Motivation letter is one of the key points in the process of admission to the foreign university. The issue of how to write an essay correctly is relevant for the majority of university applicants, who are simply lost in the variety of options for its writing. Perhaps, it is worth listening to some advice given by those people whose job is the consideration of such letters, namely a member of the university admissions committee. We present to your attention the checklist and recommendations given by a professor of the University of Northern Iowa, Vince Gotera.

Examples of motivation letters written in English

The format of the motivation letters and design of the text

There are two types of motivation essays — non-structured letters and essays-interviews (or answers to specific questions). In a non-structured essay a candidate provides information about himself or herself in a free form — his/her achievements, personal qualities, interests, experience and goals for the future. Essays in the form of answers to questions are often written by candidates applying for overseas programs MBA. In this case such a letter will consist of short essays which are answers to certain questions.

Option 1: Yesterday — Today — Tomorrow

  • I have the necessary experience to study at your university successfully;
  • at the moment I want to get some knowledge for my further development;
  • your program is an ideal option to achieve these goals, since I can achieve … .

Option 2: I — You — We

  • the description of your achievements, talents, interests;
  • the chosen program fully corresponds to my ambitions;
  • my potential in combination with your program will bear the following fruit … .

Option 3: What — Why — For what purpose

  • what exactly do I want to study;
  • why do I want to study this specialty, why is it so important for me;
  • how the chosen program will help me to achieve the set goals, what do I expect to receive from it.

How to organize the text of the motivation letter?

  1. First of all, you should take into account the requirements of a particular university. This point is especially important if you are applying for a master's program. The fact is that some universities request not one but two motivation essays for each program. Some universities ask to send only handwritten versions of motivation letters, indicating even the ink color. It is advisable to visit the official website of the selected university and to learn about the requirements for motivation essays.
  2. The most interesting facts should be given at the beginning of the letter or at least in its first part, since no one knows whether a member of the admissions committee will want to read the letter to the end or not.
  3. The logic and coherence of narration: the character in the letter must gradually develop as a person in all life spheres.
  4. The division of the text into small paragraphs and the lack of long and florid expressions. Each paragraph should have its own little story with an outset, climax and denouement. It is also important to avoid complicated participial and adverbial constructions in order to prevent unnecessary mistakes and confusion with punctuation. The speech should be simple and understandable, but you are free to use words of art, provided that a candidate completely understands their meanings.
  5. It is better to start your letter with some original quotation or an unconventional fact from your life in order to attract the reader’s attention and make him/her read the whole story to the end.
  6. In conclusion, you should sum up what you have written and express your hope for a positive decision and further productive cooperation with the university. Your letter should evoke a pleasant afterglow and leave a good, positive impression of you as a potential student, so you should not describe any negative events or criticize yourself.

The best pieces of advice on the motivation letter writing for applicants

Statement of purpose is probably the most difficult thing an applicant has ever had to write. In fact, almost everyone who starts writing a motivation letter does it wrongly. Everything that was taught at school with reference to self-presentation in this case leads completely into the wrong direction. By the way, here is an example of the first paragraph of a typical motivation letter:

‘I am applying to the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at the University of Okoboji because I believe my writing will blossom at your program since it is a place where I will be challenged and I can hone my writing skills.’
This is a clear, direct address which is directed specifically at the master's program of Fine Arts. But is it interesting? No, it isn’t. All the information is obvious and predictable.
The admissions committee knows why applicants are applying for this program because every day they reread a pile of such application letters. The committee also knows that the student’s mastery ‘will blossom in all its glory’, since the university has a strong program, and, of course, he/she will accept challenges — they will be accepted by all regardless of the level of preparation. Students of course will hone their skills because it is the main goal of the master's program.

Taken into account the approximate length of the motivation letter which is 300 words, an applicant spends about 15% of it volume saying absolutely nothing. And it's not just that everything that is written is obvious and predictable, it's boring! To understand the secret of an ideal motivation letter, it is necessary to imagine five professors locked together with 500 applications. Would such a beginning of the letter attract their attention? Will they read the continuation of such a letter with an idea that this particular applicant is suitable for their program? Will they remember this letter later? Probably, they will not.

