Many students think of the Letter of Motivation (LOM) / Statement of Purpose (SOP) as just another piece of paper they have to submit while applying for university admissions or scholarship applications. Let me tell you that mostly the Motivation Letter is THE most important document in your admission application. It reflects not only your achievements, but also your personality and motivation. That’s why it’s very important to learn how to write a Letter of Motivation (LOM).
Take a moment and think of it as an interview. Admission committee is asking you questions and you write answers on a piece of paper. You should usually address the following questions in your letter of motivation.
- Why you?
- Why does your academic background and work experience stand out?
- Why are you better than other applicants when it comes to extra-curricular activities and social commitment?
- Why us?
- Why this study program?
- Why this university?
- Why this country?
- Why study abroad?
When you submit study abroad admission applications, you’re usually communicating through writing. Doing so, you can’t convey the charisma of your personality that you might have conveyed in an interview. So, you’ve got to convey the message through words and tell them why you’re the right fit. You can do this only if you know how to write a good motivation letter for study abroad. The art of story telling comes in handy.
Letter of Motivation (LOM) vs Statement of Purpose (SOP)
Students often ask themselves the question: what is the difference between letter of motivation (LOM) and statement of purpose? LOM and SOP are often used interchangeably. Some people might argue that these are two different types of documents. I’m not going into that debate in this post. I’m basically talking about writing a document that presents you to the admission committee. Let it be the letter of motivation, motivation letter, statement of purpose, personal statement or any other name depending upon how the university is calling it.
Following are some tips that would help you write a letter of motivation (LOM) that stands out.
Read the instructions carefully
Some universities have clear instructions for writing a motivation letter for university applications.
- Length: number of pages or words.
- Specific questions: sometimes universities ask you to answer specific questions. For example, some programs that require work experience might ask how your experience will help you through the course of study. So you not only mention your work experience in the motivation letter for the admission application, you should also try to relate it to your intended course of study.
- File format: pdf works most of the times, but it’s always a good idea to double check the file format required by the university.
Pick a good writing style
Your letter of motivation (LOM) should be a good combination of formal and casual tone, slightly inclined to the formal language. Neither should it sound too formal like a letter to a company or organization, nor too casual like an email to a friend. It should be written in a way that keeps your readers interested by entertaining them, yet conveys your message in a persuasive manner. Be careful with your jokes. A good sense of humor is appreciated, but don’t go too far unless you’re applying to become a comedian.
Convince them for “Why YOU”
Motivation letter is your chance to portray yourself. Introduce yourself briefly, sum up your academic career as well as life experiences. Students often forget to mention their life experiences, for example extra curricular activities, social commitment, volunteer work, membership of student societies, etc. Don’t believe in the statements you hear like “motivation letter is just a detailed version of your CV”.
Think about it, why would a well-educated and experienced group of people (admission committee) ask you to do so? They’re capable enough to sketch you through your CV. Convey them the charm of your personality before they make assumptions about you. This, you can do, only if you know how to portray yourself in a good way.
Following are some of the qualities you should convey through your letter of motivation (LOM): self-motivation, dedication, clear vision, willingness to run an extra mile, communication skills, team work, leadership, resilience, etc. It’s a good practice to show these qualities indirectly. Avoid writing “I am self-motivated, dedicated and so on.” Rather, convey these attributes through life events, through stories. Stories are always interesting to read.
Answer the question “Why us”
Admission committee wants to know why you are applying to a particular study program at their university. Dig deeper than Google and Wikipedia because every other student has probably done that too. Do some unique research; ask alumni, explore the history of the program and the university, get to know about their current ventures and future goals. That’s how you make them believe that you really are interested in their program.
For example, if you know that a particular school is famous for its football games, for instance SEC schools in the USA, and you’re a football fan, then show them your passion for the game by using the nickname they have for their team. Say a few words about the environment they have on college game days. This shows them that you’ve done your homework distinctively.
Similarly, you should briefly explain why you’re interested in studying abroad in that particular country. Here, you can highlight the professional and personal benefits of studying abroad in that country. It’s even better if you can relate this section to the study program and/or the university you’re applying for.
By the way, they know that you’re applying to other universities as well because top notch schools have an acceptance rate of less than 10%. You have to convince them that despite of the fact that you might have applied to other universities to be on the safe side, you want to join their program (well if you really do).
