Ideas for writing a motivation letter for various specialties
In addition to general recommendations that apply to almost any motivation letter, it is necessary to take into account the specifics of a future specialty. We tried to collect tips for you in several areas of preparation. This section, of course, does not provide comprehensive recommendations, but can be a source of inspiration and ideas.
- Politics. First of all, note that politics as an academic discipline is not just the current political agenda covered by the media. The ambitious plans to become a prime minister or president would look somewhat superficial and are unlikely to set you apart from other candidates. Try to dig deeper into your chosen course to understand what exactly attracts you to it. What topics of political debate do you like? What books and ideas fit your understanding of the profession? Of course, the selection committee will be interested to learn about how you came into contact with the world of politics, in what activities you participated, but the ideological filling of your essay will come to the fore.
- Philosophy. Applicants to programs related to philosophy are advised to have some prior theoretical training. Describe your reading experience. You may also have attended lectures on philosophical topics outside of class. Do not be afraid to express your own opinion on issues of morality, free will, and consciousness. The best way to show the level of your readiness for studying philosophy is the ability to think rationally, deeply analyze problems and argue your case, which should be reflected in the entire content of the motivation letter.
- Sociology. Your task is to demonstrate awareness of social issues and, ideally, a desire to help the social perception of a diverse and rapidly changing world. Think and personally formulate your interest in studying the relationship between a person and the society.
- Geography is a fairly large-scale discipline, which includes many types of activities and research areas. You can mention your travel experience, but at the same time, it is worthwhile for the members of the selection committee to specify your scientific interests: geographical information systems, individual regions, tropical savannahs or coastal zones, tourism, geopolitics, etc. If the course you are applying for already has a specialization, for example, migration or marine ecology, refer to actual scientific discussions on this topic or to your own practical experience (you may have made notes during one of your trips and came up with the conclusion...).
- History. Describe which historical periods, topics or trends attract you and why, what books you have read or maybe historical places you visited have influenced you, made you love history. At the same time, do not limit yourself to the banal “I fell in love with history when my dad took me to the castle on a tour” or “I think that history is important for understanding the world in which we live.” Try to identify the reasons, give specific examples. You may recall a powerful documentary or a discussion with your grandfather about World War II. Give evidence that you or any other modern person interacts with history in one way or another. For example, you play in a band, looking for inspiration in the music of the early 20th century performers. If you wish, you can even reflect on the fundamental issues of historical science, such as whether there is the only right and truthful way of displaying historical events.
- Economics. Think about the unique characteristics of a local, national, regional, or global economy that you can highlight. Show understanding of economic and mathematical principles and concepts, but avoid retelling. Your task is to communicate something new, describe how these principles can be applied in the modern world in general and in everyday activities. A typical economics applicant will indicate that he is subscribed to The Economist, The Financial Times, or Frakonomics, thinking that this is a very original idea. Well, it is not. Better choose a couple events or questions and analyze their implications.
- Psychology. Many applicants focus solely on the practical part of psychology — helping people, and neglect the importance of scientific theory, statistics and experiments, which often repels the admissions office. You are not required to retell the work of Sigmund Freud — it can be thematic books, magazines, websites or even podcasts that you found out of a love of psychology. If you have a personal story that brought you to the program, you can share it, but you should not spend a whole page on autobiography, describing every little detail of your mental condition. If you do not have any experience in the professional field, examples from your life will come to the rescue. For example, you can analyze the observations from your previous place of work or your participation in volunteer and other extracurricular activities.
- Social work. In most cases, a social worker is not limited to helping only one group of the population, so it is worth showing your involvement with the problems of various layers of society. In your essay, remember the moments when you supported someone, be it in nursing homes, youth clubs, Sunday children’s groups, kindergartens, mentoring programs, or anti-bullying campaigns. Perhaps you had the opportunity to talk with a social worker and you have your own thoughts on the matter. Remember that the letter should carry the value of non-discriminatory behavior and awareness of the consequences of social inequality.