A ‘hook’ which demonstrates the university entrant’s passion for the chosen subject

For a successful motivation essay a so-called ‘hook’ is needed. For example, one student of the master's program of library art has made an excellent ‘hook’, and it looked something like this:
‘When I was 11 years old, my grandmother Gretchen died and passed to me something that has changed my life — a library of 5000 volumes. One of my best days were spent reading and ordering her books. Since then I wanted to become a librarian.’
Everything is clear and straightforward, the letter tells the committee what constitutes the main part of the girl's life — not only a long passion for reading books, but also for caring for them. When the committee members start discussing the best examples, they will definitely remember ‘this girl with her own library’ because to receive such a gift at 11 years old would be a cherished dream of each of them!

But what would be if the first paragraph was written like this:
‘I am honored to apply for the Master of Library Science program at the University of Okoboji because as long as I can remember I have had a love affair with books. Since I was eleven I have known I wanted to be a librarian.’
Probably, the admissions committee will not remember this student among the remaining 500 applicants whose letters they have read. Perhaps, more than half of the essays start with something like that. Many applicants write about their ‘love for books’, but this phrase sounds impressive only until you read it several hundred times.

An event from your life or extracurricular activities

A student named Jennifer wanted to get a master's degree in speech-language pathology. When she was asked why she had chosen that area of study, Jennifer answered that she had happened to be at one lesson and she really liked it, but then the girl remembered that her brother had had some speaking problems. That was a discovery for her, she began her course without linking her desire with her past experience, at least consciously. But still, here Jennifer has found her ‘hook’.

Each applicant should do the same — find this ‘hook’, understand why he/she has chosen this very sphere, what benefits the applicant’s work can bring in the future, how this will affect him/her and others. You need to find your own truth and then choose a memorable way of presenting this thought.

The fact that an applicant has an extra-curricular hobby connected with his/her academic activities is also important for the committee. For example, an applicant wants to enroll on the Faculty of Linguistics, he/she has a good command of a foreign language and helps others to learn it by organizing free courses.

Universities require the motivation letter not only to learn about the applicant’s academic progress and awards, but also to make the applicants themselves think about why they take such a serious step in their lives as entering a university and whether they need it at all.

Work experience and internships

If an applicant has already worked somewhere or participated in an internship, this should be mentioned in the motivation letter. Particular attention should be paid to the employment details that are directly related to the chosen specialization. An entrant should link the work done and the experience gained with the university admission criteria.

Is originality the key to success?

Every year members of the admissions committee have to read several thousand motivation essays sent by applicants, and most of these letters do not stand out against each other at all: they are competently compiled and meet university requirements but they lack originality.

The average size of the motivation letter is 300 words, but for some applicants even three dozen of words are enough to introduce themselves. One of such examples is an essay written by a student named Nigel, who used only 23 words, which surprised the Stanford University admissions committee. His motivation letter was the following:

‘I want to teach English at the university level. To do this, I need a PhD. That is why I am applying.’
This definitely characterizes Nigel as a daring, risky, businesslike and even an arrogant person. If an applicant wishes to describe himself in this way, then it should be done like this. It should be noted that Nigel's letter is a bet — everything or nothing. Without any doubt, there will be a person in each committee who will find this letter offensive and even disrespectful, but there is still a chance to get approval from one of the professors.
It is important to make the character in the text alive. You should not simply write: ‘I worked on the production line of a television factory and I decided to go to a college one day so as not to live life in vain and finally not to go to the bad’. Why not to paraphrase the same idea in the following way: ‘One Tuesday I soldered the 112th green wire on the 112th TV console and realized that this monotonous work does not give me opportunities to develop and realize my potential. I decided that college would be my salvation’. Both examples have about 30 words, but the latter clearly makes a committee member read the letter to the end.

What does the admissions office expect from an applicant?

The admissions committee members expect from each entrant an interesting and brief story, which will be written in a vivid, dynamic language. With the help of the motivation letter professors want to get acquainted with their future students, to find out what goals they pursue, what they want to achieve in their lives, in what way they can be helpful for their university and society as a whole.

