While the application is a succession of documents where you are writing about yourself, the cover letter is the very document about yourself. Its goal is to provide a picture of your background and goals that will persuade the admission committee to accept you. In the cover letter it gets personal: you have to show who you are, what you know and can, and what you want. The overall philosophy of a cover letter goes like this: departing from your background, you explain your goals, and how the two go together. That is, you that prove what you know helps you achieve what you want to get. Then, you show how your goals motivate you to apply of that particular program. Recruiters expect you to prove compatibility between you, and your goals, and the program. Show how what you have matches what they want. Remember, this is a question of interpretation: don’t make things up, just put your qualifications in the right light. This means, of course, that you have to personalize your cover letter for each program you are applying to.
Beyond the particular skills required by each program, a cover letter should depict you as a clear-headed person, capable of thinking clearly, without confusion, a motivated, active learner. Before writing the first draft, take some time to think about yourself, your goals and your skills. Start by stating your goals in the introduction. Structure the body of the paper according to the logic explained above. Start from facts – your background, explaining what, where and why you have studied, and how that can be used in the new program. If you are changing the subject of your studies, provide a convincing explanation of the reasons that determine you to. In other words, say why are you motivated to make that change. Continue in the second section of the body of the paper with your professional goals, with your professional goals, explaining the connection between them and your studies. Present your long-term plans, and say how the program you are applying for will help you achieve those goals. Finally, in the last part of the cover letter, having explained your background and your goals, relate them to the program of your choice. Make clear why your background recommends you for the program, and how the program will help you achieve the long-term goals. In this section also explain why exactly that university is your choice – courses, faculty, research interests are possible reasons. In conclusions you should sum up the main points and state how you can contribute to the program.
The structure of a cover letter is not that complicated and is actually easy to grasp once you got the inner logic of the document. Still, writing a good draft is difficult. You need to take some time for each version. Don’t respect what you have said in other documents, but try to add on them. Answer the essay/statement question, if you have one – it usually will be something like «Why are you the right person for this program?». Don’t try to be modest, explain out loud your realization, without showing off. Write in a clear and logic manner, rather than being subtle – remember, your cover letter will be one in a few hundreds read by the recruiter. Don’t be afraid of rewriting, you will revise it up to 10 times (no exaggeration!) until you can come up with a good cover letter. One strategy is, let it rest after you have written a new draft for a few days, and read it again, in order to get a more objective view.