While not all graduate programs ask for a statement of intent, this is a requirement for many grad school applications. A letter of intent for graduate school sets the tone for your application: it introduces you as a person to the selection committee, and provides context to your academic record, qualifications, and professional experience.
Therefore, it’s essential to make your letter of intent as compelling as possible to give you the best chance of admission, especially if you’re trying to get into one of the Ivy Leagues.
How to Write a Letter of Intent for Grad School
What is a letter of intent for graduate school admission?
A letter of intent is a brief statement which explains your educational background, experiences and motivations for applying to grad school. Some, though not all, graduate programs require you to submit a letter of intent as part of the application process.
A letter of intent is different from a personal statement. While a personal statement deals more with your personal background and passions, a letter of intent focuses more on academic history and professional goals.
The format and content of a letter of intent can vary widely, depending on the graduate school’s preferences. Note that the same is true for both in-person and online Masters programs.
What to Know Before You Start
Before writing a letter of intent for grad school, there are a few key things to keep in mind.
First, each grad school has their own preferences or requirements for letters of intent. Therefore, it’s critical to check the guidelines with the admissions committee before you start preparing your application. Be sure to ask them about the required format, as well as what information you should include.
It’s also important to conduct your own research into the program to determine the kind of things the selection committee will be looking for. This could include factors such as a particular faculty member, the curriculum structure, or learning content.
There’s another important consideration. That’s your academic and professional goals.
- Why are you interested in this particular program?
- What do you want to get out of it?
- How does it fit into your broader career goals?
Answer these questions to help you decide what to include in your letter of intent. This ensures authenticity in your submission. It also sets you apart from anyone else. Your specific desires are your own. They won’t mirror thousands of other applicants.
When you’re ready, daft an outline of the letter. This should cover the main points above. This is an important step to make sure your letter of intent is concise, informative, yet covers all the essential information the admission committee is looking to see.
Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to start writing your letter of intent.
Read on to learn more about the sections to include, top tips, and letter of intent grad school samples!
Why is a letter of intent important?
If required, your letter of intent plays a vital role in your grad school application that could make the difference between rejection and moving on to the next stage. It provides context to your academic resume, transcripts, and other documentation that gives the reader an idea of who you are as a person.
This can be very compelling to the selection committee, if your letter of intent is strong enough.
It also gives you the opportunity to detail your research interests. This is very valuable if the program has a research component, as you can use your letter of intent to explain your skills and passions in this area.
Through your letter of intent, you can also tell the selection committee about your academic and career goals, helping to convince them that you’re a good fit for the program. Finally, it allows you to showcase your written communication skills, which is a vital skill set for any grad student.
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The Key Parts of a Graduate Letter of Intent
Although the exact format may differ depending on the program’s requirements, there are certain key sections that a letter of intent should typically include.
A letter of intent should generally be structured in the same way as a formal business letter. As such, it should have a header with the name and address of the recipient, usually the admissions counselor or director for the program you’re applying to.
Below this and on a separate line you should put the date that you’re printing the letter.
Directly below the header, be sure to include a formal salutation, typically “Dear…” followed by the recipient’s name. If you don’t know the name of the admissions counselor or graduate program director – find out.
This should be the person in charge of selecting candidates for that particular program. Check the program’s website, and if you can’t find the info that way, send the admissions office an email to ask!
The opening paragraph is one of the most important parts of a letter of intent graduate school. This is your chance to capture the attention of the selection committee and encourage them to keep reading.
In the introduction, you should briefly explain why you want to apply for the program and summarize your academic experience. You can also introduce the key points that you’ll elaborate on later in the letter.
Qualifications and Educational Background
Following your introductory paragraph, you can launch straight into talking about your qualifications and background. This is the time to flesh out the information in your academic resume. You can mention important awards, and impressive academic results.
Along with your academic history, you can also describe relevant professional experience.
Although a letter of intent is mostly focused on the academic sphere, professional experience is worth mentioning if it directly relates to the field you want to study, or if you’ve been working for some years since completing your undergraduate degree.
Research or Study Projects
The next section of the letter should detail your key academic accomplishments, such as major research and study projects. You could also include your professional achievements, if you’re an experienced professional rather than a recent graduate.
