How to Write a College Interest Letter

Five Parts:Laying the GroundworkMaking an OutlineDeveloping Your LetterFormatting Your LetterSample Interest Letter

A college interest letter, also known as a letter of intent, a statement of interest, a statement of purpose, or a personal statement, is required by many universities and graduate or professional programs as part of the admissions process. Writing an effective letter involves researching information about the program you wish to attend, as well as reflecting on your own background, accomplishments and future goals. Each educational institution has its own format for the interest letter that must be followed closely. However, there are some general guidelines that will help you write an effective interest letter.

Part 1
Laying the Groundwork

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    Research the college or educational program thoroughly. Read the mission statement, program description, and program requirements to ensure that it is the right fit for your capabilities and goals.
    • Review the course catalog. Familiarize yourself with the institution's academic or professional focus. Take note of classes that appeal to you and areas in which you already have a solid foundation. You might want to refer to some of these aspects in your letter.
    • Take note of the exact name of the college or program you are applying to. You don’t want to mention “X University Law School” if the name is actually “X University School of Law.”
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    Learn about the structure of the program. This applies to graduate and professional programs more than it does undergraduate institutions. For example, your program may fall under the umbrella of a larger educational institution. Become familiar with the overall structure to prevent making any errors in your letter when addressing the institution.
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    Read all of the application directions thoroughly. In some cases, colleges and programs will ask for more than one statement. Ensure that you understand all of the instructions and that you know what documents to prepare.
    • For example, some colleges request both a cover letter and a personal essay. Some graduate and professional programs require multiple, separate written statements, including letters of interest, statements of qualifications, diversity statements, etc.
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    Determine your program’s requirements for the letter. Requirements vary depending on the college or university you’re applying to. They may also vary depending on the type of program you are applying to. It’s always a good idea to check directly with the source to establish any requirements for the document.
    • The terminology used to refer to the interest letter varies widely. However, most colleges and programs will provide specific directions to you about what the document should contain, which you should use as guidelines as you compose your letter.
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    Examine your own accomplishments. You need to have an understanding of why you are applying to this specific college or program and how your interests and skills align with the program’s focus. You may find it helpful to create a list of accomplishments, skills, and achievements.
    • Reflect on your achievements. Now that you are familiar with your desired program, consider your past achievements that align well with the program. Academic, employment, volunteer and extracurricular activities may all apply. For example, if you are applying for a graduate program in teaching, you might mention your preschool teaching experiences, childhood education courses completed, and any volunteer teaching you did at your local community center.
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    Define your goals. You will likely deal with two sets of goals in your letter: your goals while you are in the program and your future career goals. To help you determine your goals, ask yourself some of the following questions:
    • What contribution or impact will studying at this particular college or program have on my academic development?
    • What are my career goals?
    • What steps and training are necessary to attain these goals?
    • How will I use what I learn in this program to achieve my goals?
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    Determine the value of the program in meeting your academic or professional goals. Consider how attending this particular program, and not just any program, will help you achieve your goals.

Part 2
Making an Outline

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    Write your thesis statement. Like most other essays, your letter of interest needs to have a central focus. In this case, this focus will be you: your qualifications, your plans for the college or program you’re attending, your future goals, and your fit for the program or school.
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    Outline your academic journey so far. While you shouldn’t give a full career history in your interest letter, having an understanding of what has led you to your choice of field, program, and career will help you explain why you are pursuing admission to the program.[1]
    • Consider what interests you most about your field. Is there a particular problem or challenge you want to tackle?
    • When did you realize that you wanted to pursue this field?
    • What challenges have you faced and overcome?
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    Plan your introduction. Your introduction should introduce the program to which you’re applying and your personal goals. It should give your readers some idea of who you are, why you have chosen your field, and why you are applying to this particular program.[2]
    • Draw on the information you gathered in your research. Use the program facts you gathered, as well as your reflections about your accomplishments and goals, to formulate a few clear and concise introductory statements about your interest in the program and its alignment with your goals.
    • Avoid lengthy discussions of the program’s qualifications, such as “Z Business School is the nation’s top business school and has stellar resources in such-and-such.” The program is aware of their own qualifications; they want to know about yours.
    • Consider developing a “hook” for your introduction. You could begin with a statement that piques the reader’s interest, such as “I haven’t always known I wanted to do X. In fact, I thought for a long time I wanted to do Y.” Remember: personal anecdotes can be great for introducing who you are and what you value, but don’t let your introduction become your life history.
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    Devote a paragraph to each main idea. In general, plan at least one paragraph each on your personal qualifications and previous experience, your plans for your studies, and your future goals and why the program to which you’re applying will help you achieve them.[3]
    • Describe your qualifications in terms of your academic experiences, your personal traits and skills, and your recent and current activities. Relate any responsibilities or experience to skills that will be useful in your program.
    • Discuss your area(s) of interest. While you should not be too broad in this discussion -- don’t say you want to study simple “American history,” for example -- they should also not be overly narrow. Instead, they should show that you are familiar with problems and challenges in your field. Elaborate on what you want to do during your program of study.
    • Describe your future goals in concrete detail where possible. Then, demonstrate how the skills you expect to develop in your program will contribute to your achieving these goals.
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    Provide evidence for each main idea. Examples of evidence include experiences, skills, and personal traits. For each claim that you make, you should have at least one piece of evidence that supports it.
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    Develop the conclusion. An effective college interest letter leaves the admissions committee with a clear understanding of who you are and what you hope to accomplish. Close your letter by conveying that you are highly motivated, dedicated to excelling in the program, and focused on achieving your academic and/or professional goals.

