Writing a motivation letter

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Your motivation letter is a key part of your application. This and your references are the two main sources of information for admissions tutors, but the personal statement is the only one you have control over. So how best to make it stand out? We have prepared some advice for drafting a compelling motivation letter.


First, how long does it have to be?

You should aim to write between 1,300 and 4,000 characters of text. Good topics include:

  • Why you want to study this particular course;
  • Why you want to study at this particular university;
  • The parts of the course that particularly appeal to you, e.g. certain modules, work opportunities, etc;
  • Any previous experience you have in the area you are applying to study;
  • The skills you have that will lend themselves to postgraduate study, e.g. if you are applying for a research master’s, what you learnt from doing your undergraduate dissertation;
  • What you would like to do after your postgraduate study.


Inject your personality into your motivation letter

This doesn’t mean that you have to write something that nobody has before. It is very likely you will write about similar things to other students, but try to add some specific information about your own experience. For example, you may want to write about a very interesting biology experiment that you did last year and explain that this is why you want to study medicine. Don’t write a narrative of your life, and be positive. The best advice is not to follow online templates.


Read it and reread it

You must proofread your letter carefully. Leave it for a few days and then check it again or ask a friend or tutor to check it. Adhere to the word count and make sure the document flows well.


Virtual tool

Watch this informative video that will tell you what makes a good and bad motivation letter and what information admissions tutors expect from you.

Alternatively, look at this virtual tool for help with writing a good motivation letter. Simply answer the questions in the boxes on the left of the screen. The tool helps you to think about what to include in your personal statement and how to structure it.

A brief guide explaining what should and should not be done when writing a motivation letter.


 Should Not

  • Plan the letter carefully – this will help you to write smooth and detailed text.
  • The more time spent editing and drafting, the better the final version will be.
  • Do your homework. Before starting on your motivation letter, it is best to find out as much as possible about the university. It will be much easier to select what to include and what to leave out.
  • Get others’ opinions and advice. It is always a good idea to ask your friends, a teacher or someone who has already made such an application for advice. They may also be able to remind you of any positive qualities you have that you have forgotten to mention.
  • Show interest and enthusiasm. It is important to show not just that you have talent, but that you want to develop this further. If you show a genuine interest in the selected area, this will be noticed.
  • Take a break – do not attempt to write your  letter in one sitting. After you have written a rough draft, leave it for a few days. When you come back to it, you will be able to look at it with fresh eyes and evaluate it objectively.
  • Don't rely on quotations – it is your voice they want to hear, not Coco Chanel, Einstein or Martin Luther King. Don’t include quotes unless absolutely necessary to make a critical point; it is a waste of your word count.
  • Don’t over-use clichés. Avoid “from a young age”, “since I was a child”, “I’ve always been fascinated by”, “I have a thirst for knowledge”, “the world we live in today”…
  • Universities often use plagiarism software and will be able to tell if you have copied anything from another source.
  • Don't start every sentence with “I".
  • Don't ramble or fill the space with irrelevant information.
  • Don't write in text language or jargon, but in full and complete sentences.
  • Don't talk about how you prefer one university over another.
  • Don't lie – you may be asked to provide evidence of your stated achievements, or if you are interviewed, you may be asked detailed questions about things you have mentioned in your personal statement.





What is a poor personal statement?

If you apply for a course in Japanese and Politics, don’t write something very basic such as:

“I have always been interested in Japanese culture.”

Explain why you are interested in the course and how you hope to benefit from it:

“England and Japan are two immensely contrasting worlds: I have always been drawn to study Japanese culture precisely because it is so different from my own. I have been enthralled by the Japanese language since I was a young teenager; reading “Japanese for Busy People” at school and trying to note down homework reminders in Kanji, anything to incorporate Japanese into my daily life...”


Don’t simply list your extracurricular activities:

“I was the captain of the school football team and excelled in most other sports. I have also worked part-time in a sports store to earn money for university.”


This sentence on its own doesn't provide the admissions tutor with any extra information about you.

A more useful statement would be:

"Being captain of the school football team has taught me the importance of working together as a team, and how to prioritise my time between my studies and football practice. I feel that this has provided me with the experience to successfully balance my academic and social life, and I plan to maintain this balance whilst at university."

Final tips

It is advisable to write your personal statement on your computer or by hand before uploading the final version onto your DESK profile. If you write it directly in the online form and experience Internet connection problems, you risk losing your work.


Got questions?