- Teacher training and education. Tell us about your experience of studying or working in an educational environment. What, in your opinion, is the role of the teacher? What challenges do they face? What strategies of motivation and involvement do they use in the classroom? Describe the skills or qualities of the teacher that you think are of the utmost importance. Does any of them match with yours? Do not forget to explain why you chose the profession of a teacher, a specific age group of students and subject specialization. At the same time, avoid cliches like “I love children”, “I was born (a) to teach”, “Since childhood I (dreamed) to become a teacher”, etc.
- Literary study. Obviously, in literature, as in no other direction, the admission committee will be especially sensitive to the language content of your letter. However, you are not required to imitate Tolstoy’s skill. Abstract philosophical statements, sentences stretched over the entire paragraph, elaborate syntactic constructions or overly complex vocabulary — none of these is the winning tactic. Indicate the works of the writers you like, which areas of literature you are particularly interested in. Be careful when choosing the most popular or well-known book from the school curriculum, but at the same time do not pick some strange poem or an eccentric writer for the sole reason of making an impression on an admission committee. What matters here is not what you have on the bookshelf, but whether you can demonstrate creativity, thoughtfulness, and critical thinking. At the same time, you can also appeal to broader cultural interests — theatrical productions, journalistic texts, etc. Of course, all this should be connected with the chosen course — the tale about Cinderella, that you read when you were 6, is unlikely to interest the commission.
- Linguistics, modern languages. When writing a letter, take into account the specifics of the course you are applying to. If the focus is shifted towards applied linguistics, tell about the methods of learning languages that turned out to be the most effective for you. For specialties related to intercultural communication, note what opportunities for immersion in culture you used. It is not a single experience that is important, but the process of developing your interest, and the degree of involvement. If you have been abroad — what thoughts do you have about the culture, history, politics of the country you visited? If you spent a semester as an exchange student — were there any difficulties and how did you cope with the language barrier? If you watched an English film — are there any major differences from French movies that cover the same themes (for bilingual programs)?
- Media studies and journalism. Decide in advance what you want to do — conduct media research, create your own media content, or combine both activities. Demonstrate an understanding of the role of media in the modern world, its social and cultural impact. You can even select a movie, TV series, game, website, indicating what features of their production, distribution and analysis you would like to master on the program. In case of practical journalism, it should be clear from your letter that you know about the work of a journalist, correspondent. Be sure to follow the main stories that are circulating in the media at the time to confirm your awareness if necessary. You can reflect on the difference in coverage of events and its objectivity. Although the admission committee insists on having work experience, do not be discouraged if you have none. A personal blog or school newspaper can sometimes teach more than a news agency. You can refer to your publications in a motivation letter, as well as send them along with the application documents.
- Biology. Remember how you came into contact with biology in real life. Perhaps it was a camping trip or a visit to the university’s laboratory. Make sure to specify the areas of biology that interest you the most: the cellular structure, human physiology, the environment, or the science of living organisms in general. Do not mix biology with medical specialties, thereby showing lack of motivation in this area.
- Environmental science. Show your knowledge of the subject and describe what attracts you to it — its interdisciplinary nature (research approach) or the possibility of a comprehensive theoretical and practical training. Think about the current environmental issues and what impact they have on you personally. What new ways to deal with them can you offer?
- Chemistry. Many applicants try to demonstrate their knowledge by describing a particular theory or by bringing unsystematic observations on a subject that do not intersect with their real interests. Most often this is what the experts from the admissions committee know as well. Instead, try focusing on one or two examples of applying chemistry knowledge in real life. This may be a case at work, a lecture you attended or a documentary you watched — the main thing is to show that your interests go beyond the classroom. Do not forget to describe how you imagine the learning process itself (why are you sure that you will not get bored for 3-4 years of lectures and chemical experiments in the laboratory?) And your career goals.
- Art and design. Name the artists or designers that you admire, reflect on the exhibitions or art galleries that you recently visited and which influenced your own work. Of course, it is important for members of the admission committee to understand your view on contemporary art, but it is much more important to see the uniqueness of your practical experience. Remember that a motivation letter is a kind of addition to the portfolio: you can refer to specific pieces you submitted, projects, explain what they represent.
- Photography. Describe how you interact with visual art, what forms your professional interest (photographers, exhibitions, magazines and even websites), but do not limit yourself to the sphere of photography alone — perhaps you are also inspired by artists or writers. Do not forget to turn to your own work: the admissions committee appreciates the applicants who can tell what is hidden behind the objects in the picture, what methods the creator used to convey his idea of how he left the comfort zone. At the same time, be careful indicating your narrow specialization (for example, fashion photography), if you submit documents for a course with a general curriculum — this may reduce the chances of admission.
