How to write a college/uni application letter…

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I know this isn’t directly related to IELTS but I was helping a student out this week with an application letter, so I thought I might as well make a video about it and share it…

In this post and video I am going to offer some advice about writing that all important college/university application/personal statement/motivation letter. Doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s the letter you write that explains why you want to be accepted onto an academic programme of study. You can find the full text I use in the video below, and the video itself at the bottom of the page….any questions/suggestions, you know the

How to write a college/university application letter…

In this video I am going to talk about how to write that important application/motivation letter when applying for an academic course. It is true there are some differences between UK/USA applications in terms of the organisation of the letter, also for mature students, masters students, and undergraduates in regard to experience and skills, work experience, but in general terms we can say that the essential ingredients are the same and that is what I shall talk about.

I will also show you a structure you might use, and for those of you that really need it, a template to copy.

But first before we look at the mechanics of writing, we need to think about a few things.

  1. Do your homework/research….as your letter will need to explain why exactly you want to go to that particular institution, for that particular course, you will need to show evidence that you have done some research. That everything you write ties into why that place and why that course?. Admissions tutors don’t like very general cut and paste generic applications that you sent to everybody because you were too lazy to write a new letter for every application. Which is what you should do….it’s the same with applying for a job, if you are too general and there is not even a mention of the name of the college/uni in the letter then it is going into the bin. All this information is usually available on the website of the college so you need to find it and think about it how you can connect yourself to it in some way.

  2. Be clear about why you want to go there…and not anywhere else…again, if it’s too generic, it’s going in the bin..

  3. Market yourself…same as in a cover letter for a job, why should they accept you, and not someone else? Again, back to point 1, research the college/uni and see if there is anything in particular they want. Of course, academic grades, etc are important, but that’s not all, what about non-academic activities that have taught you certain skills and how do they match the course requirements?

  4. As you will see, everything needs to be connected to the course/institution, everything you put on paper has to answer one question “Why?” which leads me back to point 1 again, research, if you don’t do it then you cannot answer this question.

  5. Be careful what to include, gather your evidence (see below for ideas) but also be careful what to exclude. That is to say, avoid any irrelevant detail, for example your lifelong passion for morris dancing might not be ideal to include if you are applying for a degree in Physics, just saying….

  6. Turn this evidence into specific examples, reflect critically …for example, how exactly did you develop those communication skills you claim to have? How has working in a shop given you an insight into the psychology of shoppers?

  7. ABC: Action= explaining what you have done, achieved, read, or experienced. Benefit= show what you gained or learnt from it. Course relevance= how is this relevant to your application?

Let me spell it out section by section…some ideas to put down while thinking about your first draft, the first of several I hope….

Why are you applying for this course?

Why does this interest you? (include evidence see point 1 again!)

Why do you think you are suitable? (any skills or experience, evidence again)

Do you current or previous studies relate to the course and how? (evidence)

Have you taken part in any activities that relate to the course? (non-academic, with evidence again)

Any skills or achievements that you can tie in to the course? (certificates, etc, with examples)

Hobbies, interests and social activities that you can link to the skills and experience required for the course?

Work experience, anything paid or unpaid that you can connect to the course?

Future plans, how you will use what you learn on the course and how it will tie into your future (academic or otherwise) career?

One more thing….what not to do..

  1. no quotes please…they want to know what you think, not what someone else thinks. I have seen this in undergrad essays many times and it is a waste of the word count, admissions tutors don’t want to see some irrelevant quote at the top of the page just get straight into the letter,…

  2. no random lists..please don’t write down your entire life history of everything you have done, seen, read, etc..only include what is relevant to the particular course you are applying for..

  3. no cliches…”from a young age” + “since I was a child” + “I’ve always been fascinated by”…etc, admin tutors read this all the time and they don’t say a lot…

  4. don’t make sweeping statements..”I am highly motivated” + I have excellent communication skills”..without giving specific examples that provide evidence.

