Your Curriculum Vita

Liz Goldstein

There is one document that every undergraduate psychology major should have. No, I’m not talking about the local pizza menu or even your term paper, although you might want to get cracking on that. I’m talking about your curriculum vita, commonly called a “CV” If you do not have one, there is no reason not to create yours now, so open up a new document – we’re getting started.

A CV is the resumé’s longer, more comprehensive cousin. Unlike a resumé, you are not limited to a page or two; the CV is your chance to highlight all of your accomplishments in college thus far. Many students wait until they are applying to graduate school to start putting together a CV, but starting earlier provides several significant advantages besides having less to do during application season. First, a CV is a great way to keep track of your accomplishments. After four (or more) years of hard work, forgetting an award or your duties on an early research project is not very unusual. Additionally, having a copy on hand can be useful when networking at conferences or applying for scholarships. Having an accessible list of your accomplishments will also make resumé-writing easier if you end up applying for jobs, as it is usually easier to choose from an existing list than start one from scratch. Finally, an often-overlooked use of the CV, if made early enough, is to see where your deficiencies lie. If you aspire to attend a research-focused graduate program, but you see that your research section is lacking when compared to your other headings, you will have a better idea of what activities to pursue.

Writing a CV as an undergraduate can be difficult, especially because merely copying the sections from a professor’s CV (or even a graduate student’s CV) is unlikely to work for you, unless you have several publications and have managed to teach classes. Your CV will probably be shorter, and it is reasonable to include explanations in certain areas, such as the criteria for awards you have received. In addition, the order in which you present each section will vary, depending on the situation or a program’s focus. The good news is that there is no set form for an undergraduate CV, and you can present yours in whatever way puts you in the best light.

What to Include

There is no formal list of what should be included on a curriculum vita, but something you will definitely want to include is your name and contact information. (Now that you are sharing this information, you will want to re-examine your voicemail greeting and assess its professionalism.)  You should definitely include an “education” section, as well. This part should note your undergraduate institution(s) and majors/minors. If your GPA or GRE scores are high, it is appropriate to include this information here, and some students list their honors thesis title, if applicable.

Other sections to consider include honors and awards, publications and presentations, research experience (including honors thesis information), teaching experience, research interests, internships and employment, extracurricular and leadership involvement, volunteer work, professional memberships, and special skills (e.g., software proficiency, foreign language fluency). Briefly explaining your duties for research, teaching, and work experiences is a good idea; some people do this in bulleted form, whereas others write short paragraphs. You can reconfigure the headings into different groups and add or eliminate headings as necessary, but the important thing to remember is to present yourself as positively and honestly as possible. Personal statements and interviews are your opportunity to “show” what you have learned from your experiences, but the CV is your opportunity to “tell” what you have done, so tell as much as you can while keeping it relevant.

What to Include…Maybe

Some students include references and their contact information, whereas others skip this part, or list only additional references beyond those writing letters of recommendation. If you choose to include references, clear this with your references first so they are not blindsided should an employer or potential graduate school mentor contact them.

In speaking to undergraduates who were preparing to write a CV, a specific question surfaced frequently. Katie Miller, a psychology major at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, asked, “Do you include any courses that you've taken, or do you leave that to your college transcript?” Relevant courses can comprise a section that you will want to remove or add, depending on each individual graduate program application or job opportunity. Usually, a transcript is adequate, and sometimes it is possible to include a page of your courses and grades separately from everything else, if you so choose. However, if you want to highlight relevant courses, listing them in the education section or towards the end may be acceptable. If you list courses, try to use multiple columns so that your courses do not show up like a vertical page-long list.

What NOT to Include

“Curriculum vita” may be Latin for “course of life,” but that does not mean you should be sharing all the details of your life. You are not expected to disclose every job you have ever had. I am sure you were a phenomenal “Party Girl” during your brief stint at the local paint-your-own pottery store (I sure was), but that is not relevant to most research positions or graduate programs, and you will be wasting the reader’s time by listing that. However, if you can frame the experience in such a way that you make it relevant without it being false or “padding,” go for it.  For instance, Audrey Lamoreux, a student in the M.S./Ed. S. program in School Psychology at Florida State University, recommended that students, “…point out that you have experience working with children if you’re applying for developmental psychology, even if it was just baby-sitting or helping at a summer camp.” If in doubt, ask your advisor or professor about an item’s appropriateness.

Most people list the items in each section in reverse chronological order. You should stop when you get to high school experiences, though, with very few exceptions. Lamoreux noted, “It will look like you’re trying to stuff your vita since you haven’t done much in college.” Something else to omit are potentially controversial activities. It can be difficult to determine what is controversial, so this is another situation requiring consultation with others. Obviously, you should not lie. Besides the obvious ethical problems with being less-than-honest, potential employers and graduate admission committees may ask you about things on your CV during interviews. False items will become evident. Be truthful.

Revising and Distributing your CV

Ask others to proofread your CV and provide feedback. Not only is it difficult to catch your own mistakes, but others will be able to give you a fresh perspective on how you are presenting yourself. Professors are a good source for input, and they might even be able to remind you of something you forgot to add. You might end up receiving contradictory feedback in regards to “secondary aspects” of the CV, like the ordering of sections or even the font choice; ultimately, you will have to decide what to do. Nevertheless, having others read your CV will ensure its readability and appropriateness, so find at least two people to proofread it for you, even in its earlier stages. Moreover, update your CV on a regular basis, and try to have someone proofread after those updates, as well.

Once you have your CV ready, be sure to save it on your computer, and back it up. Keep a hard copy on file somewhere and you may even want to post it on the Internet. Hard copies of your CV should be on “normal” paper. Lay off fancy borders and colors.

Many students are opting to post their CVs online in an attempt to present themselves in a more professional manner. Another advantage of posting your CV on the Internet is the ability to use hyperlinks to direct the reader toward organization websites or research articles you have written. It is also convenient for recommendation letter writers to have access to your CV online (in addition to the hard copy you will give them), and potential employers will be reminded of your experience if they find your CV on a search engine. However, do keep in mind that the Internet is a big, largely unregulated area, so you might want to consider leaving off some personal contact information (with the exception of email). If you opt to include references on your CV, you should check with them before posting their contact information online.

I’m Having CV-Writer’s Block

Even with all this information, you might be finding it difficult to get started. If that is the case, begin by writing a list of everything you have done – you can put these items under headings later. You can also ask to see a friend’s CV, but do not copy it verbatim or steal his or her layout. Make it your own, as it is to your advantage to promote your strengths and experiences as unique. Your CV is your opportunity to show others all the amazing things you have done, and you are already ahead by starting your CV as an undergraduate.

Liz Goldstein graduated from The College of New Jersey in May 2007 with a BA in psychology, clinical/counseling concentration. She is currently a Research Assistant at the Center for Psychotherapy Research at the University of Pennsylvania. Liz's research interests include psychotherapy process/outcome and the integration of technology into research design and treatment.  Liz can be reached at