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Expert Advice on How to Write a Good Application Letter

Letters of application are usually written by those looking to enroll on a college or university course. Getting admitted to higher education is now a very competitive process. It is often the case that a lot more applicants apply for places than there are places available. It is natural, therefore, that an admissions board will only accept the best applicants. In addition, often, decisions are based on application letters.     

How to Write an Application Letter – Key Steps

  1. Take time to carefully read the application notice or the website that is publicizing places at a college or university.
  2. List the application requirements and make a note of the materials you will need to support or include with your application.
  3. Draft a suitable resume or CV (curriculum vitae) to attach with your cover or application letter.
  4. Check that you have authentic copies of any relevant or requested certificates.
  5. List all the points you will need to cover in your application letter.
  6. Draft three main paragraphs that show you are aware of the qualification requirements and the admissions criteria, and say why you think you fit the requirements/criteria.
  7. End your letter with a strong conclusion requesting an admissions interview.
  8. Last but not least, craft an introductory paragraph that shows you understand the requirements and wish to be considered.

Choosing a Suitable Tone for Your Letter

Colleges and universities differ in outlook and requirements. Therefore, application letters should be tailored accordingly. Each individual one should address the particular characteristics or ethos of the institution it is aimed at. Above all, application letters should be freshly crafted from scratch using a tone that is specially chosen for the institution it is intended for. For instance, the wording in an application letter to undertake a cookery course at a local college will not be the same as one intended for a course at a top-ranking university.      

Next to content and form, the attitude and tone are other key elements an admissions board will look for in applicants. To succeed in your application, you need to show an ambitious and charismatic attitude and you need to ensure the tone of your letter says you are in tune with the institution’s requirements.    

Key Considerations

  • Gather all required materials before beginning. These may include the notice showing the college’s admission timeframe e.g. start and end date for applications. You need to have all relevant documentation, which may include applicable certificates e.g. evidence of your qualifications, an up-to-date photo, proof of address, and testimonials or reference/recommendation letters. Where applicable, you will need to get certified copies of documents, which implies getting an authorized public official in your locality to witness and/or stamp document copies. Start a folder in your word processor software and enter the notes suggested above in point number 5. It will be easy to re-work these into your letter at a later stage.
  • Do not forget that facts, figures, and hard evidence carry more weight than opinions and ideas. Those reading your letter need to know about you and be able to look at evidence of your achievements, qualifications, previous jobs, and any experience you have in the subject or field you are enrolling for. 
  • The best type of note-making system is one you devise yourself. This will allow you to collect and maintain notes in an organized and ordered manner. It is a good idea not to have too much fragmentation or confusion. Good organizational skills will pay dividends and being able to manage your time effectively will prove invaluable with this task. Your letter of application will say a lot about you in terms of your organizational skills, language ability, level of eloquence, and punctuality.
  • In most cases, application letters require good writing skills. There are three essential persuasion methods to use, e.g., reason and logic, evidence and facts, and the ability to appeal to the emotions and intelligence of your readers. Use all three to develop realistic points that have a direct bearing on the topics or criteria in the announcement or advertisement for the program your application relates to. 
  • It is essential you present yourself flawlessly, to neatly organize your documents and materials, and to submit everything by the due date.
  • Where a list of criteria exists, address every point on that list. 
  • You can build each individual point into its own paragraph using the notes you made earlier and by paraphrasing text from testimonials, reference letters, certificates, etc.
  • It is easy to decide on a style of writing for an application letter; it must be precise and partially formal. Language that is conversational in style is not suitable in this case.

Things You Should and Should Not Do

Things You Should Do

  • Put real effort into assembling the correct documents. Almost always, you will need a passport or birth certificate, proof of address, references from previous courses/jobs, and recommendation letters from employing organizations, previous colleagues, course supervisors, or instructors. 
  • Make sure your cover letter is clear, sensible, and precise in its language. Dong this from the outset will make editing easier later on.  
  • You may need to write a few drafts, improving each one as you go.
  • Make sure you clearly understand the expectations and what documents are required as part of the application.

Things You Should Not Do

  • Do not underestimate the skills and knowledge within an admissions board. One member will always understand your circumstances and know whether you are the right candidate.
  • Remember that college applications are highly competitive. There are plenty other candidates vying for the same place as you. Therefore, you need to prove that you are definitely the most appropriate candidate.
  • It is best not to skimp or feel it is acceptable to overstate your accomplishments and/or abilities by telling lies about how you achieved your academic objectives. Honesty and the truth always shine through and work in an applicant’s favor.

Mistakes Writers Often Make

  • It does not help to try to be overly persuasive. Every academic institution needs to find the best students, those who will fit in with its ethos and uphold its reputation. Therefore, they look for hard-working students with lots of potential.
  • Another mistake common in application or cover letters is not giving adequate mention to aptitude and skills. It is important to list these and say, how you developed/achieved them.
  • You should not leave out anything important. You should list every skill, qualification, and experience that fits the requirements, and do so clearly and truthfully.
  • A further error is writing without preparing and/or in a hurried way. You should thoroughly research the academic institution you are applying to in order to understand its culture, traditions, ethos, reputation, and the activities it is noted for. Prepare in advance and base your writing on these factors.
  • Poor structure or leaving something out of an application pack are mistakes that are often seen. These will not do your application any favors. Know what information is required of you and address every part carefully. Give your reasons for wanting to enroll and say why it is an important part of your long-term plan.
  • An application letter that uses irrelevant or inappropriate vocabulary, structure, syntax and grammar, and/or shows inadequate language skills is a sign of under-achievement. Application letters show the type of person the applicant is and what their capabilities are. Therefore, it is vital you attend carefully to detail.