  5. Passion….is ridiculously overused, and if you really have a “passion for marketing” + “passion for whatever” then you need to get out more. Save passion for something worth being passionate about…

  6. dubious expressions…probably copied from the internet “fuelled my desire” + “I was enthralled by” a tip, if it’s not something you would really say, then don’t write it here.

  7. plagiarism, lies, or exaggeration..most colleges/unis use anti-plagiarism software and if they think you have copied anything your application will be rejected. Also, as you may have to have an interview, don’t write anything that isn’t true that you may be asked about at interview, don’t get caught out!…

  8. no humour..I shouldn’t have to explain this one

  9. don’t be negative, again I shouldn’t have to explain this, just focus on the positives

  10. irrelevant personal facts…rule of thumb, if it has nothing to do with why you should be accepted, don’t mention it.

So, now for a structure you can use.


Dear Sir or Madam/ To whom it may concern

Reason for writing

I am writing to express my interest in applying for the Masters/Bachelors degree programme in…………at the University of….beginning in ……

Reason for applying

I am currently studying for a……at the University of…… and am in my final year, I wish to continue my academic career at your institution because………

Supporting details (institution)

In choosing my next step in academia I have decided to apply to your institution because……

Supporting details (course)

As I have seen from your website, this course offers students the opportunity to take modules in…….., and ………, which match my research interests in……

Why they should accept you

I believe I am a suitable candidate for this programme because…….

Supporting details (academic)

In my current studies I have……..which match the module in the course……Also, I took a unit in…..which I would like to extend in the second year of your syllabus which includes….

Supporting details (non-academic/activities/hobbies)

Aside from my studies, I have also participated in ………which I believe will benefit my study of……as it is…….

Supporting details (work experience/positions of responsibility)

Additionally, I took several months work experience in……….where I developed my ……..skills, as well as this, I …….

Future plans (how will you use this course in your academic life/career goals)

This course of study will, I believe benefit me in my future goals which are to…….and possibly to continue to……


If I am accepted I am confident that studying……at……..will give me the academic and practical foundations to…….and I look forward to beginning my studies in…….


Thank you for taking my application into consideration and I look forward to hearing from you soon

Yours Sincerely

Example letter

Dear Sir or Madam,

It is my ambition to become a political advisor to the European Parliament. Therefore, I am applying for the Master’s of Political Science at the…………………. in Barcelona, starting in September 2017.

Thanks to my fast progress within the Bachelor’s curriculum and the Master I am currently enrolled in, I have decided that studying and doing research are things I would like to devote myself to even more. I have studied Communication and Information Studies as a Bachelor at ………………….. It was during my Bachelor that I found out that the interaction between individuals and their environment is most interesting, intriguing and complex. More specifically, this interest developed in the direction of politics. What is the role and significance of media, journalism and information in shaping public opinion? After I obtained my Bachelor’s degree, I pursued a Master in Political Communication at ……………., which I am planning on finalizing in June 2016. Although my current Master fulfils all my expectations, there is only so much one can learn in one academic year, and even more so, in one specific Master. I have noticed that in the field of politics there are many factors of influence.

Knowledge from other disciplines, as well as from other cultures, is what makes this field so intricate, but all the more interesting. As the profile of the Master’s degree in Political Science at the………. is highly international and multidisciplinary, I believe that your programme is a perfect addition to the knowledge I have already obtained. I consider it to be a most valuable experience to get the opportunity to meet students from all over the world and learn about their cultures and (corresponding) norms and values. Furthermore, courses like Democracy and Citizenship, Public Policy Analysis and Management and Migration Policies, Integration, and Management of Religious Diversity would give me more insight in other factors than media, journalism and public opinion alone, important to the world of politics and hence important for being advanced in political analysis. Considering the profile as well as the content of the Master’s degree in Political Science at ……………. along with the knowledge I will take with me from my previous studies, I am confident that this Master brings me one step closer to reach my goal of becoming a political advisor to the European Parliament.

