You've made all the right moves: You've studied the curriculum, visited the campus, talked to students, advisers and professors and given the matter of pursuing an advanced degree a great deal of serious thought. And if you've decided that you're ready to commit the time, energy and dedication to a program, you're ready to make the next move: Writing a letter of intent to the college or university to sell the school on your suitability for the program. Accomplish this by demonstrating that you are well prepared for the challenges that await you and that the program is an ideal match for your future career goals.
Begin your letter of intent by introducing yourself, your present academic standing and your wish to join your program of choice at either the master's or doctoral level. State your enrollment preference, but be sure to check the school's admission policies first. Some graduate schools require students to enroll full time, with no part-time options.
Check the school's admission requirements before transitioning to the idea that you are prepared for the intellectual rigors that await you at the graduate level. State your grade-point average and score on your graduate school entrance exam. Highlight any academic distinctions, such as honor society memberships or awards, which distinguished you from other students in your undergraduate class.
Prove that you have thoroughly researched the graduate program by outlining why you wish to enroll in it. Take a two-pronged approach: explain what it is about the nature of the program that so appeals to you and then how its focus is aligned with career goals. Take several paragraphs to articulate your ideas in clear, precise language, but don't go overboard and enter the realm of dullness. Remember that while graduate schools seek to admit serious-minded students, they also seek enthusiastic, motivated students who relish the idea of being part of the campus community.
Acknowledge that your program of choice appears challenging, but then make the point that you step up to challenges by segueing to your strongest personal attributes. Without parroting the adjectives you see in the graduate catalog, make the case that you possess the determination to succeed.
Close your letter of intent by thanking the school for considering your application for admission. Remind the school of your references and letters of recommendation, both of which should fortify and strengthen your total admission package. Say that you look forward to a response -- and that you would be proud to count yourself as part of the campus community. Confine your letter of intent to no more than two pages. Your letter of intent should be concise yet illuminating, and you should be able to achieve this balance in two pages.
Like the papers you wrote for your most challenging undergraduate classes, a letter of intent takes time to produce -- and revise. Strive for a purposeful tone, but also one that sounds genuinely like you.
Proofread and edit your letter scrupulously. One misspelling or usage mistake might not doom your application, but it probably will be spotted by someone involved in the admission process and could count as a “strike” against you, especially if there are limited spots available in the program.
- Indiana University: Proofreading for Common Surface Errors: Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar
- The New St. Martin’s Handbook; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: The Writing Center: Writing Concisely
- Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images