Study Abroad Letter of Motivation

How to nail your study abroad letter of motivation (insights from a judge)

Have to write a letter of motivation for a semester abroad (or other study program) but you don’t even know where to start? Read about what an expert from one of the largest universities in Berlin has to say.

At a glance: How to nail your study abroad letter of motivation (insights from a judge)

Similar to the CV, the letter of motivation for a study abroad program is one of the documents you have to submit at your own university. To give you insights on what universities want (or N E E D ! ! !) to hear from you and what you must point out, I’ve talked to a friend of mine who used to work at the international office in one of Berlin’s largest universities. She looked at hundreds and hundreds of applications and is willing to share some insights here.

Tips and insights from a judge

Hello again! Let’s start with the basics again: One or two pages? What is the absolute maximum for a letter of motivation for a study abroad program?

Two pages is the absolute maximum!

In my opinion, a proper letter head fills up the first page pretty quickly. Do I have to add one or is “Letter of Motivation” enough?

No, e.g. “Letter of Motivation to study abroad at … university” is enough. There is no need for a letter head, we get all your contact information from the application.

How important is the LoM actually? Is it the most important part of the application? Is there a point system?

The LoM is the most important part and believe it or not, the judges are going to read it. At my university we had a point system: you would get points for:

– Showing interest in learning about culture and language

– Mentioning classes you want to take and how they fit into your own path

– Extracurriculars

– Overall look of application (layout, typos, font, tidyness, etc.)

– Awareness that you are an ambassador of your home university

– Bonus points for creativity in the LoM, motivation, etc.

What do I have to cover in my study abroad letter of motivation?

I would not recommend writing about everything that is in your CV (read more about CVs here). That’s what the CV is for, to get a good impression of your past experiences and current status of employment, etc. Don’t talk too much about your experiences in the past. I don’t want to hear about the great work-and-travel experience you already had.

We want to see why you want to study abroad and how that fits into your educational goals and how it will benefit your career path. Tell us why you chose the country and why the specific partner university.

Do research about the country and your partner university and talk about things you found interesting and that influenced your choice. Mention classes, courses, extracurriculars that you want to take or groups you want to join. Always a plus is if you are planning on learning the local language and take language classes or elective classes that teach about the countries history, culture, society, food, etc.

Also, do not talk too much about your past work experience. Again, I want to hear about how the semester or internship abroad fits into your overall life / career goals and not what you have done in the past.

Finally, please don’t include hobbies except it makes sense. Here is a good example: A friend of mine loves running and he included in his letter of motivation that his goal is to run the half marathon in Seoul during his semester abroad.

So, I should talk a lot about how the courses at the partner university fit into my curriculum?

Yes!!! You want to show that your main goal is to STUDY abroad and not party abroad 😉

If there is a template or structure for a LoM at my home university, should I ONLY stick to the template or include other things, too?

I would stick to the university template. If there is a structure in place, there is a good reason for that. It makes applications easier to look through, comparable and simplifies evaluation processes. It gets confusing and it is irritating if an application falls out of a set structure, especially if it was clearly communicated from the Int. Office that applicants should stick to the templates.

How does a good structure look like? How do I start, how do I wrap everything up?

That’s hard to answer. Be creative, don’t repeat yourself, give a short introduction about who you are, what you did and what your goals are for the semester abroad. Also, it is very important to check for grammar, spelling, typos and overall layout of the letter and application in general! You have to demonstrate that you put effort and time into this application and that you thoroughly thought about it.

What is a bad way of starting your letter?

Not bad, but overused is starting your letter with a “deep” quote about travelling that you found on the internet.

What would be a good start?

Maybe write the first sentence in the local language.

How about other ideas for the start? Should I start with something “funny” or “catchy” like: “I don’t want to go abroad” to catch your attention?

Yes, something catchy will be appreciated and helps to stand out of the applicant pool.

Studying abroad is also a way of trying new subjects. What if I want to take free elective courses outside of my curriculum / specialization at the partner university? How should I explain that to my home university in the LoM? Should I mention it at all? Example: I’m majoring in Engineering and want to take art courses.

Yes, I would recommend including that. I would try to justify why you want to take the electives abroad e.g. you want to take an art class at your japanese partner university, because they specialize in drawing animes and you have a passion for animes. Or you select electives that are not offered at your home university.

To wrap it up: What makes a LoM excellent? Can you name a positive example or the main characteristics?

All of the above mentioned. I also recommend that you include that you want to join some kind of social/cultural club or course to share German culture with other students at the partner university. It is also helpful to mention that you are aware that you represent your home university abroad and that you act as a “culture ambassador” and that you’re behavior in the classroom and in general has an impact on how your culture and university is perceived by other students and teachers. E.g. partnership between universities have been cancelled in the past due to inappropriate behavior of students.

Depending on where you want to go, you should express that you are aware of cultural differences and that you are willing to respect those differences and willingness to adapt and learn more about them. (e.g. clothing restrictions, different legal drinking ages, etc.)

Again, show that you are willing to participate in cultural events, holidays, sport activities or else that are unique to this country. This way you are demonstrating to you did your research about the country and the culture.

What would be an example of a bad letter of motivation for a study abroad and why? What makes a LoM “fail”? What are absolute don’ts?

First impressions matter, so please make sure that the layout is good. In case you have to hand in a printed version of the application, print it on nice paper and put it in a nice folder (or stick to the application rules if your university has any). Check for spelling, typos and grammar.

Study Abroad Letter of Motivation Tips Summary

1.) Two pages is the absolute maximum

2.) Show how the study abroad program fits in your academic path

3.) Explain why you’ve chosen the university and country

4.) Focus more on the future and don’t talk too much about the past

5.) Explain how you want to experience the foreign culture

6.) Also, explain how you are planning on sharing your own culture

7.) Show that you are aware of being an “ambassador” of your home university

Learn more about CVs

See how universities look at your CV and find out the Dos and Don’ts!

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