Letter of Motivation for Studying Abroad

As a rule, naming the personal motives for studying abroad or a semester abroad is an easy task for students. Drafting a letter of motivation for studying abroad, on the other hand, proves to be far more difficult. But when is a so-called personal statement – also known as a letter of motivation, statement of purpose or essay – even necessary?

Reasons for a letter of motivation

Applicants who apply for a full course of study abroad are usually not spared to write a letter of motivation. A statement of purpose is normally an integral part of the application for a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree abroad.

However, a letter of motivation for studying abroad is also necessary in other cases, such as for participation in the ERASMUS programme. In addition, motivation letters are also common for scholarships, such as DAAD scholarships, the Fulbright Commission or a PROMOS scholarship.

On the other hand, students who decide to spend a semester abroad as a Free Mover and do not have to study abroad within the framework of a university agreement often do not have to submit a letter of motivation. This is due to the fact that many universities abroad have a simplified application procedure for semesters. Nevertheless, there are also universities and colleges that insist on a motivation letter for a semester abroad. It is at the discretion of the university whether and to what extent it requests a letter of motivation.

Students who have to justify their study plan in writing often have to deal with the same question: How must the motivation letter be structured in terms of content and form and which points must be covered?

Formal and substantive structure of a letter of motivation

Many students start by looking for a template or sample text for a letter of motivation. However, this only makes sense to a limited extent, as a letter of motivation or personal statement should always be tailored to the applicant and serves to explain the individual motives for studying abroad.

In addition, the requirements of the individual universities for the motivation letter vary – both in terms of the length of the letter and in terms of its content structure. For this reason, sample templates can only serve as a basic framework.

Of course, it is OK to talk about the motivation letter with parents, friends or other people beforehand and to receive feedback afterwards. However, the letter of motivation must always be written by the applicant himself/herself and must therefore be authentic.

Important: Submitting a letter of motivation that has not been written by the applicant or even copied together from the Internet can lead to exclusion from the application process. The staff at the registration offices pay special attention to this and have a lot of experience in recognizing such non-authentic motivational letters.

Contents of a letter of motivation for studying abroad

In a letter of motivation for a semester or study abroad, it is important to express one’s own interest in a study place at a particular university. It is therefore a self-portrayal of the applicant. As a result, the letter – in contrast to a letter of recommendation for studying abroad – is also written by the student himself/herself.

Admittedly, there is no patent recipe for a letter of motivation for studying abroad. Nevertheless, several aspects can be listed which are usually part of such a letter:

  • Brief introduction of the person (course of study, semester, previous degrees)
  • Justification of the interest in a) the respective country b) the city or region c) the target university.
  • Reasons for choosing a subject / (planned) choice of course at the university abroad
  • Previously acquired specialist knowledge and experience (through internships, work experience, previous studies, stays abroad, etc.) that qualify the applicant for the course of study. It is explicitly concerned with the qualifications and skills that are relevant to the course of study sought.
  • Assessment of your own language skills (reference to experience abroad, completed language tests such as TOEFL or IELTS, language courses, etc.)
    Expectations for your stay abroad
  • Plans after the study abroad or semester abroad (writing a bachelor’s or master’s thesis, degree, further stays abroad, etc.)

In summary, it can be stated that a letter of motivation is intended to clarify the applicant’s professional and personal motivation for studying abroad. Depending on the country and university, there may be specific requirements for the letter of motivation.

For example, many universities in the USA attach great importance to students being able to identify with the institution and make this clear in their letter. They can, for example, respond to the special course offerings or specific research projects, the excellent support relationship, the university’s reputation or the unique range of services it offers. The purpose of the motivation letter for studying abroad is therefore to show how the university and the student fit together.

In addition, some U. S. universities require applicants to write a letter of motivation on specific questions when applying for a postgraduate or doctoral program. These are usually related to special technical aspects of the course of study.

Formal structure of the motivation letter for studying abroad

A motivation letter for a study abroad or semester abroad should be formulated as concisely and precisely as possible. It is important to include only relevant information that highlights the applicant’s suitability for study. Ideally, a red thread is visible during reading, which runs through the entire text.

For a semester abroad, it is sufficient at some universities to justify the study project on half a page. A full course of study usually requires more extensive writing. A letter of motivation for a study abroad comprises on average one to two A4 pages. If there are certain requirements on the part of the university, the faculty or the institute, it goes without saying that these must be oriented.

The motivation letter for studying abroad is usually written in English or in the respective national language. It should be stylistically and grammatically correct. Therefore, it makes sense to check the letter for errors several times before submitting it. Ideally, a native speaker should proofread the text again.

The motivation letter for studying abroad can be structured in a similar way to an ordinary cover letter with letterhead, provided that no layout specifications exist. Often it is a good idea to write a short introduction to introduce one’s own person and to justify the study project. At the end, the most important qualifications and knowledge can be summarised.

Special case medicine: Letter of motivation for a medical studies abroad

A letter of motivation is also often required for medical studies abroad. This is primarily concerned with the professional suitability of applicants, rather than their personal reasons. It is important to find out why you are qualified for your studies. In addition, it makes sense to take the university’s perspective into account and to consider which criteria the university or the faculty attaches particular importance to.

In summary, medical applicants should explain in the motivation letter why they choose this particular course of study and why they are particularly interested in studying at the selected university.

Special case UCAS: Letter of motivation for a Bachelor’s degree in Great Britain

In the undergraduate sector in Great Britain, there are a number of special points to consider with regard to the motivation letter. Typically, applications for full-time or country-specific bachelor’s degree programs, such as a Foundation Degree, are submitted through the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service).

Via UCAS it is possible to apply for up to five study programmes at the same time. Since this is a central application that applies to several institutions, applicants should not nominate individual universities. Instead, it is advisable to keep the motivation letter for a Bachelor’s degree in Great Britain as general as possible.

Students often apply for similar courses of study. In this case, they can generally argue in the motivation letter for their choice of subject and explain to what extent their previous knowledge and qualifications will help them during their studies. Students applying for different subjects have the option of working out common themes of the courses, such as problem solving and creativity.

In addition, it is also possible to show to what extent there have already been points of contact with the programme or individual subject areas in the past. Plans for the future can also be discussed, as long as they refer to how students want to use the knowledge gained during their studies in the future.

International students should also include a letter of motivation explaining why they want to study in the UK rather than their home country and what English language skills they have.

Tips for the motivation letter

A good letter of motivation for studying abroad clearly shows the applicant’s enthusiasm for the subject. Ideally, the applicant succeeds in establishing a link between extracurricular activities and the application requirements of the programme.

Generally speaking, applicants should avoid examining the benefits of their studies from their own perspective. For example, the improvement of foreign language skills abroad is primarily an argument for studying from the applicant’s point of view. In order to make the letter of motivation even more convincing, it can be helpful to put yourself in the position of the target university when writing.

At many universities, students are also happy to include their background knowledge about the institution in the motivation letter. By doing so, they demonstrate that they have been involved with the university and thus underscore their interest in a study place.

Before students start writing a letter of motivation for studying abroad, they should always inform themselves about country-specific and university specifics. After all, a good letter of motivation can significantly increase your chances of finding a place at the university of your choice.