What's the difference between a cover letter, a motivation letter, and a personal statement? Depending on the situation and the request, you might find that you need one or any of these letters. While they seem similar on the surface, there are subtle differences that make the distinctions important.
Cover Letter: A cover letter is the most common type of letter you'll find for applications. It introduces you, your experiences, and your skills. A typical cover letter is the best way to introduce a resume, job application, or bid proposal. It always has the same rough structure: Tell the recipient who you are and what you want. Tell them why you like them and why they should like you. Briefly touch on, contextualize, or expand some of the qualities found in your resume. You're selling your qualifications and your image, and establishing your voice in a way that they will (ideally) remember.
Motivation Letter: A motivation letter is a lot like a cover letter, and can be used as a cover letter in most scenarios. The subtle difference with a motivation letter is that it's more about you explaining why you're motivated to do something and what's driving you to do it. A motivation letter is mostly used to get into a university, receive a scholarship, be approved for a mortgage loan, or apply for a volunteer position. It's less about your previous experience or qualifications and more about what you're looking for and why. Passion and dedication factor heavily in a motivation letter.
Personal Statement: A personal statement is not about selling your image; it's about telling your story. A personal statement is a place for you to talk about your experiences, but not just as they relate to the job/scholarship/school to which you're applying. You can talk about the most important people or events in your life, how they changed your perspective, and how they motivate you. You can discuss your goals and hopes and plans for the future. You can outline what makes you unique. Personal statements are almost always used for graduate programs, and are usually requested alongside a traditional cover letter.
No matter what seems best to you, always remember to format your letter to fit your recipient's prompt or request as closely as possible.
Index of Cover Letter Examples
Cover letters should grab the reader’s attention and to generate interest in you as an applicant. It should point the reader to your resume. A resume briefly tells a potential employer what you have done in the past, and cites each experience or activity individually. A cover letter, however, can elaborate on those experiences and give the employer a better idea of why you pursued them. You can also relate how your experiences complement one another. Some cover letters are used to apply for a particular position, while others are sent as letters of inquiry. A well-written letter can help heighten the employer's interest in learning more about you by reading your resume and meeting you for an interview. It also gives the employer a sample of your writing skills. Remember, the cover letter offers an employer a sample of your writing and organizational skills. Spend adequate time on them and critique them carefully.
Graduate and professional schools often require some sort of written statement as a part of the application. The terminology differs, but may include "statement of purpose," "personal statement," "letter of intent," "personal narrative," etc. Some statements require rather specific information—for example, the applicant's intended area of study within a graduate field. Others suggest subjects which should be addressed specifically. Still others are quite unstructured, leaving the applicant free to address a wide range of matters. Some applications call for one statement, while others require responses to a series of six or more questions, ranging from 250 to 750 words each. The importance of the statement varies from school to school and from field to field.
As you begin to write
Think about your life and why you are applying to graduate or professional schools. Ask yourself, "What do I want the admissions committee to know about me that is not already in my application?" To get started, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:
- What is important to me?
- What am I interested in?
- What am I proud of?
- What significant experiences have I had?
- What kinds of qualities are necessary for the profession I wish to pursue?
- Why do I think I posses these qualities?
After you have thought about your life and goals, think about the profession you are intending to enter. What are the skills and values of people in that particular profession? How do they match with yours? How can you highlight those values and skills in your personal statement?
Writing your personal statement
Start early, plan on writing and revising several drafts. Schedule specific times for this important and time-consuming task. Understand the questions thoroughly. Brainstorm your achievements, career goals, leadership, and personal interests. Narrow your emphasis to one specific theme or point. Begin your essay with this theme and the following paragraphs should logically develop and illustrate it. Work towards a rough draft. Then revise it. Have others read it. Continue to revise the draft until you have a clear, concise, error-free essay.
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