The Differences Between a Letter of Intent and a Personal Statement

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Many colleges, internships, study abroad programs and jobs require some sort of writing that tells them more about the applicant. Sometimes this requirement is met through an open-response question, or essay. Other times, they require a letter of intent or personal statement. The challenge the applicant then faces is what to include in each writing piece. They certainly cannot submit two of the same letter, even if it covers the necessary information. When applying for a program that requires a letter of intent and a personal statement, knowing the difference between the two could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection.

1 Letter of Intent

A letter of intent, or LOI, outlines an agreement or outline of intention. When applying for entrance into a program or college, this letter should outline what course of study the applicant intends to follow, and in what frame of time. In general, a letter of intent is a non-binding proposal to a second party. The letter should introduce the applicant; outline their interest in the organization; and list relevant skills and credentials. It is a sales pitch of the applicant’s skills and abilities.

2 Personal Statement

A personal statement serves to provide evidence of your intellectual or creative achievement. In general, those who read personal statements are looking for how the essay provides evidence of your achievements, and how the events described shaped the applicant’s attitude and intellectual vitality. The writer should include an interesting introduction, descriptions of their strengths and examples of overcoming adversity. The tone should be honest, and the statement should focus on depth, not breadth.

3 Format

Professional letters should be addressed to a specific person, not a general title or “To Whom it May Concern.” This helps establish an immediate connection with the reader. Simple fonts should be used for any submission. A letter of intent should be written in proper business letter format. Personal statements are generally not addressed like a letter. There is usually a page limit and font size listed in the instructions. It is very important to follow the formatting instructions given. Typically, personal statements are also double spaced for reading ease.

4 Language

The language in both a letter of intent and a personal statement should be somewhat formal. Spelling and grammatical errors should be avoided. The writer should have a third party review the letter for correctness and clarity of ideas. Letters should not include slang, offensive remarks or trite sayings. A personal statement will use more personal voice than a letter of intent, but should still have a professional tone. Specific language should be tailored to the audience and purpose of the letter.

Kirsten Silven-Hoell began working as a freelance writer and editor in 2004 after spending six years in the financial services industry. She worked as editor-in-chief at "Kentucky Homes & Gardens" magazine for more than three years before becoming editor-in-chief and art director at "Club Solutions Magazine." Silven-Hoell holds a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary humanities from Spalding University and graduated summa cum laude.