Part 3
Developing Your Letter

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    Write confidently. It can sometimes be tempting to use overly self-deprecating language, such as “If I have the privilege of admission to this college...”, “I believe I can...”, or “I will try to….”. Such language sounds uncomfortable on paper and may suggest to the admissions committee that you will not be able to handle the rigors of your chosen program.[4]
    • Writing confidently doesn’t mean you have to be arrogant. Simply using clear, declarative sentences such as “I plan to study such-and-such in order to pursue my career goals of such-and-such” allows you to project confidence without arrogance or condescension.
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    Show, don’t tell. This classic advice for writing fiction also holds true for writing letters of interest. Don’t simply write that you’re a hard worker; instead, explain how you balance a part-time job with volunteer activities and your coursework while maintaining a 3.75 GPA.
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    Avoid cliches and tired phrasing. The admissions committee will probably read hundreds of applications, and many of them no doubt will offer some variation of phrases like “live life to the fullest.” Avoiding these worn-out expressions and offering your ideas in a genuine, fresh way will help your essay stand out.
    • This also applies to ideas. You may wish to become an English professor because you love reading, but many other people also love reading. What distinguishes you?
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    Use transitions to guide your readers. Move smoothly from paragraph to paragraph by connecting key ideas together and using transitional expressions such as “In addition to” and “Furthermore.”
    • If you’re having a hard time transitioning between paragraphs, they may not be in a workable order. Figure out the central idea of each paragraph and switch things around as necessary to achieve a logical progression.
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    Clarify your academic and professional goals. A clearly defined and expressed goal conveys the impression that you are focused and disciplined. Think of this as the “soundbite” introduction to yourself.
    • For example, a goal statement for a medical school application might read like this: “Attending X Medical School will provide me the training in forensic psychiatry that I need to achieve my career goal of working as a psychological profiler for the FBI.”
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    Tailor your letter to the school. Demonstrate that you’ve done your research and that you are a good fit for the program or school to which you’re applying. Avoid sounding as though you’re sucking up -- don’t, for example, write something like “Professor X’s amazing work in psychopharmacology has changed my life.”[5]
    • For example, if applying to a graduate degree in history, you could mention a professor whose research interests you and with whom you’d like to work.
    • For an application to medical school or a graduate program in the sciences, you might mention particular resources or laboratories that will support your research goals.
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    Avoid empty rhetoric. Lofty statements such as how a love of reading gives value to human life don’t give the admissions committee anything personal or informative about you, the applicant. In fact, they may weaken your credibility by making your writing seem immature or without sufficient thought.[6]

Part 4
Formatting Your Letter

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    Answer the specific questions asked by the institution. Follow the institution's designated format and length, and adhere to the topics they have asked you to address.
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    Date and address your college interest letter. Place the date on the top left. Include the name and address of the program below the date. Find out the exact name of the admissions committee or individual who will receive your letter and start the greeting with "Dear."
    • You may be requested to include a header with your name and email address, along with a page number, on each page of the statement.
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    Format your letter properly. Unless otherwise specified, use 1” margins and a readable 12pt font such as Times New Roman. Single space all text.
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    End the letter with a pleasant closing.. Use words such as "Sincerely" or "Warm regards" for the closing of your letter. Be sure to sign the letter.
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    Proofread carefully. Your letter is your first chance to make an impression on the admissions committee. Careless proofreading and grammar errors can damage a reader’s opinion of your preparation or seriousness, so read over your letter at least twice.[7]
    • Read your letter aloud. This will help you catch awkward phrases and missing or incorrect words.
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    Print your letter, if applicable. Use good-quality white paper. Resume paper can be a good choice, as it is slightly heavier than printer paper and will help your letter stand out.
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    Save your letter as a PDF, if possible. If you are submitting your documents online, save your letter as a PDF. This will ensure that your formatting translates properly across screens and operating systems so that your reader sees the letter exactly as you want them to.

Sample Interest Letter

Sample Letter of Intent for Graduate Program

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Categories: Applying for Tertiary Education