Building a Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Most scholarship, fellowship, research opportunities and graduate school applications require some type of a Curriculum Vitae (CV) or academic resume. This document is very distinct from a traditional job resume. In some cases you may actually upload the document and in others you will translate what is on your CV into an on-line application system.  Regardless, you should think of your CV, also known as an  ‘academic resume,’ as a very organic document that will continue to shift and take shape as you move through your undergraduate experience.  From the outset, your CV will allow you to keep track of everything you have been or are currently involved with, making life a little easier when it comes time to actually document those things in a formal way.  Keep it on your desktop and make a point of updating it regularly.  Much like your Personal Statement, your CV is as unique as you are so, while there are certain formatting suggestions to make your CV more readable, make sure that it is an accurate reflection of the many things you have chosen to spend time on while an undergraduate. 

As you build your CV, keep a few things in mind:

  1. A Curriculum Vitae (CV) is Latin for ‘course of life’ and therefore offers you the freedom to include everything that is helping to shape your life as an undergraduate.  In this sense, a CV is less concerned with page count, as is the case when crafting a resume for an employment opportunity, and more concerned with providing a kind of testament to your involvement.  It is distinct from a resume not only in length but also in content and purpose.  A CV is very much about you, as opposed to what you may bring to a position, a specific skill set related to a job, or what you might ‘do’ for a potential employer.  It is also intended to allow selection committees a quickly review all of the things you have been involved with as an undergraduate;
  2. In an effort to provide the most comprehensive picture of you possible, your CV should include the following:
    1. Education
    2. Honors and Awards
    3. Undergraduate Research Involvement and Experience, including publications and presentations
    4. Leadership
    5. Campus and community involvement – service and volunteer work
    6. International experience and study, including language proficiencies
    7. Internships
    8. Formal employment (work strictly undertaken for pay)

Generally speaking, you should always lead with your education and honors and awards when crafting your CV.  The remaining sections should then be ordered according to the level of importance they hold in your own experience and as indicative of the time you have spent engaged in, for example, undergraduate research or leadership.  Remember, the ultimate design is up to you.  Just make sure to include everything from your freshman year onwards;

  1. Construct your CV in reverse chronological order, include dates, positions held, titles of research projects and names of mentors, and a brief 1-2 sentence description of each activity, including your honors, awards, and scholarships;
  2. DO NOT pad your CV or resume.  Nothing is more transparent to a review committee than a student who has included everything-but-the-kitchen-sink in an effort to appear a certain way.  Remember, the name of the game with national scholarship applications is authenticity.  So, when chronicling your involvement, be truthful and include only activities that have required a significant investment of time;
  3. Be selective in your involvement, identifying those activities that make the most sense of what you hope to do in the future;
  4. Select a formatting style and stick with it! And, of course, edit, revise, and edit again.  The quality of everything you produce, including your CV, says a lot of your commitment and the seriousness with which you take your scholarship and/or graduate school application process.
  5. There is no page limit; CVs are generally a minimum of 2 pages and often longer. Please do not reduce your font or margins to try to fit everything into a single page; save that strategy for a job resume. 

Here are some additional benefits for building a strong CV:

  1. Keeping a detailed record of your involvement will help you to decide what is and may no longer be worth your time and effort; use your CV to help shape your undergraduate experience in a more meaningful way and guide you in deciding the best next steps for you to take;
  2. Your CV will help to guide the basic impetus for your Personal Statement and potential project or research proposal.  A Personal Statement should not re-hash your CV, but it can draw from of the experiences detailed on your CV into consideration when determining those things that were most significant in your undergraduate experience;
  3. A CV will help you to identify potential letter writers by clearly distinguishing those ‘sections’ of your undergraduate experience to which you have devoted the most time and energy.  Hopefully you will find letter writers who can speak to those distinct areas of your becoming – leadership, undergraduate research, academics, etc.;
  4. Your CV will be an important piece of information to provide your letter writers when it comes time to ask them to write on your behalf.  A CV will give them snapshot of all the things you have been involved with and help to guide the things they will be able to speak about in their letters;
  5. A good CV will surprise you at the end of four or five years as you see, on paper, all of the extraordinary things you have been involved with while at the University of Chicago.

FACT: Consider this your ‘permission slip’ to involve yourself in activities and experiences that are meaningful and relevant to your developing sense of you as a scholar, a professional and a global citizen.  Not only will your CV and Personal Statement resonate well with readers, your life will likely be a bit more sane.

Contact CCSA for further guidance on developing a strong CV and/or consider attending an information session on developing a CV.

For detailed guidance on developing a professional resume (which can draw from your detailed CV), make an appointment to visit Career Advancement.