You can also mention relevant prizes and awards you’ve received, either in the academic or professional sphere. Be sure to include anything that demonstrates your ability to complete the work required of graduate students.
Goals and Motivations
The previous paragraphs are designed to convince the selection committee that you’re a great fit for their program. This final section is geared towards explaining why the program is a great fit for you.
This is crucial, because admissions counselors look for candidates who are motivated and passionate about the program, rather than those who may drop out due to lack of interest.
Here, you should talk about what draws you to this grad program specifically, whether it is the unique curriculum, a renowned faculty member, flexible program structure, excellent opportunities for internships, or something else.
This is also a great time to describe your future goals, and how the program will help you to work towards them. A strong statement of intent for grad school will cover both educational goals and career goals. You could also mention personal reasons and motivations, such as a desire to increase your knowledge in a certain area, or a particular passion for the field.
End your letter of intent with a short paragraph of around two sentences, summarizing your key points. You may also want to thank the reader for their time or note that you’re looking forward to hearing from them regarding your application.
Don’t skip over or rush your closing statement. Though brief, this is a vital part of your letter of intent: it should bring everything together and leave a strong impression that convinces the selection committee to move your application on to the next stage.
As you are following a business letter format, be sure to include a formal sign off (such as “Sincerely” or “Kind regards”) followed by your full name.
Graduate School Letter of Intent Template and Example
Grad School Letter of Intent Template
Fill in this template to create your own masters program letter of intent, or adapt it to create a letter to accompany your application for a doctorate or professional program:
[Name and Address of Admissions Counselor]
Dear [Name of Admissions Counselor]
- Introduce yourself and explain why you want to apply in one sentence
- Briefly summarize your qualifications, education history, key motivations, and what you will discuss in the rest of the letter
Paragraph 1: Qualifications and Educational Background
- Detail your undergraduate studies and qualifications
- Describe your major academic accomplishments
Paragraph 2: Major Projects
- Explain your major research and/or study projects
- Cover your professional journey and describe experience relevant to the program
Paragraph 3: Goals and Motivations
- Talk about why you’re interested the program
- Mention your professional and academic goals
Letter of Intent Example Grad School
Here’s a sample letter of intention for graduate school based on fictional details to show the key sections, formatting, tone, and type of content you should look to include.
Dr. Rosario Ortega
School of Professional Studies
339 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611
September 12, 2023
Dear Dr. Ortega
Through my undergraduate studies at Brown and internship at the New York Public Library, I’ve developed a strong passion for North American literature. I’m therefore writing to apply for the Master of Arts in Literature at Northwestern University.
[Qualifications and Educational Background]
I completed my Bachelor of Arts at Brown University in 2023, with a concentration in Literary Arts, with an overall GPA of 6.0. Following graduation, I completed a three-month internship at the New York Public Library, where I worked with the archives department, assisting with a range of archiving tasks as well as completing a major project.
During my undergraduate studies, I completed a major research project into leading female African American writers of the 20th century. I received the Harriet Tillman Award in recognition for the high standard of work of my project.
As part of my internship with the New York Public Library, I was responsible for a project to provide access to African American history through the holdings of the library’s collection. Working under the guidance of one of the library’s archive specialists, I applied archival standards to process materials and make them available to researchers and the general public.
[Goals and Motivations]
I’m interested in earning my master’s degree from the School of Professional Studies because of the program’s strong faculty and emphasis on diversity. I am particularly excited to work with Dr. Margaret Hedelman, whose pioneering work on the underrepresentation of African American poets is truly inspiring. I believe that literature is a vital part of North American culture and a reflection on society and, as such, it is essential that we acknowledge authors from all communities, and promote underrepresented voices.
I believe that the Master’s of Arts in Literature will best allow me to achieve my goal of becoming an archivist and educator in order to share knowledge of diverse authors and poets with the broader community. Thank you for your consideration.
Related: Does GPA Matter for Grad School?
Tips for Writing the Best Letter of Intent for University
Your statement of intent can be a crucial part of your grad school application, so it’s important to make it as strong as possible in order to stand out from the other candidates. Here are some important things to keep in mind to help you put your best foot forward.
