How to Write a Motivational Letter – The Ultimate Guide (2021)

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Motivational Letter is the most important component of a graduate admission process at universities around the world

To start, let me clarify that a motivational letter, letter of motivation (LOM), statement of purpose (SOP), letter of intent (LOI), or admission essay, is the same except that names are used interchangeably by the universities. Well, should we just call it a motivational letter for now? I think we should, to make it simpler.

In this guide, we are going to cover:

Just like many students when writing a statement you might be struggling with the following questions:

  • How to write a motivational letter or if you insist to call it, how to write a statement of purpose?
  • How to get started with a motivational letter?
  • What to include in a motivational letter?
  • How long should a motivational letter be (length in words)?
  • What is the structure of a motivational letter?
  • How to write a successful motivational letter that makes me stand out?

And many more similar questions. I can promise that after going through this guide, you will have a very clear understanding of how to write a successful motivational letter. I strongly recommend using this guide as your go-to when writing your motivational letter for many reasons that you’ll discover as you read. If you are ready, let’s start…

Introduction

Writing a motivation letter is one of the most important parts of the admission process and can be nerve-wracking. If you are applying for a university abroad or even locally, there is a high probability that you would need to write a motivational letter. In 2014, I wrote 12 different motivational letters as I aimed to apply for admission to 12 different study programs at different universities in Germany and Canada. Since then, I have guided many students on how to draft successful motivational letters. I talked to students who wrote didn’t just write but composed their motivational letters as masterpieces. I listen to renowned professors at prestigious institutions, what they expect in a motivational letter, and how they analyze students through the letter that they never meet before in real life. This guide aims to provide you with all the information for writing a successful motivation letter or statement of purpose. Make sure you follow all the steps explained in this guide to increase your admission chances. See the table of content to know what is included in this guide and how it can help you.

What is a Motivational Letter (LOM) and Why it’s so Important?

A motivation letter is an admission essay that describes why an applicant is a perfect candidate for a graduate study program or scholarship at a university.

The content of this letter aims to explain to the admission committee:

  1. How your previous study, work experience, and future goals relate to the prospective study program, associated faculties, on campus-research and the university.
  2. How passionate and involved you are in the specific domain, study program, or particular subjects?
  3. How clear have planned your professional goals and the career path leading to those goals including the graduate program?
  4. How do any past incidents influence the choice of your interests and career goals?
  5. You could study the program elsewhere but why at this university?
  6. What goals do you want to achieve and how the particular study program and the university will help you achieve that?

It is very easy to choose students based on the grades and some universities still use this outdated process of admission, but most universities require a motivation letter.

A motivational letter is the most important document for your admission selection to a study program at most universities. Every university has different selection criteria and most require a motivation letter along with other admission application documents. They take a holistic approach for students’ admission and a motivational letter is a game-changer.

Universities receive hundreds to thousands of applications every year and it can help you stand out as compared to other fellow applicants if properly written. Read this article, if you want to know more about the importance of a motivational letter/statement of purpose for graduate admission.

Length and Time to Write a Motivational Letter

How Long Should a Motivational Letter be?

It depends on the requirement ranging from 1 to 2 pages.

Most universities ask for a 1-page motivation letter. However, if you are required to provide a 1.5- or 2-page motivation letter then you must try to manage the content accordingly. Don’t worry, after reading through this guide you should be able to write a motivation letter of any length.

Time: How Long Does it Take to Write a Motivational Letter?

Between 2-6 weeks and 4-5 hours each day

As a document of high importance for admission to a graduate program, a successful motivation letter takes 2-6 weeks depending on your writing and research skills. You should start writing as early as possible and keep enough time-gap before the deadline.

Once you have a good motivational letter ready for one university, modifying it for other universities’ applications would not take long. There will be many iterations to make and lastly, you will have to review it yourself or by someone else. For each application, you will have to do proper research about the study program.

Note: If you have a busy schedule, then please quantify your time accordingly and don’t count the times in weeks.

Advice: Even if your writing skills are good, do not spend less than 2 weeks.

How to Structure a Motivational Letter

Mainly there are two ways to structure a motivational letter:

  1. The classic structure of motivational letter:
    3 paragraphs – introduction, body, and conclusion
  2. More personalized structure:
    5-7 paragraphs – introduction, body (subdivided into 2-5 paragraphs), and conclusion

Below both the approaches are explained in the easiest way possible:

Introduction (same for both approaches):

The first paragraph is an introductory paragraph in which you will describe yourself i.e. what for, where, and the reason why you are applying. You have to grab the attention of the reader right away as soon as they start reading. It should be short and precise and should not include the details of your personal information and academic qualifications. They could see that on other documents. It’s basically an introduction for the rest of your letter and you’ll dive deep into the body of your motivation letter. I would personally keep the length of the introduction 3-4 lines max.

Body (different for both approaches):

This is where to sell yourself as it is the main body of your letter. Therefore, you can mention stories about your achievement, skill, and passion for what you are applying. You should know that the people in the admission selection panel are experienced readers and they can easily tell which stories are made up. Hence, you should try to be as factual as possible.

Conclusion:

The last part is about wrapping up your letter, you can summarize the main points, mention your overarching goals, most importantly thank the reader and conclude your motivational letter.

