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Academic cover letters: 10 top tips
T he classic counterpart to a CV, cover letters are standard in almost all job applications. Academic cover letters are typically allowed to be longer than in other sectors, but this latitude comes with its own pitfalls. For one, many cover letters are written as if they were simply a retelling in full sentences of everything on the CV. But this makes no sense. Selectors will have skimmed through your CV already, and they don't want to re-read it in prose form.
Instead, approach your cover letter as a short essay. It needs to present a coherent, evidence-based response to one question above all: why would you be an excellent hire for this position?
1) Start with a clear identity
Consider this sentence: "My research interests include Thomas Mann, German modernist literature, the body, the senses, Freudian psychoanalysis, queer theory and performativity, poststructuralism, and Derridean deconstruction." In my experience, this type of sentence is all too common. Who is this person? What do they really do? If I'm asking myself these questions after more than a few lines of your cover letter, then you've already fallen into the trap of being beige and forgettable.
To get shortlisted, you need to stand out. So, let's start as we mean to go on. Your opening paragraph should answer the following questions: What is your current job and affiliation? What's your research field, and what's your main contribution to it? What makes you most suitable for this post?
2) Evidence, evidence, evidence
It's generally accepted that, in job applications, we need to 'sell' ourselves, but how to do this can be a source of real anxiety. Where's the line between assertiveness, modesty and arrogance? The best way to guard against self-aggrandisement or self-abnegation is to focus on evidence. For example, "I am internationally recognised as an expert in my field" is arrogant, because you are making a bold claim and asking me to trust your account of yourself. By contrast, "I was invited to deliver a keynote talk at [top international conference]" is tangible and verifiable.
If you can produce facts and figures to strengthen your evidence, then your letter will have even more impact, for example "I created three protocols which improved reliability by N%. These protocols are now embedded in my group's experiments and are also being used by ABC". Remember that your readers need you to be distinctive and memorable.
Never cite the job description back at the selectors. If they have asked for excellent communication skills, you're going to need to do better than merely including the sentence "I have excellent communication skills." What is your evidence for this claim?
3) It's not an encyclopaedia
Because everything you say must be supported with evidence, you can't include everything. I find that many people are prone to an encyclopaedic fervour in their cover letters: they slavishly address each line of the job description, mention every single side project which they have on the go, every book chapter and review article they've ever written, and so on. Letters like this just end up being plaintive, excessively tedious, and ineffective.
Instead, show that you can distinguish your key achievements (eg. top publications, grants won, invited talks) from the purely nice-to-have stuff (eg. seminar series organised, review articles, edited collections). Put your highlights and best evidence in the letter – leave the rest to the CV.
4) Think holistically
There's no need to try to make each application document do all the work for you. That leads to repetitiveness. Let them work together holistically. If there's a research proposal, why agonise over a lengthy paraphrase of the proposal in the cover letter? If there's a teaching statement, why write three more teaching paragraphs in your letter as well? Give me a quick snapshot and signpost where the rest of the information can be found, for example: "My next project will achieve X by doing Y. Further details, including funding and publication plans related to the project, are included in my research proposal."
5) Two sides are more than enough
There is no reason why your cover letter should need to go beyond two sides. In fact, I've seen plenty of people get shortlisted for fellowships and lectureships using a cover letter that fitted on to a single side of A4. It can be done – without shrinking the font and reducing the margins, neither of which, I'm sorry to break it to you, is an acceptable ruse. Besides, please have some sympathy for your readers: they have jobs to do and lives to lead; they will appreciate pith.
6) Writing about your research: why, not what
In almost every conceivable kind of academic application, fellowships included, it's very high risk to write about your research in such a way that it can only be understood by an expert in your field. It's far safer to pitch your letter so that it's comprehensible to a broader readership. You need to show a draft of your letter to at least one person who, as a minimum requirement, is outside your immediate group or department. Do they understand your research? Crucially, do they understand its significance? Before the selectors can care about the details of what you do, you have to hook their interest with why you do it.
Bad: "I work on the lived experiences of LGB people in contemporary Britain [why?]. I look particularly at secondary school children [why?], and I use mixed methods to describe their experiences of homophobic bullying [vague]. My PhD is the first full-length study of this topic [so what?]."