- Performing arts. It would seem that motivation letters for such creative specialties, such as performing arts, should demonstrate the greatest degree of creativity. However, it is here that the most cliches can be found: “I am a natural born dancer”, “on stage I become a different person”, “music is my life”, “music is a universal language”, etc. Talking about your practical experience, it is worth remembering that your desire and ability to perform and play are good, but not enough for the university level. You need to understand what kind of professional development the degree can give you. The admission committee expects analytical skills, the ability to think critically, to interpret certain dance, theater, and musical works.
- Dance. According to experts, the experience the student has in areas related to the movement, be it sports, martial arts or even a circus is very important. The main thing is to show how this led to the chosen program. Remember, in which dance groups you participated as an artist or organizer, what lessons you learned.
- Drama. Write a letter knowing the program you are applying for, the alleged ratio of theory to practice is especially important. Think what areas are interesting to study: the work of directors, artists, designers, editors, theater troupes.
- Music. Music is the basis for a number of programs: from creation technologies to stage performance, from composing lyrics to writing journalistic reviews, from pop to opera. Be prepared to justify your passion for a particular area, not music in general.
Architecture and building
- Architecture. Given that architecture belongs to creative professions, many admissions committees insist the applicants present themselves and their motivation creatively. For others it is important to hear what specific buildings, structures you like. However, avoid the dry listing of tourist attractions — look for reasons. Indicate the architects whose work you admire, their signature style, and your opinion about them.
- Construction, Building. Remember that each program is unique: if you apply for “Architectural Technologies”, you should not say that you want to become an architect, because it means that you do not know the difference and take this program as a backup option.
- Planning. Explore the social, economic, and political aspects of urban planning, its relationship with design, and environmental factors. Find out what problems professional designers are dealing with, what ethical and practical challenges of this profession, you may have to face personally.
- Physics. The main requirement is to demonstrate a genuine interest in science and technology. You can tell about how diligently you studied a particular issue of physics, what literature you found particularly interesting. But do not just say “I read “A Brief History of Time”(by the way, a fairly typical choice of the applicants). It is better to express your opinion on an urgent problem, for example, whether it is necessary to build more nuclear power plants. The most striking may be the part of the letter in which you talk about your own discovery, or even invention. Perhaps you built a rocket launcher out of a water bottle, and then realized that it was operating under Newton’s second and third laws. Similar stories really stand out.
- Maths. Reading math books that are not in the curriculum, participating in math clubs, winning competitions, solving non-standard math problems. Try to remember the moments that brought you closer to choosing a future profession. Perhaps you participated and won in mathematical competitions. Which area of mathematical science is closer to you? Algebra, geometry, statistics or something else?
- Computer science. Judging by the statements of the members of admission committees, letters with a story about the purchase of the first computer at the age of three did not age very well. Be unique. Express your point of view regarding a professional issue that has been a point of contention for you, for example, data privacy (consider the profile of the course you have chosen). Since computer science is closely related to mathematics, experience in both areas can make a difference. In addition to reading relevant literature, indicate whether you have been involved in programming projects. You may have written one simple program, but even this may be enough to show your involvement in the subject. Avoid general statements like “I am excited about artificial intelligence” or “You cannot do without a computer in the modern world” if you cannot explore them in a new and interesting way.
- Engineering. Describe the work experience, project, or training course associated with the selected course. What was so interesting about them? What caused you some difficulties? If you haven’t had the chance to try yourself in a specialized field, focus on something that helped you develop your technical abilities and soft skills. However, do not go as far as talking about how you liked to play Legos or that the first word you spoke was “hydraulics”. Better remember your recent experience. Even if you just like to disassemble and repair items, watch their internal structure, include this in your essay.
- Law. Any experience related to the activities of lawyers can be significant, be that actually working in a law office, a mini-internship, volunteering in the department of citizen counseling or just attending a court session. At school or university, you could have participated in debates or even been the organizer of your own debate club. Show that you have or are doing everything you can to develop the skills that are important for a lawyer — public speaking, persuasion, attention to detail. Mentioning certain events, show your interest in the analysis of their legal component.
