Preparing a Strong Resume/CV

A resume or CV will be a common document in your application materials for a fellowship or scholarship. It is important to know the difference between a resume and CV. A resume is a document used to describe previous relevant experience and your skills. Often this includes descriptions of your employment, internship, or extra-curricular experience. A CV, in the US, is a particular type of resume which is most commonly used in academic settings. “Curriculum vita” is a Latin term that means “race course of life,” so in a CV you are reporting on the accomplishments in the “course of your life.”  Often a CV for a current college student will be research-focused – eventually it will include publications, courses taught, grants received, projects completed and in-progress, etc.  For applicants seeking to study/work abroad, it is important to know that in many countries, “CV” is the term used for a resume and there may be specific cultural expectations of how you will present yourself in that document (for example, in some countries it is common for a CV/resume to include information about your age, health status, gender, and whether you are married).  Be sure you understand the context into which you are submitting your CV so that your document reflects the expectations of the audience.

This table will help you best sort out the differences between a Resume and an academic CV:

Resumes CVs
Objective statement is ok, but not necessary Never have an objective statement
List either education or experience first (whichever is most recent) Always list education ahead of experience
Limited to one page, maybe two No length limit
Focuses on relevant skills, jobs, and internships Focuses on relevant academic experiences
Features skills, accomplishments, and contributions at each assignment Generally lists just the assignment
Limited number of headings, principally “experience” and “education” Many more heading options, e.g., “publications,” “presentations,” “teaching,” “research,” etc.
May mention boss by title, but not by name If it is an academic experience, usually cite supervisors by name
Usually used to get a job Usually used in a science, research, or academic setting


Sample resumes and CV’s can be found in the Colby Resume Guide.



  1. Paid Employment, Co-op, and Internship Experiences
  2. Volunteer, Leadership, and Service Experiences
  3. Elected or Appointed Positions
  4. Academic Honors, Awards, and Merit Scholarships
  5. Major Academic Projects, Field Studies, Interdisciplinary Projects, Undergraduate Research Programs, and Independent Study
  6. TA, RA, Study Group Leader, Lab Instructor, Tutor, or Test Proctor Assignments
  7. Presentations
  8. Publications
  9. Academic Meetings, Conferences, and Symposia attended
  10. Certifications
  11. Laboratory Skills and Other Special or Technical Skills
  12. Computer Skills
  13. Study-Abroad, Travel, Languages, Inter-and Cross-cultural Experiences
  14. Sports


Personal Statement

A personal statement is… meant to give the review committee a brief but specific sign of who you are, why you are who you are, and why you are intending to move forward in said direction. It is one of the primary narrative documents in your application materials requested for most fellowship and scholarship applications. The term ‘brief’ is a serious term as most personal statements are between 1000-2000 words. Therefore, as you write you must reflect on the key moments of your personal, professional, and academic careers, and how they have brought you to where you are today.

A personal statement is not… meant to be an overall narrative of your entire CV (curriculum vitae). Do not rehash what is already on your resume/CV or write it as a biography.

As you develop your personal statement you will find yourself reflecting, drafting, writing, and revising continuously. Before drafting a personal statement you should have your resume/CV in good shape as that will aid you as you begin to draft your statement. As you begin writing there are three primary areas to think of: stating your ambitions, explaining gaps, and piquing the review committee’s interest.

This entire process is based on ambition; therefore your ambitions should be reflected in your personal statement. As you write you should share what you expect to do beyond your financial reward as well as how you expect to contribute to your discipline, profession, and larger community. You must also be precise in what you hope to gain from your study; this is no time for generalizations!

If there has been a gap in your experience or a grade issue that is apparent on your transcript, an appropriate time to explain would be in your personal statement. Do know however, anything you include in your personal statement or application is fair game in your interview. If you are uncomfortable discussing something in detail, do not include it in your application or personal statement.  Be aware, however, that people who read your application are adept at spotting “gaps” and will ask you about them whether you want to talk about them or not.  It could behoove you to prepare for that conversation.

Last, you want your personal statement to entice the review committee to offer you an interview.  Your personal statement should be extremely well-written, interesting, and most importantly causing your reviewers to want to get to know you in person.

A personal statement is a document where you get to address a variety of aspects of yourself and ambitions.

A research proposal is focused solely on your research interests and defining explicitly your research plan with expected outcomes.


  • Before you begin to write make sure that your Resume/CV is up-to-date and well written.
  • Research the fellowship, scholarship, program, etc. for which you are applying and the specific qualifications sought to help craft your personal statement.
  • Allow ample time for reflecting, writing, revising, and more writing. This is not a document that you begin to write as you approach the submission deadline.
  • Just like writing an essay for a college course, your opening and closing paragraph and are the most instrumental for the readers.
  • Have multiple people review your personal statement before submitting.
  • Do not undersell yourself; this is your time to shine!


Obtaining Strong Letters of Recommendation

Deciding on recommenders for fellowship, scholarship, or experiential programs is yet another important step in your application process. You should choose who will write your recommendations carefully. The rules for who you should ask for fellowships recommendations are different from choosing them for graduate school. If possible, you should be choosing writers who are highly knowledgeable of the program in which you are applying for. Your fellowship advisor will be able to provide you appropriate guidance.  Conversations with individual writers will help prepare you for the fellowship interview process.

As you determine your writers be sure to read the instructions in your application material for what they are specifically looking for. Does your fellowship require references from faculty in a certain discipline? Or, do they want open recommendations from supervisors in internships, work, service, or volunteer experiences? Also, what content are they looking for from your writers? Do they want writers to comment on your knowledge in a specific academic area? Are they more interested in you as a scholar? Or, do they want to know about barriers you’ve overcame, your personality, and your character?

When determining who will write your recommendations you should be contacting faculty (or whomever else) early on in your process and be communicating with them frequently. These are individuals, in addition to writing an important letter,  may also serve as a great resource to you and help guide you through your application process. There are five tips to cultivate good relationships with your recommenders:

  1. First and most importantly, give them time to write your letters. Understand that they are extremely busy people and be aware of their schedules and timeline. Do they need 2-3 weeks or 4-6 weeks?
  2. Writers should be people you know well and are comfortable having a conversation with. If at all possible, ask in person (or by phone) if they are willing to write you a “strong letter of support” for your application.  In person, you’ll have a chance to gauge their reaction.
  3. Give the person room to say “No.”  A lukewarm letter of recommendation is not helpful to you.  Better to move on to someone who is able to write the letter you need. (Sometimes people will say no because other demands prevent them from giving it the time they think it deserves.)
  4. Bring a portfolio of all your materials to an in-person meeting (or send them after they’ve agreed to write the letter and set up a phone conversation once they’ve received them) and be prepared to talk about all of the content of the fellowship/scholarship in which you are applying for.
  5. Last, be prompt in providing anything your writer requests that you may not have had in your portfolio. Don’t create delays!

Two final points regarding your obligations to your writers: Give them gentle reminders and say “Thank You.”  You should be aware of your writer’s schedule and be sure to remain in frequent communication and give friendly reminders of your letter of recommendation deadline and/or check in on the status of completion.  Writing a recommendation is a big deal and after submitting your application materials set aside time to write a formal thank-you note to your writers expressing your sincere gratitude (and be sure to let them know of the final outcome!).