What errors do applicants make in their CV while applying to US graduate programs, apart from obvious errors like spelling, grammar, formatting etc.?

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    – eykanal
    Nov 9, 2018 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


Here are some that I encounter

  1. Listing all of your achievements, rather than your notable ones. No one cares that you got 3rd place in a high-school biology competition. List things that are truly outstanding, not minor stuff.
  2. Not selecting referees carefully - make sure that the reference letter writers you pick actually like you and would write positive letters. In particular, many universities would largely disregard reference letters from lecturers you took a class with. Unless there was some special relationship (a joint project, a really outstanding performance in class), the letter amounts to 'this student attended my class, and got a good grade'; this is information that I can get reading your transcript.
  3. Writing unqualified achievements. I'm not talking about outright lying (obviously don't), but more things like "talented writer". Ok, you're a talented writer - how about some evidence to back it up? Did you win any competitions? Did your work get published anywhere?
  4. CV sections not ordered according to importance: when someone reads your CV, they're probably reading at least 50 more that day. I don't need to wade through unimportant information (languages you speak comes to mind) before I get to what I want to know. Think - what would make a person pick me out of the bunch? Write that first.
  • 2
    In particular, many universities would largely disregard reference letters from lecturers you took a class with. --- This part seems extremely strange to me (the rest of what you said seems fine), but maybe by "lecturer" you specifically mean a very low-level teacher (e.g. graduate T.A., post-doc, visiting faculty, etc.) rather than a tenure-track or tenured faculty member. Maybe this is also somewhat field-dependent, since in mathematics (especially pure mathematics) a candidate's teachers are pretty much the only people who could write such letters. Nov 9, 2018 at 7:36
  • While I certainly can't attest to what happens in other disciplines (or in other departments!), this is certainly true from what I encountered, and from speaking to colleagues in my field. I can also say this from the pool of letters I had to read. Generally letters from lecturers who don't know the student tend to be generic and uninformative.
    – Spark
    Nov 10, 2018 at 16:40
  • letters from lecturers who don't know the student --- I don't think anyone would disagree with this, but you did not originally have "who don't know the student". For what it's worth, I don't recall anyone during my undergraduate or graduate years using anyone except a course teacher for a reference, but this was before REU summer research and other opportunities (such as this) were generally available in math. (BTW, I originally upvoted your answer.) Nov 10, 2018 at 19:09
  • 1
    (BTW, I originally upvoted your answer.) --- Looking at this the next day, it seems to suggest that I upvoted your answer and then canceled my upvote at a later time. What I meant is that when I originally read your answer, I upvoted it because, as I said in my first comment, "the rest of what you said seems fine" (and I have not canceled my upvote). Nov 11, 2018 at 10:26

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