Top Secrets to Creating a Winning Motivation Letter as an International Student

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Have you ever applied for admission into a programme in another country but didn’t get selected because your name is long?

Truthfully, it might have been that you failed to impress with your Letter of Motivation/Statement of Purpose

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When applying to universities in UK, US, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and even Africa, applicants are often required to submit a Letter of Motivation (also referred to as Statement of Purpose, Personal Letter or Personal Essay). This Letter of Motivation plays a very important role in the selection process. Regrettably, many applicants fail to convince members of a selection committee.

A very popular question from readers, we thought to break down what is really involved in writing a Letter of Motivation and why it is the key to gaining admission to schools abroad.

What is a Letter of Motivation?

First things first, a Motivation Letter is a full view into the passion and aspirations, hopes and achievements of a candidate, sent alongside other application documents to convince a selection committee that he/she is the best for the programme.

The Motivation Letter is not a test of your grandiloquence but to know if you are balanced in the head inspite of background or physical disabilities. The Letter of Motivation is one of the most important parts of your entire application. It plays a decisive role in determining if you will be accepted or not.

Your Letter is not about flattering your desired school or extolling your qualities to make yourself similar to a demigod. Your Personal Letter sells YOU in such a way that is very easy for your desired school or programme to see that you have natural (or make it natural) and very enviable qualities fitting for the school’s existing culture. For some graduate schools, The Motivation Letter is the single most important document.

Noted. So, how do I show Enthusiasm and Resolve in my Letter of Motivation?

This sub-heading says one thing about Letters of Motivation: “Show”. So show, don’t tell. Keep this in mind as you read the rest of this post, and as you write your own essay.

A good Letter of Motivation depends not only on WHAT you write, but HOW you write it.

For example, anyone can write “I am highly motivated…” This statement is known to be the most repeated in the history of Motivation Letters. It shows up so often that it (and whatever is written beside it) becomes meaningless to application review committees. And while it may be true about you, if you write it like that, you are unlikely to be accepted. Imagine if they have to read 30,000 letters with that same statement.

Therefore, you need to consider carefully how you can express this statement so that you can SHOW you are motivated, rather than TELLING that you are.

My Grades are not excellent. How do I make sure I stand out through my Letter of Motivation?

In selection processes, there are two kinds of candidates that are eventually chosen for a programme:

  1. The Excellent Candidate
  2. The Dazzling Candidate

The excellent candidate is ambitious and smart, often belonging to the top 10% of achievers in her grade level. The excellent candidate has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to take part and be an exceptional student in the programme. She is more intelligent, confident, and goal oriented.

If you are not an excellent candidate, try being the dazzling candidate.

The dazzling candidate on the other hand will almost effortlessly describe their interests, experiences, and motivation in a way that indicates larger amount of creativity and intellectual integrity that is missing from the excellent student’s application. The words and phrases they choose demonstrate imagination, originality and an instinctive ability to think outside the box. Simply put, their curiosity outshines their academic ability (this is very important as well).Motivation Letter

The best way to be the dazzling candidate is very simple. Show, don’t tell. Show. This word holds all the weapons not only when it comes to writing Letters of Motivation, but for writing just about anything. Again, apply this word to everything you read in this post.

What should be in my Letter of Motivation?

Bear in mind that these are simply pointers to assist you in scoring with your programme’s application assessment team.  The points listed here are not arranged and NOT ALL OF THESE POINTS are required in your Motivation Letter.

Now that we have that out of the way, the Letter of Motivation should be written with the following outlines:

  • Why do you want to study this course at this university?
  • What is your understanding of the course in which you sent in your application?
  • What makes you passionate about learning and educating yourself?
  • What are the questions that you struggle with or the problems that are important to you?
  • How does your interest in the programme you are applying for relate to your previous experiences or address your future plans?
  • Conclude by reaffirming your interests and values and show appreciation for the chance to prove yourself (where required, you can ask for a personal interview)

For a scholarship, internship or fellowship Motivation Letter, explain why your academic performance and reasons for applying to that university make you a suitable beneficiary of the so-so Scholarship. If you have achievements that you think make you fitting for the scholarship/internship/fellowship/grant etc or interests and ideas, this would be a great starting point in the Letter.

Your Letter of Motivation may answer the following questions:

  • What is your professional goal?
  • In which sector would you like to work after obtaining your degree?
  • In which way will you contribute to the diversity of the programme?
  • Why are you applying for the chosen bachelor programme?
  • Which of the courses offered in this programme are particularly beneficial in pursuing your goals? (or your community’s or country’s? Make sure you are well informed.)
  • Why do you think you are the right person for this programme?
  • What knowledge and skills gathered in your previous education/experience will be useful?
  • Have you already gathered any relevant experience?
  • Have you gathered any relevant experience as a member of any organisation? (Students association, NGO, political party, volunteer service … If so, submit proof of your membership / your social involvement.)
  • What do you think of your own personality? Do you think you are a good leader? Are you somebody who can make a difference? What makes you think so? (Show your strong points, but realistic.)

For programmes in Europe and rarely-been-to areas:

  • Why do you want to study in the Netherlands/Hungary/Singapore/country of your choice?
  • What do you know about the country’s university system and the specifics of studying in the country?
  • Do you expect it to be different from studying at your home university? If so, in which way? (Gather more information and talk to people who have been students of the programme)
  • Is there anything in the country (social, political, economic…) which you think could serve as a model for your own country?
  • Is there any system/technology developed in the country which you would like to apply in your own? Which one exactly? Why?
  • Are there any organizations, institutions or companies you would like to visit or learn more about? Why?

How do I write my Letter of Motivation?

  1. Make sure your Letter of Motivation is well composed: First reflect on all the above questions, take down observations, read more, discuss with friends and alumni. Then write an outline. Then write the essay. (Not all of the questions above have to be written down!)
  2. Do not include the outline or the above questions in your essay. Simply use them as a guide to writing your Letter.
  3. Take your time and start early: The Letter of Motivation is a crucial document in your application. Never try to write it down in one sitting. Delete all unwanted parts. Grammar, spelling and research errors are unforgivable. Even if they may be, do not attempt to send in your Letter without proofreading over and over and over again. Overlooking mistakes in your own application will indicate a lack of thoroughness that may lead the selection committee to conclude that you are not a careful researcher.
  4. Don’t compose vague sentences: If you were part of a programme, state which programme and where. Offer explanations where they are needed. Tactfully give reasons why without using too many conjunctions like ‘because’, ‘but’, or ‘and’.
  5. Apply an appropriate style of writing: Avoid all kinds of cliches that have lost their feel and meaning. Avoid flowery phrases and flattery. Deal with your topics in a reflective and factual way. Write your  words in a professional and serious tone. Do not campaign for your beliefs.
  6. Your Motivation Letter should not be longer than an A4: However, many programmes may specify how many words are needed, the kind of fonts and line spacing to be used. Make sure you are aware of the programme’s preferred formatting standards. At the end, your letter of motivation should be contained in not more than two pages.
  7. Do not start your Letter of Motivation by repeating your CV: Put some flesh on what you stated in your CV, something worth reading.
  8. Also avoid bullet-pointing your qualities in your Letter of Motivation: You are poetic. You are a story teller. You are charismatic. You are a mathematician. Show that part of you that makes you qualified for the programme.

Show it, Don’t tell it.