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How to prepare a strong phd application.

Doctoral candidates and departmental coordinators at the Wharton School outline a few tips to help you navigate the PhD application process.

It’s no secret the application process can be intimidating. Where do you start? What exactly are schools looking for on your application? What materials do you need to submit? Doctoral candidates and departmental coordinators at the Wharton School have outlined a few tips to help you navigate the process.

Don’t Delay the Process

A successful PhD applicant starts thinking about their application months or even years before the deadlines. For Alejandro Lopez Lira , a third year student in Finance, the application process began a year before he actually submitted the paperwork. He said, “I spoke to my advisors way before, like one year before, about my letters of recommendation, where to apply, everything involved in the process.”

Each program has different requirements, which can make for a tedious process. Karren Knowlton , a third year in Management, said, “I took a little while to draft a personal statement. I had my mom, who teaches creative writing, and a few other people that I trust just read over it. Then you have to tweak it for different schools because they want slightly different things.”

Taking time to prepare your application is critical. Starting the process sooner rather than later gives you several advantages:

  • It allows your letter of recommendation writers enough time in advance to thoughtfully prepare a letter that speaks to who you are as a PhD candidate.
  • It gives you more time to review your materials, fix any errors, and proofread, proofread, proofread.
  • Finally, it means a lot less stress when the deadline starts rapidly approaching. By planning ahead, you’ll have a much smoother process applying.

Get Letters of Recommendation

Prof. Matthew Bidwell , who previously served as the doctoral coordinator for the Management program , said a common mistake he sees are letters of recommendations from employers. Although he said it is impressive to see work experience, having an employer write a letter is not the best choice.

“We don’t pay very much attention to those because rightly or wrongly, we worry that they’re not looking for the kinds of things that we’re looking for,” he said. “If you have one, it’s not a disaster, but when you see people with two or three — most of their recommendations coming from their work — that kind of heightens our concern. You’re committing to a fairly specialized career, do you really know what that career entails?”

Instead, he suggests getting to know an academic who will be able to write a recommendation attesting to your ability to manage doctoral-level research and work.

Include Research/Work Experience in Your Field

Each program has a unique set of criteria to evaluate applicants, but several doctoral coordinators agree that some research and work experience in your field of interest will strengthen your application overall.

Prof. Fernando Ferreira , doctoral coordinator for the Business Economics and Public Policy and Real Estate programs, thinks work experience can be useful in demonstrating an applicant’s abilities. He said, “Any work experience after undergraduate school is important. If that experience is more related to research it’s even better, but work experience in general is always good.”

Prof. Guy David , doctoral coordinator for the Health Care Management & Economics program , thinks that work experience benefits applicants in terms of giving them a broader view of business. “Work experience creates retrospection about how the world works, how organizations make decisions, and how people function in various situations,” he said.

However, he warns that spending too much time away from an academic setting can have its drawbacks too. “It may lead people to start their PhD later when they are not in the habit of immersing themselves in rigorous studies and have a shorter horizons to develop a name for themselves,” he said.

Although having both research and work experience can strengthen your application, you will not be denied entry because you are lacking either.

Prof. Bidwell said, “I think research experience does give us some confidence that people have some idea about what it is that we do. In terms of work experience, I think we don’t have a strong view. We quite like work experience, but we also take people straight out of undergrad.”

Prepare for the Standardized Tests

Most PhD programs require students to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Having high test scores is a key part of an application as it tests skills learned over the course of many years in school. Quantitative skills are especially important when applying to doctoral programs in business areas. Much like any other standardized test, the GRE requires preparation.

Karren, who took the GRE twice to ensure her scores were high enough, offered advice to those who may be struggling. “I would absolutely recommend practicing the writing beforehand. Look up examples and have your outline structured,” she said. “So much of it is just getting the right structure and how you formulate your arguments so knowing what they’re looking for is key.”

Test prep can be time-consuming, but like anything else, practice makes perfect. There are multiple text books and online sites to help you prepare for the exam. Karren aimed to improve her math scores the second time she took the GRE and recommended this site to help strengthen math skills.

Taking advantage of resources to help you study can limit the number of times you need to take the GRE while ensuring you score high enough to remain in the applicant pool.

Watch a Webinar with Former Wharton Vice Dean Catherine Schrand

Posted: August 4, 2017

  • Admissions and Applying
  • Advancement and Transition

Doctoral Programs

Start your doctoral journey.

Whether you’re just starting your research on PhD programs or you’re ready to apply, we’ll walk you through the steps to take to become a successful PhD candidate.

Deciding to get a PhD

You might be surprised to find out what you can do with a PhD in business.

Is an Academic Career for You ? What Makes a Successful PhD Student

Preparing for the Doctoral Path

The skills, relationships, and knowledge you need to prepare yourself for a career in academics.

How the PhD Program Works How to Become a Successful PhD Applicant

Choosing the right program

What’s the difference between PhD programs? Find out how to choose one that fits your goals.

What to Consider When Choosing a Doctoral Program What Differentiates R1 Universities?

Starting an application

Tips for a successful application process.

Application Requirements Preparing Your PhD Application

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How to Write a Personal Statement for a PhD Program Application

Personal statement guidelines, general guidelines to keep in mind:.

  • One size does not fit all : Tailor your personal statement to each program and department you are applying to. Do your research to learn what is unique about each of your choices and highlight how this particular program stands out.
  • Yes, it’s personal : Showcase your unique strengths and accomplishments. Explain what influenced your personal decisions to pursue the program. Ask yourself, could this be applied to your friend or neighbor? If so, you need to be more specific and provide examples. Saying that you are a “good scientist” isn’t enough. Provide examples of your previous research experience, projects you’ve completed, and what technical skills you learned. Explain how you overcame any challenges along the way.
  • Set aside enough time :  Although personal statements are generally short in length (approx. 700 words; 1-2 pages), give yourself ample time to write a strong, well-written statement. It takes more time than you think to develop a final draft for submission.
  • Focus on your spelling, grammar, and vocabulary :  It’s important to present a well-written statement with good grammar and vocabulary. Write concrete, succinct sentences that flow well. Avoid flowery language. Visit the  Writing Center  for additional review and feedback.
  • Proofread one more time:  Check your grammar and spelling again before submitting your final draft. Ask a friend, professor, or advisor to proofread your final draft one more time before sending it in. 


  • Why do you want to complete further research in this field?  Write down a list of reasons as to why you are interested in pursuing further study in the field. When did you become interested in the field and what knowledge have you gained so far? Describe how your previous work provided the foundation and for further study.
  • Why  have you  chosen to apply to this particular university ? Does the institution have a particular curriculum, special research facilities/equipment, or interesting research that appeal to you?
  • What are your strengths ? Demonstrate how you stand out from other candidates. Highlight relevant projects, dissertations thesis or essays that demonstrate your academic skills and creativity. Include IT skills, research techniques, awards, or relevant traveling/ study abroad experience.
  • What are your transferable skills?  Be sure to emphasize transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, and time management skills. Give examples of how you have demonstrated each of these with specific examples.
  • How does this program align with your career goals?  It’s okay if you don’t know the exact career path you plan to take after completing your PhD. Provide an idea of the direction you would like to take. This demonstrates commitment and dedication to the program.


For examples of successful personal statements, visit the  Online Writing Lab (OWL) .

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StandOut CV

CV for PhD application example

Andrew Fennell photo

You’ve wrapped up your degree and are keen to embark on your PhD journey.

But before you can get stuck in, you’ll need to secure your place by putting forward a compelling PhD application and CV.

If you’ve never written an academic-style CV before, the process can be daunting. That’s why I’ve created this step-by-step guide to writing a CV for a PhD application.

I’ve also included a PhD CV example, to give you a better idea of what you need to include. Here’s what I’ll cover in the guide:

Guide contents

PhD application CV example

  • Structuring and formatting your CV
  • Writing your CV profile
  • Detailing your education
  • Detailing your relevant experience

CV templates 

PHD Applicant CV-1

As you can see from the CV example above, a PhD CV is structured differently to a traditional CV. Instead of focusing on work experience, academic experience and accomplishments are prioritised.

However, the fundamental CV writing  rules stay the same. Therefore, the candidate has put forward their information in a way which is clear, concise and formatted for easy reading.

CV builder

PhD application CV structure & format

PhD programmes receive thousands of applications, meaning the university admissions teams are generally very time-strapped.

As such, you need to  structure and format  your CV to make it as easy as possible for them to review.

First impressions count and a cluttered or disorganised application won’t do you any favours.

Instead, you should aim for a clean, well-organised and professional appearance throughout.

Formatting Tips

  • Length: While academic CVs are generally longer than standard CVs, it’s still best to aim for a short, relevant and concise document. For PhD applications, a length of one or two A4 pages is ideal. This is more than enough space to highlight your suitability without  overwhelming the reader with irrelevant information or excessive detail.
  • Readability: The information on your CV should be laid out logically, with clear section headings for easy navigation. Break up large chunks of text into small, snappy paragraphs and include bullet points where appropriate.
  • Design:  Opt for a clear, legible font and stick to it throughout – consistency is important. Ensure your headings are formatted for attention by using bold text or a slightly larger font size.
  • Things to avoid:  Steer clear of elaborate designs, fancy fonts, images or logos – they’re simply not needed and might distract from the all-important written content.
  • Things to consider: CVs ‘rules’ differ from country to country, so if you’re applying to an international university, take some time to research what’s expected of you.

Structuring your CV

Organise your content into the following sections for ease-of-reading:

  • Contact details – These should always be at the very top of your CV.
  • Personal statement  – A brief introductory summary of your qualifications, skills and experience in relation to the PhD.
  • Core skills – A short and snappy list of your most relevant skills, tailored to the PhD.
  • Education –  A detailed breakdown of your relevant qualifications, especially your undergraduate and postgraduate degree(s).
  • Career summary/research   experience – An overview of any relevant work or research experience, angled towards your chosen field of study.
  • Additional information –   A space to detail any other relevant information which may boost your application.

Quick tip:  While the simple CV format above is usually ideal, academic institutions often have their own preferred structure. Double-check their guidelines before you start writing – their preferences should be prioritised – and use a CV template if you want to speed things up without sacrificing quality.

CV Contact Details

Contact details

Commence your CV by sharing your basic contact details

  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Location  – Rather than listing your full address, your town or city, such as ‘Manchester’ or ‘Exeter’, is enough.
  • If you have one, add a link to your LinkedIn profile or a portfolio of work.

CV for PhD Personal Statement

Your profile / personal statement  is essentially your first impression on the reader and is a great way to hook their attention.

It should provide a snappy summary of who you are and why your qualifications, skills and ambitions make you a perfect candidate for the PhD.

CV profile

Tips to consider when creating your personal statement:

  • Tailor to the PhD:  Every PhD programme should have a description available, which you can use to tailor your personal statement ( and your CV as a whole). Focus on proving you have the appropriate educational background, skillset and knowledge to carry out the project.
  • Prove your enthusiasm: It’s important to put forward your drive and motivation for your field and explain why the specific PhD is so well-matched to your wider interests and ambitions.
  • Avoid clichés:  Clichés and generic phrases like “I’m a motivated team player”  and  “gives 110%”  won’t impress the admissions team.
  • Keep it short:  A paragraph length of around 8-15 lines is perfect. This is only an introduction – the detail can come later on in your CV.