Better: "In recent years, significant progress has been made towards equality for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people living in Britain. However, young people aged 11-19 who self-identify as LGB are more likely to experience verbal and physical bullying, and they are at significantly greater risk of self-harm and suicide. In my dissertation, I conduct an ethnographic study of a large metropolitan secondary school, in order to identify the factors which lead to homophobic bullying, as well as policies and initiatives which LGB young people find effective in dealing with it."
7) Mind the gap
Be aware that "nobody has studied this topic before" is a very weak justification for a project. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but academia does not. Does it even matter that no previous scholarship exists on this precise topic? Perhaps it never merited all that money and time. What are we unable to do because of this gap? What have we been getting wrong until now? What will we be able to do differently once your project has filled this void?
8) Writing about teaching: avoid list-making
Avoid the temptation of list-making here, too. You don't need to itemise each course you have taught, because I've already read this on your CV, and there's no need to detail every module you would teach at the new department. Similarly, you don't need to quote extensively from student feedback in order to show that you're a great teacher; this smacks of desperation.
A few examples of relevant teaching and the names of some courses you would be prepared to teach will suffice. You should also give me an insight into your philosophy of teaching. What do students get out of your courses? What strategies do you use in your teaching, and why are they effective?
9) Be specific about the department
When explaining why you want to join the department, look out for well-intentioned but empty statements which could apply to pretty much any higher education institution in the world. For example, "I would be delighted to join the department of X, with its world-leading research and teaching, and I see this as the perfect place to develop my career." This won't do.
Deploy your research skills, use the internet judiciously, and identify some specifics. Are there initiatives in the department to which you could contribute, e.g. research clusters, seminar series, outreach events? What about potential collaborators (remembering to say what's in it for them)? What about interdisciplinary links to other departments in the institution?
10) Be yourself
It often feels like slim pickings when you're job hunting, and many people feel compelled to apply for pretty much any role which comes up in their area, even if it's not a great fit. But you still need to make the most of who you are, rather than refashioning yourself into an approximation of what you think the selectors want.
If you have a strong track record in quantitative research and you've spotted a job in a department leaning more towards qualitative methods, you might still decide to apply, but there's no point in trying to sell yourself as what you're not. They'll see through it, and you'll have downplayed your genuine successes for no reason.
Instead, make a case for why your achievements should be of interest to the department, for example by demonstrating how statistics would complement their qualitative work. At the end of the day, the best way to get shortlisted is to highlight bona fide achievements that are distinctive to you.
Steve Joy is careers adviser for research staff in the arts, humanities, and social sciences at the University of Cambridge – follow him on Twitter @EarlyCareerBlog
Do you have any tips to add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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University Student Cover Letter Samples & Examples That Worked in 2023
How to write a compelling university student cover letter
You’ve made it to the university of your choice, working hard to keep your grades up and earn the degree of your dreams. As you approach graduation, you may find yourself in need of a well-written cover letter to use for applying to internships, jobs, and many other key opportunities in your chosen field.
In this guide, we discuss the five key elements that any university student should include on a cover letter. Keep reading to learn all about:
- Creating a visually appealing header for your university cover letter
- Researching employers to craft a personalized cover letter
- Writing a compelling introduction as a university student
- Showcasing your best skills and accomplishments as a university student
- Completing your university student cover letter with a strong conclusion
1. How to create a visually appealing header for your university cover letter
To begin writing your university student cover letter, your first key step is to create a header.
A cover letter header serves two main purposes: to introduce you to the employer and to give your cover letter an appealing visual structure .
Within your header, you should include:
- Your name and professional title (if you do not have a professional title yet, you can use the title of the job you are applying for and add “Student” at the end)
- Your professional contact information
- The name of the company or organization you are applying to
Here is an example of a well-formatted university student cover letter header
Mason Wilds , Hospitality Management Student (123) 456-7890 | [email protected] | linkedin.com/in/mason-wilds
To: Hilton Head Hotels 1234 Street Address New York, NY
2. How to personalize your university student cover letter
One crucial step to take before beginning to write the body text of your cover letter is to research the employer beforehand. This gives you the opportunity to learn more about them and uncover key details about the company that you can reference throughout your cover letter .
