, I adjusted my resume by adding the courses while applying for full-time roles.

For Full-time or Internship Experience:
Just like with your education, when it comes to detailing your work experience, start with your most recent position. Your resume should kick off with your job title or role, the organization where you worked, and the timeframe — all neatly summarized in the first couple of lines.

When it comes to describing your roles, aim for 2–3 well-crafted bullet points for each experience. If your contributions were particularly impactful, it is okay to go beyond 3 bullets.

Now, here’s the key: instead of simply listing tasks you performed, focus on articulating the impact you’ve made. Numbers are your best friends here — whether it’s the percentage increase in the accuracy of your model or the number of users who benefited from your product. Metrics speak volumes.

Moreover, be specific about your actions. Rather than vaguely stating that you worked with certain frameworks to develop a new feature, provide explicit details. For example, you can say you leveraged X and Y technologies to enhance a specific aspect of the Q product.

Projects:
Your projects should be arranged based on their significance and impact. To boost credibility, always include a hyperlink to your project so that reviewers can dive into your work for a closer look. Remember, you don’t add the entire link — a clickable hyperlink suffices.

If you had a leadership role in your project team, make sure to highlight it. Additionally, consider mentioning the name of your project advisor or guide for added context.

For each project, provide 2–3 bullet points, including the time frame, the tech stack you used, and your role in the project. More importantly, communicate how your project made a difference, whether it was solving a problem or making people’s lives easier.

Skills:
Your skills section can find a home either right under your education or after your project descriptions, depending on what flows best for your resume’s overall layout.

To organize your skills effectively, consider categorizing them. You can create sections like ‘Programming Languages,’ ‘Libraries and Tools,’ or ‘Technical and Business Skills’ — tailor them to your program’s requirements. Within each category, list your skills in order of your expertise.

This approach not only makes your resume visually appealing but also helps reviewers quickly gauge your skill set.

Leadership and Outreach:
Now, this is the section where you truly stand out from the crowd. It’s your opportunity to shine and set yourself apart.

Here’s the thing: each entry should stand as a single bullet point. Emphasize the critical words by bolding them and, whenever possible, include metrics to quantify your impact.

Don’t feel compelled to write complete sentences for each entry; succinct phrases can be just as powerful. For instance, something like ‘Volunteer — National Service Scheme’ can make for a compelling bullet point.

The number of bullets in this section can vary from person to person, typically ranging from 2 to 5. I personally have 5 entries, and they’re all carefully chosen to highlight my unique contributions and achievements.

Extracurriculars:
Let’s set the record straight right off the bat — this section is far from being a mere placeholder. It holds significant weight, especially when it comes to prestigious institutions like the Ivys. They truly value your extracurricular involvement.

Think of this section as your chance to showcase who you are beyond your professional life. It’s not just about filling space; it’s about sharing a glimpse of your passions and interests, and it can play a pivotal role during interviews.

So, what counts? Practically anything that reflects your diverse interests and experiences. Whether you’ve proudly represented your school sports team, dedicated yourself to a musical, dance, or artistic pursuit, was a part of photography or drama club, or actively engaged in community service — it all falls under the umbrella of extracurriculars.

Include at least 1–2 bullet points here to paint a fuller picture of who you are. These experiences not only enrich your application but also serve as valuable conversation starters during interviews.

Pro Tip: When you have a lot to convey about your profile but are constrained by a one-page limit, here’s a savvy move. Place the most critical information on your resume and create a web page or portfolio to complement it. This can be as elaborate as crafting your portfolio from scratch using web programming languages or as straightforward as setting up a page on Notion, neatly categorizing all the work you want to highlight. Include the link to this supplementary page in the header next to your email address. This way, you provide a comprehensive view of your achievements without exceeding the one-page limit.

It’s essential to adhere to the one-page guideline as exceeding it is a red flag that could result in your resume not being considered.

Now, for specific programs, you can customize the order and allocation of sections to suit your goals. For instance, if you’re pursuing a Ph.D., you might want to prioritize your research interests, academics, publications, peer-reviewed papers, and research experiences.

Lately, we’ve observed a trend where individuals are creatively crafting their resumes as Google web pages or LinkedIn posts, and these unconventional approaches have gained significant attention. The reason behind their viral success is often their strategic targeting of a specific organization, typically for design roles or other specialized positions. If you believe such alternative formats align with your goals and have the potential to make you stand out amidst a sea of applicants, don’t hesitate to give them a try.

A shoutout to Aditya Ravi, an exceptional resume reviewer with a keen eye for every minute detail. I had my resume reviewed by him multiple times, each for a different purpose. Some of his advice still guides my resume tailoring for specific purposes.

In closing, remember that a resume is a dynamic document that you update whenever needed. Perfection may be elusive, but that’s perfectly fine. Don’t stress too much. If you’ve followed the guidelines outlined above, you’re well on your way. The world of resume writing may have debates, but ultimately, do what you believe is best for you. The insights I’ve shared are rooted in my experiences and the feedback I’ve received.

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