How to Write a Letter of Interest for Grad School

Four Methods:Planning Your LetterWriting Your StatementTailoring the Letter to Each UniversitySample Statement of Purpose

A letter of interest is a requirement for admission consideration to most graduate schools. The letter of interest is the closest thing in your application to an in-person interview. It’s an opportunity for you to show your personality and work ethic and highlight your academic achievements. Graduate school applications, though sometimes tedious, are an important step towards your future goals.

Method 1
Planning Your Letter

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    Set your intentions. You should know what you want to achieve by attending graduate school before you start to apply. This statement is part of your application but it is also an opportunity for you to do some serious self-evaluation about your goals and plans.[1]
    • While you may not know your exact dissertation topic at this point, you should have a good idea of where you’d like to go in your studies.[2]
    • Evaluate your goals based on what you would like to study, and think about whether your particular focus will contribute to the field you’re entering.
    • For example, your intent may be “I want to study early onset Alzheimer’s disease in men.”
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    Plan your career goals. If you are planning to attend graduate school, you should have some idea of what you want to do after graduate school. Part of your statement should address how you plan to use your graduate degree to further your career aspirations.
    • It’s okay if your career plans change over the next few years, but it’s useful to have a concrete starting point.
    • Your career goal may be “I want to obtain a PhD in History in order to become an Assistant Professor of History at a small liberal arts college.”
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    Connect your life to your academic ambitions. This is perhaps the trickiest part of your statement of purpose, but it is important to make your goals personal. Think of this personal connection as why you have chosen graduate school and your chosen career path. This may take some reflection and thought.[3]
    • Too vague: “I want to become a researcher because I love science and working in a lab.”
    • More specific: “Because I watched my beloved grandfather wither away to a shadow of his former self, I want to devote my life to researching Alzheimer’s disease. No one should have to lose a loved one before he is truly gone.”
    • Too vague: “I want to be a history professor to inspire students to love history.”
    • More specific: “Visiting civil war battle fields with my parents helped me realize the importance of understanding and learning from our history. I want to bring that history to life to a generation of students who may not have had the travel opportunities that I had.”
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    Select graduate programs that will meet your academic needs. Though it’s tempting to select schools with the biggest names, the process of selecting a graduate school should be a bit more intensive than that. It’s important to ensure that the graduate institution you choose will fulfill your academic needs and that you and the school are a good fit for each other.[4]
    • Be sure the school offers support for your specific field of specialization. It is helpful to work with someone who is well-respected in your specific area.
      • For example, if you want to study East Asian history, make sure you apply to departments with several professors in that field. These professors should have publications in East Asian history.
    • Learn about the graduate school process at each institution. Most programs follow the same general timeline: coursework, comprehensive exams, a formal thesis/dissertation proposal, and finally the thesis/dissertation writing and defense.
    • Select a school that has a high job placement rate after graduation. The department you’re applying to should keep some data; if their placement rate is high, they will likely advertise it as such.
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    Look through the department course catalogue. If possible, look at the graduate-level course offerings in the university’s course catalogue.[5] This will help you ensure that you will have ample opportunities to take both required and elective courses. You should be able to get a sense of both the scope and depth of available courses and determine whether there are several professors who offer courses in your areas of interest.