Important information to look for during your research includes:
- Major projects, partnerships, or programs the company is involved in
- The company’s goals, values, and requirements for staff
- The person at the company responsible for hiring and reviewing applications
Using the third piece of information, you can create a personalized greeting that addresses this specific person by name. This lets them know immediately the effort you have put into researching and tailoring your cover letter for them specifically.
Here are 3 examples of personalized cover letter greetings
- Dear Mr. John Applewood,
Dear Hiring Manager John Applewood,
- Dear Mr. John Applewood & the Hiring Department,
3. How to write a compelling introduction as a university student
Next up, you need to begin the body text of your cover letter with a compelling introduction .
To write a strong introduction as a university student, make sure to include:
- A brief overview of your academic experience (most students will have minimal professional experience, making academic experience highly important to describe in a cover letter)
- Your specialized area of expertise (such as the degree you are working toward)
- A concise statement on why you are a great fit for the position
Here is an example of a great introduction from a university student’s cover letter
I am a junior at the University of South Carolina, with two semesters left to complete my degree in Business and Hospitality Management. As I approach my final year of school, I am seeking an internship opportunity with a major hotel chain to hone my hospitality skills and build industry connections. Having earned a spot on my university’s Dean’s List for three consecutive years, I will bring an exceptional work ethic and commitment to excellent service to this position.
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4. How to showcase your best skills and accomplishments as a university student
Once your introduction is written and you are satisfied with it, you can move on to writing the remaining body paragraphs of your university student cover letter.
In these body paragraphs, your main goal is to showcase your top skills or accomplishments that are relevant to the job you are applying for. As well as describing these qualifications , you can also use the research you did earlier to reference specific needs of the company and how your skills meet those needs.
Here are 6 examples of skills to describe in a university student cover letter
- Communication (always describe your style of communication)
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Critical thinking
- Time management
Here is an example of how to describe an accomplishment in a cover letter
As a student at the University of South Carolina, I have served as an Orientation Leader for two years, helping to bring new undergraduate students into the fold and get comfortable in their new surroundings. I recently earned the position of Head Orientation Leader thanks to my overwhelming positive reviews from new students I have mentored. Of the 300+ students I have worked with, 95% gave me a five out of five-star rating at the end of their Orientations.
5. How to complete your university student cover letter with a strong conclusion
The last step to writing your university student cover letter is to craft a strong conclusion . In this conclusion, you should include:
- The best times and days of the week to contact you
- When you are anticipating a response from the employer
- When you plan to follow up with the employer
- A formal sign-off
Here is an example of a strong conclusion from a university student's cover letter
I am honored to be considered for this position and hope to hear from you within the next week regarding this opportunity. You may best reach me at (123) 456-7890 on Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. As I am excited to learn more about this opportunity, I do plan to follow up next Monday morning if I have not heard back about this position.
Julia is a professional writer, translator and graphic designer. She holds degrees in translation and interpretation, and has international work experience from a number of different countries in Europe as well as China and Panama. Julia formerly taught academic writing and as a graphic designer contributed to outlets such as The Business of Business . She has a passion for lifelong learning and good coffee.
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Guide on how to write a cover letter for a university.
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Cover It Up
It's the time of year again; you have made a list of your selected colleges and will apply to them. You are about to apply, but one hurdle remains in your path; the dreaded cover letter. Many students still are unsure of how to write a good cover letter for a university. In this blog, we will tell you how to write a great cover letter for a university. We will discuss the basic template, tips, and things to remember while writing a university application letter. So let us not waste any time and dive straight into it.
What is a cover letter for a university, and why is it important?
Many of us thought of this question when we first encountered the need for a cover letter when applying for universities. A cover letter for a university is basically a one-page application that you submit alongside your CV or resume when applying to a university or college. Many universities ask for a cover letter nowadays since it provides the admissions officer with further detail on how your skill set aligns with the university, what you can bring to the institution and why you want a seat. It also shows the admissions officer your passion and suitability for the course. In addition, a university application letter is more personal than a resume and builds a relationship with the officer.
How to write a cover letter for a university?