What to include in your CV for PhD personal statement?

  • Your academic background  – Give a brief overview of your undergraduate degree and/or masters and how they’ve brought you towards this PhD.
  • Impressive results  – PhD students are normally academically extraordinary, so make sure to point out any impressive results or feedback – whether that’s your degree as a whole or a particularly relevant assignment/project grade.
  • Relevant skills  – Use the PhD project description to find out what the university is looking for in candidates. Then, try to incorporate the core skills into your profile.
  • Relevant experience – Not everyone will have any relevant research or work experience to their name at this stage, but if you do, make sure to briefly highlight it here.
  • Interests, goals & motivations  – Give a brief insight into your motivation for taking on a PhD, why you’re so committed to your specific research topics(s) and what you think you can add. It’s also helpful to summarise how the course will fit into your wider career ambitions/goals.

Core skills section

Next, create a punchy list of core skills, organised into 2 or 3 columns of bullet points.

Use the project description to identify the required skills and knowledge, then use your findings to inform your list.

CV core skills

This will help the busy admissions team to see that the PhD is right for you at a glance.

Education & Qualifications

A PhD CV is  all about academic achievements and qualifications, so this section should make up the bulk of your CV.

Working in reverse chronological order, provide a detailed breakdown of your undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications.

If you have any GCSEs, A-Levels or other academic qualifications that are particularly relevant to the PhD subject, they might be worth listing, too.

Structuring your education

By working to a considered structure, you can ensure your education is easy to navigate and that your key achievements stand out.

For each of your relevant qualifications, break up information into the following sections.

Start by detailing the type of qualification, the title, the achieved grade, the academic institution at which you studied and the year you graduated.

MSc – Environmental Engineering (Distinction)

Middlesex University (2018)

Course content

Next, discuss your thesis or dissertation title (if applicable), the modules you studied and any relevant projects you were involved in.

What you choose to write here should be tailored to the PhD you’re applying for – focus the detail on the most relevant aspects of the qualification.

Thesis: “Identification of the Bacterial Profusion and Variety in Nuclear Waste Disposal”.

Modules: System Analysis in Urban Water Management; Process Engineering in Urban Water Management; Air Quality Control; Waste Management; Ecological Systems Design, and Remote Sensing and Earth Observation.

Project: “Research Study for Anaerobic Wastewater Treatment”

Key achievements (optional)

Finish up with a snappy list of key results,  accomplishments or learning outcomes you achieved.

This might be an impressive grade for a highly relevant assignment, an award you won or a quote of exemplary feedback from a tutor.

Career & Research Experience

Next up is your career & research summary, which should be tailored to the PhD in question.

You could include  relevant research experience here, as well as any related employment (even if temporary or voluntary).

Make sure to be selective with the type of employment you list, though. For example, a part-time waiting on job isn’t worth including, but a laboratory or tutoring job might be. Ultimately, it should be related to your field or have helped you develop relevant skills or knowledge.

When discussing your research roles, make sure to detail the techniques you used, the skills developed and any interesting findings.

Structuring your experience section

Ensure your career & research section is clear, scannable and easy to read by working to the following structure:

Outline the dates of employment/contract, the role title and the organisation or institution you worked for.

Aug 2018 – Sep 2019 Research Intern Hydro Continental, London

Give a brief overview of the position or research project as a whole, discussing the team you worked with (or lead), who you reported to and what the goal of the project was.

“Undertook a short-term assignment pertaining to the Economics of climate change in order to research and drive improvements in energy consumption and emissions; reported to the Executive Engineer.” 

Key responsibilities 

Then use bullet points to pinpoint your duties and responsibilities within the role, making sure to mention any relevant techniques or skills used that could benefit your candidacy. E.g.

  • Employed the Marginal Abatement Cost (MAC) curve tool to present carbon emissions abatement options.
  • Built partnerships and participated in open discussions with other country modellers and research associates.
  • Amassed and processed varied data from multiple sources.

Writing your CV for PhD

Applying for a PhD is a daunting yet exciting time, but a flawless CV can help you achieve your goals.

Remember to tailor your CV to the specific PhD you’re applying for and aim to make a compelling case for your suitability and aligned goals.

Before you send off your CV, try to get a second opinion from a current or previous tutor, trusted family member or friend.

It’s also worth checking the finished document with our quick-and-easy CV Builder , to eliminate the risk of overlooking mistakes.

Best of luck with your PhD application!

how to write application for phd admission

  • How to write an Academic CV for a PhD Application
  • Applying to a PhD
  • The purpose of an academic CV for a PhD application is to provide a summary of your educational background and demonstrate the research skills and relevant experience you have that make you capable of undertaking a PhD.
  • It should be divided into nine sections : (1) contact information, (2) research interests, (3) education, (4) research and work experience, (5) teaching experience, (6) relevant skills and experience, (7) publications and conferences, (8) professional memberships, (9) referees.
  • It should ideally be up to two pages for a new research student, but can extend up to four pages if required.
  • The smaller details matter more than you think – write concisely, use consistent formatting, avoid jargons and general statements, check spelling and grammar, and have at least one academic to proofread it for you, ideally in the same area you are applying to.


So you are nearing the end of your current degree or making a return to education, and you’ve decided to make your next step a PhD. While the road ahead will be filled with much excitement, you’ll need to secure your position first. This will all begin with a strong PhD application and an equally impressive academic CV and personal statement or cover letter.

Together with your personal statement or cover letter, your CV will show who you are as an individual and what you have to offer. It needs to be concise, correctly formatted and well written to convince your preferred university and supervisor that you are the right student for the project.

This step-by-step guide will get you on your way to creating an outstanding academic CV for your next PhD application. We’ll discuss the sections your CV should be structured into, what each of these sections should include, and how it should be written. We’ll also give you valuable tips that are sure to get your readers’ attention.

What Is an Academic CV?

When applying for a PhD position, it’s common for the university to request a curriculum vitae (CV) from you to accompany your application.

An academic CV may appear similar to a standard CV used for job applications, but they are two relatively unique documents.

Where a standard CV focuses mostly on what your previous responsibilities have been and what you have accomplished to date, an academic CV concentrates on your academic background, achievements and experiences . Your academic CV will be used by a PhD supervisor to determine whether you can meet the challenges associated with undertaking a demanding PhD research project, as not everyone can.

How to Write an Academic CV for A PhD Application

A good academic CV should be broken into nine section headings:

  • Contact Information
  • Research Interests / Personal Profile
  • Research and Work Experience
  • Teaching Experience
  • Relevant Skills and Experience
  • Publications and Conferences
  • Professional Memberships
  • Referees / References

Below, we discuss what each of these sections should contain and how they should be written.

1. Contact Information

Start your CV by providing your contact details. All of the following should be included:

  • Full name  – Your name should be your document title, formatted in bold and centralised text.
  • Email address and contact number
  • Location  – Your town/city and country, e.g. ‘Birmingham, UK’, will be sufficient; it’s not necessary to provide your full home address.
  • Profiles  – Include a link to any professional profiles you may have, such as LinkedIn or ResearchGate.

NOTE:  Some individuals include a profile photo but be careful before doing so. While this would be expected in some countries such as those in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, this would not be the case in other countries such as the UK and US. This is because it can lead to complications with labour and anti-discrimination laws and potentially cost you your application. We therefore strongly advise you to look into the norms and regulations of the host country before deciding to do so.

2. Research Interests / Personal Profile

For an academic CV written for a PhD position, your ‘research interests’ section will double as you ‘personal profile’. As a brief introduction to yourself, this will be an important section as it sets the first impression of you for the reader.

Use bullet points or a brief paragraph to summarise who you are, your relevant qualifications, your research interests and your relevant skills and experience. When writing this section, your focus should be on two aspects: demonstrating your  ability to conduct a PhD  and your  enthusiasm for the project .

To create an impactful research interests’ section, adhere to the following:

  • Tailor to each research project you apply for:  One of the easiest ways to do this is to read the project description attached to the PhD advert, identify two to three of the most prominent keywords, and incorporate them into your writeup.
  • Keep it short:  This section is only an introduction, so keep it concise and punchy over long and detailed; 50 – 60 words is a good target.
  • Make every word count:  As 50 – 60 words isn’t much, be as specific as you can. Avoid clichés such as “I am committed to research and have a high attention to detail” at all costs; not only are they generic and overused, they also don’t provide the reader with any useful insights into you.

3. Education

A PhD CV is all about academic achievements and qualifications, so your education section should be given high importance and form the bulk of your CV, especially as it will be used to determine if have the core skills required for the position.

Working in reverse chronological order, provide a breakdown of your current academic qualifications. For most of you, this will be an undergraduate Bachelor’s degree and a postgraduate Master’s degree.

When listing your qualifications, provide the full name of the degree, the degree type, and the duration in terms of its start and end year. You do not need to limit this to your past qualifications; if you’re currently studying or taking an external course, include them as well, but state that they are ongoing and provide an expected grade if you have one.

If your degree is relevant to the PhD project you are applying to, include a list of the modules you completed and your corresponding marks; the same applies to your final year dissertation project.

Note:  If you list your relevant modules, streamline their names by removing any course codes. For example, “FN01 Fluid Dynamics” should become “Fluid Dynamics”. Course codes are only used for internal purposes, and each university will have its own system, so remove them to avoid any possible confusion.

Feel free to also list your GCSEs, A-Levels or other relevant academic qualifications if applicable to the field you are applying to, however, this isn’t necessary, and most supervisors will not ask for them. The exception to this is if your university degree is not directly related to the project you are applying for, but your previous qualifications are. In these cases, include them to help demonstrate the suitability of your academic background.

Finally, list any honours, awards and prizes that you have won or any other notable academic achievements that will help to strengthen your application.

4. Research and Work Experience

Your research and relevant work experience is just as, if not more, important than your educational background. This is because most applicants applying for the position will have similar qualifications, so your research experience can often be the deciding factor when all other things are considered equal.

Your research experience may include both paid and voluntary, full-time and part-time work, as well as university project work. However, in all cases, the experience you mention should be relevant to the project you are applying for or have helped you develop skills that make you a more capable researcher. For example, it’s not necessary to mention your time in retail, but any previous time as a laboratory or teaching assistant or teaching support absolutely will be.

If you any discuss research that you have done as part of your studies, present them as individual project listed in reverse chronological order, as before. You can also include research projects you are currently working on, regardless of how developed they are.

When discussing any projects, include the following:

  • What the project was about,
  • What research methods you used,
  • The skills you gained,
  • Any notable achievements or outcomes.

5. Teaching Experience

Since one of the main career paths after a PhD is an academic career, teaching experience can significantly strengthen your academic CV. However, it is generally accepted that not all applicants will have teaching experience, but if you do, include it here.

When discussing your teaching experience, state what level it was at, e.g. undergraduate or postgraduate, and what it involved, i.e. marking, teaching, supervising or organising.

6. Relevant Skills and Experience

This section should describe all other skills and experiences that will help strengthen your application.

They should be specific to the PhD project or demonstrate your potential to become a competent researcher. This includes:

  • Technical skills and experience, e.g. the use of computer software packages or research equipment common to the project you’re applying for.
  • Non-project specific courses you’ve sat, e.g. an academic writing and communication course.
  • Languages you know with their proficiencies noted.