I consider myself to be a highly motivated and diligent student; during my Bachelor and my Master so far, I have not failed one exam or an assignment of any kind. I am certain to push through with the dedication I have always worked with to accomplish my goals and gain more knowledge and insight in political science. My interest in politics emerges also from my experience in working with the ………… at ………. a political party in ……….. Here, I attend meetings, determine political campaigning activities, design accurate slogans and texts for campaign purposes and devote myself to offline and online political campaigning.

Studying Political Science at ………. is an opportunity I would like to seize with both hands and I hope that, during my stay in Barcelona and alongside or within this Master, I will find more challenges and activities I can engage myself in.

Considering my academic performance so far and my desire to enrich my own and others’ knowledge in political science, I am convinced that I will be a valuable addition to the programme. I hope to be given this chance, as I am confident that I am capable of meeting and even exceeding your expectations.

Thank you for considering my application.

Yours sincerely

Example 2

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am applying to your Master program of “Cognitive Neuroscience” with specialization in “Action, Perception & Consciousness” starting in September 2017. My career ambition is to become a doctor researching Brain-Computer Interface (BCI).

In high school I graduated with mathematics and physics as my majors. I am continuing my academic career with the study of “Knowledge Engineering | Computer Science” at Technical University of Munich. In June 2017 I will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree with an expected average score above 85 percent. While I rank among the top five students, I am trying to graduate among the top three.

As my first exposure to neuroscience I took the course “Knowledge Representation and Cognitive Psychology” (KPCP) in my studies. I was especially impressed that, despite of the advances in technology, there remains much to learn about ourselves, most especially about the human brain. After attending your Open Day, I became acquainted with the fascinating method of BCI. I want to study at your university and focus on BCI because that allows me to combine both my interests in learning more about applied computer science as well as investigating cognitive processes.

Complementing my strong academic performance are my advanced skills in leadership and communication. In several of the projects during my studies, I was the team leader responsible for building and leading our project team. At the beginning of the program, teams were assigned three key members: programmer, an English speaker, and a mathematician. Everyone taught his or her teammates while exploiting his or her own special expertise. As the team leader, I was responsible for not only my mathematic area of expertise, but also distributing project assignments and responsibilities as well as governing interpersonal relationships.

By donating my time as a promotion team member of the university, I learned to understand how emotions, especially enthusiasm, can motivate others. My task was to represent my study program and to convince prospective students of the university’s excellence. Through my discussion with these eager students, I learned much about different cultures. Furthermore, I helped people to overcome their insecurities by exchanging experiences and sharing my first impressions. Throughout my service, I successfully helped many students understand the benefits of my study program by giving presentations and one-on-one interviews.

I am fortunate to have an exciting opportunity in performing research as an intern at the English Forums BCI Institute in Germany starting in June 2017. I always wanted learn more about the relationship of language and cognition. My research question will be related to the question: To what extent do color categories differ among languages? Moreover, I am looking forward to meeting my fellow researchers, from whom I will learn much about cognitive neuroscience and its applications. This is a great opportunity to apply my theoretical knowledge from the “Knowledge Representation and Cognitive Psychology” course in hands-on research. Moreover, this internship is an excellent preparation for your program and an important milestone in my young career.

I want to study at Stanford University because of your outstanding educational system, focus on gathering relevant work experience, and your excellent facilities. From speaking with students and professors from your university and other universities, I am confident of my decision. With many distinguished scientists as professors, I know that I will gain expert knowledge at the forefront of discovery. Further supporting professors’ lectures are your university’s use of advanced equipment and cooperation with top neuroscience centres. Moreover, by combining my theoretical and specialized education with hands-on research in the second year, I will gain critical work experience. All these strong positives allow me to to research cutting-edge technologies, such as BCI, and to pursue my dreams and ambitions.

Given my past history of commitment to excellence, I am confident that I will bring a high level of energy and enthusiasm to your program. I am sure to exceed your expectations, because of both my academic and interpersonal skills as well as the experience gained from my internship. I will enrich the program by enabling fellow students and professors to benefit from my ambitious and open nature. Furthermore, my international background and interdisciplinary education will add more diversity to your program.

Thank you for considering my application, and I look forward to your acceptance.

Sincerely yours,