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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2005

Eye on Psi Chi

Winter 2005 | Volume 9 | Number 2


The Curriculum Vita: A Student's Guide to Preparation

R. Eric Landrum, PhD
Boise State University (ID)


Undergraduate psychology majors with aspirations toward graduate school have a number of preparations to make. It is well known by now that the top factors that influence graduate school admissions are grade point average (GPA), Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, letters of recommendation (Keith-Spiegel & Wiederman, 2000), research experience, and autobiographical statements (Landrum, Jeglum, & Cashin, 1994). Previous issues of Eye on Psi Chi (accessible at contain valuable guides on many aspects of the graduate school application process (Buskist, 2001; Dirlam, 1998; Lammers, 2000; Terre, 2002), including specific articles on the GRE (Matlin & Kalat, 2001; Norcross, 1997a; Walfish, 2004), writing a personal statement (Bottoms & Nysse, 1999; Osborne, 1996), the importance of transcripts (Appleby, 2003), earning strong letters of recommendation (Arnold & Horrigan, 2003), the odds of graduate admissions (Landrum, 2004), and application fees and deadlines (Norcross, 1997b). Although some guidance does exist on preparation of the curriculum vita (Hayes & Hayes, 1989; Plous, 1998), this article focuses on advice to students in CV preparation and includes a sample student CV.

What is a curriculum vita (CV)? Roughly translated, it means "academic life." A CV chronicles your professional, academic life: it is a comprehensive listing of your accomplishments. The preparation of a CV differs in important ways from the preparation of a resume. For instance, a resume usually provides a brief synopsis of a person's work history and a summary of skills and abilities. Also, a resume is typically limited to one or two pages. A CV can be a longer document without page limitations. The CV tracks your entire professional and academic history, including academic performance, memberships in associations, professional experiences, research interests, presentations and publications, and references. Students and faculty members alike try to "grow" their vita --in other words, the longer the better. However, students need to be careful not to pad their vita with irrelevant materials. Additionally, the vita of a faculty member may not be the best model for students to follow -- more on this later. This article includes a sample template vita that students can follow in the creation of their own CV.

Many of the suggestions in the preparation of a CV follow along the same guidelines for the preparation of a resume. For instance, your CV should be clear and concise; presented in an inviting and organized format, it must be absolutely perfect regarding spelling, grammar, and punctuation; and it needs to be tailored to the task -- in this case, a graduate school application. Hayes and Hayes (1989) provided valuable advice for students in the preparation of a CV. For instance, they suggested that you create your vita now, even if there is not much on it. When my students do this as a class assignment, it can become a motivator to work hard to fill in the blanks, and eventually grow the CV page by page. Also, you should keep a vita development file which helps to keep track of your accomplishments.

By keeping a folder where you store everything, when it is time to revise your CV, all the documentation is in one place. Revise your vita frequently, perhaps monthly or semi-annually. Personally, when something good happens to me and deserves to be put on my CV, I update my CV that day. It has become a positive reinforcer to me and is tangible evidence of an accomplishment. Finally, have your advisor or mentor review your vita before sending it anywhere, just as you would have others review a resume. This document needs to be as perfect as possible--it is a representation of you and your skills, abilities, and achievements.

Sections of the CV

There is no universal format for the preparation of a CV and everyone has his or her format preferences. However, similar to resumes, there are some sections of a CV that are fairly common. The sections of a student CV are recommended below and demonstrated in Figure 1 (Part A/Part B). For your first draft of your CV, I suggest that you follow this format. Faculty CVs are not the best models to follow for students in preparing a CV. Why? Because faculty members have additional responsibilities and opportunities for building their academic credentials compared to students. For instance, most students would not need a section on their CV for Textbooks Written, Book Chapters, Journal Reviewer/Referee, Program Reviews, or Grants Received; however, these are all sections of my vita. I recommend that students review the vita of other, senior-level students at their university, review sample vitae found in other resources (Landrum & Davis, 2003), or by using the example presented in Figure 1. This is a more appropriate template for potential student achievement. Below are brief descriptions of the major sections of your CV.

1) Contact Information. Display your name at the top of your CV in large letters. Include your current contact information: mailing address, email address, telephone number, and fax number, if applicable. Be sure that your answering machine message is professional sounding, and that your email address is not cutesy (not or Avoid giving a cell phone number as your telephone number. If you get a call from a graduate admissions committee member, you'll want absolute clarity and to be in an environment with minimal distractions.

2) Educational History. Recount your educational history here, starting from the beginning. That is, if you transferred to your current school, list your schools in order starting from the first school attended with dates (if there is a gap in your education, you'll have a chance to explain that in your cover letter). State the degree you have earned (or are about to earn): a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree. If you have not yet graduated, make this clear--state that your graduation date is "expected" or "anticipated." Always remember to be fair with the data and don't claim to have a degree that you have not yet earned. Also, state your cumulative GPA. If your school requests it, you might list your GPA in psychology and your last two years' GPA.

3) Professional Experience. Here, you want to list any academic or employment experiences that are directly related to your graduate school aspirations. If you were a teaching assistant or research assistant, list each of those experiences here. If you had any jobs that are psychology-related, you can list them here. If you are unsure if you should include a particular job, consult with a trusted faculty member. For each experience, list the supervisor, dates of participation, and a brief description of the job duties performed (these brief descriptions do not need to be complete sentences).