7. Publications and Conferences

Most students won’t have academic publications, but if you do, list them here. Formal publications can include anything from journal articles, which is most likely to an adaptation of your final year dissertation project if you do have one, and published reports. If you have these, list them in reverse chronological order using the reference system adopted by the university you are applying to, as this is what the PhD supervisor will most likely be used to.

If you aren’t a published author or co-author, you can still include other text publications that you may have been involved in, such as online articles, magazines, newsletters and blogs. The topics of these publications should relate to your field or academia in general and be written in a formal tone that showcases your critical thinking and writing skills.

If you’ve ever given a conference presentation, include it here with details of the name, date and location of the conference, the title of your presentation and a summary of what it was about.

Even if you haven’t presented in conferences, you should still list any you have attended, including any seminars or talks. This is a useful way to illustrate your interest in the subject and your commitment to gaining new knowledge within your field.

TIP:  If you haven’t attended many conferences or seminars, consider attending several upcoming ones relevant to the research area you’re interested in. Not only is this a great way to learn more about the field in terms of its latest developments and gaps, but it can also be an effective way to make your academic CV more relevant if it’s currently light on research experience.

8. Professional Memberships

Being affiliated with an academic group, society or professional body demonstrates your enthusiasm for your field and for connecting with other like-minded individuals within the community.

When listing these, include the name of the group, the associated membership dates and the position you have held within it.

9. Referees / References

Your references will form the last section of your academic CV.

Your PhD application should specify the number of referees you should include, but if it does not, try to include at least two, but ideally three.

Two of the referees should be academic, with most students choosing their personal tutor and their final year’s dissertation project supervisor. It can be other staff members, but the essential requirement is that it is someone who knows you well enough to be able to substantiate your abilities and character.

If you don’t have two academic referees, you can use a professional referee as long as they are still relevant to the project you are applying for. This will most likely be the case for those who have worked in industry for some time before deciding to return to education.

When creating your reference list, list your referees in order of relevance and how well they know you, not in alphabetical order. This is so if only the first referee is called upon, it will be the individual who can provide you the most useful reference. The following information should be provided:

  • Professional title,
  • Name of current university,
  • Phone number and email address.

It’s imperative that you first seek permission from the individuals before listing them as a referee. It would also be beneficial to send them a copy of your CV, cover letter and application form so they can familiarise themselves with the broader details in case they are called upon.

Tips for Creating a Standout Academic CV

Research CV for PhD Application - Tips

No matter how impressive your academic achievements are or how much experience you have accumulated in your field, the PhD supervisor may never find out if your CV is too difficult to read. With this in mind, here are a few tips for achieving a high degree of clarity:

Formatting for Clarity

  • Highlight key information through the use of bolding, italics and underlining, but be careful not to overdo it so that it loses its purpose.
  • Keep your formatting consistent throughout, such as indentations, font type and font size, vertical spacing and margins.
  • Insert page numbers on each page.
  • Avoid jargon and abbreviations to maximise clarity.
  • Avoid splitting sections across two pages.

Keep It Concise

  • Try to limit your CV to two pages and not more than four. If you need to go over two pages, make sure the most important information is on the first two pages.
  • Avoid dense paragraphs, overly long sentences and generic statements. The aim is to pass on essential information in a way that doesn’t require the reader to have to extract it themselves. This leads to the next tip,
  • Use bullet points whenever possible, they’re easier to digest than paragraphs.

NOTE:  Remember that you will also submit a cover letter or personal statement alongside your CV, so don’t feel the need to cover everything to a high level of detail here as you will have the opportunity to do so elsewhere.

Check and Revise

  • As a rule of thumb, the academic CV you submit as part of your PhD application should be the third or fourth version you produce. Try to keep a day or two between each version so that you always approach it with a fresh perspective.
  • Proofread for any spelling and grammar mistakes. Although this will seem like we’re stating the obvious, a small mistake can be enough to jeopardise your chances considering that there will be many other high-profile candidates for the supervisor to choose from.
  • Have your document checked, first by an academic such as your tutor, and second by a professional proofreader or by an advisor from your university’s careers team. The former will check for technical issues, the latter for common curriculum vitae formatting, spelling and grammar mistakes.

Save in PDF Format

If the submission method allows for it, convert your CV to PDF format. This significantly reduces the likelihood of compatibility and reformatting issues when opened by the supervisor.

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How to Write a Statement of Purpose for PhD Admission


The dreaded doctoral statement of purpose — every PhD program asks for it, but why is it so difficult to write? Writing a strong statement of purpose is essential to getting into your top PhD programs. A PhD statement of purpose gives admissions committees an introduction to your research interests and why their specific program is of interest to you.

Like a cover letter for a job application, a great statement of purpose allows you to highlight your strengths, interests and experience. If you need statement of purpose advice, keep reading for guidance on how to write a successful statement of purpose that will make your PhD application stand out.

Statement of purpose vs. personal statement

Though the two may sound similar, they’re not necessarily interchangeable. A personal statement gives insight into who you are, while a statement of purpose is meant to showcase what you want to do. Rarely will you be asked to write a personal statement for a PhD program.

As you go through the PhD application process, you will likely see schools requesting either a statement of purpose or a research statement. In most cases, they're both looking for the same thing. Admissions committees want to know about your academic background, your research goals and what you hope to accomplish as a candidate in a PhD program.

Your research goals should align with faculty research

Being admitted to a PhD program is a great feeling, but if you enroll in a program that doesn’t match your research interests or help support your career goals, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment later down the road.

Applying for admission to a program is all about fit. Faculty reviewers are looking for students who best represent the department’s mission and will help them obtain their research objectives.

By the time you apply, you should have a solid understanding of what the department’s primary research and content areas are, as well as which faculty members you’d like to work with more closely. This might mean finding information about what their labs do and reading published articles related to their work.

Be sure to include how your interests and past experiences align with the work that they do and how you would be an active contributor to those endeavors. This approach shows that you took the time to look into their program, so the committee will be more willing to invest theirs in reviewing your application.

Don’t be afraid to address your weaknesses

Many people assume they should avoid listing their shortcomings in their essays. The whole point of applying to a program is to impress the reviewers, right? But constructively addressing your weaknesses can be a great way to demonstrate how this program can help you achieve your academic goals.

Look at the catalog and read through the courses that are part of the program. If there is a particular class that fascinates you, talk about how it could help you obtain a new skill or a better understanding of a concept that you’ve struggled with before.

This demonstrates that you are actively seeking programs to help you better your education. It also exhibits that you’re mindful of what areas of your knowledge need some improvement, which shows maturity and the ability to self-assess.

Keep it succinct

If your program of interest does not specify a page word or word limit, it’s best to assume that your statement should not exceed two pages total. It should be enough to give them a glimpse of who you are and what you have to offer but not share your life story.

The aim is to communicate how and why this particular program will help you meet your academic and career goals. Limited space means you must prioritize what you include in your statement.

Create an outline before you start writing to ensure you are including points that are relevant to your application and the program to which you are applying. Your statement is also an example of how well you can write. By framing your essay before you write it, you can avoid stream-of-consciousness writing that can often come across as undefined and incoherent.

Proofread! And read it over and over

When you think you have a finished product, read your essay out loud. This makes it easier to catch typos, poor grammar, and oddly worded sentences. If you have a friend who is also applying to grad school, help each other out by editing each other’s essays.

Having someone else read your statement and ask questions can help you clarify your points and make it more compelling. Your statement is your one chance to present yourself professionally in your own words. The occasional mistake is excusable, but messy writing will make them think you lack attention to detail.

Before you hit submit on that application, be sure that you have attached the correct document for the right institution. It can be very embarrassing if your statement mentions the wrong faculty member’s name or refers to another school’s library! It could also cause the reviewers to think you are not as serious about their program.

You’ve spent a good amount of time perfecting your application, so take your time to review everything before you submit it so you can rest easy knowing you’ve presented your best.


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How to Write a PhD Motivation Letter with Samples and Expert Tips

PhD Motivation Letter Sample

Reading over some PhD motivation letter samples will give you an idea of how to make yours a strong, central component of your application to get into grad school . In addition to your grad school CV , a PhD motivation letter is a chance for you to demonstrate objectively why you are an excellent candidate for the faculty to which you are applying. Unlike a personal statement, a PhD motivation letter is distinct in its unique focus on your academic and research background with little mention of your personal story. This article will take you through the significance of the PhD motivation letter, describe what makes a stellar motivation letter, and provide examples. 

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

Article Contents 11 min read

Do you need to write a phd motivation letter .

Yes, you must write a PhD motivation letter. It is mandatory for most, if not all, PhD programs, regardless of your field of study. Disciplines ranging from arts and humanities to physics and computer science all consider motivation letters (aka “statement of purpose” in some countries) a major component of your application.

Of course, you will also have to fulfill the other documentation requirements, like submitting your transcripts, CV, personal statement, and letters of recommendation, but a motivation letter has a specific intent: to summarize your academic achievements up to the present and what you plan to achieve in the future at this particular school.

The faculty who ultimately consider your application look for how you and your PhD topic match with the mission and values of their program. Personal details and other motivations are best left to your personal statement or letter of intent because the motivation letter is strictly an academic summary.

A great PhD motivation letter should highlight how and why you are prepared for the rigors of PhD-level work. It should include the details of your academic career that have propelled you further into your field of study, like an inspiring professor or undergraduate course that sparked interest in your field.

The following list will provide more insights, but you should remember that whatever you write must be backed up by a concrete, real-world demonstration. It is not enough to say, “I am interested in XYZ because of XYZ.” You must include specific events in your undergraduate and graduate studies where you excelled.

If you are applying for a PhD, that in itself suggests you have a bevy of academic and extracurricular experience to glean from, be it co-authoring a published paper, your time as a TA, or some type of academic recognition. Many stand-out motivation letters single out specific instances when you showed an outsized passion for your studies.

Dos and Don’ts in a PhD Motivation Letter

1. Gain Skills and Experiences

The track to obtaining a PhD degree is a long one, which is why anyone who wants to become a PhD should commit early on to what it entails. All PhD candidates must have both an undergraduate and a master's degree to even apply, so that means structuring your studies around those requirements.

You should gain as much experience in your field, learn new skills related to your studies (a new language, for example, or technical skills), and participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible. Gathering the necessary skills and experiences to enter a PhD program should be the first step, since they are a reflection of your commitment.

2. Start Writing Early

You should begin drafting your PhD motivation letter at least a few months before the deadline. Because it is one of the most important parts of your application, you want to give yourself time to refine it. Refining means going through multiple drafts, soliciting and receiving feedback from other candidates, getting professional grad school application help, and making changes as you go along.

3. Consider Your Audience

The people who will read your motivation letter are renowned academics who have devoted their lives to one particular subject. Your letter needs to reflect your respect not only for them, but for the field of study that you both share. You should write with genuine verve when talking about your topic. Remind them of why they committed so full-heartedly to their career by demonstrating how enthralled you are with your studies.

4. Use Active Voice

You should put “you” in your story. Avoid using the passive voice and hiding behind your achievements as if they spoke for themselves. The admissions committee members want to read about how you approached your studies and learn about your insights into the future of your field of interest. They do not want a cold recitation of your CV but a spirited defense or explanation of what you value most about your topic.

