When you are applying for college admission, it's important to do everything possible to make sure your application really stands out. Sending a cover letter in support of your application materials can be a great way to capture admissions officers' attention in a positive way while also giving them a chance to learn a little bit about your personality and unique circumstances.
Example Cover Letters for College Applications
You can use a cover letter whether you are applying via the common application or if you are submitting an individual admission packet.
- If you are using the common application, send the cover letter at the same time that you complete the application or a few days before.
- If you are submitting a school-specific applicant packet, include the letter with all of your other materials.
Choose the sample letter below that best fits your needs and adjust it to convey key highlights of why you should be considered for admission. To access each letter, simply click the image. It will open as an editable PDF file that you can customize, save and print. This guide for Adobe printables can be of assistance if you need help accessing the documents.
Writing Your College Application Cover Letter
While the samples here are great starting points, you will need to adjust them to focus on your specific situation. You will need to include:
- Why you want to attend this particular school
- What your academic interests are
- How the school is a good fit for your academic interests and long-term goals
- How your background and future interests make you a great candidate to consider
- Any special connections you have to the school (i.e., do you have relatives who graduated from the school?)
- Details on how the other components of your application packet will be received
- A specific request to consider you for admission
- Details on how to contact you
Stand Out to College Admission Officers
A well-written cover letter can be a terrific add-on to your college application package. Not everyone will think to send this kind of document, so it just might help you stand out among the other applicants. Of course, a poorly-written letter can have the opposite effect. So, be sure that your letter follows an appropriate business letter format, really presents you in a positive light, is well-written and error-free.
Academic Cover Letters
When you're applying for a faculty position with a college or university, the cover letter is your first chance to make a strong impression as a promising researcher and teacher. Below you'll find some strategies for presenting your qualifications effectively in an academic context.
Distinctions between Academic and Business Cover Letters
A cover letter for an academic job has a function similar to one for a business job, but the content differs significantly in quantity and kind. While the general advice for business cover letters—such as tailoring your letter for the specific job and selling your strengths—still applies, a cover letter for an academic position should be long enough to highlight in some detail your accomplishments during your graduate education in research, teaching, departmental service, and so on. The typical letter is thus usually one and a half to two pages long, but not more than two—roughly five to eight paragraphs.
The First Paragraph
In the opening of your letter you need to convey some basic information, such as what specific position you are applying for (using the title given in the job notice) and where you learned of the opening. Since a cover letter is a kind of persuasive writing (persuading a hiring committee to include you on a list of candidates for further review), the first paragraph of your letter should also make the initial claim as to why you are a strong candidate for the position.
Tailoring for Your Audience
In an academic context knowing your audience means reading the job notice carefully and knowing the type of institution to which you are applying. Most graduate students have studied a broad range of material within their discipline before specializing in a narrow field for the dissertation project. Since it is rare to find a job notice specifying your exact qualifications, you need to emphasize those aspects of your graduate training that seem particularly relevant to the position advertised.
- Job notice: If you've written a political science dissertation on populism in early twentieth-century US national politics, you probably won't respond to a notice seeking a specialist in international politics during the Cold War. But you may wish to apply for a position teaching twentieth-century US political parties and movements. In this case you would want to stress the relevance of your dissertation to the broad context of twentieth-century US politics, even though the study focuses narrowly on the pre-World War I period. You might also highlight courses taken, presentations given, or other evidence of your expertise that corresponds to the job notice.
- Type of institution: Often the job notice will provide a brief description of the college or university, indicating such factors as size, ownership (public, private), affiliation (religious, nonsectarian), geography (urban, suburban, rural), and so on. These factors will influence the kind of information emphasized in your letter. For example, for a job at a small liberal arts college that focuses on undergraduate teaching, you would emphasize your teaching experience and pedagogical philosophy early in the letter before mentioning your dissertation. On the other hand, for a job at a large research university you would provide at least one detailed paragraph describing your dissertation early in the letter, even indicating your plans for future research, before mentioning your teaching and other experience.
If you're still working on your dissertation, you should mention somewhere in the letter when you expect to be awarded the Ph.D., even being as specific as to mention how many chapters have been completed and accepted, how many are in draft version, and what your schedule for completion is. Last-paragraph tips include the following:
- Mention your contact information, including a phone number where you can be reached if you will be away during a holiday break.
- If you will be attending an upcoming major professional conference in your field, such as the MLA convention for language and literature professionals, indicate that you will be available for an interview there. Be sure to mention that you are available for telephone or campus-visit interviews as well.
- If you have some special connection to the school, type of institution, or region, such as having attended the school as an undergraduate or having grown up in the area, you may wish to mention that information briefly at some point.
- Mention your willingness to forward upon request additional materials such as writing samples, teaching evaluations, and letters of recommendation.
Job seekers at Purdue University may find value in the Purdue Career Wiki.