Method 2
Writing Your Statement

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    Format your statement appropriately. Your statement of purpose is often the first item in your application packet and often serves as a cover letter for the rest of your application materials. Particularly if the school calls the statement of purpose a “letter,” you should format it as such.[6]
    • Formal letter-writing etiquette dictates that you should include the following:
      • The institution’s mailing address
      • Greeting addressed to appropriate person (or To Whom it May Concern: if you are not sure)
      • Today’s date
      • The body of the letter
      • A formal closing (such as Sincerely,)
      • A signature at the bottom of the letter
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    Begin with a hook. As with any essay introduction, you should try to grab the attention of the readers with a hook in the start of your essay.[7] You may offer a vivid personal anecdote that provides the basis of your personal connection to your field of study.
    • For example, you may say “I stood feeling helpless while my twin brother attempted to begin his presentation to the class. He sputtered a feeble “w- w- w- when…” then fell silent, shame-faced and unable to continue. In the deafening silence that ensued, I vowed that I was going to devote my life to ensuring that other kids would never face similar humiliation. My future career in speech therapy was born in that moment.”
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    Use all your allotted words. The length of a personal statement varies, but it is important to use as many words as you are allowed. You should try to fit as much concrete, specific information about yourself into your statement as you can, so use as much space as you are allowed.
    • If the application instructions do not give a length requirement, limit the statement to 1-2 typed pages.[8]
    • If you may write up to 500 words but only write 200, you risk seeming glib or, worse, lazy.
    • If you go over the allotted length, it will seem as though you cannot follow directions or that you do not care about specific requirements. Neither is a desirable quality in a graduate student.
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    Be specific. Remember that the committee or individual reading your application is likely reading hundreds of applications. Providing generic material will not make your essay stand out from the others. Making overly general statements may lead the admissions committee to skim or skip over your letter. Instead, aim to make concrete, specific statements about yourself as a person that will motivate the readers to want to meet and work with you.[9]
    • Too vague: “I wish to become a historian.”
    • More specific: “I want to study the history and culture of indigenous persons of British Columbia to fight against their marginalization in the present day.”
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    Summarize your academic history. It is important to communicate your academic achievements. It is not necessary to list every class you have taken or boast about every good grade you made in college. You should communicate that you have been academically successful, particularly in courses related to your field. Also demonstrate that you have the intellect and work ethic required for graduate studies, and that you have experienced academic rigor in the past.[10]
    • Be sure to mention all the degrees you hold, as well as honors such as summa cum laude and any other honors listed on your diploma (e.g. “research honors” or “general honors” if you participated in an undergraduate honor’s program).
    • Include academic awards such as competitive merit-based academic scholarships and GPA-based awards. Also include special scholarly achievements like undergraduate research awards.[11]
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    Add relevant non-academic information. Use caution when adding information that is not specifically academic.[12] For example, the admissions committee is unlikely to care if you were president of your sorority. If you must include information that is nonacademic, tie it to your future academic achievement.
    • In the case of being sorority president, you may want to mention that you maintained a 4.0 GPA while serving as president and overseeing two very large fundraisers. This shows that you can manage both people and time effectively, a necessary skill for a graduate student who must balance research, teaching, and scholarship.
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    Address any inconsistencies in your academic record. If there is something in your academic history that may harm your candidacy, you need to address it head-on without sounding like you are making excuses.[13]
    • For example, if you suffer extreme text anxiety and thus have low GRE scores, you should make a statement explaining the scores. Then address how you plan to handle any high-stakes testing (such as comprehensive exams) the program requires.
    • For example, if you have one undergraduate semester in which you made all Cs, explain why (ie: depression, a death in the family, substance abuse). Then explain how you overcame the adversity and went on to improve from that point forward.
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    Maintain a formal style. This is the equivalent of an interview. At an interview, you would want to appear professional, put-together, and polished. Your letter should communicate a professional tone, effective organization, and careful proofreading.[14]
    • Avoid abbreviations, smiley faces, and exuberant punctuation such as explanation points!
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    Edit thoroughly. Be completely brutal with yourself while editing. Ask yourself whether each sentence you write is completely necessary and an accurate portrayal of yourself, your history, and your future goals. If it isn’t, delete or edit it.
    • Do not make any spelling or grammar mistakes. Proofread the letter yourself, have several other people proofread it, and take it to your school’s writing studio. If necessary, hire a professional proofreader.

Method 3
Tailoring the Letter to Each University

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    Reuse most of your statement. You should be able to leave much of your statement unchanged from application to application. Your history, your goals, and the reason you have chosen your field will not need to change. You should, however, include a short section towards the end explaining how a specific university can help you meet your academic goals. You should customize this statement for each university.[15]
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    Read the instructions for the statement of purpose. It is important to ensure that your statement of purpose follows the guidelines for each application. Tailoring will be worth your time even if you end up rewriting most of your statement. If the admissions committee feels that you haven’t answered the provided questions, they may dismiss your application.
    • Ensure the length of your statement follows the guidelines (if it doesn’t, add to or reduce appropriately).
    • Look for any specific requests, such as “describe how your past academic history has prepared you for graduate school.” Then be sure that you have already done that; if you haven’t, go back and add it.
    • Read and follow any “tips” that the university provides for the statement of purpose. Some may provide a list of “dos” and “don’ts.” If the university provides such a list, ensure that you “do” the things they ask and “don’t” do the things they specify not to do.[16]
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    Read the university’s website. A university’s website often provides a specific mission statement or strategic plan for the institution. It may be helpful to include these in your section about why you are choosing that university.
    • Realize that sometimes an individual department may not be wholly engaged with the exact goals of the university administration. Look for evidence in the department’s page or in the work of the professors at the university that implies that they are working towards the same mission as the university.
    • For example, if the university and department webpages specify a wish to connect learners to the community, specifically address how your research can act as a bridge between the university and the greater community.
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    Connect your goals to the program. After you have found out about the program, connect your specific academic and career goals to the program.[17] You should be explicit about how the program can help you achieve your goals. You may even mention specific professors[18] that you are looking forward to working with because their research interests overlap with your own.
    • For example, you might say something like “Dr. Smith’s recent work on the influence of early intervention on later speech impediments parallels my own work. My master’s thesis involved studying kindergarten students’ response to early intervention. I would love to become part of her research team to continue exploring this area of study.”
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    Avoid flattery. It is good to sound as though you admire a school and department. However, you should avoid providing empty flattery or telling them information about themselves that they already know.
    • For example, avoid statements such as: “I want to study at XYZ University because it was recently ranked as the #1 graduate school for my subject area in Newsweek.”

Sample Statement of Purpose

Sample Statement of Purpose


  • State that you are capable of successfully completing graduate level coursework.
  • Make your statement professional, organized and to the point.
  • Emphasize your strengths and be direct.
  • Discuss professional accomplishments including published work, awards or volunteer work.


  • Do not use a passive voice. Be positive, brief and to the point.
  • Do not include a list of personal hobbies or family activities.
  • Avoid redundant statements or including too many details about specific classes you have taken.

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Categories: Applying for Tertiary Education