1. Don’t Forget About the Formatting

PhD admission requirements differ between the many programs out there, so be cognizant of how they ask you to format your paper. If the requirements state a two-page limit, then write two pages. The same goes for other criteria like font size, paragraph spacing, and word length. A rambling, incoherent letter is the last thing you want to submit, so make sure to keep it within the guidelines.

2. Don’t Include Personal Stories

A personal statement is the place for formative stories from the past, not your motivation letter. You can include personal thoughts and opinions about your field of study, even unfavorable ones, to show you have a unique perspective, but steer clear of using personal elements like early childhood experiences or anything unrelated to your program.

3. Don’t Ramble

Keep in mind that your writing and organizational skills are also on display when you submit your motivation letter, along with everything else about you (grades, college letter of intent , transcripts). Again, remember who you are writing for: professors with years of experience researching and writing. They, more than anyone, know what good writing looks like, so be concise and clear in your writing.

4. Don’t Shy Away from Failures

The collected experience of those reading your essay guarantees that they know a thing or two about failure. Whether it was an unpublished paper, or a failed experiment, showing your determination in the face of adversity paints a complete picture of who you are as a researcher and academic.

But, again, setbacks in your personal life should not be mentioned. Limit your story to problems you encountered during your undergrad, graduate, or research fellowships and how you sought to overcome them. Mention a class or subject you struggled with or a drop in your grades and how you improved them.

Structure of Your PhD Motivation Letter

The structure of a great motivation letter is easy to follow because its focus is so narrow. The body of your letter should only mention highlights from your academic career, in a very specific chronology starting with your undergrad and progressing from there. But the structure should also cover three main points:

You can adjust the structure based on the requirements of the PhD program you are applying to, but it should cover the reasons you want to commit yourself to this program, what you plan on achieving, and how you have prepared yourself to accomplish those goals. If you already went to grad school, then you can rework your college statement of purpose to use as a template.

PhD Motivation Letter Sample #1

Dear Members of the PhD Selection Committee,

My name is David White, and I am writing to you to express my interest in pursuing a PhD in the Migration Studies program at X University. I recently completed a Master of Ethnography at Y University with an emphasis on the cultural exchange between migrant communities and their adopted homelands viewed through the lens of shared trauma and memory.

In the media, migration is often described as a “crisis,” a designation that has always made me bristle. I assert that migration is one of the most fundamental aspects of our species, yet it has been flagrantly mislabeled to serve the political and socioeconomic interests of a few.

My research is centered around the ways that migrants form new identities based on their experiences. Conversely, I have also explored how an innate identity based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation impacts a migrant’s journey and how those markers expose them to further exploitation or, at the other end, fortify their resolve and inspire perseverance in the face of tremendous odds.

The need for further investigation into identity and the interplay of migration and culture came into focus for me during my second-year undergrad Political Science degree at XYZ University. I was influenced by the work of writers like Franz Fanon and Edward Said, who questioned the foundations of a post-colonial identity and whether it was ever possible for colonized people to form an identity separate from their colonizers. I took an anthropology course, The Nature of Humans, that impacted me greatly. It prompted a Cartesian examination of my own beliefs around identity, as it firmly associated the emergence of human societies with factors such as migration, evolution, adaptability, and diversity.

During my time as a graduate student, I secured a place on a research project headed by Prof. Mohamed Al-Nasseri, a diaspora studies expert. Professor Al-Nasseri's thesis was that policymakers were ignoring the psychological profiles of migrants when assessing their material needs and financial assistance levels.

Our four-person investigative team liaised with a local, non-profit resettlement agency who connected us with volunteer migrant families based in University Town. Under the supervision of Professor Al-Nasseri, we formulated a questionnaire based on the diagnostic criteria of the DSM-V for traumatic events, while taking into account the newly revised definitions.

Mindful of the possible triggering effect our questions could have, we invited a peer, fellow survivor/migrant, and, in some cases, a religious leader before we conducted the interviews or to sit-in on our interviews.

During the interviews, I felt both inspired and indignant. I maintained my composure and objectivity, but the fire within raged. Unfortunately, our findings were inconclusive and what we discovered in our interviews did not wholly support Dr. Al-Nasseri’s thesis. But the experience and motivation I took from the project were enough to fuel my desire to explore the topic of identity formation in migrant communities who have undergone severe trauma.

The Migration Studies program at your institution will provide what I consider the perfect research and support network to further my investigation of these topics. I have followed the work of the esteemed Dr. Ellerman whose research into the treatment of post-traumatic stress has informed the direction of my own research. Dr. Ellerman has opened new pathways for thinking about trauma that I wish to incorporate into my thesis project when the time comes.

Until then, I am grateful for the opportunity to apply to this institution and am ready to discuss my future with you should my candidacy prove successful.

David White

My name is Melanie Hicks, and I am writing this letter to fulfill the admission requirements of the Visual Arts PhD Program at Z University. I have already submitted my audiovisual portfolio, CV, and transcripts, along with three letters of recommendation from, respectively, my master’s degree supervisor, Dr. Dana Redmond, my thesis supervisor, Dr. Allan Lee, and my research colleague, Mark Fowler.

I would like to take this opportunity to expand further on the conceptual themes I have focused on in my artistic output over the past decade, contextualize the pieces I have submitted, and elaborate on the goals I have should my application to this program be successful.

My artistic career, from very early on, has been defined by modes of observation, the interplay of observation and reflection between subjects and objects within a sociopolitical realm, and the harnessing of Blackness as a form of radical self-interpretation – all of it couched within the media of still and moving images.

During my undergrad as a Fine Arts student at X University, I was lucky enough to be showcased at the Kepler Gallery for my series, Painted Faces, a collection of photographs I took while working as a freelance photographer for an independent newspaper in Chicago. My focus in that series was the effort and preparation female congregants of an all-Black church put into readying themselves for Sunday services.

After my undergrad, I traveled to Boston to volunteer in local after-school programs with children from minority backgrounds who had an interest in photography. All of them had grown up with easy access to a phone capable of taking crisp, digital images and had never taken film photographs, so it fell to me to show them how to develop prints in a darkroom.

As part of my portfolio, I have submitted photos I took during that time, along with selections from my Painted Faces series. I never constructed a specific narrative with the photos I took during my volunteer work, but they were informed by the social realist photographers and photojournalists who captured the Civil Rights Movement by participating in protests and documenting the unrest.

Gordon Parks is a major influence and part of the reason I am pursuing my PhD studies at this institution. Prof. Alys is a foremost expert on Parks’ work and curated the Parks Retrospective at the Local Museum. Parks himself said that the subject was always more important than the photographer, and I agreed with that statement for a long time, until I began reading Arthur Danto and his artist-centered philosophy of art. While many disagree with Danto’s definition of art as an elitist utopia, I would argue that he opens the gates to everyone, and that anyone can gain entry to the “artworld.”

There is no better exemplar, I think, of the democratization of the “artworld” first posited by Danto than Basquiat, who was not only “allowed” access to the “artworld” but redefined it, in his indomitable way. Basquiat’s quality of outsider-turned-insider and Danto’s liberating of the parameters of what defined art are central themes of my project to understand whether “outsider” artists still exist, given how new technologies and platforms have pushed Danto’s definitions beyond their logical boundaries, if not obliterated them completely.

I hope this program can help me refine my project while matching my urgency to further expand the definition of art and artists to be more inclusive of not only racial minorities, but non-binary and trans people, who are at the forefront of questioning the validity of assigned identities through the curation of their very genders or lack thereof.

I am grateful to this esteemed panel for considering my application, and I would like to close by expressing my profound admiration for the achievements in art, art theory, and the philosophy of art each of you has contributed to a long, continuing train of thought.

I would be honored to accept a place beside you as a PhD candidate.

Melanie Hicks

Motivation letters are used in areas other than academia, but a PhD motivation letter is different for several reasons. Regardless of your particular field of research, the letter should include important points about your academic achievements, research interests, and why you want to continue your research at the faculty to which you are applying.

Even though PhD motivation letters tend to be short – between 500 and 700 words – their length is often the most vexing thing about them. Because students have a hard time condensing their years of study and research into a few words, we hope this article will help you focus your writing and give you insight into what to include.

No, they are not the same. A motivation letter has many different applications but is primarily a summary of your academic and professional achievements. A personal statement is an essay explaining your personal reasons for wanting to enter a specific profession or academic institution.

You should focus only on concrete, real-world examples of how you performed, learned, or grew as the result of an event in your trajectory toward a PhD and how you plan on contributing something new to your field of study. You should also make sure to have enough material, in the form of experience or academic goals, to write a compelling letter.

PhD motivation letters are important because they let prospective PhD candidates distill their background and experience succinctly, so that selection committees can more easily judge their character, commitment, and potential. 

Some people do find it challenging to write a letter about themselves without rambling or sounding incoherent. But if you prepare ahead of time, think honestly about your answer, and write several drafts, you should be able to write an above-average letter. If you are still struggling you can also get application help from professionals. 

Programs tend to ask for either a one or two-page letter, between 700 and 900 words. 

You can talk about anything that has do to with your past work to get to the PhD level, including aspects of your academic career, internships, independent or supervised research, fieldwork in a specific context, and any work experience you have related to your field of study. 

You should not mention any personal motivations for wanting to pursue a PhD. You can write about your intrinsic motivations to become a doctor of philosophy in your personal statement, if you are asked to submit one with your application. 

PhD programs around the world have various entry requirements that differ among schools. Some institutions ask for a motivation letter, while others ask for a personal statement or letter of recommendation and letter of intent, which has elements of a motivation letter but is not the same. 

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CV for PhD Application: How to Write One Like a True Scholar (+CV Example)

  • Klara Cervenanska , 
  • Updated March 13, 2024 11 min read

A PhD is the highest level of academic qualification you can achieve. To secure your position, however, you first need an impressive CV for your PhD application.

Earning a PhD degree requires you to produce extensive research in a narrowly defined subject within a certain discipline and to make a considerable original contribution to your field.

Hence why PhD programs are always very selective. The admission rates hover around 10% and only about half of the admitted candidates actually finish the degree, according to a recent psychology research .

As a result, less than 1% of the population attains a PhD.

So, how do you become a part of the 1%?

The process of attaining a PhD starts with a strong application which includes an impressive academic CV .

A CV for PhD application needs to be carefully crafted, well formatted, and contain specific sections.

We'll show you how to craft a stellar PhD application CV, and a sample academic CV from a real person admitted to a PhD program in France.

Table of Contents

Click on a section to skip

What is an academic CV?

What to include in an academic cv for phd application.

  • How to write an academic CV for a PhD application?

Tips on how to write a CV for PhD application

How to tailor your cv for different phd programs, phd cv example.

First, there are two types of career documents job seekers widely use. A resume and a Curriculum Vitae (CV).

These two documents are similar but not identical.

So, let's have a look at the key differences between a CV vs a resume :

  • A resume is used when applying for a position in industry, non-profits, or the public sector. It should focus on skills and past experience while being tailored to a specific job position. The length of the document shouldn't be more than 1 or 2 pages.
  • A curriculum vitae (CV) is used when applying for positions in academia, science, or medicine. It focuses on education, research background and scholarly accomplishments. Finally, its length depends on the number of references, publications, etc.

There are even more types of CVs. A general CV, an industry (professional) CV, or an academic (research) CV — which is exactly the one you'll need.

