Writing a CV

A professional and well-written CV is often the first and therefore essential part of the application procedure. Your CV is the first piece of information that the University you’re applying to is receiving, so you need to make sure that you leave a good first impression. Keep in mind that an application officer will pay attention to a wide range of aspects and that he will be most capable about drawing conclusions himself whether you are fit for the program you’re applying for.

Your CV can stand out amongst all other applications not only through your past experiences and education, but also through a clear structure and apprehensive layout. Your CV should reflect your positive qualities as much as possible and your accomplishments listed on your CV should speak for themselves; you do not need to draw conclusions about what they say about you.

Top Tips!

  • Divide your CV into sections, such as education and qualifications, work experience, extra-curricular activities and interests, additional information, skills and referees.
  • In each section, put the most recent information first, and work backwards.
  • Start with the most relevant section first. In the case of a Masters application, this will be your education. Briefly list the relevant courses you have taken and their grades (if they’re good!). Also list relevant projects, extended essays, or dissertations.
  • Describe what you have done, not what you think it says about you. Provide the necessary information for the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.
  • Be concise: limit your CV to 2 pages, preferably 1 page.
  • Make sure the layout is very clear and easy to skim over. Make use of headings, bullet points and spacing.

Universities have varying demands with regards to the content of your CV. Where American universities often find your extracurricular activities very important, British universities tend to focus on a sufficiently high GPA. Try to find information on the website of the University to which you’re applying to; see whether they have indications about what they would like to see on your CV. If you have made a CV, you can always have the Student Life Officer or Career Development Officer look over it for you.

Motivation letter/cover letter

Your CV is always accompanied by a motivation or cover letter. This letter should quite simply be the guide to your motivation and a description of the development of your interests and competences that have encouraged you to choose this specific Master’s. It should also include an overview of what you intend to learn and what how this program fits into your broader future plans. A motivation letter is perhaps the most important part of the application; it provides you with an opportunity to stand out between all other applications. Do not be afraid to ask friends, teachers or tutors to proofread your motivation letter before you send it in.

Do’s

  • Your statement of purpose should be a coherent essay, with a clear structure and beginning, middle and end.
  • You should make it as short as possible while still hitting the important points. Remember, the committee has to read a lot of these: short and sweet is important!
  • Change a vague and floppy sounding formulation like "I am not completely sure what I want to do after obtaining my graduate degree. However, I am very interested in doing research" to something like "After obtaining my graduate degree, I am interested in working in a research environment."
  • Address the specific content of your academic interests. Adding meaningful discussion of content earlier would make a big difference in the impact of your statement.
  • Your essay should be in formal academic English, even though it is a personal statement. Your writing ability will be judged on the quality of the essay. Be sure to use informal, colloquial language sparingly.
  • Specify what you are applying for and say how you learned of the opportunity and why you are doing this one specifically.
  • At the end suggest having an interview, these usually increase your chances since personal contact is just better.

Don’ts

  • Avoid making the same point several time; comes across as shallow, boring.
  • Avoid expressions like 'I think', and 'in my opinion', 'I am convinced'. These are wordy and make you sound less confident. Avoid intensifiers like "very" and vague words such as "interesting". The most deadly combination of all is 'very interesting'. Show the depth of your academic interests by explaining them.