Remember the Key Purposes of the Letter
As you write your letter of intent, it’s essential to keep in mind why you’re writing it. This will help you to stay on track and optimize your letter to make it as effective and compelling as possible.
A letter of intent has two primary purposes:
- Highlighting the most important information in your application: your key qualifications, experience, and achievements.
- Showing the selection committee who you are as a person, including your own interests and goals.
Your letter of intent should be concise and closely focused on achieving these two goals. This means that everything you share should contribute to these aims. If you find yourself writing something that doesn’t support one of these two goals, delete it! This is merely unnecessary fluff that detracts from your core message.
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Leverage Your Strengths
Though a statement of intent should generally focus on academic history and broadly follow a set format, you can play with standard templates in order to make your letter as compelling as possible.
You may have an impressive level of professional experience that demonstrates your ability to excel at grad school, but your academic history is lackluster or outdated. In this case, it would be better to focus on your professional experience and achievements and only briefly mention your academic history.
On the other hand, if you’ve recently completed your undergraduate degree, you could focus entirely on your academic qualifications, projects, and awards.
If you feel like both your academic and professional history is lacking, talk about your personal story and why you have a passion for the subject matter.
It’s all about leveraging your strengths to present the most compelling case for why the admissions committee should accept you into their program.
Take the Opportunity to Showcase your Writing Skills
Though primarily designed to explain your abilities, experience, and interests, one of the secondary purposes of a letter of intent is to showcase your written communication skills. Written communication is a big part of any graduate program, especially programs with a thesis or dissertation component. This is your chance to show that you can write well.
Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your letter is well-written in a professional style, using proper formatting, grammar, and spelling. If writing is not your strong suit, or if you’re not accustomed to preparing format business letters, take your time to do some prep work.
Read up on the required formatting, style and flow for these kinds of letters. You may even want to practice your formal writing skills through writing exercises.
Carefully Edit your Letter of Intent
As with all aspects of your graduate school application, it’s important to carefully proofread and edit your letter of intent. Graduate programs can receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications, and they may quickly cull applications based on a range of factors, including poor editing.
Even small errors could result in your application landing on the “discard” pile instead of moving on to the next stage.
Good editing goes much further than checking your letter for stray commas and spelling mistakes. First of all, you want to carefully review the content of the letter to make sure it is compelling, informative, and includes all key information. Then, take another pass to check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation, as well as ensuring that the writing flows well and sounds professional.
Impress with a Winning Letter of Intent
The best graduate programs are highly competitive, so it’s essential to make your application as strong as possible in order to stand out from potentially hundreds, if not thousands of applicants.
This is particularly true for your letter of intent which, if required, sets the tone for your application and can help convince the admissions committee to move you forward to the next stage.
Craft a compelling letter of intent for graduate school by keeping it concise and well-written, and focused on explaining why you’re a great fit for the program, and it’s a perfect fit for you.
While you’re preparing your winning grad school application, take a look at our guide to how to ask a professional for a letter of recommendation.
Do All Schools Require a Letter of Intent?
No – not all schools require a letter of intent. While some graduate programs ask for a letter of intent as part of the application process, others demand a personal statement instead. Always check the application requirements well in advance of the deadline, so you’ll have plenty of time to put together a strong application.
How Long Should a Letter of Intent Be?
A letter of intent for a masters program or other graduate program should be around 3-4 paragraphs long, as well as short opening and closing paragraphs, header, and sign off. Generally speaking, an ideal letter of intent is between 300 and 450 words, and no more than one page. However, each program may have its own requirements, so be sure to check with the admissions office before preparing your letter.
How Should You Format a Letter of Intent?
Some programs require specific formatting, so be sure to ask the admissions office if they have any specific requirements for the letter of intent. If they don’t, you should standard formatting for a business letter: a header with the recipient’s name and address, the date, formal greeting, opening paragraph, body with 3-4 paragraphs describing your history, achievements, and interest in the program, a short closing paragraph, and a formal sign off. Be sure to use a professional font, size, spacing, and margins, in line with a business letter.