What is a motivation letter & a personal statement? What’s the difference?
A motivation letter explains the reason why you, as an applicant, would be the perfect candidate for a university’s program/scholarship to which you are applying. It requires detailed research into the university’s general academic environment and different programs from the student’s part. Commonly speaking, the applicant would often mention his/her qualifications and achievements in the past few years in a motivation letter.
A personal statement requires you to present yourself as a living, breathing person behind stacks of transcripts and applications. Think of yourself as a reality TV show contestant and the judges are the admission office at your desired university. Often, the contestants will usually tell inspirational stories about themselves to impress the judges in order to have a chance to stay till the final round. Likewise, you need to describe to your university about what kind of a person you are and what happened in your life that led you to apply to this university. It also serves as an informal ’guarantee’ that you will not be a future detriment to your university and that you will fit into the university life just fine.
To some extent, a well-written motivation letter and a personal statement are almost interchangeable since both serve the same purpose of maximizing the student’s chances to be admitted/ to be considered as a strong candidate.
However, the main focus of a motivation letter is relatively more ‘practical’, which requires the student to be more realistic while listing out his/her past achievements, qualifications and goals. Meanwhile, a personal statement emphasizes on more ‘vague’ things such as personality, ambitions and preferences.
Analysis of sample motivation letter
Part 1. Opening
- The opening line of a motivation letter should always state your purpose of application along with a following line introducing yourself.
- You can also combine the two lines in the form of ‘I am a xxx-year xxx major student/graduate at xxx university and I am writing this to apply for xxx.’
- The final line can be in various forms, e.g. a brief summary of your current state, what intrigued you to apply or how is this application related to your current state.
Part 2. Main body ½
The second paragraph of your letter should focus on ‘selling yourself’.
- Subtly mention all of your past achievements, academic performances and positive attitudes at the early stage of paragraph
- If you have limited academic/professional experiences, try to bring up your intangible merits such as a can-do attitude, good language skills and people skills
Part 3. Main body 2/2
The third paragraph should emphasize on your understanding of your prospective study environment. The general purpose is to convince the admission office that you know what you’re getting yourself into and that you have your own academic goals to achieve.
- Add some personal tone at the latter half of the paragraph so that you can develop your persona a bit further
- You can choose to present your determination of application at either the final line, or the first line of the last paragraph
Part 4. Final statement
The main purpose of the final paragraph is to ‘ask’ the admission office to invite you for an interview. Depending on what you are applying to, it may not be a deciding factor of the success of your application.
- If an interview is mentioned in the admission criteria, you should ask for an interview in whichever way you are comfortable with, e.g. face-to-face, Skype and/or phone interview
- Remember to enclose your accurate contact information
Quick tips on writing a motivation letter
- Keep it concise
Although many websites encourage listing out all of your academic achievements and professional experiences to add more advantage to your application, it is not often necessary. During admission season, every university’s admission office would receive hundreds of applications per day. If your motivation letter is too long and contains too much information, most likely the admission recruiter will skim through your letter while missing out the main points you were trying to establish in the letter. Therefore, write about your most noticeable achievements, use abbreviations whenever possible and only give out the most relevant information.
- A mixture of professional undertone and personal background
As mentioned above, a motivation letter and a personal statement can sometimes be interchangeable due to their similarities in content. Therefore, try to take both practical information and coherence of the texts into consideration when you are writing. It will help prevent your writings from being too tedious or boastful.
If you want to stay tuned for more informative articles about studying and life in Finland, subscribe to our newsletter to receive weekly blog posts.