Checklist: What Should Write in a Motivational Letter?

A motivational letter is a way to tell the admission committee that you are the perfect candidate for the graduate program. There is no specific content to write in a motivational letter as it varies from program to program. That’s why many students struggle to get it right. But don’t worry, I have composed some general questions that your motivation letter must answer or at least some of them.

Imagine that you are applying to a master’s program in a German university and you are required to write a motivational letter. You must answer the following:

(if the university has mentioned any other questions on their website, you must answer them as well)

  1. Purpose of study: Why do you apply for the chosen Master’s program? – Why do you want to study this master’s program?
    – Why this university?
    – How the program’s associated faculty(ies) related to interests?
    – What research groups might be of your interest to join or work with during your study period?
    – How have you prepared yourself to be able to continue your graduate study here? Do your research. I repeat you must do your research about the program, faculties, university and related research. If you don’t, you should know that it is very clear to the universities and any higher education institutes that you have no idea about the program or university. They may not even read your motivational letter to the end. If I were them, honestly, I will jump to the next candidate’s documents.
  2. Academic: What is your academic background? Don’t write about your previous degree in details but rather follow these tips:
    – How it is related to the program you are applying to?
    – Any undergraduate project or research work? Single or more majors? Bachelor thesis/final year project.
    Trends of grades or shortcomings if any? 
    Some students ask my grades are bad, can I get admission to a graduate program? If you have to explain collective or course modules(s) bad grades or any other shortcomings, be concise about your academic history. Take responsibility, say the lesson learned but don’t put it in the spotlight. Neither you should “drop and run”. Focus on the positives. Also, keep it relevant.
  3. Goals: What are your graduate, professional and career goals? This is a very essential question which your motivation letter must answer. Your professional goal must be related to the program you are applying to. The reason behind it is that the admission committee expects a master’s application to have a clear idea of his/her professional goals. They also want to know how this program and university could help you achieve those goals. Therefore, you should clearly mention in which sector you would want to work after graduating from the master’s program and how do you want to advance your career. When writing about this section, you must keep in mind that the graduate program is not your ultimate goal but part of your career path.
  4. Demographics and Diversity: – Do you have special status regarding your age, gender ethnicity or race?
    – Do you have any special circumstances i.e. limited resources or if you belong to a low-income community. Well, for Germany this might not be helpful as you have to deposit 12,352 euros into a blocked account as required by law for international students except that you are applying for any scholarship.
    – Do you have any multicultural experiences?
    – What is/was the educational level of parents and grandparents? If relevant and influential for you.
  5. Work Experience: – Do you have related work experience or internship?
  6. In which way do you intend to contribute to the social, political, or technical development of your home country once you are in a respective position? As you are applying as an international student, therefore, you can convince the selection committee that how will you use your knowledge and skills acquired in the master’s program in Germany to contribute to the betterment of your country in the social, political, technical or any other way. We advise students to use facts and figures which would make their idea legit to the selection committee. Therefore, you must try to address this point.
  7. Which of the courses offered in this program and research projects are particularly beneficial in pursuing your professional goals? You can see that most of the questions are related to professional objectives. In the first question, you mentioned your professional goal(s). To answer this question you should link the courses you will study in the applied program to your professional goal. You should mention the courses which would assist you in any way to achieve your professional goal. Therefore, we advise students to do research about the course structure and its objectives before starting with the motivational letter.
  8. Why do you think you are the right person for this program? This question can be taken care of by mentioning some arguments in your support to prove that you are the right person for this program. We recommend students tackle this question by referring to their previous qualifications and experience. You can also refer to your personality type and traits to convince the selection committee that you are suitable for the particular program.
  9. Why do you want to study in Germany? Since you chose Germany for higher education. Therefore, you must present some solid reasons why you chose to study in Germany among other countries. If you can’t think of any. Moreover, the answer to this question can be given by answering some related questions. Such as the following.
  10. What do you know about the German university system and the specifics of studying in Germany? a)  Do you expect it to be different from studying at your home university? If so, in which way?
    b) Is there anything in Germany (society, political system, economy…) that you think could serve as a model for your own country?
    c) Is there any technology developed in Germany which you would like to apply in your home country? Which one exactly? Why? (If you are applying for the technical course).
    d) Are there any German organizations, institutions, or companies you would like to visit or learn more about? Why?

Note: We recommend students write a motivational letter that should address these questions. However, it is not mandatory to answer all of the above questions as the content of the letter differs for different programs and applicants.

Important information for 2-page motivational letter

If you are required to submit a 2-page motivation letter you should read the following information carefully. The structure and content of the letter are the same for the 1 and 2-page motivational letter. The only difference is for a 2-page motivational letter you are provided with more space to express in detail why you are the perfect candidate. Therefore, you must explain each point in more detail. Don’t waste the chance by trying to fill the space or repeating any information.

I’ll be continuously updating this guide to make it the best possible and easiest guide on the internet. You can always come back learn something new to add more flavour your motivational letter.

Quick Links

Learn about other documents requirements:

Admission requirements for Germany in this guide for 2021 >>

Letter of Recommendation – A Complete Guide (2021)>>

How to write a CV (tabular) for graduate admission >>

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