How To Write An Academic CV and Where To Start From

When you are applying for grad school or a research-oriented program, you will be required to have a well-detailed CV. Typically, a CV is amongst the documented mandated for submission alongside your statement of purpose, transcripts, reference letter, and certificate of program. The academic CV is written in an academic writing style to show professionalism in your CV.


Academic writing is different from any other form of writing you might have done before. It involves following a set of rules and regulations that need to be followed. To achieve academic success, it’s important to know how to write an academic CV and where to start.

The first thing you should do before writing your CV is to agree on the purpose of your CV. You should define what kind of  program you’re applying for and what kind of impression you want


It is safe to say that when you are writing an academic CV, you will be competing with other candidates. To secure a spot on the admission program, you need to stand out with your application- which means perfecting your CV is very important.

So, what is an Academic CV? And how do you write one that strongly highlights your achievements?


What is an Academic CV?

A curriculum vitae (CV) is a formal document that contains your academic background, professional and research experience, and other key achievements. It is used by academic researchers or students when applying for a job, a scholarship, or a grant. You can think of your CV as a way to sell yourself and the skills that you bring to a grad school. This is your time to shine and show off what you’ve got, so it’s important to make sure that everything on your CV is relevant and up-to-date.


A CV summarizes:

  • Who you are
  • What you studied
  • Your experience
  • Your narrative

Why do you need an academic CV?

An academic cv shows how extensive your background is, and how much knowledge you have in a particular field. The admission board uses the cv to see what you have been up to, how far you have gone in a field, and how likely to are to succeed in the field.


What makes your academic CV unique?

Start strong. You have to quickly show anyone reading your cv that you are capable of doing the job by highlighting your past experiences. Show results of what you achieved in these experiences, and not just responsibilities. For example, if you raised funds for an orphanage you worked with, you could say something like this “raised $50,000 in new donations, a 35% increase from the previous year”. Find achievements relevant to your application, and discuss the results. Also, the admission board wants to see how you have grown as a person and improved as a candidate over time. Demonstrate this by showing improvements you have made over time, and how it makes you a better fit for the application spot.


Your academic CV is what gets you into the door!

The application process, especially for grad school, is getting more competitive. To beat out other applicants, your cv must be strong enough to get you into the door. A well-written cv can make the difference between a good application, and one that gets rejected.

No matter how much experience or qualifications you have, admission success starts with writing a great CV. The cv is your first point of contact with the admission board, and the first thing they use to decide if you deserve a spot in the program or not.


Your cv is your advocate before the admission board

As an applicant, you are competing against thousands of other people for a spot in a program. To stand out from the crowd, and present yourself as the best fit for the program, you need an advocate standing in for you, and speaking on your behalf. That is where your cv comes in. It highlights your various strengths and achievements and tells the admission board that you are the best candidate for the role.


Which format to use for your CV?

Different countries have different cv formats they accept. Your cv is not a one-size-fits-all.

When applying to an American university, the cv you use should be completely different and tailored to the American cv writing style. Use American terms, even if it feels strange. Write the date in the American format, and make sure you use a ‘US English’ speel check to format your cv. The same goes for applying to a British and Canadian University.

Writing your academic cv in the right format reduces your chances of rejection. Universities also lookout for different things in your cv, so be sure to read the application details and tailor your cv to the requirements before you submit your admission documents.


How long should an academic cv be?

No longer than 4 pages. Try to keep it shorter if you can. Remove all unnecessary information, and details that don’t strengthen your cv. Use the Times New Roman 12pt throughout your cv. Bold the headings, and highlight your achievements by either bold, italics, or underlining. Don’t do all three together.


How to write a good academic CV?

Start by understanding the goal of your cv. What message do you wish to pass across? How will you say it in your cv?

On a piece of paper, write out your work experience, volunteer experience, research experience, and awards that are relevant to the application. Write results achieved also. This first draft helps you write faster, and gives you an overview before you start writing your cv. Next, you follow the cv structure.


