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Motivation Letter Writing Guide

Have you been sitting in front of that computer for hours trying to figure out what to write in your motivation letter?

If that’s the case, don’t worry about it, the problem is usually a lack of understanding of the importance of this document.

And that’s the best approach to take…

All you need to write a successful motivation letter is to know what to include in it and how to avoid the most common mistakes.

motivation letter writing guide

That’s what I decided to write this in-depth Motivation Letter Writing Guide in which I’m going to share all of my best tips on writing a killer motivation letter that will help you finally get admitted to the university program that you’ve been dreaming of.

What is a Motivation Letter?

To kick off this Motivation Letter Writing Guide, let me explain precisely what it is. A motivation letter is one of the official documents that universities or volunteer and non-profit organizations require to evaluate the admission of a potential candidate.

Some schools will ask for a motivation letter, while others will require a personal statement or a letter of intent.

Are they all the same?

While they all have the same purpose, there are some minor differences between the three. Generally speaking, a personal statement should contain more information about your past experiences, while a motivation letter should focus more on your future.

motivation letter writing guide tips

The distinction between a motivation letter and a letter of intent is even more subtle, and the two definitions are often interchangeable.

Have no fear…

It isn’t really important what kind of letter you’ll be asked to write as the suggestions that I’ll give to you can be applied to all those formats.

Motivation Letters vs. Cover Letters

A cover letter is a different document that is typically required when you apply for a paid job. Often you will find job listings that require a motivational letter, but in this case, it’s usually a mistake. What they really mean is a cover letter.

Just to avoid confusion, I am only going to discuss motivation letters for a school or a volunteer job application.

What You Should Write in Your Motivation Letter?

To understand what you should write in a motivation letter, you should ask yourself what the admission committee wants to know about you.

The key point is the word motivation. This is what your letter should be about!

Motivation for what exactly?

You should be able in a few paragraphs to explain what are your motivations to apply for that school and why the people who are reading your letter should choose you over other candidates.

It’s important to understand that a motivation letter can make a huge difference in whether you’ll be selected or not.

Why is that?

If ten applicants have the same grades, the same extracurricular activities, the same volunteer experiences, how will the committee decide which one to admit? Your motivation letter will then likely make the difference. Therefore, your letter should show them something they cannot read on your other documents that they already have.

If they want to see your grades, they will read your transcript. If they want to know what your volunteer experiences are, they have your resume.

the motivation letter writing tip

Specific focuses…

The motivation letter has to focus on you as a person, your uniqueness, values, and desire to be part of that organization. Additionally, they’re interested in how your presence will benefit the school and how that program can help you to reach your goals.

Top tip…

Don’t try to convince them that you’re a better student than anybody else. Instead, look at the motivation letter as an opportunity to set you apart from the other candidates so that you give the reader a reason to remember your application.

How Long Should it Be?

If not otherwise specified, one to one and a half pages is the standard length of a motivation letter. However, many schools give clear instruction on this aspect. It might be the maximum number of pages, words, or sometimes even characters.

If that’s the case, it’s crucial to follow those instructions. If they ask for a maximum of one page and your letter is longer than that, more than likely no one will even read it and It will go directly in the bin.

Why is that?

Because you’re basically telling them that you’re not able to follow the most simple instruction.

Why would it be any different when you have a deadline to meet during your academic years?

Research The University You’re Applying For

It is very important to spend time researching the school or the organization you’re applying for. If you do a good job at this, writing your motivation letter will be a piece of cake. Therefore, it’s strongly advised to take all the time that you need to conduct effective research.

How long are we talking?

That depends on you, but keep in mind that many people start to work on their motivation letter months before they send it. You might need less than that, or you might need even more time. A big mistake is to wait until the last few days before starting your research.

Investigate all the sources that you can find. The university website is obviously the first place you should look at, but don’t stop there. There are college newspapers, brochures, and likely Facebook groups where you can get in touch with former or current students and other independent guides.

the motivation letter writing tips

Ideally…

You can also visit the college or take a virtual tour if that’s an option. Whenever you discover something that piques your curiosity, write it down. When you have to think about the reasons why you’re applying for that organization, this information will come in handy.

Moreover, when you finally write the motivation letter, don’t be afraid to show the committee that you spent time researching the school.

Why is that important?

Well, because this will prove to them that you are determined, did a lot of preparation, and you didn’t make an irrational or rushed decision to apply to them.