Relate your future goals to the study program
Relate your past experiences and especially your future goals to the study program you’re applying for. Tell them how would you benefit from the program more than other applicants. Additionally, show them how the program and/or the fellow-students might benefit from you. If you’re writing a motivation letter for a master’s degree or a PhD, find a professor or a research team that is working in the specialization field you’re interested in. Then, write that you would like to work with that professor or team. This shows that besides being interested, you’re also focused.
Motivation Letter for scholarship applications
In case you’re writing a motivation letter for a scholarship application, you should also highlight why you deserve this scholarship in addition to writing about the above mentioned points. Instead of simply mentioning your humble background, try to tell a story about how you’ve managed to pursue your studies so far with the help of some previous scholarships or part-time jobs. This shows your commitment for further education.
DON’Ts of a Letter of Motivation (LOM)
Here are some of the points you should try to avoid while writing your motivation letter for college. It will affect the whole impression of your writing and won’t convey the message in the way you wanted it to be conveyed.
- Don’t start your introductory paragraph with cliche lines such as “I always wanted to be a neurosurgeon since my childhood.” Or “Many of my family members and friends are mechanical engineers, so I also want to become one.” Trust yourself, you can do better than that. Be creative!
- Don’t convey negativity. Some students complain about their university and/or country and then relate it to why they’d like to study abroad. The way you say something matters a lot. Instead of complaining, you can say something like you’d like to learn from the best and then give back to your community, that’s why you’d like to study abroad.
- Don’t digress, otherwise you won’t be able to convey as many points as you wanted to. For instance, it’s okay if you want to write that the nature of your parent’s job had an impact on your decision of choosing a particular field of studies. However, you don’t have to necessarily mention the details of their jobs. Try to convey the influence of different life events on your personality and decision making, instead of adding small details of those events.
- Don’t make grammatical or spelling mistakes. It’s a bad impression.
- Don’t copy paste. Other than resulting in the disqualification of your letter of motivation in most of the cases, it might also make you face some copyright issues.
Explain your weaknesses
Some students use their motivation letter to talk about any weaknesses in their admission application. You can, for example, explain why you got bad grades in a particular semester. You might have been sick or you’ve had some family reasons. However, be careful about this decision. Write about any weakness only if you think that this particular weakness could have a negative impression on your application and more importantly, if you really have a good explanation for it.
Take feedback from your professors
Normally students get some feedback from their friends, which is good because feedback always helps. However, most of the times, friends just praise your work or they’ll make fun of it just to tease you. So, it’s always a nice idea to approach some of your professors and show them your letter of motivation. Additionally, the professors you’re approaching for help might have been members of admission committee at some point in their lives. Even if that’s not the case, they may definitely give you valuable feedback. However, make sure to check the confidentiality conditions with the university you’re applying in because some universities might ask you to keep your motivation letter confidential.
Learn how to tailor a Motivation Letter
One of the most common question that every student comes across is, should I write a general letter and send it to all the universities or should I write a completely different letter for every university? I think neither of these approaches is a smart. You should actually learn how to tailor a writing. Some people prefer to write a letter of motivation that is a thousand words long, and then they cut it short for different universities according to the theme they have in mind for that university and according to the word limit.
On the other hand, some people like having a short letter consisting of some key words. They use it as a base and write the complete letter using the theme and word limit. Choose whichever method suits you or create one of your own. But, you should have something that you can modify and save time in case you’re applying to many universities, yet being unique for every piece of writing.
To sum up
There is no “one solution fits all” sort of approach when it comes to the study abroad motivation letter. Just remember the fact that almost all the students getting accepted to a particular study program have their motivation letters written in different styles. Some people, for example, start writing the past events, then they move on to the present projects and build a base to write about their future goals. While some others prefer starting with their present or future.
I would suggest you to be yourself, focus on your content and try to convey it in the best possible way you can. Start with the first draft of your motivation letter and get feedback from appropriate people. Then, write the final version that you could tailor for different admission or scholarship applications.
Your Letters of Motivation (LOM) plays a vital role in your admission applications. If you need help with writing your motivation letter, check out our Document Review Services.
If you want tips on how to prepare admission documents such as CV, Letter of Motivation (LOM), Letter of Recommendation (LOR) etc., check out How to Study Abroad.
Good luck with your admission applications!
Co-Author: Bilal Ilyas