Introduction

This is a draft of Writing Motivation Letters Part I -- Preparation. I plan to be revising this document over the next few months.

The focus of this document is to prepare you for writing your letter. You are going to think about your past and how it applies to your future. The more effort you put into this preparation phase, the easier your letter will be to write.

When you are done reading Part I, Motivation Letters -- Part II is now available. With the outlines for Parts III and IV completed, I hope to have those documents ready later this summer.

Preparation

Your goal for Part I is to start thinking about your letter. You need to consider what information you want to convey to your reader. This self-reflection period takes a few days. As you reflect upon your life to consider important moments that have made you who you are today, think of the important life lessons you have learned. And, think of how those important life lessons apply to your future studies and career.

To help you with your reflection, think about your future studies. What aptitudes and skills does it require? Do you have past experiences that complement those requirements? Do you have significant moments in your background that shaped your outlook? For example, if you are wanting to become an engineer, then you likely have always achieved high grades in math and sciences. You probably have a natural curiosity about how everything works and why. Now, think about when you felt proud of an accomplishment or overcame an adversity. What did you learn, or how did that event shape you?

You need to think of several important moments in your life. We just discussed an engineering example. Let us extend that example further by reflecting on other activities besides just math and sciences. Perhaps you enjoy sports, music, dance, or art. If you were the captain of a volleyball team, what important skills did you learn? Can these skills be applied to your future studies and career?

As you reflect on your life, think about your important moments. What have they taught you? How have they made you different from everyone else? And, how can they be applied to your future?

Early Draft

You have thought long and hard about your career choices. Now, however, you need to start writing a motivation letter.

Most letters have two critical parts: first, you discuss yourself; and second, you discuss your reasons for selecting that school or university.

Many of the initial letters that I see fall into a format like that of the fictitious letter below.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am a hard-working student who is eager to succeed. I am smart, creative, and a team player. I want to attend your university so that I can become X.

Your university is the most esteemed and prestigious university on the entire planet. Your university is right for me.

I am good; you are good. We are all set.

I look forward to your acceptance.

Sincerely,

Motivational Interview Questions as Preparation

I am being somewhat facetious, but not too much. Most often students describe themselves in glowing terms without providing any support or evidence. And, they heap as many positive attributes to the university as possible, hoping that flattery, even false flattery, will help them. This approach is wrong.

As mentioned, there are two difficult parts to this letter. We are about to explore the first part where you describe yourself.

Have you ever heard of a "motivational interview"? No? A motivation interview is where you are asked to provide historical evidence to support your answer. This letter is a written form of a motivational interview where you get to ask and answer the questions. So, make the most of this ability to both ask and answer.

This letter is your opportunity to sell yourself. Similarly, an interview is an opportunity to sell yourself. You need to convince others of your strengths.

Here are some example questions often asked of people pursuing technical roles:

  1. Give an example of where you overcame adversity to succeed.
  2. Give an example of where you had to convince someone of your point of view to have your project succeed.
  3. Give an example of where you initially doubted your success and later succeeded beyond your dreams.
  4. Give an example of where you lacked the proper resources to complete your task but succeeded anyway.

This list is far from complete. I want you to search the internet for motivational questions that might apply to your field of study. As you read the questions, think back to your important moments in your life. Do they answer some of those questions? You will need this information to write your letter.

Let us look at two often-used attributes: intelligence and creativity. Were you intelligent in just one or two subjects, or across many subjects? Did you always have high grades? Did you study a lot? Do you enjoy studying? Did you make sacrifices to obtain high grades? Next, were you creative in art classes only? Do you have other examples of being creative? Has being creative helped you in other subjects or interests?

The reason for asking these questions is that your answers will help you write a more effective letter.

By answering these questions, you give your reader insights into your reasons for your chosen career. What truly motivates you? The more you can show your reasons, the better. In other words, actions speak much louder than words.

As you think about your questions and answers that come from your important moments, you should choose moments that show balance. Balance means that you demonstrate some academic and non-academic qualities. For example, you might prove that you are intelligent by referring to your academic successes and your leadership qualities by referring to your roles in volleyball. You want to portray to the reader your strengths across different areas of your life.

Again, this motivation letter is an interview where you get to ask and answer the questions. That is, find meaningful examples that prove the key attributes you want to highlight. As mentioned, this letter is your opportunity to sell yourself.

Why This University?

Let us switch gears and discuss writing about the university. I find this part more challenging. So many students simply heap flattery upon the reader hoping it is enough. Unfortunately, it is not. By the time the reader receives your letter, he or she has read countless letters saying the same thing. You need to find something more original.

Is there a particular reason why you chose this university? If so, great. Give your reasons. Is this university truly one of the better universities? If so, discuss their accomplishments along with those of their graduates. Is this university simply a local, solid, affordable university? If so, discuss how their graduates have made a significant contribution to your local community. Or, offer something else that demonstrates that you have completed your homework and are sincere. Above all else, do not simply provide false flattery.

Summary

The key point in this first part of writing a motivation letter is to start thinking about what you want to include in your letter. You need to soak on your past experiences to find important moments. Then, you need to identify strengths and attributes that you want to share with the reader. As far as universities are concerned, find something honest and sincere about why you have chosen those universities.

Once you are ready, begin reading Part II , where we will explore some past students’ work and begin writing your letter.