Are you preparing your university application and have now reached that part where you have to introduce yourself? Don’t panic: writing an academic cover letter is easy, but there are several common mistakes to avoid if you want to increase your chances of getting accepted at your favourite study program.
1. Copying someone else’s cover letter or sending the same one for different applications
Running out of time to write different things is not an excuse to use another person’s letter as it might ruin your application. The admissions departments are used to analysing thousands of letters a day, so they’ll quickly notice it and put aside your letter.
The same thing happens if you send the same cover letter to every school and study program you’re applying to – even if you’re extremely careful and adapt the content, there’s a huge risk of being depersonalized and sloppy or of disregarding the recipient. Simply make a list with the main aspects you need to mention in all your cover letters and then be creative and diversify when conjugating them with other particular aspects.
2. Using slang or commonplaces
It’s always worth repeating: you are not applying to a position at a finance company neither joining a competition amongst friends. By writing obvious and banal expressions commonly used by any candidate in a cover letter, you won’t have many chances of standing out of the crowd. Everything gets worse if you use slang or excessively informal language: how do you want to be taken seriously if you use inappropriate language? Again, you will be seen as that sloppy student who’s not very interested in that program.
3. Being too formal
Not too little, not too much: refined language doesn’t have to be boring or forced. Write fluid sentences, applying words which actually reflect your thoughts. There is no need to use complex expressions to demonstrate your skills: just diversify, avoid repeating words and keep a conversational tone while writing – i.e., try not to switch from a formal to an informal tone, even if you are changing subjects. Imagine yourself in an ideal atmosphere for a face-to-face interview, where you can comfortably explain your intents in a pleasant, relaxed tone.
4. Flattering or bragging
Going back to the previous point, overusing formal words may be seen as “showing off”. It is very important that you introduce yourself, mentioning your skills and how you can contribute to the university, but always remember to avoid being arrogant: be objective, clearly describe your academic work and results, write down your specific skills and how you acquired them using concrete examples.
On the other hand, praising the institution too much is pointless: the universities already know how good they are and why. If you want to talk about the school, relate its educational and research work with the advantages you can bring to it if accepted.
5. Writing too much (just like us here)
If the institution doesn’t provide a limit of length, don’t try to write a novel. Do you know what happens when the admissions officers find your cover letter, amongst so many others to be read? They will discard yours just by looking at its size. The key is to write only what’s relevant to the study program and the institution in question. You’re allowed to mention your hobbies and special interests if you consider them important to your academic path, but don’t overextend it. Remind the English rule KISS: Keep it Simple and Short (but not too short, only the necessary to your case).
6. Send the text with sloppy or cluttered appearance
There is no way we can forgive this mistake. Today, any academic cover letter can be typed or copied directly into the application form. With the amount of software programs and editing tools available in your computer, you are free to rewrite, review the font, justify the text, edit paragraphs, highlight titles, add notes or even adopt a completely different text design.
And, if a long text is unattractive, a one-paragraph letter, without any content division, will get any admissions officer bored. Be organized and, if that is your area of studies or if you feel comfortable doing it, use your creative skills to build a different, yet clear, cover letter.
7. Send the text without reviewing it
We understand: you’re just done writing and all you want to do is send out your application and wait for the answer. However, the reply may not be positive if you forget to revise each paragraph before sending your cover letter. Make sure your spellchecker or other proofreading tools are working and, above all, review each idea, checking its coherence and changing dubious words for clearer ones. If your cover letter was written in a language other than your first language and you don’t feel totally confident about the terms used, ask a native to proofread it with you.