Study The Requirements

Regardless of the school you’re applying for, there will be a list of requirements that you have to meet to be considered. Some of them are specific instructions about the motivation letter that they’re expecting to receive.

Needless to say, you should read them carefully and make sure that you respect the limits they give you and fully address the questions they ask.

How to do that?

Let’s find out…

Format of The Letter

This has to be one of the most common mistakes people make, and the reason behind it is that they don’t give enough attention to the requirements. Many schools will give specific instructions on which format you should write the motivation letter.

How long should it be? Which font should you use? Do they want single space or double spaces?

Seriously…

Even if these details might sound irrelevant to you, always respect them. If they ask you to write no more than 2000 words in Times New Roman, single space, font 12, do not send them a letter of 2010 words in Arial.

If you do that, you’re again showing them that you cannot follow instructions, and your application could be immediately trashed.

Answer Their Questions

Regardless of whatever we’re saying in this article or you read on the internet, if the guidelines contain a list of questions or topics that they want you to address, that will be the focus of your letter.

Example of standard questions are:

  • Why do you want to study at (name of the university)?
  • Explain how and when your interest in… started.
  • How will this program help you to reach your goals?

When they don’t provide any questions, you have more freedom to write what you think is better. But when they do it, this is everything they want to know: nothing more, nothing less!

How To Structure a Motivation Letter?

To finish up this Motivation Letter Writing Guide, let’s look at motivation letter structure. As already mentioned, a motivation letter shouldn’t be too long. And even when instructions are given, the length requirement is often in the one to one and a half pages range.

It should consist of mainly three paragraphs of a few sentences each: the introduction, the main body, which will be the most substantial, and the conclusion.

You will have to put your contact details on the top right corner, while on the left corner, you should write the recipient information.

Introduction

The introduction is your chance to immediately catch the attention of the reader.

You should be able to explain in a few words what the program is you’re applying for and why you’re interested in that particular program.

Keep it concise at this point…

You needn’t go into too much detail, as you will go deeper into that in the main paragraph of the letter. Imagine it like a short trailer of a movie that should be able to make you want to see that movie without revealing too much.

Do your best to address the reader by their name. The quickest way to find out who that will be is to call the university and ask for the information.

And if you can’t get it?

A generic “Dear Sir/Madam” will work in the extreme situation that, despite all your efforts, you can not find the name of the person that will evaluate your application.

the motivation letter writing guide

Main Body

Now that you have caught the recipient’s attention, it’s time to show them why you are precisely the person they want to be part of the university they represent.

How to do this well?

Use the most valuable information you found during your research and show clear connections between what the program is offering and your goals.

Show them that you share their same values, with specific examples taken from your past experiences.

Most importantly…

Remember that your goal is to focus on yourself as a person, not as a student. They want to see your uniqueness, your creativity, your dreams, and your personality.

Don’t copy other motivation letters that you can find on the internet. You can look at them the days before you start writing just to get some ideas, but keep in mind that your letter has to be original and genuinely represent you.

Finally, don’t forget that you shouldn’t repeat information that they can already find in your other documents.

The Conclusion

That final paragraph should be short and professional. Plus, if the rest of the letter is good enough, you don’t want to take any risk of ruining it with a weak conclusion.

To start, you might want to briefly reiterate the main reason why you’re applying without being repetitive.

Top recommendations…

Make sure you let the readers know that you appreciate their time and consideration and conclude your motivation letter with a formal salutation.

Before you send the letter, spend time reviewing it. Double-check that there are no grammar or spelling mistakes, that you covered all the essential points, and that you respected the instructions that they gave you.

Will You Be Paying Off a Student Loan?

In that case, we have a database full of information on applying for part-time jobs while studying.

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Back to today’s guide…

Final Thoughts

Writing your motivation letter is one of those crucial moments that can affect your future life and your professional career. Make sure that you don’t overlook the importance of that moment, but at the same time, look at it as a fantastic opportunity instead of a stressful challenge.

Following this guide to writing a successful motivation letter will put you on the right track. However, nobody else but you know the reasons why you’ve decided to apply to a particular school. Personalize your motivation letter and never copy somebody else’s.

Good luck with your application!

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About Eugene Casey

Eugene works in a busy employment agency in Chicago and has nearly 20 years of experience in finding clients the perfect job. His philosophy is simple, the right match for the right position is nearly always a win-win for both the employee and the company.

When he isn't working or writing for us, he enjoys cooking and exploring the United States, one state at a time.

He lives with his wife Lisa and their two German Shepherds, Wilber and Gus.

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