In a nutshell, an academic CV is a career document that provides extensive information about your educational and research background. Scholars and researchers use this document when applying for jobs in academia — such as a PhD application.

Lastly, an academic resume is a term you can often come across, too. To avoid any confusion, it's the same as an academic CV. A more appropriate term is, however, the latter.

Rules are important in academia. That's why all academic CVs usually follow pretty strict structures regarding their content and formatting.

First, let's have a look at the resume sections you should include in a CV for PhD application:

  • Contact information. Include your full name, email, phone number, and location.
  • (Research) objective. A concise, brief paragraph outlining your research plans and strategies.
  • Education. It should form the bulk of your CV and detail you educational background.
  • (Research) experience. Your research experience can often set you apart from other candidates.
  • Publications. Include anything from journal articles, published reports, to your research dissertation.
  • Awards. Mention all awards and accomplishments you’ve received in reverse chronological order.
  • Skills. These should be relevant to the PhD project or show that you have what it takes to succeed as a researcher.
  • References. Finally, try to include at least two references, such as your dissertation supervisor and one other member of staff.

Let's have a closer look at each of the 8 CV sections in the next chapter.

How to write an academic CV for a PhD application ?

Applying for a PhD will be a lot less stressful if you follow this quick guide on how to write a CV for a PhD application:

You should always start your CV or your resume by providing your contact details to form the CV header . Include your full name, your professional email address, and your mobile number. Additionally, you can include your location. However, we don't advise including your full home address for privacy reasons. Entering the country and city you reside in is usually enough. Since a CV is a bit different than a resume, we don't recommend including links to your social media .

Research objective is basically a brief paragraph at the beginning of your CV outlining your research plans, interests, and strategies. It paints a picture of you as a person and will guarantee that the admissions committee will be interested in reading and learning more about your professional background. Your research plans and strategies should align with the PhD project you're applying for. Hence, read the project description carefully and make sure to tailor your objective accordingly. Ideally, without making stuff up.

The education section should form the bulk of an academic CV. No one expects a potential PhD candidate to have 10 years of experience in the field. But what's expected is an appropriate educational background. A common practice is to list your education in a reverse chronological order. This means listing your Master's degree first and then a Bachelor's degree. For each degree, provide the full name of the degree, the type, its duration, the relevant courses and modules, the corresponding (or expected) marks, GPA , and any relevant projects or presentations. Also, include the name and the description of your final year dissertation project.

In this section, introduce all of the research projects you worked on, whether they were a part of your undergraduate degree, your master's degree, or you have undertaken this project elsewhere. You can include any voluntary , part-time , or full-time work experience you deem relevant for the PhD project of your choice. For instance, skip the part-time bartending job and rather include a teaching experience or a voluntary project you undertook.

Of course, it's okay if you don't have any publications yet. If that's the case, simply skip this section. However, if you do have any work published at this stage, list it in this section. The publications can include anything from journal articles, published reports, contributions to peer-reviewed journals, or an adaptation of your dissertation project. Make sure to check the citation style your institution or field prefers and use it consistently in your publications section. The most common ones are APA, MLA, and Chicago.

In this CV section, list relevant honors, achievements, or awards you earned for going beyond average — again in reversed chronological order. It includes scholarships, university fellowships, competitions, work-related awards, or academic awards . For instance, you can mention a very high GPA, subject-specific awards, or any grants you received. However, keep in mind that mentioning how much money was involved is only common in scientific fields.

The skills you mention in your academic CV should be relevant to the PhD project you're applying for or show that you have what it takes to succeed as a researcher. Between the two types of skills , hard and soft, hard skills are more appropriate to include in your CV for PhD application. Examples of hard skills include Python, data analysis, polymer synthesis, C++, Chem Draw, Ahrefs , languages, or other computer skills . However, completing a PhD degree usually also involves demonstrating your teaching abilities. For this reason, listing soft skills such as a good oral communication and presenting is also a good idea.

While a references section in a regular resume is pretty much redundant, in a CV for PhD application it's a must-have . Why? Well, having a person attest to your skills and achievements is a great way to leverage your professional experience. The person you ask should be articulate and in a reputable position. Your best bet is to ask your dissertation supervisor, a professor you had a good relationship with, or one who taught the subject most relevant for the desired PhD program. Finally, don't forget that your references have to agree with having their contact information shared, first. Read our quick guide on how do you ask someone to be your reference .

Apart from making sure the content of your CV is spot on, you should also follow some well-established formatting tips.

A clear layout and composition ensure your CV is professional and easy to read.

Here are a few tips to help you achieve that:

  • Keep the formatting consistent. If you choose a certain font type and size, stick to it. The same goes for margins, spacing, and capitalization.
  • Less is often more. It might be tempting to use bolding, italics, or underlining in order to make the document "easy" to read. However, an excessive use of these features actually has the exact opposite effect.
  • Avoid long paragraphs. A CV is all about providing objective facts regarding your professional background. Hence, no need to provide generic statements or go into too much detail. And if you happen to write more text, you can always divide it using bullet points.
  • Use professional language. It goes without saying, but don't use slang. Similarly, use professional jargon and abbreviations within reasonable limits.
  • Don't limit yourself to one or two pages. The length of your academic CV depends on the number of publications, awards, references, and experiences. Unlike a resume, a CV is a complete summary of your academic and professional background.
  • Convert your CV to PDF. Doing this considerably reduces the risk of compatibility and formatting issues. A PDF file keeps your formatting intact across various devices.

Too much to keep in mind? Kickresume's CV & resume builder can save you the headache and provides useful templates with appropriate formatting designed by career professionals.

When applying for different PhD programs, it's crucial to tailor your academic CV to suit each specific program. 

This doesn't just improve your chances of catching the eye of admissions committees ; it demonstrates your genuine interest and alignment with their goals. 

To effectively tailor your CV for different PhD programs, follow these three tips:

#1 Understand program requirements and values

How do you do that? Start with in-depth research about the PhD program:

  • Visit the program's website
  • Look at the curriculum
  • Attend open days
  • If possible, reach out to alumni 

Once you have a clear picture of the program's values and requirements, you can begin to customize your CV. 

For example: If a program emphasizes community outreach, you might highlight your involvement in science education for underprivileged youths or your participation in community-based research projects. 

This demonstrates not only your alignment with their values but also your active contribution to areas they care about.

#2 Emphasize transferable skills for PhD programs

This applies to people switching fields or applying to a program that isn't a direct continuation of your undergraduate degree. 

Let's say you're moving from a background in chemistry to a PhD in molecular biology. 

It's crucial to highlight how your analytical skills, understanding of chemical processes, and any lab work or research experience directly apply to molecular biology. 

For instance: Discuss your experience with techniques that are common in both fields, like chromatography or spectrometry, and how they've prepared you for the research you aim to conduct in molecular biology. 

Tailoring your CV in this manner demonstrates your ability to bridge different disciplines and apply your skills in new contexts.

#3 Adapt your CV for international PhD programs

Adapting your CV for international programs involves more than just translating it into another language. 

Start by researching the academic culture and CV formats preferred in the country you're applying to. This might include:

  • the preferred length
  • whether to include personal information such as a photo
  • emphasis on certain types of experience or qualifications

For instance: in some countries, a detailed list of courses and grades might be important, while in others, a focus on research experience and publications is key. 

Websites of the target universities, country-specific academic career resources, advice from current international students, or even online forums like Reddit are invaluable for this purpose.

Finally, to help you tie everything we talked about together, we thought one picture is worth a thousand words.

Here's a CV sample from a person who managed to get accepted into a PhD program at the university of Lyon in France.

There are several things Herrera included to ensure her CV was successful:

  • A complete professional and academic background. We can see that this section forms the bulk of the resume. As it should.
  • Plenty of hard skills. Herrera included 7 hard technical skills and multiple languages. All of these skills are very valuable in academia.
  • A succinct description of all projects. She includes the full name of the projects, their duration, and theme.
  • References, publications, and certifications. All of these sections are included in the full version of this resume and can be found by clicking the button below the sample CV.

Lyon University PhD Student Resume Sample

This resume sample was contributed by a real person who got hired with Kickresume’s help.

Klara graduated from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. After having written resumes for many of her fellow students, she began writing full-time for Kickresume. Klara is our go-to person for all things related to student or 'no experience resumes'. At the same time, she has written some of the most popular resume advice articles on this blog. Her pieces were featured in multiple CNBC articles. When she's not writing, you'll probably find her chasing dogs or people-watching while sipping on a cup of coffee.

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Apply for postgraduate research

Follow the below steps to apply* for a research degree as a domestic or international research student.

These steps apply unless you are interested in the  Sydney Law School  or the  Business School , in which case you apply for your course first and if successful are allocated a supervisor.

  • Determine eligibility and suitable course
  • Develop your research proposal and find a research supervisor
  • Applying for scholarships to support your research degree
  • Gather required documentation and s ubmit your application onlin e

*The steps listed on this page are a guide and applicable to most courses. Please also check if there are any faculty-specific requirements .

1. Determine eligibility and suitable course

To be eligible to pursue postgraduate research study you will need previous research experience and a high academic record.  You need to have undertaken a significant research project or thesis in your previous university-level studies.

This could be the equivalent of:

  • an Australian honours degree
  • a master’s by research degree
  • a master’s by coursework with a thesis component (dissertation)

We also consider your undergraduate performance. You will need a bachelor's degree with first or upper second-class honours. Below is a guide based on the University of Sydney grading system, equivalent requirements will be determined for other institutions:

  • WAM of 75 over degree
  • Honours class I WAM greater than 80
  • Honours class II WAM between 75 and 80

English language requirements depend on the course, your country of origin and educational background. Find out if you need to prove  English language proficiency .

To apply for a PhD, you need to demonstrate sufficient prior research experience and capability. In most cases, you will have either:

  • a bachelor's degree with first or upper second-class honours, or
  • a master's degree performed at a high academic standard, which includes a substantial component of research, or
  • an equivalent qualification that demonstrates research experience, excellence and capability.

In most cases, to apply for a master’s by research or a Master of Philosophy, you need to have one of the following:

  • a bachelor’s degree with first or second-class honours from the University of Sydney or another approved institution
  • an equivalent qualification that demonstrates sufficient research experience and capability.

If you’re interested in a Joint PhD program, you need to follow the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) application steps 1-3. In addition, your proposed supervisor will need to complete a proposal to negotiate a student agreement form. If accepted, you will also be required to sign an individual student agreement. After your student agreement is finalised, you will then be sent an application form for the Joint PhD program.

Please refer to the University's Dual and Joint Degree Policy for full policy details.

Download our  Joint PhD programs factsheet (pdf, 116KB)  to learn more.

2. Develop your research proposal and find a supervisor

Before you submit your application, you must first secure a supervisor. Carefully consider the subject of your research project and start to develop a research proposal to provide to potential academic supervisors. Your initial proposal will likely evolve, however, it is important to clearly explain your ideas about your research, show why your research is noteworthy and how it aligns with your proposed supervisor’s own research.

Check out these guidelines on how to  write a research proposal for a strong PhD application .

You can search for supervisors’ contact details via their academic profile, or you can search for supervisors and projects  by discipline, keywords, and research themes. Our faculty and research centre websites are also good places to start.

