How to write a motivation letter to study abroad

Personal Letter

How to write a motivational letter or “Personal or motivational letter” at a university abroad


This article will give you excellent tips so you can improve the writing of your motivation letter or the “personal” or “motivational letter” to a university abroad.  

But how to write a good motivation letter to study abroad? Do I need to put in effect words for the university to perceive my intelligence? Should I tell the story of my life? 

I want to help you understand the importance of the letter in the admission process, how it should be written and explain why educational institutions outside Brazil consider this document too much. 


Importance of personal letter


The personal letter or motivation letter is one of the most important documents of your admissions process to a college abroad, as it shows how your personal, academic and professional experiences equip you for the course you postulate. It's literally where you sell your fish.

In addition, the letter shows your power of linguistic articulation, that is, how you organize your ideas on paper. And why is this important? The reader of this letter will likely be an academic and will decide your admission. If the document is poorly articulated, or the ideas are not clear, it is understood that you will have difficulty following the program. In a very competitive course, this will be a differential. 

At some universities, the letter may even decide whether to get a scholarship. I miss high money. €2000, €3000. I've seen students earn up to 5000 euros off or even full scholarships.  

The letter may be the only document that the admissions team will know more about your qualifications or experience because interviews don't happen often. 

Can you understand the impact of the document? 


how to write the letter


A good letter is 700 to 900 words long, which is about a page and a half. It is not necessary to write the New Testament. The “personal letter” is a very concise document.  

So does it mean that I should put several beautiful and effective words? 

In fact, everything needs to be well structured. The famous sausage stuffing doesn't add anything, it actually gets in the way. 

Therefore, when writing your letter, consider the following aspects. 

  1. The reader of your letter. They are usually academics who expect you to write as such. And how is the language used in universities? Use formal English. Be careful when replicating quotes from American movies because the language can be very informal. 
  1. Avoid contractions like “she'll” or “I've”.  This demonstrates a colloquialism in the language. The famous “phrasal verbs”, so idolized in English courses around the world, should be avoided. Every phrasal verb has a formal synonym that can fit into the text, use them at will.

    And where is the English language used formally in society? Look for publications that focus on a more critical audience, such as "The Guardian", in the UK, American magazines such as "Time" or the British "The Economist". Academic articles also help a lot. Ever heard of Google Scholars? You can find excellent publications there. However, avoid tabloids, newspapers and magazines that only tell gossip.
  1. The letter is not a description of your life. Everything in the letter should have an impact on the program you want. If you write details like “I came from a humble family, I made it in life and it is my dream to study abroad ”, you are not saying anything they want/need to read. The reader may think: Congratulations, but how will this experience help you in the program?

    Avoid these clichés.

  2. English is an objective language. Everything you write needs to be justified and identified so that your message is clear.

See an example:

“I was responsible for solving my company's problems.” 

What is missing from this sentence above to be clear enough? Think for a few seconds.

And then? Above, lack of clarity of problem types. The word “problem” can mean a lot, the reader is confused. The sentence would be more interesting if it punctuated:

“I was responsible for solving my company's financial problems .” or

“I was responsible for solving my company's operational problems  .”


Shall we be even more specific? 

“I was responsible for solving my company's financial problems, reallocating loss-making investments into more profitable long-term funds. 


Can you see the evolution of the structure? 

This is the biggest challenge for my clients. I suggest reading and rereading the text so that it is not vague.

  1. Use short sentences.  Keep it short and get straight to the point. This will help you a lot in your writing. Understand that every sentence in English needs to have a very clear subject. If you use the pronoun “we”  in a sentence, the context should identify it very clearly, such as “My friends and I, My colleagues and I”. If you use this simple pronoun, but out of context, it can make an entire paragraph lose its meaning. Structuring the letter this way will help you a lot to keep your ideas clear. 


The English language has a much wider lexical collection than our language, so make use of the Latin roots of the Saxon language, there are many words very similar to Portuguese that is formal in English such as commence, oscillate or demonstrate, however, only use what you know. Don't try to invent. That way your text will make a lot more sense.


How to structure your motivation letter?


Here is not a rule, but a good suggestion that works quite well. You can and should divide your motivation letter into segments, as it helps the reader and its conciseness a lot. See the paragraph division:

  1. Introduction
  2. personal experiences
  3. academic experiences 
  4. Professional Experiences 
  5. Conclusion 



Here you highlight the purpose of the letter and why you chose course X or Y. Some universities may ask you to highlight the reason for your choice for the country in question and university. Avoid clichés like “ what attracted me was the quality of teaching at your institution” as it is too generic.  

How do I get accurate information? Go to the institution's website and check something very particular like sports facilities, training program in conjunction with other countries and support from companies, for example. Show that you know where you are going to apply. 

The university is very interested in knowing why you chose it. This is the perfect time for you to show that you have dedicated yourself to researching the institution, that you identify with the teaching methodology, and having such training will be essential for your professional future. This is the best way to say you really want to be there, without sounding over the top or clichéd.


Personal, academic, and professional experiences

Paragraphs that highlight your personal, academic, and professional experiences can be written by answering the following questions: 

  • What did you do? – Give examples- This brings clarity to your text 
  • As you did? 
  • What was the outcome/impact of your experience?
  • What skills have you acquired that may be relevant to the course you are applying for? 

See an example below in English of a standard paragraph. 

  • What have you done? (Manager at Hostel "Star")
  • How did you do it? (I organized guest booking)
  • What was the outcome/results of my work? (Check-in at reception was faster due to automated bookings)
  • What do you learn? (Learned to operate different booking systems)

Sentence : 

"I was a manager at Hostel “Star”. In this role, I was responsible for guest bookings making them as automated as possible. As a result of my work, check-in at reception was fast which avoided queues during peak seasons. This experience enabled me to be more organised, using different booking systems."

Can you see the structure? Try writing it this way for each experience you mention. Everything you do has an impact on the course

Conclusion of the letter 

It is also important to link the skills and experiences you have acquired throughout your career with the course content in question. This shows examiners that you have an affinity for the content and that you can increase and apply knowledge in a particular area.

Here you demonstrate how your experiences will contribute to the course, what knowledge you will bring in your "baggage". And it is still important to explain how the program will add to your professional life.
Be specific. 


Final considerations

I have presented here some aspects so that your personal letter can stand out in an undergraduate or graduate course abroad. The big secret is to always think about your reader. Imagine writing the email with the same content, but one would be sent to your boyfriend and another to the president of Brazil. Despite containing the same information, the structure would be different. 

Understand the formal nuances of the English language and focus on examples. Give the reader reason to believe that you are the best candidate in the world because you are unique. 

My name is Paulo Santiago and I've been working with international higher education for over 10 years, I've corrected hundreds of letters with this one.  If you want tips, insights, and more information about education abroad tips follow me on my social media to get relevant information and make an informed decision. 



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