It is usually an easy task for students to state their personal motives for studying abroad or for a semester abroad. Writing a letter of motivation for studying abroad, on the other hand, proves to be far more difficult. But when is a so-called personal statement – optionally also called a letter of motivation, statement of purpose or essay – necessary at all?
Occasions for a letter of motivation
If you apply for a full degree abroad, you will usually not be spared having to write a letter of motivation. A statement of purpose is usually an integral part of the application for a bachelor’s or master’s degree abroad.
However, a letter of motivation for studying abroad is also required in other cases, for example for participation in the ERASMUS program. In addition, letters of motivation for scholarships are common, for example for scholarships from the DAAD, the Fulbright Commission or for a PROMOS scholarship.
On the other hand, students who decide to spend a semester abroad as a free mover and do not study abroad as part of a university agreement often do not have to submit a letter of motivation. This is because many universities abroad have a simplified application process in the semester area. Nevertheless, there are also universities and colleges that insist on a letter of motivation for free movers for a semester abroad. It is at the university’s discretion whether and to what extent it requests a letter of motivation.
Students who are asked to justify their study plans in writing are often driven by the same question: How does the letter of motivation have to be structured in terms of content and form and which points must be covered?
Formal and content structure of a letter of motivation
Many students first look for a template or a sample text for a letter of motivation. However, this makes only limited sense, because a letter of motivation or a personal statement should always be tailored to the applicant and serve to explain the individual motivation for studying abroad.
In addition, the requirements of the individual universities for the letter of motivation vary – both in terms of the length of the letter and in terms of the content. For this reason, templates can at most serve as a framework.
Of course, it is okay to talk to parents, friends or other people about the letter of motivation in advance and to receive feedback afterwards. However, the letter of motivation must always be written by the applicant himself and must therefore be authentic.
Important: Submitting a letter of motivation that was not written by the applicant himself or even copied from the Internet can lead to exclusion from the application process. The employees in the admission offices pay close attention to this and have a lot of experience in recognizing such inauthentic letters of motivation.
Content of a letter of motivation for studying abroad
In a letter of motivation for a semester or study abroad, it is important to express your own interest in a study place at a particular university. So it is a self-portrayal of the applicant. As a result, the letter – unlike a letter of recommendation for studying abroad – is also written by the respective student himself.
There is no magic formula for a letter of motivation for studying abroad. Nevertheless, several aspects can be listed that are usually part of such a letter:
- Brief introduction of the person (course, semester, previous degrees)
- Justification of interest in a) the respective country b) the city or region c) the target university.
- Reason for the choice of subject / (planned) course choice at the university abroad
- Technical knowledge and experience acquired so far (through internships, work experience, previous studies, stays abroad, etc.) that qualify the applicant for the degree. It is explicitly about the qualifications and skills that are relevant to the desired course of study.
- Assessment of your own language skills (reference to experience abroad, completed language tests such as the TOEFL or IELTS, language courses, etc.)
- Expectations of the stay abroad
- Plans after studying abroad or semester abroad (writing the bachelor’s or master’s thesis, degree, further stays abroad, etc.)
In summary, it can be said that a letter of motivation should clarify the professional and personal motivation of the applicant for studying abroad. Depending on the country and university, there may be specific requirements for the letter of motivation.
For example, many universities in the USA make it important that students can identify with the institution and make this clear in their letter. For example, you can go into the special course offer or specific research projects, the excellent supervisory ratio, the reputation of the university or the unique range of services. The task of the letter of motivation for studying abroad is therefore also to show how university and student fit together.
In addition, when applying for a graduate or doctoral program, some US universities require that applicants express themselves in a letter of motivation on specific issues. These are mostly related to special technical aspects of the course.