By Stephanie Small, March 2013
As part of the admissions process, graduate school applicants are often required to submit a letter of intent. Admissions officers pay close attention to these documents, as they’re one of your only opportunities to present who you are and what you plan to do with your graduate degree. It’s crucial to make sure your letter of intent – also known as a letter of introduction or statement of career goals – is well thought out, well organized, and well written. Here are some tips for creating a standout letter of intent.
You’re an original and unique person, but it’s best to stick to a standard and conservative approach when it comes to the presentation of your letter of intent. First, it should be no more than two pages in length. It should be printed in 12 point font, in Verdana, Courier, or Times New Roman. White or off-white are the only acceptable paper color choices.
Begin with your name, address and phone number on the upper left-hand corner of the page. The date comes next, and then the name, school, and address of the person to which you are sending the letter. Be certain to research accurate spellings and use appropriate credentials.
A salutation of “To ___:” or “Dear ____:” is not necessary. Instead, the letter should begin with ATTN: Graduate Selection Committee.
Begin the letter with some personal details to set the stage for the rest of the letter. Create a brief and captivating explanation of how you first became interested in the subject you plan to study. Some people use anecdotes from childhood, while others draw from early academic, co-curricular, travel or other experiences. Spend some time brainstorming to find the story that captures the “why” of your career plans.
Next, use a paragraph or so to present some of your recent experience and accomplishments in the field. Discuss the coursework most exciting to you, the awards you’ve received, the aspects of this subject that inspire you and the original approaches you’ve used as you become more learned.
Now it’s time to address your goals for the future. Your first few paragraphs should have laid the groundwork for this. It’s also important to address why attending the university plays a crucial role in the achievement of your goals. The more specific you can be, the better.
The sentence: “I want to attend X University because I want to study Irish Literature” doesn’t give the reader much of an explanation of your particular focus, or the skills and talents you bring to the table....
It is better to state: “As you can see, from the time I was 10, I’ve dedicated myself to researching the concept of gender in Irish literature in various forms. X University’s reputation for training in Irish Literature is unparalleled, and I would be honored to have the opportunity to study with Professor Y, given her groundbreaking research on women in Irish literature.”
Finally, don’t leave them hanging – create a succinct conclusion that summarizes your content. Reiterate your interest in their program, and thank them for their consideration.
Proofread, proofread, proofread your letter of intent! You can’t proofread enough. It’s also important to have another set of eyes look at your letter to offer alternate points of view. Ask at least two trusted acquaintances (who are also good writers) for their opinions and feedback.
Sample letter of intent:
Mr. Robert Smith
February 11, 2013
University of Education
Attn: Graduate Selection Committee
I am applying to your master’s program in elementary education for the fall of 2013. After earning my undergraduate degree in elementary education from Teachers University, I worked for seven years as a fourth grade general studies teacher ABC Elementary School in Anytown, Idaho.
I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in the third grade. As a student I struggled to understand multiplication; I remember feeling frustrated, helpless, and sad. My teacher recognized my problem and spent months tutoring me in the subject after school. It took a lot of time and a great deal of patience on her part, but one day it all “clicked”, and I suddenly understood what I was doing. The joy and pride I felt was unmatched by any other moment in my preceding nine years.
I learned much more than multiplication during our study sessions. My teacher taught me to believe in myself. She taught me about the value of hard work, and the joy one can experience in helping others. Even at age nine I knew I wanted to share those lessons with others, and for the past seven years I have been fortunate enough to do so with great success. Last year, I was selected from a pool of thirty teachers as the school’s “Most-Liked Teacher”, an award conferred by student opinion.
I have chosen to apply to the University of Education to pursue a master’s degree in elementary education. I am passionate about building upon the success and fulfillment I have already experienced as a teacher. My academic and career goals include exploring cutting-edge teaching techniques integrating the latest technology within my classroom. The University of Education’s reputation for excellence in developing new teaching technologies is the catalyst for my decision to attend graduate school in the first case. I am particularly interested in pursuing your New Teaching Models track, and I’m considering writing a thesis on the topic as well.
Thank you for your considering my application. It would be an honor to continue my studies and pursue my passion at the University of Education.