Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
What is a motivation letter & a personal statement? What’s the difference?
A motivation letter explains why you, as an applicant, would be the perfect candidate for a university’s program/scholarship to which you are applying. It necessitates extensive research on the part of the student into the university’s general academic environment and various programs. In a motivation letter, the applicant would usually talk about his or her skills and accomplishments from the past few years.
In a personal statement, you have to show that you are more than a pile of transcripts and applications. You have to show that you are a real person. Consider yourself a contestant on a reality TV show, with the judges representing the admissions office at your preferred university. Often, the contestants will tell inspirational stories about themselves to impress the judges in order to have a chance to stay until the final round. Likewise, you need to describe to your university what kind of 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 university life just fine.
To some extent, a well-written motivation letter and a personal statement are interchangeable since both serve the same purpose of maximizing the student’s chances of being admitted or considered 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 more “vague” things such as personality, ambitions, and preferences.
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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 admissions office to invite you for an interview. Depending on what you are applying to, it may not be a deciding factor in 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
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Quick tips on writing a motivation letter
- Keep it concise
Many websites say that you should list all of your academic accomplishments and work experiences to make your application stronger, but it’s not always necessary. During admission season, every university’s admission office would receive hundreds of applications per day. If your letter of motivation is too long and has too much information, the person in charge of admissions will probably just skim it and miss the main points you were trying to make. So, write about your most impressive accomplishments, use abbreviations when you can, and only give the most important information.
- A mixture of professional undertone and personal background
As was already said, a motivation letter and a personal statement can sometimes be used in place of each other because their content is so similar. So, when you write, try to think about both practical information and how well the text flows together. It will help prevent your writing from being too tedious or boastful.
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