To support your enquiry, send an email describing your academic background and research experience, the topic you'd like to research and how your research project aligns with the work of your proposed supervisor. You must include your resume/CV, academic transcripts for all degrees and your initial research proposal. Please check your HDR course page on Sydney Courses for specific faculty requirements.

3. Applying for scholarships to support your research degree

We have one of the largest research scholarship  schemes in Australia. Scholarships can be a big help in funding your research or helping you with living costs while you do your research. Some scholarships are specific to a research project or discipline, and many are assessed on academic merit and research potential. Search for a scholarship .

When you submit your course application, you can elect to be automatically considered for the Research Training Program stipend. The stipend is competitively awarded and is based on academic merit and research potential.

For domestic students, you do not pay tuition fees as this is covered by the government Research Training Program fee offset. For international students, tuition fees are applicable. If you are an international student and are awarded RTP, this will cover your tuition fees and provide a stipend. Please note: there are limited places available in the Research Training Program for international students, and these are highly competitive.

Please refer to your course page on Sydney Courses for information about the fees you will need to pay, and also read our general information on fees and financial support .

Depending on your research project, many PhD students also work part-time to fund their study, similar to undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students.

4. Submit official application online with required documentation

Postgraduate research degree applications are open all year round, with most research intakes starting in Research Period 2 (March) and Research Period 3 (July). However, to be considered for the RTP stipend you will need to submit your application by these dates . You can still submit your course application past the RTP deadline but you will not receive a stipend outcome until the next round of RTP rankings.

Please check your course page on Sydney Courses for the research periods your faculty offers. We recommend applying as early as possible prior to your intended start date, and you will also need to discuss your start date with your supervisor.

International students are recommended to factor in the Department of Home Affairs visa processing times when considering a likely start date for their HDR course.

Documentation to include in your application form

When you have secured a supervisor, you will discuss and refine the project together. Once your research proposal is finalised, gather all the essential documents that you will need to submit with your application:

  • Final research proposal. In conjunction with your supervisor, you’ll finalise your research proposal of up to 2000 words, covering the objectives and significance of your research. Refer to our  Research Proposal Guidelines .
  • Official academic transcripts in the original language and English translation.
  • Proof of English language proficiency if English is not your first language.
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) or resume.
  • Evidence that a primary supervisor has agreed to supervise you. This could be a copy of the email correspondence showing the staff member’s agreement to supervise you. Sydney College of the Arts doesn’t require evidence of supervision, however, you must submit a portfolio with your application. The Sydney Conservatorium of Music may require you to attend an interview.
  • Proof of identity: a valid passport (biodata page), an Australian birth certificate or an Australian or New Zealand citizenship certificate for domestic students.
  • you’ll have sufficient time available to carry out the research under the supervision of the University and complete the course within the maximum period allowed for a part-time PhD enrolment
  • a declaration from your employer (if relevant) confirming that you will be permitted to take the time required to effectively pursue your studies.
  • Two referee reports (pdf, 113.7KB)
  • Any other documents, such as a portfolio of work or audition, specified in the course listing for your degree.

International students  

If you are an international student, you will also need:

  • To apply for your student visa, after you have received an offer of admission or an electronic Confirmation of Enrolment (eCoE) for an HDR course at the University.
  • To pay a non-refundable  application processing fee . This fee is waived if you’re a sponsored student, or if you are granted an exemption by a University staff member during an office interview or recruitment event.
  • If you would like to apply through an authorised University of Sydney agent, we have partnered with a range of  authorised agents who can apply to the University and make arrangements on your behalf.

Further information

Our frequently asked questions provide further information on our HDR courses and the application process.

You will need to pass  health and security checks  if your research involves fieldwork in the New South Wales hospital and education systems. The  course page  details explain what admission criteria you need to satisfy to get into the course. 

You may also need to apply for approval from the Animal Ethics and/or Human Research Ethics Committee .

Additional course requirements

*Please also refer to your faculty for additional admission requirements, or variations in the application process, which may apply.

How to write a research proposal

Find a course.

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Professional Development

How to apply, application deadlines.

Based on desired start term

  • Spring 2025: May 31, 2024 (Open)
  • Summer 2025: October 1, 2024
  • Fall 2025: February 28, 2025

Eligibility & Criteria

  • Master's Degree from a regionally accredited U.S. school or institution (or the equivalent)
  • Demonstrated written and verbal communication skills
  • An openness to learn from and about diverse individuals, perspectives, and theories
  • Alignment with Gonzaga University's mission and Jesuit values

Application Requirements

  • Complete the Online Application and pay the Application Fee.
  • Note that if any documents have been generated using artificial intelligence (AI), your application may be denied. 

Official Transcripts

We will need official transcripts from the schools or institutions where you earned both your bachelor's and master's degrees. You only need to list those schools on your application, unless you choose to submit additional transcripts from other schools.

Transcripts are  only  considered official if they are  sent directly from your school(s) or institution(s) to Gonzaga. Transcripts can be sent electronically to  [email protected]  or they can be mailed to the following address:

Gonzaga University Attn: Graduate Admissions Operations AD Box 102 502 E. Boone Ave Spokane, WA 99258-0102

Letters of Recommendation

To consider an application complete,  three letters of recommendation  are required . Applicants facilitate requests for letters through the online application . References will receive an email inviting them to complete the recommendation on an applicant’s behalf . References  will be  asked  to complete a short evaluation in addition to attaching a formal letter of recommendation.

Applicants should pick professional references  from among supervisors, instructors, and colleagues who have worked with the applicant in the last five years.  When possible, it is encouraged applicants include one academic letter of recommendation from a previous professor, advisor, or research colleague.

References should be able to identify which program the applicant is applying to and evaluate an applicant’s leadership, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, judgment, professional practice, and the applicant’s ability to  receive feedback.

Curriculum Vitae

Applicants must submit  curriculum  vitae that includes  comprehensive  information about  their  formal education, professional experience, academic achievements and honors, scholarly activity, and relevant non-professional experience.

Statement of Purpose

Applicants are required to submit a statement of purpose written in their own words. The statement of purpose is key in allowing the faculty to evaluate a prospective student for admission as it provides them the ability to understand who you are, what drives you, and what your goals are. Instructions for crafting your statement of purpose are below:

In 2-3 pages, please answer the following questions. Make sure to weave in your personal story and give the admissions committee an understanding of your experience, background, and worldview/values as you answer these questions.

  • Why are you interested in a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies versus other degrees, fields, and institutions? (Speak specifically to why you are interested in a Ph.D., and why in leadership studies. Discussing things such as community/organizational impact, as well as future goals are helpful here.)
  • What aspects of the Gonzaga Mission speak to you and your current and future work in your organization/community? (We are looking for “why” Gonzaga and DPLS in this question.)
  • How do you understand the terms leader, leading, and leadership? How would learning more about these concepts impact how you understand the world around you? How will/do you engage with society/community? (Consider that these are not the same concepts- so discuss how you currently understand these.)
  • How do you intentionally create community and relationships with people who have varying perspectives, beliefs, worldviews, positionalities, and experiences than you (race, ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, ability, political beliefs etc.)?

The faculty recognize the pursuit of this degree provides a transformative personal experience. However, strong statements of purpose find a way to go beyond that, clearly articulating the applicant’s commitment to social justice or their commitment to improving their community, their organization and/ or the world around them. 

Writing Sample

Applicants must provide  one writing sample, created on their own, that demonstrates an ability to write an academic , citation-based format. Work from an applicant’s graduate program, current work, or published scholarly articles are acceptable. An applicant can submit up to two writing samples.

Applicants should submit 3-5 pages of their writing sample to consider this component of their application complete.

Connect With an Admissions Specialist

We strongly encourage applicants to speak to our Admissions Specialist prior to applying. Set up an appointment for a phone call here .

Military-Connected & Veteran Students

  • Currently, all active-duty military members must have permission/approval from an Education Services Officer (ESO), Military Counselor, or the Military Service prior to applying.
  • For more information on how to apply for the GI Bill and related benefits, please visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs How to Apply  page.
  • Visit Gonzaga’s Military & Veteran Students for more information regarding benefits and student support.

International Applicants

In addition to the eligibility and application requirements, international students must also submit the following:

Proof of English Language Proficiency

Non-native English speaking students must present evidence of their ability to perform in doctoral studies at Gonzaga by providing one of the following:

  • Official TOEFL exam results with a minimum iBt score of 88 or higher
  • Official IETLS exam results with a minimum overall band score of 6.5 or higher
  • Transcripts showing the applicant earned their bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited university in the U.S. within the last two years. 

In lieu of the TOEFL, Gonzaga will accept satisfactory completion of the Gonzaga University’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program with a grade point average of at least 3.3 and the recommendation of the ESL faculty. A separate application process is required to participate in the ESL program. Visit our English as a Second Language page to learn more.

If you do not meet the English proficiency requirements listed above, but believe your English to be equivalent to these levels for graduate studies at Gonzaga University due to work, education or language immersion experience, please contact your Admissions Specialist.

International Transcripts 

All international students applying directly to a Gonzaga University graduate program must have each foreign transcript evaluated through an AACRAO approved, third-party evaluator. This must include the required course-by-course evaluation of all university degrees earned outside of the United States.

SpanTran  is our recommended agency for obtaining this evaluation, but we will also accept evaluations from  World Education Services  (WES) or  Educational Credential Evaluators  (ECE). 

SpanTran has created a custom application for Gonzaga students that will make sure you select the correct evaluation at a discounted rate ($150 for the evaluation). You can access their application by  clicking here .

If using ECE, please request the course-by-course evaluation. If using WES, please select the course-by-course ICAP service.   

Official transcript evaluations can be sent electronically to [email protected] or you can have them mailed to:

Photocopies are not accepted as official documents and may not be used for evaluation purposes.

Copy of Passport Picture Page 

International applicants must provide a copy of their current passport picture page to complete their application.

Questions? Contact:

Heather Schmitt, Admissions Specialist Call or Text: (509) 313-6240 or (866)380-5323 Email:  [email protected]

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Graduate School Application Checklist

Complete your graduate application in six steps..

All applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution or a recognized institution in another country whose requirements for the bachelor’s degree are substantively equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree. GRE is not required. 

The basis on which credits are awarded for the bachelor’s degree must be consistent with Wichita State's policies and procedures for awarding such credit.

More details on general Graduate School admission requirements can be found in the graduate catalog .

STEP 1 - Determine your admission type

Will you need degree admission or non-degree admission? Learn more about degree and non-degree admission .

International applicants

Typically international students who will require an F-1 visa cannot be considered for non-degree status or online programs. International students who wish to remain in their home country while studying may apply for online programs.

Additional information international applicants should consider, including: STEM Designated programs, ineligible programs, arrival deadlines, and more.

Online program applicants

Before applying, verify Wichita State's authorization in your state of residence.

STEP 2 - View our deadlines and program information

  • Wichita State offers more than 50 graduate programs and certificates .
  • Determine the deadline for your program .
  • Determine what additional materials may be required by your program area.
  • Additional questions about the program can be directed to the graduate coordinator .

