The letter included with your application packet for a Ph.D. program can help or harm your chances of being accepted. This letter is also your first opportunity to make a positive first impression on your audience. Though the admissions committee will review your writing sample and recommendation letters, these documents alone cannot prove that you will be a good fit. Keep in mind that many graduate programs receive hundreds of applications, so try to craft an engaging letter that is direct, persuasive and passionate.Well-researched, carefully written, thoughtfully revised and meticulously edited letters give you the best chance of success.
According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, it is important to research graduate programs before applying. Like other application materials, letters submitted for Ph.D. applications should be tailored to the program. Review the relevant department’s website and take notes on how your skills and experiences match how the program presents itself. For example, if a Ph.D. in English program’s website stresses classic literature, highlight your expertise with historical literary analysis. Additionally, identify professors whose work interests you and whose research agendas clearly relate to yours. Mentioning one or two professors with whom you would like to work can help show that you have a focused agenda.
Keep in mind several key questions when composing the first drafts of your application letter. Explain your long-term research or teaching goals, how you fit into the program’s agenda or mission, and why are you unique compared to other candidates. If a program asks you to answer specific questions, compose a strong introduction that briefly states answers to these questions. Develop your answers through subsequent paragraphs. According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, a central theme can help create an impressive letter because it shows a focused reason for your interest. For example, if you are applying to a Ph.D. program that focuses on teacher training, a central theme highlighting your lifelong goals to teach could be effective. Limit your letter to a maximum of two pages and maintain a professional tone throughout.
Revision is essential for effective application letters. For example, if your application to a teacher-centered program focuses on your research, revise to focus more on pedagogy and students. Make sure you answer any question posed directly by the application process, such as why you want to pursue an advanced degree, and revise based on those questions. Remove irrelevant material that strays from your central theme. Privilege short, concise paragraphs packed with information over lengthy paragraphs that meander.
Sentence-level errors -- such as commas, subject-verb agreement, fragments and run-ons -- can make you appear careless and therefore unattractive as a candidate for admission. Carefully edit awkward sentences and shorten phrasing where possible. Having someone else read your letter aloud can help you catch mistakes that you may miss on your own.
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