A letter of motivation is part of the Master’s application package for many international graduate school programs. Admissions committees pay a lot of attention to what applicants have shared in their Master’s application letter of motivation, in addition to the facts and figures revealed by their CV/resume, test scores, letters of recommendation, and academic transcripts.
Since the letter of motivation plays such an important role in the admissions process, and is not at all an easy text to craft, there are a lot of misconceptions about it. Being aware of them and avoiding the traps will set you on the right path.
Myth #1: My motivation is the same for all programs and universities where I apply
Indeed, you have your reasons and desire to gain a Master’s degree is a particular field of study. If you apply to several universities for the same field of study, it might seem logical that your motivation is the same.
However, even if the programs in the different universities have exactly the same name, be it Master in Management, English and American Studies, Legal Studies, or Psychology, for example, what you will study and the way you will study it will never be the same.
Universities and programs differ in so many ways. So, you need a different letter of motivation for each program to which you are applying for admission. Each letter needs to reflect the specifics of that program and university and how each aspect of your graduate school education is important to you.
Myth #2: I need to convince the admissions team of my strong desire to get admitted
Of course, the name “letter of motivation” can suggest that you are expected to speak about your desire to study in your chosen field. The word “motivation” is indeed a synonym of “willingness” and “drive”.
However, your letter has to be convincing about your potential for success in the selected program. Also, you should provide clear arguments of how studying in this program will help you develop the skills that you need in order to grow as a professional in the field. All of this should be based on your academic and professional experience, skill set, talents, achievements, and areas of improvement, in addition to your desire and interest in the field.
It is essential to state your career goals in your motivation letter and analyze what you have achieved so far, as well as describing the knowledge and skills that you still need to gain. Finally, you need to give examples of how the program will help you gain what you need – specific courses, teaching methods, etc. All of this makes a really convincing letter of motivation, also known as a statement of purpose or a motivation essay.
Myth #3: I can write the letter of motivation in a couple of hours
Well, you could write the required volume of text in a couple of hours. However, most often what you write will not be the final version of your letter of motivation, but just the initial draft. So, start working on the letter early.
Now, go back to myth #2 and start putting down your thoughts on each of the topics that you need to cover in your letter of motivation. Start with the soul searching, listing your academic and professional achievements, analyzing the areas of improvement. Even if you manage to do this quickly, you will then have to research in detail the program(s) where you will apply in order to prepare the examples that will provide an argument for your choice of this program.
The next step is to structure and express all your thoughts in English in a style and vocabulary adequate for graduate school. Since these are your own thoughts, you cannot judge how clear they will sound to an independent reader. So, it is always a great approach to make a reality check and get a fresh opinion from a friend or a professor on whether your letter is clear and well-structured. Several edits are needed before you prepare the final version of your letter of motivation.
Myth #4: A spell check will make my letter flawless
Of course, checking your spelling is a must, because nothing makes such a bad impression as spelling mistakes in an official document such as the application letter of motivation. Writing skills overall are essential in graduate school and this fact puts an additional emphasis on the quality of your work. So why is an automatic spell check not enough?
Maybe you know from experience that no spell-check tool is perfect. For example, if you simply wrote the wrong word but spelled it correctly – e.g. sea instead of see – spell-check software will not detect any mistake, but your sentence will still be incorrect.
However, there is more to a strong motivation letter than just correct spelling. As described in myth #3, you need to take care of structure, clarity and vocabulary. This takes editing skills and a fresh look.
Myth #5: Samples will help me write the perfect letter of motivation
Your letter of motivation needs to be unique. It needs to picture you and be reminiscent of no one else. It needs to differentiate you from all other applicants from your country, background, career path, etc.
Looking at samples can deprive you of your own style and voice. It can tempt you to use catchy phrases and descriptions that do not actually apply to you and will certainly not reflect your uniqueness. Browsing the Internet for samples is also not a good idea because you have no indication of whether these samples have been successful and in what context.
A wiser approach is to follow the guidelines of each program where you are applying. If you have questions about the format, length, style or structure, you would be well advised to contact the admissions team at the university. Then, just be yourself, be informative and creative. This will ensure the most authentic letter of motivation.
Myth #6: I can hire a professional coach to write my letter of motivation
A really professional and ethical coach will never write a letter of motivation for you. Coaching means helping you find the best way to do it yourself. Presenting a letter written by someone else is not just an act of cheating; it deprives you of your authenticity and unique language of expression.
On the other hand, presenting your motivation for graduate school is a learning experience. This exercise can develop an essential professional skill set for personal branding, marketing, and argumentation.
So, there is nothing wrong in working with a coach to learn and develop your skills to write letters of motivation. However, you are the one to write the letter, not the coach. It will be you going to graduate school, not your coach.
Myth #7: During the admissions interview I will demonstrate my motivation better
Admissions interviews are part of the admission process in many graduate schools, but in most cases not everyone is invited to an interview. Pre-selection for an admissions interview is done on the basis of your application package, including your letter of motivation. So, your letter should be fully convincing by itself.
Actually, it can sometimes be helpful when writing your letter to imagine that you are at an interview. Put down in writing what you would say during the interview. Do not worry that you will say everything in your motivation statement; there will be enough details to discuss further if you are invited to an interview. But the first step is for the written motivation to get you an interview invitation.
Preparing a Master’s application letter of motivation can be a new and challenging experience for many international students, depending on the educational systems they come from. The real value of mastering this skill reaches way beyond graduate school admission. So, do not be tempted to take shortcuts; rather, make the most of this learning experience.