If we compared the graduate school application process to a person, a resume would be a person's face. It's how the admissions office gets its first impression of a candidate.
Schools want to know a candidate's basic information, including educational background, academic performance, experience and other skills. A good resume will answer all those questions in a clear and straightforward way. Here are a few tips on how to make your resume attractive in the competitive application process.
First, sell any U.S. work or internship experience. Experience counts in graduate school applications. Some programs may say that no experience is required to apply, but the reality is that having work or internship experience will give you an edge.
It's great if you have internships or work experience from your home country. But if you have finished your bachelor's program and have lived in the U.S. for four years already, admissions officers will want to know what you're doing now.
Tell your dream school what you have learned outside of the classroom in the U.S. In my journalism grad school applications, I included my experience interning for a U.S. media outlet on my resume.
Second, your GPA matters. This is another important item to include on your grad school resume. Good academic performance can tell admissions officers that you have the potential to do well in your field and that you take your studies seriously.
[Include your international background in grad school application essays.]
Your GPA doesn't just measure your grades, but can also suggest whether you are capable of continuing your studies at a higher level.
International students might be amazed by the colorful American college life that includes parties and all kinds of organizations and activities. It's not wrong to enjoy college life, but keep in mind that studying is a student's most important task.
Third, include your extracurricular activities. Once in the U.S., some international students keep their old habits and routines: taking classes, going to the library, eating in the dining hall and returning to a dorm. This routine isn't uncommon for students in many countries, where education systems were designed to solely address students' academic performance.
In some countries, students are trained to spend the majority of their time each day studying. Many students who come to the U.S. from those places find it hard to transition to an environment where students are taught that studying is not their one and only task.
You have to show your dream school that you are more than a studying machine. Demonstrate the leadership capabilities and communication skills that you developed and improved through participation in extracurricular activities.
[Get answers to common international graduate student concerns.]
Last but not least, format your resume in an American way. A good resume must be clear and well-organized.
Put your name, address and contact information at the very top, followed by your education background, work experience, activities and skills. A good rule of thumb is to keep your resume on one page.
You should know what an American audience expects. For example, while it might be very common to put a professional photograph of yourself on your resume in China, that's rarely done in the U.S.
In essence, a good resume tells people what you have achieved and experienced. But the best way to make it attractive is to take action ahead of time so that you have those achievements and experiences to share.
Jia Guo, from China, graduated from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism after transferring from Shandong University of Political Science and Law in Jinan, China, where she studied law. Guo is currently a graduate journalism student at New York University.