Study Abroad – Motivation Letter Help
Studying abroad, eh? Motivated as you are to just pack your bags and go, there’s a tiny catch – the motivation letter. When applying to study abroad, you will be asked to provide documents, diplomas, certifications, your grandmother’s marriage certificate, and the motivation letter. Well, OK, maybe not your grandmother’s marriage certificate, but with the endless list of documents and copies (notarised and unnotarised), it may well feel like it.
The majority of documents will be easy, if not cheap, to obtain, but the motivational letter might require an effort of a different kind. Panicking yet? Worry not; help is on the way.
Who’s Afraid of the Study Abroad Motivation Letter?
Certainly not you – because there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Motivation letters, also known as statements of purpose, cover letters, or intent letters, are formally written documents in which you describe – you’ve guessed it – your motivation for studying abroad, or more specifically, that university. They follow a clear structure, and there is a set of expectations of what needs to be included and how it should be phrased. Let’s take a look.
Formalities of a Motivation Letter
Each statement of intent has a few formalities that you ought to observe. Failing to do so shows laziness, lack of attention to detail, or unreliability, as these formalities apply to nearly any type of formal address. Not following the predetermined structure may result in your being kicked out of the competition, and it’s seriously not worth being dismissed over them.
Details to include:
- Personal information. Your name, address, email address, and home institution.
- University/organisation you’re applying to. If you know the name of the person in charge of international affairs, include it. Otherwise, you should address the relevant authority, e.g. the international office, Erasmus contact, dean of studies, etc. Depending on how and where you’re applying, you should check to whom the letter should be addressed. This information is provided in the call for applications. After the name of the person/institute, add their email address and the address of the university.
- Applying for. Always specify what you’re applying for. This is basically your title, and it should be bolded.
- Dear Sir or Madam/To whom it may concern/Dear International Office Team. Again, if you know the name of the person in charge of applications, address them directly. Otherwise, you can use neutral forms of address like the last one suggested if you wish to avoid gender-assuming.
- The main text. Gotta fill that letter with something – read on to find out how to structure it.
- Sincerely yours + signature. Sign your letter of intent with formal greetings, and add a hand-written signature. The signature is not always obligatory, but it adds a nice touch. Read through the open call carefully, as some organisations require your signature.
Planning Your Study Abroad Cover Letter
With those formalities out of the way, you can start brainstorming your motivation letter. One thing that should be absolutely clear is that you cannot, I repeat CANNOT, write the motivation letter off the bat. Ditch procrastinating; this type of document does not write itself at the last minute.
Read carefully through the call for applicants, and highlight the list of requirements or any specific questions you need to address in your motivation letter. If the call particularly emphasises academic engagements, you should not skip them in your letter. On the other hand, if they’re interested to know how you intend to overcome the culture shock of being in a new place, you must give this due consideration.
Brainstorm your ideas and think about your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, courses and training you’ve attended, personal interests, ambitions, and beliefs – all of these should make an appearance in your letter. Make a mind map of relevant information and get down to organising your cover letter.
Study Abroad Motivation Letter – Example of a Good Structure
Each motivation letter has a more or less similar structure, which you are expected to follow.
A good hook ensures that you have the attention of your audience, but you don’t have to invent hot water in the first paragraph. In fact, leave that for the second. Introduce yourself and emphasise your interest in studying abroad at this particular university. You can provide information about your latest academic achievement (e.g. graduated from or completed Nth year of study) and specify your field of study.
The bulk of relevant information should be presented here:
- Academic background and interest. In this section, you can explain your interest in the study path you’re pursuing. Anecdotes that demonstrate what inspired you to study are usually well-received, but be sparse with storytelling – if you can explain how a trip to the zoo inspired you to study zoology in a few sentences, go for it, but do not draw it out too much. Instead, focus on your academic achievements in the classroom and outside of it. Good grades do matter, and you have every right to be proud of them. If you’re applying for a specific program, focus on your achievements in that particular field.
- Practical experiences. You should definitely mention various extracurricular endeavours you’ve participated in – they do count as work experience too. Volunteering, courses, certifications, lectures you’ve attended or given – your letter of intent is a chance to show that you’re a versatile person who can grapple with both formal and informal education. Don’t get lost in listing everything you’ve ever done; that’s what your CV is for. Select several (ideally three) of the most relevant engagements and tie them back to your field of study and/or motivation to study abroad. For instance, if you’ve attended a Summer school in another country, you can mention intercultural competencies you’ve acquired that have inspired you to pursue education abroad.
