Applying to a University is not that simple. There is the whole thing with browsing among thousands of opportunities in amazing universities and different places; sorting things out, gathering documents; translating everything; and figuring it all out while not keep track of different deadlines. For me, who is anxious by default, applying to KTH (and others) was an intense process, at least. So to help you guys that are thinking about your Master, I decided to write some advice on Motivation/Cover Letters. Hopefully, it is going to help you being successful in getting in KTH.
Why does it matter?
There are a lot of papers involved with applying to any university. Curriculums, diplomas, recommendation letters, language proficiency certificates. Of course they are relevant and they say a lot about you, however they are all standard, right? Not one of those have your personal touch, your voice. In addition, there is a good chance that the other applicants have an equal (or even better) background. Maybe they come from better universities or participated in greater projects. With all this, your cover letter becomes your only shot to prove to the university that you are more than a pile of documents.
The first impact of your letter is not in the content: it is in the layout. So keep it organized, with well-divided paragraphs and a clean font (Helvetica always work). Also, be clear and keep the sentences short. It is not your time to be poetic or show your vocabulary knowledge. I would say the best way to think about it is that your writing should feel like talking, simple, direct, clean. Naturally, grammar is a must, so it is best to either find someone to carefully proof-read or find a good grammar checker.
As I wrote, the motivation letter is your “spotlight moment”. That said, it is clear you should invest time. Draft, write, read, re-read, write again. If it is not good enough, start from the beginning. Remember it is not just a bunch of lines, but something that can define whether you get in or not. Besides that, do not copy and paste the cover letter. The reader must get the feeling that every word has been carefully thought and the letter is tailored to that specific program. It shows you care.
Do your homework.
Before applying, the least you should do is to investigate a little what you are getting into. What is the University known for? Is there any strong underlying philosophy that guides its activities? Maybe somebody important is an alumnus and it can be inspiring. In other words, you should be able to show you know the university you are trying to get into. For example, KTH requires sustainability courses in every program, this shows an underlying philosophy to the institution. Plus, it has a long list of notable alumnus: Nobel winners, arctic explorers, CEOs, heavy metal guitarist. Maybe these are some interesting things to approach somehow.
It starts with you.
With no fear of sounding hippie, the best source for your motivation letter is your inner self. So start with some personal exploration and try to answer why are you really choosing this specific program; why, between all the possibilities, you are choosing this university; how is this program change your life and how can you be useful to the program (are you a researcher? An innovator?); why are you different from the other candidates, why are you unique? Never forget that it is your time to shine.
But others can help.
Of course the main interested in the cover letter is you and it should be a personal task. However, it does not mean you should not look for examples and tips online. There are tons of people willing to help you, you should use it. Also, after you finish it, ask for opinions. But go for somebody with both experience and ability to do a critical evaluation. Maybe your mother is not the best pick.
Everybody knows you are not perfect.
When writing a motivation letter, we want to impress. But sometimes we just try a little too hard. So you must never forget that nobody expects you to be a superhero. Of course, you should show your qualifications and prove you are the candidate they are looking for, but be careful not to overstate it.
You know that childhood story about how you loved Legos and people always said you would become an engineer? You are not the only one. And certainly not the only one to use this to convince people to give you a spot. Never forget the same evaluator of your letter is going to read dozens, even hundreds of motivation letters. So, if you don’t work hard enough, there is a good chance your letter is going to become just one more in the pile. Try your best to stand out and sound genuine, to show something different.
I hope this has been helpful to you all. I think I got the main points covered, but remember I am no specialist. As I said, there is always people willing to help, and I am one of them. So, if you have any question, tell me in the comments.