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How to Write a Motivation Letter for University or College Application

For those of you who are starting your last year of high school, or know someone who is, it’s time to start applying to university! Applying for university or college can be a challenging task…and I remember it well.


You’re trying to manage your normal school work, but at the same time you’re trying to find the right school to guide you into the future you want. And once you send out your applications, you check the mailbox (or Inbox) nervously every day for their response.


But first you have to get your application ready.


Nowadays, colleges and universities are looking for something called a motivation letter. This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: you write them a letter telling them your motivation for studying what you want to study, and why you want to study at their institution in particular.


Here’s how to write a motivation letter that’s sure to get you into your favorite university:


Make it Personal

This is rule #1 for a reason. It’s the most important one. Universities want to know you. Your whole application process is about showing them who you are and why you should be there. You’re not telling someone else’s story. You’re telling yours.


When I was applying to the College of William & Mary as an English major, I wrote my motivation letter about the impact reading has had on my life. I started reading at a young age (and apparently taught my brother how to read by the age of three) and I’ve never stopped. I talked about the impact books have made on my life, and why it was important for me to major in English.


Make it about you. You’re selling yourself, after all.



Make the School Sound Good


Why exactly do you want to go to this school? What makes that school so important to you to study there instead of somewhere else?


Your potential schools, like people, want to be flattered. They want to know what makes them special for you, why you think you can reach your full potential there instead of at another school, how they will benefit from your attendance, and how you will maintain (and enhance!) their reputation when they are your alma mater in four years.


For example, in my motivation letter, I told them about how much I loved William & Mary’s mission, valued their reputation, and felt I would fit into their culture- and I meant it. It has a storied history since it’s the second oldest school in the United States after Harvard and it’s one of the top schools in the country. Plus since their English department is so good, I knew I could flourish there as a writer.


Sell yourself and sell the school. You’re sure to make an impression on the recruiter reading your letter.


Keep it Short

Now comes the hard part. You want to keep this letter short. About a page, tops (so shorter than this blog).


My recommendation is to spend a paragraph on your story, a paragraph on the school, and a paragraph connecting the two (so, why you think you’ll be a good fit for the school and your selected major, and how this fits the profile of the student they are looking for).


Edit heavily. You want your letter to be short and to the point. The people who read your application do this all day and they want succinct, clear letters from applicants. Edit it yourself then choose two other people whose opinions you value to read over it (..or send it to us: we’ll get you started with your first words, or help to polish what you’ve already got.) Any more than two people and your own writing style can be swallowed by theirs. You’re trying to make yourself stand out, so you want your letter to be completely and totally you.


Good luck, future applicants!




Are you applying to college or university, a new job, or something in between? What other application tips would you like to see here on our blog? Give us a shout in the comments and we’ll make sure to write future blogs about them!


Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and sometimes wishes she could go back and do college all over again…ah…



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