Since we have discussed why a university application letter is important, let us now see how to write one. The structure and text volume of a cover letter for a university is determined by its five major features. In most circumstances, a university application letter should be no more than one page long and no more than 300 words long. However, those words must be carefully picked and stick to a well-defined structure. The five major features of a cover letter for a university are:
The officer will see the header first, which is precisely where you can wow them. The header is the only place of a university application letter where you can have some design choices instead of the entire letter being in black text boxes. It will help your letter look as good as it reads. The header usually includes your name , occupation , address , phone number and email .
The greeting line of a university application letter, also known as a salutation, is where you say your greetings. In a university application letter, don't go too inventive. A simple "Hey" is obviously ineffective. Try to learn the name of the individual to whom you should address your university application letter. People enjoy reading their names , demonstrating your attention to detail and interest in this officer, showing that you've gone out of your way to determine who is processing applications!
The first paragraph of your cover letter for a university introduction should include your prestigious alma mater ( the school or college you have attended ). Another possibility is that you have experience in your field. Lead with your abilities, and aim to produce a paragraph that makes the admissions officer want to keep reading.
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The heart of your pitch should be in the body of your cover letter for a university. Given the one-page limit, you have a lot of work to perform in a limited time. In this section, you must mention your top qualifications for the course you wish to apply for. Also, attempt to include the name of the university you're applying to and explain why you want to study there. Remind the admissions officer that you aren't merely sending out study applications to random colleges but want to study at this one.
A call to action (CTA) should be included at the end of your cover letter for a university, in which you urge that the admissions officers take some action as a result of your letter. You can state you're looking forward to hearing back, that you'd be happy to follow up with a phone call, or that you'd be honoured to be invited to an interview, either in person or remotely. Your desire to receive a response should indicate to the officer that you are serious about attending this university. You don't want to come across as desperate or overconfident, but you want to express your genuine desire.
If you need more in-depth understanding on how to write your cover letter, our ultimate guide to writing a cover letter will surely help you out!
Documents you will need while submitting your university application letter?
You will need to submit a few documents while submitting your cover letter for a university! The documents include the following:
- A CV/Resume
- Previous academic transcripts
- Portfolio (if required)
- A personal statement
You need to submit these basic documents, but it would be best if you verified the required documents on the university site! As you know, you have to submit your CV or resume alongside your cover letter. Many students still face problems while creating a good resume, don't worry; we will show you how to create your first resume !
Tips on writing your cover letter for a university
There are a few tips that can help you make a great cover letter for a university that can wow the admissions officer:
- Try to sound more human in your letter.
- Beware of the cliches almost everyone uses, so you need to think "outside the box" for this one.
- Keep an eye on your tone and ensure it's friendly , professional , and confident , but never arrogant or condescending.
- Keep your cover letter brief ; keep it point to point so the reader doesn't get bored reading it.
- It's a good idea to divide your introduction into the past, present, and future portions to stay organised while talking about yourself.
- Prove everything you say in your cover letter for a university by keeping the tone friendly and not arrogant!
- Don't just list everything you have achieved since it is already in your CV! Try to mention what new things you would achieve!
University application letter format
Your university application letter must say the appropriate things and look the right way. Choose the appropriate layout and design for your cover letter, and don't waste your golden prose on a poorly designed letter that sounds wonderful but looks horrible. You must use a legible font – nothing grand or unusual. You should use a font size of 10 to 12 points, which is large enough to read but not so large that it looks like you're creating a kid's story. Use 1-inch margins on your letter's top, bottom, right, and left sides. You must include a space between paragraphs that are not indented and keep all paragraphs to a decent length.
Things to keep in mind when writing a cover letter for a university
There are a few things to keep when writing your cover letter; these include the likes of spelling mistakes, grammar, poorly designed cover letters and much more. Here are a few things to remember:
- Words are wasted. Irrelevant information, clichés, and fluff will clutter your page with unnecessary language. Use the limited space you have to write in your own words what makes you a good candidate.
- One of the most typical mistakes students make is wasting their cover letter by transforming their resume into paragraph form . This repetition does not help the admissions officer assess your qualifications or persuade them that you are enthusiastic about the chance.
- A solid cover letter might be improved by including facts about the university that you've learnt about. Learn about the university's culture and goals , and tailor your cover letter to reflect how you would be a good fit.
- A cover letter is not the place to give bad information about your qualifications. An interview allows the admissions officer to learn about your weaknesses. Concentrate on your strengths !