4) Presentations and Publications. This is a section where it is particularly important to be fair with the data. If you have only conference presentations, then only use the heading "Presentations." If you have both presentations and publications, list them separately under two categories. A common mistake (one made even by graduate students applying for faculty positions) is to "hide" lack of achievement in one category by grouping both of these categories together. Present your presentations and publications using APA format, except use single-spacing. If a presentation or publication is submitted but not yet accepted, say so. Papers that are "in preparation" or "in progress" need to be clearly labeled as such--resist all effort to pad your CV in any area.

5) Honors, Awards, and Memberships. In this section, list any academic honors and awards you have earned including Dean's List, scholarships, and other awards. Also, if you are a member of Psi Chi, list that here! If you have served in a leadership role for any campus organizations, be sure to list that. If you have joined any regional psychology associations, list your student memberships here.

6) References. Here, you should list at least three references who can speak to your academic skills and abilities. In general, this should be at least two psychology faculty members. You can also include one internship supervisor or one job supervisor (as long as your job is psychology-related). If you are a transfer student, limit yourself to only one reference from your former institution. Make sure you have asked the faculty for permission to list them as a reference, and let them know when your graduate school materials are being sent (more than likely, these are your letters of recommendation writers as well).


It is not necessary to follow this format precisely, but the above sections should act as an overview for what can be included in a student CV. Be sure to consult with your mentor or other trusted faculty members for advice on what to include on your CV, and for formatting tips. Additionally, make sure that multiple people proofread your CV for you; it must be absolutely perfect before being sent anywhere. Fairly or unfairly, your CV is a representation of you. If this document is prepared in a sloppy and unprofessional manner, you will be perceived as sloppy and unprofessional. Figure 1 should be particularly helpful in giving you ideas on how to prepare your own CV. If you create your first draft of your CV and it seems a bit short, don't worry--use that observation as a motivator to get more involved outside the classroom, whether as a teaching or research assistant, Psi Chi, member intern, or by some other means.

The most important thing to remember is to be fair with the data. Don't say that you've done something that you haven't. Don't say that a manuscript is in press when really it is only submitted. Your reputation and integrity are of utmost value and once damaged, they are hard to repair. Following the advice in this article should lead you to the creation of a valuable and important document. If you don't have a CV, start yours now!


Appleby, D. C. (2003, Winter). What does your transcript say about you, and what can you do if it says things you don't like. Eye on Psi Chi, 7(2), 19-21.

Arnold, K. L., & Horrigan, K. L. (2002, Fall). Gaining admission into the graduate program of your choice. Eye on Psi Chi, 7(1), 30-33.

Bottoms, B. L., & Nysse, K. L. (1999, Fall). Applying to graduate school: Writing a compelling personal statement. Eye on Psi Chi, 4(1), 20-22.

Buskist, W. (2001, Spring). Seven tips for preparing a successful application to graduate school in psychology. Eye on Psi Chi, 5(3), 32-34.

Dirlam, D. K. (1998, Fall). Applications that make the schools you want, want you. Eye on Psi Chi, 3(1), 29-30.

Hayes, L. J., & Hayes, S. C. (1989, September). How to apply to graduate school. Retrieved September 28, 1998, at

Keith-Spiegel, P., & Wiederman, M. W. (2000). The complete guide to graduate school admission: Psychology, counseling, and related professions (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Lammers, B. (2000, Spring). Quick tips for applying to graduate school in psychology. Eye on Psi Chi, 4(3), 40-42.

Landrum, R. E. (2004, Spring). New odds for graduate admissions in psychology. Eye on Psi Chi, 8(3), 20-21, 32.

Landrum, R. E., & Davis, S. F. (2003). The psychology major: Career options and strategies for success (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Landrum, R. E., Jeglum, E. B., & Cashin, J. R. (1994). The decision-making processes of graduate admissions committees in psychology. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 9, 239-248.

Matlin, M. W., & Kalat, J. W. (2001, Winter). Demystifying the GRE Psychology Test: A brief guide to students. Eye on Psi Chi, 5(2), 22-25.

Norcross, J. C. (1997a, Winter). GREs and GPAs: The numbers game in graduate admissions. Eye on Psi Chi, 1(2), 10-11.

Norcross, J. C. (1997b, Fall). How much and when? Application feels and deadlines for graduate psychology programs. Eye on Psi Chi, 2(1), 18-19.

Osborne, R.E. (1996, Fall). The "personal" side of graduate school personal statements. Eye on Psi Chi, 1(1), 14-15.

Plous, S. (1998). Sample template for creating a vita. Retrieved September 28, 1998, at

Terre, L. (2002, Spring). Applying to graduate school in psychology. Eye on Psi Chi, 6(3), 24-25, 33.

Walfish, S. (2004, Winter). An eye-opening experience: Taking an online practice Graduate Record Examination. Eye on Psi Chi, 8(2), 18-19, 69.

R. Eric Landrum, PhD, is currently a professor of psychology at Boise State University. He received his PhD in cognitive psychology (with an emphasis in quantitative methodology) from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1989. His research interests center around the study of and understanding of educational issues and identifying those conditions that best facilitate student learning. He has made over 180 professional presentations at conferences and published over 50 books, book chapters, or professional articles in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. He is the coeditor and author of two chapters in Protecting Human Subjects: Departmental Subject Pools and Institutional Review Boards (1999, APA Books) and lead author of The Psychology Major: Career Options and Strategies for Success (2nd ed., 2004, Prentice Hall). He is a member of the American Psychological Association (Fellow, Division 2), the Midwestern Psychological Association, and the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association.

Copyright2005 (Vol. 9, Iss. 2) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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