It is necessary to avoid a verbose, tricky and florid style of writing, you should not create any illusions. You just need to be yourself, but try to express your thoughts a little brighter because gestures and facial expressions do not work here.
The motivation letter should show an applicant as a person who is:
  1. Passionately interested in the area of study. You can do this at the very beginning of the letter, you just have to remember about a ‘hook’;
  2. Educated, which is evident from the letter itself, from its structure, expressiveness, logic, etc.;
  3. Well-prepared in academic sphere, which can be demonstrated by the usage of highly specialized terms describing the applicant's achievements;
  4. Able to cope with the tasks of the university, which can be confirmed by the experience of overcoming problems that arose in the enrant’s life path;
  5. Sociable and able to cooperate with professors and other students. This point is not too important, but it will become an obvious advantage;
  6. Potentially an outstanding representative of this university due to future career merits, which can follow logically from the applicant's current success at the previous education institution.
There are quite a lot of points that you have to fit into several hundred words, so it's worth concentrating on each of these items. You do not need to describe them in the same order as they are given on the university list. They can be combined, removed, in general you can do everything to show yourself as an inventive person and not a talking parrot.

Explanation of the controversial points of the academic past

If there are some controversial points in the applicant’s academic past, an applicant should talk about them in such a way so as the admissions committee does not lose confidence in him/her. For example, an entrant had only Cs in all subjects in one of the semesters. In this case it is worth writing a short paragraph to provide some reasons for this situation (emotional problems, life difficulties), then you should demonstrate how skillfully you have coped with it and now your average score in this or that subject is high enough. Having given a correct and appropriate explanation, it is possible to create the image of a purposeful and single-minded person, who is capable of ‘accepting a challenge’ and of overcoming difficulties.

Skills and achievements

The admissions committee members are interested in the applicant’s strong points: if he/she has any talents, skills, sports achievements, awards in school or university intellectual competitions, if he/she has ever participated in any scholarship programs, etc. These achievements should not be necessarily very high. In the motivation essay it is enough to inform about what an entrant recalls with pride and warmth in the heart, for example, about successfully passed examinations at the music school, attendance of various extracurricular hobby groups (devoted to painting, sports, dancing, etc.), participation in charity. events It is important to describe those moments that confirm that an entrant is a talented, versatile and interesting person.

The mention of some particular university professors

To begin with, a university entrant should describe the reason why he/she has chosen this particular university. Then you can name one or two professors and what exactly attracts you in their program. Such an approach will help to reveal a future student as a person who is really interested in the chosen area of study.
Do not just write their names because everyone who uses the Internet (that is, almost every person) can do it. It is worth mentioning in the letter only the information that shows respect for the work done by these professors. It is not necessary at all to choose the most famous of them, since it is likely that other potential students will do the same thing. It is better to make your choice in favour of the work of a less known professor, which really seems interesting for an entrant.

The letter assessment made by teachers or professors

An entrant should feel free to show his/her motivation letter to some of his/her familiar professors or teachers because they can give valuable tips based on their own academic experience. Moreover, perhaps they know what kind of motivation letter is more appropriate in this particular case. Next, you will just need to make a few corrections of the essay, taking into account some advice given by our teachers or colleagues.

Checking and correction of the motivation letter

Before sending your essay you should revise its content carefully, paying attention to the style of presentation, the presence of any grammar and vocabulary mistakes. Even the most obvious mistakes cannot always be noticed during the first and second revision, therefore you should ask a friend of yours or your senior friend to check your motivation letter. You can just put it aside for a couple of days and then reread it again to understand what exactly needs to be corrected.
From the departments heads’ and the admissions committee’s points of view, the motivation letter can become the most important document in the application process. The rest of the documents, including test results, translations and recommendations, will not be able to tell about an applicant as a person as much as the motivation letter does, namely about his/her most outstanding achievements along with his/her dreams and hopes.

