How to Write a Cover Letter for an Essay

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Including a good cover letter with your college admissions essay can be as valuable as the actual essay. While the essay should showcase your vocabulary, organization and logic skills, the cover letter is an opportunity to discuss what inspired you to pick your topic and to highlight the most relevant parts of your essay. If you are sending the same essay to many schools, the cover letter is an opportunity to tailor the essay to the institution to which you are applying.

  • Computer
  • Microsoft Word or comparable word processing program
  • Your Essay
  • Highlighter
  • Printer and/or Internet connection

1 Writing an Essay Cover Letter

2 Print and review your essay

Print and review your essay. Whether it has been an hour or a year since you wrote it, take some time to read through the essay methodically and carefully. Highlight important phrases, statistics, passages, and other items which you would like to draw attention to in the cover letter.

3 Narrow

Narrow your highlighted selections down to a thesis or theme and three to five pieces of supporting evidence. Write a short summary of each of the points you would like to emphasize. Avoid the temptation to copy and paste. By rewording these items, you will avoid redundancies and breathe new life into them.

4 Format your cover letter

Format your cover letter. If the institution you are applying to has given you instructions, follow them exactly. Be sure that you are using the same font and font size as you used to write the essay. Include your name and address in the top left corner, as you would with any business letter. Below that, include the date.

5 Below the date

Below the date, greet the recipients of your cover letter with the proper salutation. For example, you might be writing to a selection committee (in which case you would write, "Dear Selection Committee"), a board of directors ("Dear Board of Directors"), or even an individual. Doing a little research on the phone or by email may give you a competitive advantage. Every school wants to feel like you are only applying to their school, even though they know quite well this is not the case.

6 Write a short introductory paragraph

Write a short introductory paragraph. This is normally less than 100 words. Keep the tone formal but avoid sounding pompous. This is your chance to tell the institution how your essay shows you are the perfect candidate and what motivates you.

7 After your introductory paragraph

After your introductory paragraph, list, in bullet-point format, what you really want the reader(s) to notice in your essay. Remember that your audience will probably skim through your essay (at best) and your key points could be lost if you do not highlight them here.

8 After listing your bullet-points

After listing your bullet-points, include a short concluding paragraph of about 100 words or less summarizing what you have presented as well as your intent. Do not repeat yourself. Think of this as the bow that you put on a present after it is wrapped. Tie things up nicely.

9 As you would in any formal letter

As you would in any formal letter, include an appropriate sign-off (such as "Sincerely," "Respectfully") followed by a comma, a blank line for you to sign, and your name printed underneath the line. Under this, list anyone you are copying your letter to or any attachments you included.

10 If your word-processing program features this function

If your word-processing program features this function, run a spelling and grammar check to be sure there are no simple errors that will detract from your message. Print and sign your cover letter.

  • Not every college or university application requires you to include a cover letter with your application essay. Most applications are submitted online now, so there is little room for error. Only include a cover letter if the institution you are applying to asked for it specifically, or if there is room for an attachment and a cover letter is appropriate. When in doubt, do not be afraid to call and ask.
  • Follow the conventions of written English. Stay focused, including just one main idea per paragraph. For emphasis, place items at the beginning or ends or paragraphs. Print a fresh copy of the essay if you are mailing it, as your previous copy will be marked.

Shaun Cricks is a freelance writer, editor, teacher and producer living in Central Florida, where he graduated from Rollins College. He was awarded an Academy of American Poets Prize and has published many articles in print and online ranging in topics from nanotechonoly to immigration.