Successful Motive Letters: Dos and Don’ts

By | August 14, 2020

Francois Marie Voltaire, French representative of the Enlightenment, at the time stated that “Writing is the painting of the voice. ” For his part, Gabriel García Márquez, a renowned Colombian writer, said: “When I want to write something it is because I feel that it deserves to be told. Furthermore, when I write a story it is because I would like to read it. ” With these quotes in mind, we can begin to talk about one of the requirements to be admitted to competitive and globally recognized graduate programs: motive letters.

The motive letters, which serve as admission essays, will be part of your admission portfolio in your application to postgraduate studies abroad and one of the few opportunities to have a direct dialogue with the admission committees. Hence the importance of having adequate planning and care both in the writing and in the content that you capture. “This evaluation instrument is subjective, and therefore there is no formula for writing essays, although there may be methods that show the committee that it is clear about its claims” (Borunda & Borunda, 2018)

Successful Motive Letters

The questions that you will be asked to answer in these admission essays are diverse, as well as the formats on which you will use to write them. For example, recently some prestigious Universities such as Kellogg School of Management have requested “video essays”. Whatever the question posed or the required format, this requirement is where you can highlight your positive differentiators, narrating the image you want to build as a candidate.

In addition to the fact that your essay becomes a determining factor to be admitted, completing them successfully can be your door to obtain a scholarship for your dream graduate degree. This can even go beyond financing and be a scholarship in the form of cash, regardless of whether you request it or not.

For all the above, in this article we share specific tips for your admission essays to be successful and not to be confused with an ordinary academic essay, which you most likely learned to do during your professional training.

Promote yourself as a candidate

You are likely to find yourself in a quandary as you want to reflect being an outstanding candidate without sounding arrogant, arrogant, or conceited. The important thing at all times is to be honest and clear, presenting specific examples that illustrate and argue why you should be admitted to the program. To be able to identify the above, a good option is to brainstorm where you focus your qualities, differentiators, achievements and results. It is important that in this rain you also determine your weaknesses, so that you can have a balance between positive and negative. Remember not to write about them, but to properly highlight your strengths in light of your weaknesses, without falling into “although I don’t know how to do this, I can do this”, rather to say “I am very skilled at this, this and this”,

Also, do not stay solely on the plane that obeys your personal interests. Strengthen your value as a candidate by also mentioning what will be the value that you will give to the program, the University or even the country where you will be studying. If you propose how, based on the knowledge and tools that the postgraduate program to which you aspire will provide you, you will contribute to a better society, you will be seen as a valuable candidate.

DO NOT use references

The admissions committee wants to build a profile of the candidate based on their responses to the proposed question, which must be supported by the candidate’s opinions, arguments, premises and conclusions. That is, the evaluators want to know only you and understand your position on the topic that is addressed in the essay. Therefore avoid the use of graphs, photographs, quotes from other people, among other references that do not provide the committee with a holistic perspective on your own interests or opinions.

In the same way, do not assume that those who will read your motive letter master the acronyms or jargon that, given your profile and your work field, you can use, and choose to avoid their use. Remember that reviewers have a lot of essays to read, and if they don’t know any of these terms you refer to, they won’t bother to investigate them, so you run the risk that the message of your essay won’t be understood in its entirety.


Colleges usually specify the maximum number of words allowed, so stick to this number and DO NOT write more. It is a common mistake to think that this will reflect something positive, as it can show that you have many arguments or opinions to contribute. This is not the case, and it can manifest that you cannot focus. On the other hand, in case the length of the essay is not specified in the requirements, we suggest that you contact the relevant people to clarify this point and avoid mistakes.

In order not to exceed what is allowed, it is important to be clear about the question to answer and limit yourself to answering only this one, in a concrete way. Also, do not lose focus on the central point that you want to communicate to the reader. By creating trade-offs, when you lose such focus, you can lose the evaluator, causing your main message to be overshadowed by too many secondary ideas, which do not even support your main idea. Remember: focus is essential.

Avoid negative comments

Candidates often see in their postgraduate studies abroad a way out of unfavorable situations that impede their professional fulfillment within their country. However, using this as the motivation for why you want to enter a certain program can work against you. Therefore, refrain from comments that judge the economic or political situation of your country, the few job opportunities or unsafe conditions, among others.

In addition to the above, also avoid talking about religious, cultural or political leanings since you do not know who is on the other side of the paper. Issuing comments regarding these topics can put you in situations that do not generate empathy for your beliefs and, in the worst case, erroneous prejudices about you.

DO NOT base yourself on your financial situation

The reason behind applying for a scholarship is – to mitigate to some extent the significant expense that studying a competitive graduate degree abroad represents. However, this argument is not the necessary narrative for the process of how to win a scholarship. Use your reason letters to show that you deserve to be a recipient of a scholarship or financing for reasons beyond economic ones, that is, because your accumulated merits and achievements and even more so, future ones, make you a worthy candidate for this support. Of course, you must be congruent with the rest of your admissions portfolio (competitive standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, CV and interviews), so that you prove to be a model applicant, one that Universities wish to have in their programs. Thus, you increase the chances of being offered a scholarship and making their admission offer tempting for you.

Suitable structure

Be careful to organize your ideas and what you have to say correctly and with cohesion. Write small paragraphs, to achieve the transmission of the message clearly and without much confusion. Start with a short introduction, where you put the reviewers on you in context. Remember that they need information to help them build your profile, so you should not include personal things that are irrelevant to graduate topics.

Continue the body of the writing stating your motivational arguments, where you respond in a concrete and precise way to the questions raised. DO NOT use the same arguments for all your essays, since each motivation letter must be specific and adapted to each University. Similarly, in this part show your knowledge of the program you are applying to, thus showing the interest you have in it and how it fits and will allow you to fulfill your professional objective. This will also allow the admissions committee to know that you have a previously analyzed and structured life plan, which will make you look like a serious candidate.

It ends with a conclusion where you reinforce the motivation to study at the University and the program. Also, take advantage of this space to thank the person who is reading your essay for their time. DO NOT try to appear like a friendly candidate through informal goodbyes like “God bless him”, remember that you are writing to the admissions committee of prestigious Universities such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, so you should not ignore the formality that this implies.

Check, check and check again

A single verification of your completed essay is NOT sufficient. You have to be very meticulous about your spelling and writing, as this also speaks to you as a candidate. Your brain is likely to miss spelling mistakes, or, by already knowing your ideas and what you are trying to convey, the way it is written is easy to understand. For this reason, we suggest you turn to third parties to help you with this check. However, we recommend that these third parties are not family members or people with whom you have a close emotional bond, as they will not contribute with an objective evaluation of your motivation letter.

Now, with all these tips, you know what not to do and what to do to write successful motivation letters. As mentioned at the beginning, there is no formula for star trials; however, we strongly suggest turning to experts. Although they do not have the rule to do so either, they do have a greater perspective in terms of your profile compared to other applicants to the same postgraduate degrees, with which they will objectively identify which aspects of your life are truly your differentiators. Don’t leave your admission process until the end.