STEP 3 - Gather application materials

The application cannot be submitted without these items:

Unofficial transcripts and degree certification (if degree not posted on transcript). Unofficial transcripts must be obtained from each institution you have attended before submitting your graduate application. You will need to order a secure PDF or have a paper copy sent directly to yourself. Both of these are considered unofficial because they are sent directly to you rather than directly from the institution to our office. For Wichita State students, you will need to obtain unofficial transcripts as well. You can access your transcript through the myWSU portal or obtain an unofficial paper copy from your undergraduate advising office to be scanned and uploaded.

  • Any documents required by your program—such as test scores, statement of purpose, resume, writing sample, etc. Refer to Step two above for more details.
  • Contact information for references, if required by your program.
  • Permanent Residents will need to upload a copy of proof of permanent residency.
  • Application fee. Your application cannot be submitted without payment. The application fee is non-refundable, non-transferrable, and non-negotiable.

Application fee information

All applicants to the Wichita State University Graduate School who do not qualify for a waiver through the McNair Scholars program are required to pay the application fee. The fee is paid in the application prior to submission. The fee will not be waived or deferred. Applying to multiple programs requires the submission a new application and fee. The fee is nonrefundable and must be paid in U.S. dollars. Applicants must pay the application fee electronically as part of the online application submission.

  • Domestic application — $60 Domestic applicants are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents with a valid permanent resident (green) card.
  • Priority deadline: March 1 fall semester, Aug. 31 spring semester — $75
  • Secondary deadline: April 30 fall semester, Sept. 30 spring semester — $135
  • Late submission: any date after secondary deadline — $175
  • International readmission and deferral fee — $75
  • Badge application — $10
  • EMBA application — $75

Those meeting the priority deadline may submit the express mailing fee separate from application submission. Please visit our online payment site . Those applying under the secondary deadline or in the late submission period have the express mailing fee included in the designated application fee.

International applicants - additional requirements

The materials listed below are not required to submit the application and receive an admission recommendation. They are required to receive final admit decision and an I-20.

  • copy of passport (if available)
  • financial certification
  • financial support documents
  • proof of English proficiency

STEP 4 - Complete your Online Application *

The online application process includes five steps:

  • Create an account using your personal email address . International applicants should not use an address provided by an agent or third party partner. The university will communicate with you at this email address until your arrival on campus.
  • Begin the online application form. Complete all fields. The final page will notify you if any incomplete fields are needed.
  • Provide payment details for the application fee.
  • Submit the application.
  • Upload transcripts, supporting materials and supplemental items as required .

Agents should not submit applications on behalf of students, as the account that is created will then serve as the student activity portal. Instead, please direct your students to create their own account, and submit the application and supporting materials themselves.

STEP 5 - Check your application status

Initial review and admission recommendations are completed by the program to which you applied. The application process is described below:

  • You may access the application and check your status through the application portal .
  • Check your email. We may contact you with questions about your application. If we request anything additional, you will be able to upload it directly to your student activity page within the application portal.
  • The graduate program to which you applied reviews the application and forwards a recommendation for admission or denial to the Graduate School.
  • The Graduate School reviews the application materials and the departmental recommendation and sends the official decision notification to the applicant through the application portal.

STEP 6 - If offered admission

Students offered admission based on uploaded documents will need to submit official materials to finalize admission, as indicated below. All required official documents should be submitted by the start of the fourth week of classes for the fall and spring semesters, and the second week for the summer semester:

  • Have official transcripts sent to the Graduate School. Transcripts and degree certificates from non-US schools may be provided when you come to the university.
  • Have official test scores sent directly to our office. At this time, Duolingo English Test, TOEFL, and IELTS score reports do not need to be sent. The Graduate School can verify the unofficial copies uploaded into the application.

Admission Levels

Full standing.

Students who have fulfilled all of the admission requirements for a given program, including admission grade point average, entrance exams if required, reference and credentials if required, and have no prerequisites, may be granted admission on a full-standing basis. Students admitted to full standing are eligible for consideration for assistantships and federally-funded financial aid.

Conditional Standing

Students who have background deficiencies or requirements assigned by the program or Graduate School at the point of admission may be granted admission on a Conditional basis. All conditions will be stated in the acceptance letter. Students must complete all conditions within one year of matriculation unless otherwise specified in the acceptance letter. Students may be admitted with both conditions and on probation, as these two levels of admission are not exclusive. Students admitted with conditions may be eligible for federally funded financial aid, and may be considered for graduate assistantship positions for which they are qualified.

Transfer to an appropriate nondegree category may result if the conditions are not satisfactorily met within the specified time limit. Reentry into the degree program will require reapplication, and readmission is not guaranteed. Students would be required to meet all requirements in place at the time that they reapply for reentry.

Probationary Standing

Students admitted on probation or placed on academic probation following admission are not eligible for assistantship awards or federally funded financial aid. Students may be admitted on probation when reasonable evidence exists to indicate their inability to do satisfactory degree program work, at the discretion of the department to which the student applied. To clear this status, students must complete their first nine credit hours of graded graduate level coursework at Wichita State University with a minimum 3.00 grade point average. Only courses numbered 500 and above, and those courses which are letter graded (A, B, C, D, F), can be used toward the nine hour requirement. Satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) or credit/non-credit (CR/NCR) courses will not count toward the nine-hour requirement.

Tentative Standing

This status can be used in conjunction with any of the above statuses and means that the student's admission was processed before the award of their degree. In order to clear this status, the student must submit official and attested final transcript or marksheets. If the transcript does not specifically state the title and date of the degree award, the student must also provide degree certification. The missing items must be on file no later than the end of the student's first semester of enrollment. Failure to provide this evidence will result in removal from the Graduate School.

If you have any questions or concerns at any time, please do not hesitate to contact our office at 316-978-3095, or by email at [email protected] .

The Graduate School Application Checklist presents and clarifies information found in the Graduate Catalog and is not intended to contravene or supplant any Graduate School policies. Please refer to the Graduate Catalog for all Graduate School policies, including those found on, or linked to from, this page.

Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

student in library on laptop

How to Write an Effective Essay

Writing an essay for college admission gives you a chance to use your authentic voice and show your personality. It's an excellent opportunity to personalize your application beyond your academic credentials, and a well-written essay can have a positive influence come decision time.

Want to know how to draft an essay for your college application ? Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing.

Tips for Essay Writing

A typical college application essay, also known as a personal statement, is 400-600 words. Although that may seem short, writing about yourself can be challenging. It's not something you want to rush or put off at the last moment. Think of it as a critical piece of the application process. Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor.

1. Start Early.

Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school. That way, you have ample time to think about the prompt and craft the best personal statement possible.

You don't have to work on your essay every day, but you'll want to give yourself time to revise and edit. You may discover that you want to change your topic or think of a better way to frame it. Either way, the sooner you start, the better.

2. Understand the Prompt and Instructions.

Before you begin the writing process, take time to understand what the college wants from you. The worst thing you can do is skim through the instructions and submit a piece that doesn't even fit the bare minimum requirements or address the essay topic. Look at the prompt, consider the required word count, and note any unique details each school wants.

3. Create a Strong Opener.

Students seeking help for their application essays often have trouble getting things started. It's a challenging writing process. Finding the right words to start can be the hardest part.

Spending more time working on your opener is always a good idea. The opening sentence sets the stage for the rest of your piece. The introductory paragraph is what piques the interest of the reader, and it can immediately set your essay apart from the others.

4. Stay on Topic.

One of the most important things to remember is to keep to the essay topic. If you're applying to 10 or more colleges, it's easy to veer off course with so many application essays.

A common mistake many students make is trying to fit previously written essays into the mold of another college's requirements. This seems like a time-saving way to avoid writing new pieces entirely, but it often backfires. The result is usually a final piece that's generic, unfocused, or confusing. Always write a new essay for every application, no matter how long it takes.

5. Think About Your Response.

Don't try to guess what the admissions officials want to read. Your essay will be easier to write─and more exciting to read─if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your subject. Here’s an example: If all your friends are writing application essays about covid-19, it may be a good idea to avoid that topic, unless during the pandemic you had a vivid, life-changing experience you're burning to share. Whatever topic you choose, avoid canned responses. Be creative.

6. Focus on You.

Essay prompts typically give you plenty of latitude, but panel members expect you to focus on a subject that is personal (although not overly intimate) and particular to you. Admissions counselors say the best essays help them learn something about the candidate that they would never know from reading the rest of the application.

7. Stay True to Your Voice.

Use your usual vocabulary. Avoid fancy language you wouldn't use in real life. Imagine yourself reading this essay aloud to a classroom full of people who have never met you. Keep a confident tone. Be wary of words and phrases that undercut that tone.

8. Be Specific and Factual.

Capitalize on real-life experiences. Your essay may give you the time and space to explain why a particular achievement meant so much to you. But resist the urge to exaggerate and embellish. Admissions counselors read thousands of essays each year. They can easily spot a fake.

9. Edit and Proofread.

When you finish the final draft, run it through the spell checker on your computer. Then don’t read your essay for a few days. You'll be more apt to spot typos and awkward grammar when you reread it. After that, ask a teacher, parent, or college student (preferably an English or communications major) to give it a quick read. While you're at it, double-check your word count.

Writing essays for college admission can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. A well-crafted essay could be the deciding factor─in your favor. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll have no problem creating memorable pieces for every application.

What is the format of a college application essay?

Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space. Keep in mind that the exact format can vary from one college application to the next. Read the instructions and prompt for more guidance.

Most online applications will include a text box for your essay. If you're attaching it as a document, however, be sure to use a standard, 12-point font and use 1.5-spaced or double-spaced lines, unless the application specifies different font and spacing.

How do you start an essay?

The goal here is to use an attention grabber. Think of it as a way to reel the reader in and interest an admissions officer in what you have to say. There's no trick on how to start a college application essay. The best way you can approach this task is to flex your creative muscles and think outside the box.

You can start with openers such as relevant quotes, exciting anecdotes, or questions. Either way, the first sentence should be unique and intrigue the reader.

What should an essay include?

Every application essay you write should include details about yourself and past experiences. It's another opportunity to make yourself look like a fantastic applicant. Leverage your experiences. Tell a riveting story that fulfills the prompt.

What shouldn’t be included in an essay?

When writing a college application essay, it's usually best to avoid overly personal details and controversial topics. Although these topics might make for an intriguing essay, they can be tricky to express well. If you’re unsure if a topic is appropriate for your essay, check with your school counselor. An essay for college admission shouldn't include a list of achievements or academic accolades either. Your essay isn’t meant to be a rehashing of information the admissions panel can find elsewhere in your application.

How can you make your essay personal and interesting?

The best way to make your essay interesting is to write about something genuinely important to you. That could be an experience that changed your life or a valuable lesson that had an enormous impact on you. Whatever the case, speak from the heart, and be honest.

Is it OK to discuss mental health in an essay?

Mental health struggles can create challenges you must overcome during your education and could be an opportunity for you to show how you’ve handled challenges and overcome obstacles. If you’re considering writing your essay for college admission on this topic, consider talking to your school counselor or with an English teacher on how to frame the essay.

Related Articles

How to Apply to Law School as a Minority Applicant

Identify as a minority, focus on the LSAT, show leadership and follow this additional advice from experts.

Applying to Law School as a Minority

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Applicants can learn about a law school through information sessions, visiting their websites, attending conferences and other events, and reaching out to current students and alumni via social media.

While the legal profession remains predominantly white, efforts to diversify are ongoing as law schools accept students who classify as racial minorities, experts say.

