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An important part of the application process for a Master’s degree at an international university is the motivation letter (or cover letter) you are required to write. But how to write the best motivation letter? And why is it so important, anyway?
A well-written letter can be a decisive factor in ensuring you a place in your desired Master’s programme. It is probably the most personalized document of your application. Therefore, writing an original motivation letter for your Master’s is a task that should not be taken lightly.
This article focuses on a few key points drawn from personal experiences, that proved effective in my case, and will hopefully be useful in helping you write a good cover letter. But first, what is a motivation letter, anyway?
What is a motivation letter for university application?
The motivation letter is a way for you to explain why you would be a good fit for the Master’s degree and the university you are applying for. It’s an opportunity for you to describe in a personal way your motivation to apply and the experience you have that led you to this decision. The way you will write your motivation letter may make the difference between being accepted or rejected, especially for universities with high application standards.
Writing a motivation letter is not just a formality. Admission committees take the cover letter very seriously, as it reflects the applicant’s commitment and intentions. The quality of your letter attests your character, goals and ambitions. By requiring a motivation letter, the Master's recruiting committee offers you the chance to prove yourself with a short document in which you are supposed to give some relevant and interesting insights about yourself.
Writing a motivation letter for admission at university can prove to be sometimes tricky and challenging for some applicants, who often find themselves wondering how the letter should look like, what it should contain, and how to convince coordinators that they are the right ones to be chosen for the programme. Prospective students may also be confused by the different ways in which a motivation letter is called. So, it’s good to know to identify the different types of letters out there, so you write a motivation letter and not something else, by mistake.
What’s the difference between a motivation letter, statement of purpose, cover letter and personal statement?
While the motivation letter and cover letter are used interchangeably, usually, the cover letter refers to a letter you would write to an employer when applying for a job. The motivation letter usually refers to an application letter you would write when applying for a university.
The statement of purpose is the exact same thing as a motivation letter. It’s basically just a fancier way of saying the same thing. It’s likely you might find universities and employers referring to these letters in one or more of the ways mentioned above.
You might also find motivation letters for university applications being called personal statement letters. But a motivation letter is not the same as a personal statement. The difference is in how long the letter is supposed to be and its intention. Usually, personal statements are more personal and refer to the past, while motivation letters have personal elements, but are focused on future plans. With a motivation letter you refer to past achievements only as proof of your commitment towards your future goals.
Here’s more information about what is a personal statement and more about the differences between motivation letter and personal statement letter.
Before you write your motivation letter
First, because the motivation letter is such an important document in your application, you should make sure you start writing it early and reserve enough time to complete it. This is not an essay you rush into a couple of days.
Before you start writing your application motivation letter, it is best you find out as much as possible about the university that is offering the Master’s programme and about the programme itself. Usually, the universities' website is pretty clear and informative about its requirements, expectations and about what qualifications and qualities they hope their candidates have. You can also try to search for the university’s profile on Mastersportal and find all the information you need in one place.
Knowing a little bit about their requirements, about their main projects, activities, personal philosophy and interests will help you get an idea of what your motivation letter should contain. Relating to the main activities and interests of the university will definitely help start a positive cooperation.
How to start your motivational letter
First, address the letter to a person if you know who will read it. Otherwise, just start with “Dear Sir or Madam”.
When starting your motivation letter make sure to grab the reader's attention from the opening paragraph and tell them exactly what they need to know from the very beginning. It’s a good idea to state in short what programme you want to apply to and why. You can develop more on the “why” in the rest of the letter.
Make sure you make the letter sound personal from the beginning. Don’t make it too generic or use clichés. Does it sound like a real human being wrote it? Also, try engaging the reader. Spark their interest, while keeping the letter professional and not looking to shock them.
It can be a good idea to first start writing the body of the letter and write the intro once you have a clear idea about what the letter will contain. This will make it easier for your letter to make a point and have a logical structure.
How to write your motivation letter
Make sure you cover all the points below to craft a compelling motivation letter for your Master's degree:
- Write down some of the main ideas you want to include, important points you would like to cover in your motivation letter and later build around them, then enrich their content.
- Make your goal clear: provide a short preview of the rest of the letter
- Why do you think that the university and the Master's programme are interesting and suitable for you?
- Focus on some of your strongest qualifications, past experiences (international experiences are always relevant) and qualities; organise the middle paragraphs in terms of the qualifications most relevant to the programme to the least, and you can also refer to your CV for more details.
- Don’t write too much. Most motivation letters are half a page long, and never longer than 1 page!
- You can choose between a 3-paragraph structure (intro, body, outro), or a 5-paragraph structure (where the body includes 3 separate paragraphs).
- Consider referring to sources of inspiration in your life – things that set you on your current path. But don’t force it, and don’t spend too much of the letter on it.
- Here’s where you may also consider not mentioning some of the less important stuff. This help with the focus of the letter and makes it easier to read.
How to end your motivation letter
Just summarize the main points you made and mention your main goal of the letter – to be accepted for the programme. Conclude by restating your interest and show appreciation for the chance to prove yourself in the letter (in some cases, you can ask for a personal interview). Maybe also mention again why you would be a valuable student for the programme. As usual, keep it to the point.
Don’t forget to write your name clearly and sign the letter.
Be personal and original
Give your readers some insight about you, as an individual. Remember this is a personal document in which you are expected to prove that you are different from the rest of the applicants and that your qualities, skills and qualifications make you suitable for participating in the Master’s programme.
Although it might be sometimes helpful to have other motivation letter examples, do not copy other letters you have seen and try to be original, as it will help a lot! Also, avoid bragging too much about yourself. You are not expected to present yourself as a superhero, but to be objective and realistic. Also, make sure not to sound desperate when writing your letter, or to try too much to be liked. This should be obvious: don’t include any false information in your letter! Admission committees read a lot of motivation letters and can easily spot these attempts.
Be professional and consistent
Whether it is the way your motivation letter looks, the way it is organised and structured in paragraphs, the font size, the length of the letter, or the first paragraph, the first impression always counts!
Present your letter in a professional format, style, and grammar (e.g. use the same font, the same abbreviations throughout the letter, etc.). Check for any mistakes you can find. This step is very important because small details make the difference.
Don’t make your sentences too long, as this can make the letter more difficult to read. Also try using commonly used wording rather then complex, bombastic phrasing.
Get feedback before submitting your motivation letter
It is always a good idea to ask your friends, a teacher or someone who has already done such an application for advice. Usually, you can get in touch with students who are already studying the Master's programme you are applying for and they can give good advice.
All these key points can prove effective in helping you write a successful motivation letter, but, in the end, your personal touch and knowledge is what matters and makes the difference.
A good motivation letter will always be successful if the applicant is really interested and willing to get the desired place in the Master's programme of his/her choice. What you really need is to trust yourself and try it. And, if you are not successful the first time, keep on trying, because you will make it!
Here are a few examples of motivation letters that were accepted by admission committees:
- Motivation letter for a Biomedical Engineering degree
- Motivation letter for a Tourism degree
- Motivation letter for a Computer Science degree
- Motivation letter for an Information Systems degree
- Motivation letter for an Optical Technology degree
- Motivation letter for an International MBA
- Motivation letter for a Food Safety degree
- Motivation letter for a History degree
- Motivation letter for a Political Science degree