When you are done reading Part I, Motivation Letters -- Part II is now available.

This is a rough draft of Writing Motivation Letters Part I -- Preparation.

In Part I -- Preparation, the goal is for you to begin thinking about your letter. You want to begin considering what material to include. Unfortunately, this soak period usually takes two or three days. You need to reflect upon your life and consider important moments that helped shape who you are are today. Then, you will have to show examples from those important moments to demonstrate your passion for your chosen career.

Congratulations, you want to embark on writing a motivation letter. You have thought long and hard about your career choices. Now, however, you need to write a motivation letter. How do you start?

In truth, there are two difficult parts of a motivational letter: first, where you write about yourself; and second, where you describe your reasons for selecting that university.

Many of the letters I see fall into the following format.
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. Thus, you are the right university for me. I am good, you are good. We are all set.

I look forward to your acceptance.


I am being somewhat facetious, but not too much. Most often they 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 an interview where you get to ask and answer the questions. So make the most of this ability to both ask and answer.
Here are some examples to technical people (engineering, medicine, law, and the like):
  1. Give me an example of where you overcame adversity to succeed?
  2. Give me an example of where you had to convince someone of your point of view to have your project succeed?
  3. Give me an example of where you initially doubted your success and later succeeded beyond your dreams.
  4. Give me an example of where you lacked the proper resources to complete your task but succeeded anyway.
Here is another site Complete List of Behavioral Interview Questions.

Why is this list of question important? Because you want to answer your own questions. You want to provide the reader with evidence that you deserve to be admitted into the program. If you say you are smart, show it. If you write you are hard working, prove it. If you write that you creative, demonstrate it.

For example, if you are applying to a technical faculty, you might want to indicate that you are smart, creative, hard working, and a team player. Great, provide a short example to demonstrate each of those attributes.

Similarly, if you are writing to a more artistic faculty -- for example, you are a dancer--then you might wish to consider the following types of questions:
  1. Have you always set goals and then met them? Give me an example of where you've exceeded and fell short of your goals. And where you fell short, please explain why and what you are doing?
  2. At what age did you realize that you are a performer? How did you know that your destiny is to be a performer?
  3. What motivates you to dance?
  4. How do you progress your dance when you get injured?
  5. What do you love most about dance and why?
  6. What do you like least about dance and why?
  7. How do you cope with the competitive aspects of dance?
  8. If you have a special passion for a position or role coming up, how do signal your enthusiasm to the artistic director?
  9. What do you hope to achieve by dancing?
What you are trying to do by answering these questions is to allow the reader to gain insight into your reasons for your chosen career. What truly motivates you? And the more you can demonstrate your reasons, the better. In other words, actions speak much louder than words.

So how do you find these "examples" about yourself? You need to think about your past experiences. And for most impact, they should not all be academic.

Perhaps you helped a sick friend or relative, and that experience taught you that medicine is your true passion. Or perhaps you've always been curious about how things work, and thus you want to become an engineer. Or perhaps you volunteered your time to one of your favorite causes, and you became motivated to pursue high learning. Or perhaps, you have always been artistically inclined and are following your interests. Whatever demonstrates your passion is what you should use as part of your story.

In thinking of your attributes, you should have some academic and some extracurricular evidence to support your claims. You want to demonstrate that you are a well rounded individual.
Just before leaving this topic, let's take a slight detour and head over to Chris Sells's blog where he wrote an article about interviews. Sells is a Program Manager in the Distributed Systems Group at Microsoft.
I have once standard technique question and a few standard behavioral interview questions. The technical question is to ask them what their favorite technology is and/or what they consider themselves to be an expert in and then drill in on their understanding. If they can answer my questions deeply, this shows passion about technology and the ability to learn something well, both of which are crucial for success at MS.

My behavioral interviewing questions are things like "Tell me about a time when youive been in conflict with a peer. How did you resolve it? What was the result? What did you learn?" and "Tell me about a time when you had much too much work to do in the time you were given. How do you resolve that issue? What was the result? What did you learn?" The core idea of behavioral interviewing is that past behavior indicates future behavior, so instead of asking people things like "How would you deal with such-and-such?" you ask them "How did you dealt with such-and-such in the past?" This forces them to find a matching scenario and you get to see if they way they dealt with the issue in real life matches what you want from a team mate in that job.
His comment about the candidate having to find an example to respond to the question is correct. The intent is to see if the candidate has the proper behavior to respond to challenges.
Again, this motivation letter is an interview where you get to ask and answer the questions. That is, find meaningful examples that demonstrate key attributes you want to highlight.
Let's switch gears and discuss writing about the university to which you are applying. I find this part more challenging. So many students simply heap flattery upon the reader hoping it's enough. Unfortunately it isn't. By the time the reader receives your letter, he or she has already overdosed on saccharine. You need to find something more original.

Is there a particular reason why you chose this university? If so, great. Provide your reasons.

Is this university is truly one of the better universities? If so, show them through discussing their accomplishments along with those of their graduates.

Is this university simply a local, solid, afforable university? If so, discuss how their graduates have made a significant contribution to your local community. Or provide something else that demonstrates that you have completed some homework and are sincere.

Above all else, do not simply provide false flattery.

Again, I find the university part challenging.

The key point in this first part of writing a motivation letter is to get you thinking about what you want to include in your letter. You should soak on your past experiences to find important 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 that particular university.

I will be writing part II shortly.