These were the ways to create a good cover letter for a university. It will take you a bit of time and practice to perfect your cover letter. Once you submit your application, you might get called upon for a university interview. If the interview is going to scare you, then don't worry our blog about university interview questions will help you run that scare away. If you are going to apply to universities in the Uk, we can help you do exactly that. Our blog on applying to universities in the UK will do that.
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How to Write a Cover Letter: 10 Tips for College Students
Wondering how to write a cover letter that stands out? Follow our tips for college students to get your application noticed.
Before we share our tips on how to write a cover letter, let’s cover why you should write a cover letter in the first place.
A well-written cover letter is a key component in the search process of how to get an internship or job. While sometimes optional, a cover letter is your chance to capture the attention of the hiring manager and to tell your story with added color and information. Think of your resume as a detailed overview of your work history, education, skills, and other relevant work experience. Your cover letter is your “storytelling” opportunity to say why you are a great fit for the role.
Our 10 tips for writing cover letters will help you craft your best “why me” pitch and get your application noticed.
1. Research the Job Before You Write Anything
Before you write a word, your job search should start with learning as much as you can about the company and the position. Does a parent company own it? What do you know about the specific internship role? What are the daily responsibilities, and how can you demonstrate experience that meets the required qualifications? It is essential to know as much as you can before you write your cover letter; this will make the interview process more manageable, too.
2. Correctly Format Your Cover Letter
The standard cover letter format is much like a professional letter. Most computer word processing programs—from Microsoft Word to Google Docs—have templates to make this easy. An incorrectly formatted cover letter in a pile of hundreds of cover letters may compel a recruiter to pass over your application.
3. Look for a Name to Reference
A cover letter personally addressing the hiring manager shows your interest. Search on LinkedIn or even call the company to get the right name for the right manager. Hiring managers often cite this as an indicator of the effort an applicant is willing to put into the role, if hired.
4. Start Strong
Your first paragraph is the most important paragraph of your cover letter. Recruiters will often read an introduction and determine a job candidate’s eligibility, so it is essential to include your most pertinent information up front. Start with your name, the role you are applying for, and why you want the job. Follow up with your most relevant experience, why you are the best person for the job, and be sure to include any reference’s names, too.
5. Use the Terms in the Job Listing to Build Your Cover Letter
Analyze the job listing carefully. Many job search portals use keyword algorithms to rate and rank your application. Not only are you building your “perfect candidate” pitch, you are matching their desired traits with your experience. Review the listing for specific words and use them in your cover letter. If your prospective employer asks for “strong research skills,” make sure you emphasize your “strong research skills” in your cover letter.
6. Stay Relevant
Please do not try to encapsulate your life story in a one-page cover letter. Keep your pitch relevant to the job listing. You may have to pick experience or achievements to showcase if your cover letter is too long.
7. Keep it Brief
Be sure to express your achievements and qualifications as succinctly as you can. Use bullet points, stay within one page, and limit the length of your sentences and paragraphs. The ideal cover letter is four to five short paragraphs: your introduction, two or three paragraphs on your experience, and a closing line. Recruiters have piles of applications and resumes to get through and succinct, clear cover letters fare best.
8. Use Action Verbs and Numbers
Action verbs communicate responsibility in a cover letter. Stay away from passive sentences—they are less direct and less lively. You want to show “I did this,” “I helped change xyz,” “That project might not have succeeded without me.” Do not be afraid to boast a little bit, and include specific ways—backed with data, numbers, and figures—that you made a difference. Recruiters want to see how you make an impact.
9. Close Correctly
Make sure to thank the recruiter for their time and reconfirm your interest in the closing line. Let the recruiter know that you will be reaching back out to follow up. Overall, you want to politely convey that you are very interested in this job and that you will go the extra mile to get it.
10. Proofread Your Cover Letter
After you finish writing your cover letter, step away from it for a little while. When you come back, re-read your cover letter with fresh eyes and look for any errors. Ask a friend or family member to proof it for you. For international students, if English is not your first language, ask your Career Accelerator advisor or your university’s career services center to review it for you.
Putting together a great letter takes practice. Follow our cover letter tips and you will have a better chance of standing out in a crowd of applicants.
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