Applicants often have assumptions about who can attend law school, says Gabriel Kuris, a law school consultant and founder of Top Law Coach.

“They have a vision in their heads about what a typical law school student looks like," says Kuris, a graduate of Harvard Law School in Massachusetts. "But it’s important to remember that law schools are changing rapidly, and while they are by no means a fair representation of society they may be more diverse than you’d expect.”

Here's some advice from Kuris and other experts about how to apply to law school as a minority candidate.

Identify as a Minority

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2023 that bans using race as a factor in college admissions, law schools are no longer allowed to consider race when making admissions decisions.

“However, schools are looking for diversity for building a balanced class in many ways, and that includes ethnic and visual diversity, national diversity, gender and sexual expression," Kuris says. "It could include veterans . It’s also important to understand that it could get complicated. For example, Native Americans are an ethnic minority in America but also considered a political minority. If you are a member of a Native American tribe, there may be special scholarships and programs available.”

While many prospective law students may be under the impression that they can’t talk about their race or ethnicity, "that’s not necessarily the case,” says Catherine Casiano, assistant dean for admissions at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas. “Schools are being more careful about the ethnicity questions they ask, and many are masking that information on applications in order to avoid any accusations that race and ethnicity were sole reasons for admitting students.” 

De’Jonique Carter, an attorney and prelaw adviser at Dillard University in New Orleans, says diversity should never be automatically associated with race.

“You cannot check a box and say, ‘Hey Harvard, hey Yale, I’m black!’" Carter says. "Instead, you have to talk about how your blackness has impacted your life’s outcome and how it influenced you to make the decision to become a lawyer. Or how being a member of the LGBTQ community has shaped and influenced your life. It might be helpful in persuading the committee to accept you into law school.” 

Write a Diversity Statement 

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, which was based on lawsuits against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard University , many law schools have changed their prompts for writing diversity statements that applicants may submit, or eliminated diversity statements altogether.

Where such essays can be submitted, the prompts now tend to be “very broad,” Kuris notes.

Depending on the law school, the diversity statement may be called a background statement, supplemental statement or optional statement “because law schools don’t want to make it sound like they are only for people who come from racial minorities,” Kuris says. “Law schools are giving you extra space to tell a more complex story. Don’t be afraid to identify yourself however it makes sense to you.”

Some students say they don’t want to “trauma dump” in their statements, Carter says.

“You are not trauma dumping, you are explaining to the admissions committee how your minority status has impacted your life and as a result you have wanted to do XYZ in the field of law to make a difference,” she says. “You can’t look at an application or applicant and tell their military status or their socio-economic status . If students use that personal statement to tell their story, it gives them an opportunity to be reviewed holistically.”

Many students at St. Mary's are immigrants or are children or grandchildren of immigrants, Casiano says, "and those stories may be very pertinent to a decision to go to law school, so we wouldn’t want an applicant to feel like they couldn’t share that just because they identify their ethnicity as part of that story.”

Kuris advises minority law school applicants to consider writing a diversity statement "grounded in your identity and your heritage. It should ultimately be more about your experience and your personal story and how it has formed your path in life and your future as a law student and as a lawyer. There are many ways to talk about it – your goals, how you relate to others and how you can contribute to a diverse class.”

Lead a Student Group

Becoming involved as an undergrad can be good not only for a law school resume , but for networking and relationship-building with faculty, legal professionals and other students, Casiano says.

“This can be so helpful because the admissions process may seem scary or overwhelming, especially to an applicant who will be the first in their family to attend law school, and having a group to go through the process with can help," she says. "Additionally, many of these groups invite admissions representatives from law schools to speak to them, so hearing from schools about what makes an application stand out can be invaluable. The more information a student has about what law school looks like, and what being an attorney is like, will just better prepare them.”

Carter says it's important to join student groups and to be active in them.

"It’s better if you join one or two groups and stay involved and show a progression of different leadership skills," she advises. "It’s not just important to lead a student group, but have substantive involvement in them. Going from a member to secretary, to vice president to president – those are important steps in understanding dynamics and building soft skills that are needed for success as an attorney and in law school.”

Visit Law Schools

Visiting a school gives a sense of what a community looks and feels like, Casiano says. “Applicants often tell us that a visit helped them decide where they want to spend the next three to four years in law school. For some applicants, it has to do with the city where the school is located – are they comfortable living there and maybe building a network there?”

For other applicants, it might be the actual campus. She says applicants should ask themselves: "Is the interaction between faculty and students, or between students themselves, what they are looking for? Are people nice? Does the school have the type of diversity they are looking for?”

Casiano encourages visitors to bring family members, and to tour schools virtually if travel costs make in-person visits impractical. She notes that the Law School Admission Council hosts virtual law forums to give prospective students one date, time and location where they can talk to multiple schools.

Kuris says applicants can also learn about a law school through information sessions, visiting their websites , attending conferences and other events, and reaching out to current students and alumni via social media .

“Especially as a minority applicant, it’s helpful to speak to current or former students who share your background," he says. "I think you’ll find that students are very happy to speak with you candidly about what it’s like to go there.”

Look for these things

Talk to an Adviser

It’s helpful to speak to a knowledgeable and trusted adviser, experts say.

Many colleges "don’t have the budget to have an adviser," Carter says. "Instead, what you have is a professor who does prelaw advising on the side. It’s combined.”

The adviser may suggest that the applicant review their personal statements and can be helpful with advice about strategy, including letters of recommendation , tutoring and gap years between college and law school, Carter says.

Examine the Curriculum

“It’s important that a student assess the diversity and what resources are available before walking into a particular program or law school,” Carter advises. “When it comes to the curriculum, there is an academic component. What classes are going to help you become the best attorney and what skills will you need to be successful?”

It’s also important to note the demographic makeup of all the professors and staff at a law school.

Additionally, Carter says, applicants should see if law clinics and seminars are available, especially those that focus on minorities in the law profession.

Focus on the LSAT

Minority students with good LSAT scores stand out, experts say.

“Quantitative factors like grade point averages and LSAT tell two stories about a person: How well did they perform over a period of time and how did you perform in a short period of time under intense pressure,” Carter says, adding that a lack of resources may have put some minority students at a disadvantage.

There are several programs geared toward increasing diversity in law schools by helping minority students in areas such as LSAT support , Carter points out, as well as many programs that give minority students early exposure to the legal profession.

Kuris started as an LSAT instructor 20 years ago and went on to start helping with law school applications. In a post for the weekly Law Admissions Lowdown blog that he writes for U.S. News & World Report, he advises test-takers: “If you are studying part time, on top of work or classes, it’s best to set aside at least three or four months to prepare for the LSAT. To make the best use of this limited time, set a study plan with weekly goals.”

10 Law Schools Generous With Grants

Back view of female college student raising her hand to answer the question on a class at lecture hall.

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  • 12 March 2024

Bring PhD assessment into the twenty-first century

You have full access to this article via your institution.

A woman holding a cup and saucer stands in front of posters presenting medical research

Innovation in PhD education has not reached how doctoral degrees are assessed. Credit: Dan Dunkley/Science Photo Library

Research and teaching in today’s universities are unrecognizable compared with what they were in the early nineteenth century, when Germany and later France gave the world the modern research doctorate. And yet significant aspects of the process of acquiring and assessing a doctorate have remained remarkably constant. A minimum of three years of independent study mentored by a single individual culminates in the production of the doctoral thesis — often a magisterial, book-length piece of work that is assessed in an oral examination by a few senior academic researchers. In an age in which there is much research-informed innovation in teaching and learning, the assessment of the doctoral thesis represents a curious throwback that is seemingly impervious to meaningful reform.

But reform is needed. Some doctoral candidates perceive the current assessment system to lack transparency, and examiners report concerns of falling standards ( G. Houston A Study of the PhD Examination: Process, Attributes and Outcomes . PhD thesis, Oxford Univ.; 2018 ). Making the qualification more structured would help — and, equally importantly, would bring the assessment of PhD education in line with education across the board. PhD candidates with experience of modern assessment methods will become better researchers, wherever they work. Indeed, most will not be working in universities: the majority of PhD holders find employment outside academia.

how to write application for phd admission

Collection: Career resources for PhD students

It’s not that PhD training is completely stuck in the nineteenth century. Today’s doctoral candidates can choose from a range of pathways. Professional doctorates, often used in engineering, are jointly supervised by an employer and an academic, and are aimed at solving industry-based problems. Another innovation is PhD by publication, in which, instead of a final thesis on one or more research questions, the criterion for an award is a minimum number of papers published or accepted for publication. In some countries, doctoral students are increasingly being trained in cohorts, with the aim of providing a less isolating experience than that offered by the conventional supervisor–student relationship. PhD candidates are also encouraged to acquire transferable skills — for example, in data analysis, public engagement, project management or business, economics and finance. The value of such training would be even greater if these skills were to be formally assessed alongside a dissertation rather than seen as optional.

And yet, most PhDs are still assessed after the production of a final dissertation, according to a format that, at its core, has not changed for at least half a century, as speakers and delegates noted at an event in London last month on PhD assessment, organized by the Society for Research in Higher Educatio n. Innovations in assessment that are common at other levels of education are struggling to find their way into the conventional doctoral programme.

Take the concept of learning objectives. Intended to aid consistency, fairness and transparency, learning objectives are a summary of what a student is expected to know and how they will be assessed, and are given at the start of a course of study. Part of the ambition is also to help tutors to keep track of their students’ learning and take remedial action before it is too late.

how to write application for phd admission

PhD training is no longer fit for purpose — it needs reform now

Formative assessment is another practice that has yet to find its way into PhD assessment consistently. Here, a tutor evaluates a student’s progress at the mid-point of a course and gives feedback or guidance on what students need to do to improve ahead of their final, or summative, assessment. It is not that these methods are absent from modern PhDs; a conscientious supervisor will not leave candidates to sink or swim until the last day. But at many institutions, such approaches are not required of PhD supervisors.

Part of the difficulty is that PhD training is carried out in research departments by people who do not need to have teaching qualifications or awareness of innovations based on education research. Supervisors shouldn’t just be experts in their field, they should also know how best to convey that subject knowledge — along with knowledge of research methods — to their students.

It is probably not possible for universities to require all doctoral supervisors to have teaching qualifications. But there are smaller changes that can be made. At a minimum, doctoral supervisors should take the time to engage with the research that exists in the field of PhD education, and how it can apply to their interactions with students.

There can be no one-size-fits-all solution to improving how a PhD is assessed, because different subjects often have bespoke needs and practices ( P. Denicolo Qual. Assur. Educ. 11 , 84–91; 2003 ). But supervisors and representatives of individual subject communities must continue to discuss what is most appropriate for their disciplines.

All things considered, there is benefit to adopting a more structured approach to PhD assessment. It is high time that PhD education caught up with changes that are now mainstream at most other levels of education. That must start with a closer partnership between education researchers, PhD supervisors and organizers of doctoral-training programmes in universities. This partnership will benefit everyone — PhD supervisors and doctoral students coming into the research workforce, whether in universities or elsewhere.

Education and training in research has entered many secondary schools, along with undergraduate teaching, which is a good thing. In the spirit of mutual learning, research doctoral supervisors, too, will benefit by going back to school.

Nature 627 , 244 (2024)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-00718-0

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