Cv structure

  1. Personal information: This should include your name, physical address, email, phone number, and date. In this section, ensure you make no mistakes with the information you have filled out. Try as much as possible to write accurate information, and leave out unnecessary information like gender, date of birth.
  2. Education: This section is important, and comes at the top. Include prior education, achievements, and projects you did for your final year to boost your cv. Include the title of the project, date, and name of the supervisor. Arrange this information in reverse chronological order with recent education experience first, and later experience afterward. 
  3. Professional experience: Immediately after the Education section, list out your professional experience. If you are a recent graduate, you might have no work experience to include in this section. You can include things like internships, or teaching assistantships.
  4. Research experience: The research experience section comes after professional experience. If you have experience working in a research lab, or working on research, mention it here. Research experience, especially when working with a lecturer, boosts your cv
  5. Technical skills:  Highlight your technical skills here. In STEM courses, there are some required software you must know how to use. List out all software or technology you know how to use. Keep it true, and don’t include software you have no idea of. If you have no technical skills, you can always include Ms word, Ms. Excel (If you know how to use any).
  6. Honors and awards: If you have awards that stand out, then you can include this section above the publication and presentations section. Mention awards, organization, and date of each award. Also, make sure you immediately explain the award, so the reader understands what the award means.
  7. Publications and presentations: If you have a publication or presentations, include it in your cv. Publications could be as little as running a blog, conference papers, articles released, or books published. If you have any of the publications, highlight them. Your publications put you ahead of the competition. Give a brief summary of the type of work you have put out there. However, if you have any unfinished article, you can include that in your cv but indicate that it’s not published. Write about the unpublished work and the results you expect to derive from it.
  8. Community service, extracurricular activities, or volunteer work: Explain the work entailed, and give a detailed analysis of results or improvements made over time.
  9. Academic and professional memberships: List the professional memberships you belong to. It could be a professional body, a fellowship, or an academic body.
  10. References: Add the names of the references on the cv. Before you include a reference, ensure you ask permission.


How to format your Cv 

  1. Use one font. Preferably times new roman, size 12. Avoid curvy or fancy font texts.
  2. Use action verbs.
  3. Save your cv in pdf format to avoid tampering when you send it to other people.
  4. Highlight your strengths in your cv by either making it bold, in italics, or underline. Don’t do all three at once.
  5. Arrange all categories in a reverse chronological order i.e start with the latest information first.
  6. Include page number below your cv.


CV vs Resume: What’s the difference?

A resume is a one-page- or two-page- document that highlights key factors about your professional experience, educational background, and skills acquired. A cv on the other hand is a more formal document that highlights your educational background. A resume is used in a job application while a cv is used in applying for academic jobs or programs.


Things to look out for when writing a cv for grad school

  1. Highlight your academic achievements
  2. Use proper grammar
  3. Proofread your cv multiple times
  4. Include details and activities of the projects you’ve been involved in.
  5. Use active words
  6. Don’t be vague
  7. Show a pattern of growth
  8. Write with clarity.


A list of common mistakes when writing a CV 

  1. Spelling errors: Go through your cv a number of times and watch out for any spelling errors. Spelling errors are red flags to the admission board, and can easily disqualify you as a candidate.
  2. Poor formatting: Formatting your cv makes it readable, professional, and scannable at first glance. Poor formatting, however, reflects badly on the candidate and shows the admission board that a candidate does not pay attention to himself.
  3. Not highlighting your achievements: Your results from professional or academic achievements help you stand out. When you don’t highlight these strengths, it’s easy for the admission board to quickly dismiss your cv. What you can do is bold, italics, or underline achievements you want the board to focus on. Don’t do all three at once.
  4. Including the wrong contact information: Your contact information is one of the most important section of your cv. It helps the board get across to you easily. Not double-checking your contact information could result in missing out on a great admission opportunity. Double-check your name, email address, home address, and phone number before submitting your cv.
  5. Fabricating information: Including wrong information about information can lead to automatic disqualification. It’s understandable that most people don’t have achievements and would rather, make one up. This is wrong. If you don’t have a lot of achievements listed on your CV, highlight the ones you have. Include results achieved, and what you did to achieve those results. Don’t form any stories.


To wrap things up

An academic CV requires a lot of writing, rewriting, editing before submitting your application documents. But writing one takes a lot of time. A great way to quickly write a good CV is to hire professionals to help with the writing and editing of your CV.


Our team at GSC can help you with that. We have a team of professionals dedicated to helping you write a strong CV to get you into top-rated universities. Get in touch with us. 

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