Motivation letter checklist

  • The first organization of the text;
  • A ‘hook’ which demonstrates the applicant’s passion for the chosen subject;
  • Logical connection between the entrant's motivation and his/her achievements;
  • The description of achievements in the chosen subject;
  • Special and additional courses in the subject;
  • Extracurricular activities in the selected field of knowledge;
  • Publications and other professional achievements in the chosen sphere (reports);
  • Explanation of the controversial points of the academic past (if it is relevant);
  • The reasons for choosing this particular university;
  • Mention of some particular university professors, whose work an applicant is interested in;
  • The university program features that attract an applicant;
  • Tips given by teachers or professors;
  • Checking and correction of the material.

Some English phrases useful for motivation letter writing

*I am applying for the program ... at the University of ... because I am very interested in … ;
*My strengths are ... ;
*I would say that my only weakness / weaknesses are... But I am looking to improve in this / these area/s;
*I would be well suited to the position because … ;
*Even under pressure I can maintain high standards;
*I am evidently keen to study at the University of ... because of its excellent reputation in research / top ranking / employment rates;
*I’m a very active person in my free time… ;
*Following the Master’s Degree I aspire to work in… ;
*I believe my knowledge and skills will serve to… .

Top 10 motivation letter writing mistakes

To make the admissions committee interested in your motivation essay, you should avoid the most common mistakes that many entrants make.
  • The repetition of the information which is already mentioned in the academic resume. The motivation letter is a chance to show your personal qualities and your desire to develop in the chosen academic sphere. Therefore, do not focus on your past awards and achievements once again, it is better to look to the future.
  • A dull beginning of the essay. A university entrant should not start writing his/her motivation letter with a long self-presentation. It is much better to describe at once any situation or circumstance that has influenced your decision to study at this very educational institution.
  • Compiling of one essay for all universities. This approach is fundamentally wrong because each university has its own advantages, which should be highlighted in the motivation letter. Having thoroughly examined the site of the selected university, one can assess its contribution to the development of science.
  • Faceless narration. Not every motivation letter is etched in the memory of the admissions committee members. The reason is that the essay contains many general phrases and your letter becomes really impersonal. A good essay stands out against the rest of papers thanks to the uniqueness, truthfulness and originality of its author's judgments.
  • Unfunny jokes. Any admissions committee member can recall quite a lot of applicants who wanted to be remembered for their brilliant sense of humor, but sometimes it is inappropriate. The fact is that the author of the letter may consider this joke harmless, but the admissions committee members will not appreciate it and may find it insulting. Here you need to understand clearly that everyone has a different sense of humor, and the mentality of the representatives of another country should also be taken into account. It is better to exclude jokes, of course, if it is not an example of gentle English humor.
  • The desire to write about yourself as much as possible. Each topic should be put in a separate paragraph to give more detailed information about yourself (which is not written about in the academic resume).
  • The lack of revision, proofreading and editing of the text. Before sending your documents you should re-read your essay several times to avoid annoying misprints and mistakes. Even the most interesting motivation letter is put aside if the admissions committee members find some errors in it.
  • Writing an essay a few days before sending it. It is advisable to devote enough time to the motivation letter writing. An entrant should write several variants of one letter in order to compare them and then to choose the best one.
  • The demonstration of other people's achievements. Do not arrogate to yourself qualities and deeds which are not yours. You need to be yourself, it is your strong points, hobbies and hopes for the future that should be described in your letter, because during a personal interview the committee members can ask you about your fictitious hobbies or achievements, and here you will need to extricate yourself from such an embarrassing situation …
  • The topic is not developed in full. When you write the motivation letter, you should adhere to a certain text structure, that is, to reveal the information in each paragraph step-by-step. Otherwise instead of a coherent essay, you will get a real mess, which will be definitely of no interest to the admissions committee at all.
  • Assistance in documents preparation

    This article takes into account only the main points of the motivation letter writing procedure. In order to take into consideration all details, including the design of other documents, you can contact us for professional help with the motivation and recommendation letters writing. We also offer our help with completing an electronic university application and with editing all application documents. With reference to many years of our professional experience, we can prepare your documents needed for the university application quickly and with high level of quality and guarantee 100% admission to the chosen foreign university.
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