- Medicine. In medicine, practical experience is especially valuable. However, it is obvious that not everyone is able to observe the work of a doctor before admission (such a practice is known as shadowing a doctor). You can show interest in the profession by indicating the experience of caring for patients, mentioning some real situation that happened in the hospital (the doctor helped the unconscious patient, how the staff quickly manages even the most unusual incidents, etc.), including from the side of the patient (maybe once you were helped). At the same time, it is important to mention not so much the knowledge of medical techniques (which most likely you could not get by just observing), but your own understanding of the profession of a doctor, as well as ethical issues related to it. So, one of the representatives of the admission committee said in an interview that they are looking for candidates who not only want to help people, but also are really interested in improving the healthcare system and the wellbeing of society, and are not afraid to talk about death.
- Dentistry. Perhaps the most popular and highly paid medical specialty. Of course, this may serve as a motivation for choosing the profession of a dentist, but ideally, the selection committee expects you to have a higher goal that is significant for society. In any case, always be honest with yourself. As in the case of general medicine, practical experience is valued here, which is not limited to medical practice alone (just observing how the doctor applied the filling is already an experience if you can tell what you learned from this). It will not be superfluous to mention a hobby that requires fine motor skills (modeling, playing a musical instrument), which will confirm good hand-eye coordination and attention to detail — important qualities for a future dentist.
- Nursing. Describe your experience with the healthcare industry as a practitioner or observer. However, you do not need to spend valuable space on a general explanation of what the nurse is responsible for (rest assured the admissions committee knows this). You will demonstrate a greater understanding of the future profession if you reflect on what you personally thought was unusual, interesting, and special in nursing practice. Depending on the course you have chosen, consider what challenges you may encounter when working with people suffering from mental health conditions (mental health nursing), children (child nursing), adults and elderly people (adult and elderly nursing), etc.
Business and finance
- Business and management. In this field, the selection committee wants to see a future innovator, an entrepreneur who is able to effectively communicate information. The structure and organization of a motivation letter is especially important here (otherwise how can you organize yourself if you cannot organize your letter). Express your own point of view on topical business issues: for example, why this or that company went bankrupt, which factors contributed to the revival of a brand. Present yourself as an initiative person who is able to identify and solve real business problems. You may have personal observations related to consumer market behavior, management styles, or marketing campaigns.
- Marketing. Demonstrate an understanding of the marketing industry, how it changes depending on the needs of society, what role marketing plays in the functioning of business operations. Describe the situation when you were directly involved in the marketing processes. At the same time, it is important to show not the extent of the impact, but how this experience benefited you, even if the project as a whole turned out to be unsuccessful. Therefore, school or university initiatives also matter if you can properly sell them. You can mention the statistics that you read in reliable sources or a meeting with a successful businessman (of course, indicating that the conclusions were made by you).
- Finance, accounting. In addition to general requirements, it is worth showing your interest and ability to quantitatively analyze business related issues. It is worth giving specific examples of how you applied mathematical skills to the analysis of business cases. By analogy with the previously mentioned fields, any experience counts: from an internship in a large financial company to a simple conversation with an accountant, from your own business to a student part-time job in a retail clothing store. What conclusions could you draw from this or that activity?
Sources and links
- How to Write a Great Statement of Purpose by Vince Gotera;
- Personal statements by Fulbright Commission;
- How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement by Mark Alan Stewart;
- Personal statements: subject guides by Which? University;
- How to write a personal statement for a UK university by Kathryn Abell;
- 10 things to put in your personal statement by Alan Bullock;
- UCAS' personal statement tool by UCAS;
- The dos and don'ts of writing a personal statement for languages by Abby Young-Powell;
- Motivationsschreiben fürs Studium: Infos, Tipps & Muster für eine erfolgreiche Bewerbung;
- How to start a personal statement: the killer opening by Alan Bullock;
- How to Write a Personal Statement by EssayEdge;
- Things to avoid in your postgrad personal statement by Charlotte King;
- Writing the Personal Statement by Berkeley Graduate Division;
- Cover Letter & Personal Statement by Cornell College.
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