Writing a letter of motivation

Letter of Motivation

When you apply to study at a good university, it's only reasonable to expect the institution to ask for evidence that you are keen to learn. In Germany, students are expected to prove to universities that they have the energy and drive to succeed, and the most common way to do so is a letter of motivation. 

This blog looks at what these letters contain, and how to write one that will give you the best chance of securing admission.

General Information

Learning how to write a letter of motivation is a key part of applying to study in Germany

In some countries, it might be called a personal statement. But it amounts to the same thing: a written testament that you are ready and able to try your hardest in a specific course.

What do you write in a motivational letter?

Before we start, it's important to note that there's no single motivational letter example. The exact format varies from person to person and course to course. In fact, suggesting a typical format can often be counter-productive. That's because writing a motivational letter is a completely personal task.

It contains a record of what motivates you to study, the skills and passions you possess, and what you hope to achieve. How well you write this letter can determine whether or not admission is successful, so it's a big deal.

Is a motivation letter the same as a cover letter?

If you have applied for paid work, you may well have written a cover letter as part of the application process. In that case, you'll be familiar with what writing a motivation letter for university entails.

Don't treat a motivational letter as just another cover letter. It needs to be tailored to the requirements of your course and university, and generic content isn't going to work.

No repetitive content

Try to keep things concise and clear, and cut out any repetitive content. Remember your audience, stay disciplined, and you're sure to write a letter that gets the right result.

Put in the effort

Writing a motivational letter shouldn't be taken lightly

Don't assume that you can write a compelling letter in a single afternoon, and forget about it until the acceptance letter arrives.

Instead, take the letter as seriously as you can. Research the requirements of your course down to the smallest details. Investigate any recommended reading, and get to know the university as much as possible.

The more you learn and know, the more details you can use to make your letter interesting. Remember, admissions staff will be deluged with similar letters during application periods. You need to stand out from the crowd, and in-depth knowledge is a good start.

Take your written style seriously as well. You don't need to come across like a robot, but try to limit the amount of light-hearted or humorous language in your letter. Mention your personal goals and passions, but keep focused on the course you are applying for.

Planning a letter of motivation can be extremely helpful. Ideally, you should set aside a few hours to lay out a structure and decide what to include. Don't just start writing immediately. Know how the letter will fit together before writing the first words.

Also, don't be afraid to have someone read through your letter. A fresh pair of eyes can detect errors in style and grammar, and suggest additions that you may have missed.

How to Write a Letter of Motivation

Inform yourself

The more you learn and know, the more details you can use to make your letter interesting.

Take your time

Instead of waiting for the deadline, plan in advance.

Read and correct

Take some time to re-read your letter and accept help from your friends.

10 Tips for your Letter of Motivation

Now, let's move onto the really important aspect: how to actually write a successful letter of motivation

1. How do you start a motivational letter?

Kick off your letter with a broad statement of purpose, stating who you are, and why you are qualified and motivated to study the course in question. Do not start your letter of motivation by repeating your CV or aspects of the application form. Admissions staff don't need to know about that, and they will have a copy of your CV as well.

2. Use a neutral writing style as much as possible

When writing, put yourself in the position of the reader. They want to know that applicants are professional, capable, stable, and keen to study. This usually means adopting a neutral style that communicates information and suggests that you are a serious applicant.

3. Get specific about what the university requires

Universities want to know that applicants understand what courses entail. They want students who are motivated to study their courses - not simply people who want to study abroad. So include details about the course and university in your text wherever possible.

4. Include personal details in the right place

While a neutral style is important, there is a place for personal details - if they are relevant to your application. So, if you have a special reason for wanting to study biology at Heidelberg, put that into words. Let the university know what drives you, and where your motivation comes from.

5. Be careful about exaggeration

While applicants need to promote themselves, there's a difference between selling yourself and going over the top. Don't just list your accomplishments and skills. Link anything you mention to aspects of the course you are applying for.

6. Check the text for consistency

Always try to keep a consistent flow throughout the body of the letter, and don't leave any details in that seem out of place or irrelevant. If phrases or claims stand out, it gives the impression they have been forced into the text, and admissions staff may suspect that applicants are exaggerating.

7. How do you end a motivational letter?

The ending is almost as important as the introduction. Ideally, it will briefly summarize your reasons for studying, and express your hope to be considered. Don't make a joke to close the letter. Just be polite and clear about your desire to study.

8. Be disciplined about proofreading

After you've written the first draft, it's essential to check the text for errors. Any spelling or grammar errors could prove fatal for your application and should be removed immediately.

At this stage, cross-reference the course requirements with your text to ensure you've covered every aspect.

9. Give yourself the time you need to write a great letter

When writing a motivational letter, don't leave it until close to the application deadline. Instead, make it one of the first things you do. That way, you can leave it for a few days and revisit the text. In that time, new ideas could have occurred to you, and they could be what makes your letter exceptional.

10. Keep these basics in mind

Finally, try to follow these basic structural themes when putting your letter together. There are no rules about length, but 2 pages is about right.

Use an introduction to set a positive tone, the main body to set out what makes you a suitable candidate, and what attracts you to the course, and the conclusion to round things off.