Students & Campus
16 August 2021

Let your application sparkle with a winning motivation letter

An application to the Graduate Institute requires you to write a letter of motivation. What is a letter of motivation exactly and how do you write a great one?

Before getting to the “how”, it is important to understand the purpose of this document, the “why”. The motivation letter helps the selection committee answer a key question about your application: are we a good fit?

This is your chance to tell us why this particular programme, at this particular school, in this particular location, at this particular time, is right for you. Here are our top tips for what makes a great letter of motivation:

  • Tell your story – or, rather, the relevant points about your story. Be selective. Take the reader by the hand and lead them across your trajectory. How did you come to consider our programme? What key development and growth events have led you here? How did your previous academic and personal experiences fuse together in a unique formula that produced the student you are about to become
  • Demonstrate your understanding of what makes our offer unique. The Graduate Institute is a distinctive learning environment; it may not be right for everyone. How can we be reassured that it is right for you – and that you are right for us? When you read our web pages, talked to current students, alumni or faculty, or participated in our events, what is it about us that sparked your interest?
  • How will your studies here help you continue your trajectory successfully? We do not expect every young applicant to have a precise career path mapped out. Rather, we would like to know that you have given some thought to what may be in store for you after our programme, and that our offer can meet those expectations, realistically. We would like to be the next chapter in your story; show us that you have outlined some kind of plot.

There are a couple of particular cases where you may “spend” a few lines of your letter to address specific concerns.

For example, if there is a “grey area” somewhere in your application file that you fear the selection committee may interpret to your disadvantage, you can provide an explanation. This might be a mediocre first semester away from home, which had a long-term impact on your overall grade average but it was short-lived; you might provide a brief explanation and draw attention to the subsequent semesters, where your performance improved consistently.

Or you might want to highlight an extracurricular project that changed your outlook on world events or deepened your insights, but is buried deep in your curriculum vitae and might not otherwise be noticed by the reader. A sentence or two in your motivation letter can act as a spotlight, underscoring the importance of that experience.

Finally, your readers will be sensitive to all the elements of skilful writing: grammar and spelling, rich language, clear and concise structure, effective descriptions and persuasive arguments. Be careful to limit the length of your letter. Of course, if you have followed our advice so far, your letter will be unique to this application – not a template reproduced for other schools.

Seize this opportunity to let your readers know that if accepted, you already possess the writing proficiency and the self-awareness expected from a graduate student.

The motivation letter is the only part of your entire application that you get to create from scratch. This is your chance to shine!

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