- Why this country and this university. The fact is that you’re already enrolled at your home university – what is it that the university you’re applying to has that yours doesn’t? This can be highly acclaimed work in your field that is conducted at the host university, special laboratories, interest in the language/culture/literature of the country (especially if you study philology), emphasis on international cooperation, or the aspects of the field that are studied at the host university but not at your home uni.
- Career aspirations. Everyone loves a student with a plan. Outline how your interest in the field, international experience, and future plans come together.
The birds and the bees know it already, as do you, but it still needs to be said. In this section, you should wrap up your application, summarise your main arguments briefly, and reiterate what makes you the ideal candidate. You can also provide the courteous ‘if you need any further information, do not hesitate to contact me’ or ‘I’m looking forward to explaining my motivation further in an interview’ to make your availability clear.
Sign your letter off, and you’re good to go!
Study Abroad Motivation Letter – Bachelor, Master, PhD – Does it Even Matter?
It actually makes very little difference which level of study you’re applying for. The only difference that will make an impact is in the paragraph that summarises your relevant experiences and academic accomplishments.
Firstly, when you’re applying to study abroad as a bachelor’s student, your experiences may be limited to university and a few extra activities you’ve picked up. On the other hand, if you’re applying as a master’s student, your motivation letter should include details about your bachelor’s thesis, such as the title, main research questions, key findings, and how this work relates to your desire to continue your studies. As a master’s student, you should also demonstrate the ability to carry out extracurricular projects (internships, volunteering, student jobs, etc.), as well as an interest in research.
On the other hand, if you’re a doctoral student, you may want to elaborate on your interest in pursuing a high academic degree. Apart from mentioning your bachelor’s and master’s thesis, you should have other academic experiences, such as presenting at conferences or published papers. Of course, nowadays, it’s quite difficult for undergrad students to publish papers (thank you, academic journals, how very elitist), but you can highlight your ambitions to write for certain scientific publications. Be sure to provide detailed information about your intended research topic (you will submit a separate research proposal, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate in a few sentences what you wish to do).
Writing a Study Abroad Motivation Letter – the No Experience Problem
While I have been emphasising the importance of relevant experiences in your motivation letter, it is not the end of the world if you have none. The most important thing is that you don’t write ‘woe is me, I know nothing’ even if your name is Jon Snow (which I hope it isn’t, the Mother/Father of Dragons sounds much more impressive in a motivation letter).
Instead of worrying about your lack of experience, you have two options that work well together:
- Emphasise your academic achievements – interesting courses, challenging papers you’ve written, independent research you’ve done while preparing for your exams, lectures or conferences you’ve attended, and books that have inspired you to study your chosen subject. Be aware of the relevance of each example you bring up, and make sure to tie them all together in your main argument for studying abroad.
- Focus on informal experiences you have – you don’t need to work to gather experiences. You may have honed your soft skills through babysitting or improved your foreign language knowledge through communicating with your pen pals. Any teamwork or community engagements also look great in your motivation letter, especially since they boost your interpersonal skills. Additionally, if you have no experience, you can express your deep enthusiasm for learning more about your chosen field and the desire to gain more work/volunteer experience. Show that you know about the host university by mentioning which student organisations you’re planning on joining or community projects in your host town that you have your sights on. Lack of experience is not a crime, as long as you aim to change it in the future.
Motivation Letter for a Scholarship – Study Abroad in Peace
Many study abroad opportunities come with integrated scholarships (Erasmus, Fulbright, host university scholarships, etc.), but sometimes you have to apply through different organisations. The great news is that the motivation letter for a scholarship is pretty much the same as the motivation letter you’ll write to study abroad.
The best way to inform yourself about what’s available is to check both your and your host university’s web pages, as they provide information for international (inbound or outbound) students and various venues for financing your studies. Pay attention to deadlines and the list of requirements, as sometimes they may ask you to provide additional information or answer a different set of questions about your motivation.
Getting That Study Abroad Motivation Letter Done!
To recap, writing a motivation letter for studying abroad is only scary before you start writing. The letter of intent or statement of purpose serves as a way for the committee of your desired host university to get to know you better and understand your motivation to study abroad and to study that specific subject.
To write a perfect motivation letter, follow these key structural tips:
- Formalities – personal information, what you’re applying for, line of address.
- Introduction – make it clear who you are and what you’re studying.
- Academic achievements so far – pick relevant accomplishments that explain your interest in your chosen field of study.
- Previous experience – this could range from community work to volunteering, to actual jobs you’ve had. Show what you’ve learnt from these experiences and how they have led you to the idea and wish to study abroad.
- Future plans – outline your aspirations and provide examples of how studying abroad will help you reach those goals.
- Concluding remarks – summarise your main arguments and make yourself available for a potential interview.
See? Easy! Now, go get them, Parent of Dragons!