You might not be aware of this, but your scholarship motivation letter can win you that coveted scholarship, or wash all your other efforts down the drain.
The motivation letter is where you get to display your know how and tell a story about yourself. It gives the review committee a preview of your worthiness (how much you deserve the scholarship). Considering what is at stake, you can’t afford to not bring your A-game when crafting the motivation letter.
Think of your scholarship motivation letter as a chance to tell a story you tell about yourself. Every detail you include in the letter tells something about who you are.
The story you tell should paint you as someone who is truly deserving of the scholarship. Paint a story that makes them want to immediately offer you the scholarship – not one where you are appealing merely to their pity. Write a story that makes them admire you – your personality, brains, and skills.
A good scholarship motivation letter is sticky – it sticks in the mind. Good stories will do that. The greatest skill you need when writing a scholarship motivation letter is basically storytelling.
You simply pick certain details out of your life (career, education, etc.), and knit them together into a compelling story that will keep the review committee spell-bound. If that sounds daunting, keep reading, because we are going to break everything down simply and clearly.
- 1 WHAT IS A MOTIVATION LETTER?
- 2 THE BASIC STRUCTURE OF A SCHOLARSHIP MOTIVATION LETTER
- 3 TIPS ON HOW TO WRITE AN EXCEPTIONAL MOTIVATION LETTER
- 4 MISTAKES TO BEWARE OF WHEN WRITING A SCHOLARSHIP MOTIVATION LETTER
- 5 SAMPLE MOTIVATION LETTER
- 6 WRAPPING UP
WHAT IS A MOTIVATION LETTER?
A motivation letter is an introductory document, one-page long, which you attach to your resume when applying for a scholarship. It quickly introduces you to the university admissions officers.
The motivation letter gives you a chance to showcase your skills and know how. The trick is to display your strengths and show them that you are a highly motivated and capable candidate.
A good motivation letter is brief and to the point, taking about 20 seconds to quickly skim through (not read). When crafting the scholarship motivation letter, ask yourself: with only 20 seconds to impress the people reviewing your application, what should you include and what is better left out?
While there are templates out there you can use (and we will give you a sample at the end of this article), you have to be careful not to copy and paste. Don’t use the exact same motivation letter (even an original one) for different scholarship opportunities. Customize your motivation letter to fit each particular scholarship opportunity.
Scholarship review committees will often use motivation letters as a means to narrow down the choices to the applicants they like best. That means if your motivation letter is not good enough, there is a risk of the rest of your application not being read.
Motivation letters are typically necessary for graduate-level scholarships, though you may sometimes require them for specialty programs at a bachelor’s level.
THE BASIC STRUCTURE OF A SCHOLARSHIP MOTIVATION LETTER
While the requirements for scholarship motivation letters are different for each award, the basic structure is similar, containing these three key elements
- At least 3 body paragraphs
In the introduction section, you provide your name, your level of education, and the course or degree program you want to study.
In the first body paragraph, you mention any work-related experience you have. This includes internships as well, whether paid or not. Outline your career’s growth/progression in chronological order. Close off the paragraph with a vision of the direction your career will take after you have completed your studies (if given the scholarship).
In the second body paragraph, outline what benefits you expect to gain from your studies. If that sounds like a hard question to ponder, simplify it by asking yourself: what problems do I aim to solve or uncover? Education should have a practical application and having the ability to solve problems is a sign of true (and proactive) learning.
In the third (and final) body paragraph, outline your holistic future plans. This is basically about your big dreams for after you complete your studies. For instance, do you intend to pursue a masters or doctorate degree afterwards? What companies or agencies do you want to work for after you graduate? If you have entrepreneurial goals, you can talk about the company or product you wish to develop. You could also talk about programs or organizations you want to develop to solve a certain problem in society.
Note that we have said it’s “at least 3 body paragraphs”. You can break them up or stretch them into more paragraphs (like 5 or 7), depending on how much content you have or simply for better readability. Extremely thick chunks of text can be a put-off.
Finally, the conclusion wraps up everything. This is where you give a summation of your main points and say something about your professional objectives. You also get to reiterate why you are perfect for the scholarship program.
TIPS ON HOW TO WRITE AN EXCEPTIONAL MOTIVATION LETTER
The application usually doesn’t specify the preferred length of the motivation letter, so it will be up to you to use your judgment. However, the ideal motivation letter should be concise, something that provides information briefly, quickly, yet powerfully. It’s not about how many words you use; it’s about what those words are saying. Learn the trick of condensing information.
The typical motivation letter has a length of between 500 and 1000 words. For a fast reader (125 wpm), that takes between 1.1 and 2.2 minutes to read. For someone who reads at an average speed (300 wpm), that takes between 1.7 and 3.3 minutes to read. For a slow reader (125 wpm), that takes between 4 and 8 minutes to read.
This clearly shows why reviewers might prefer to skim through quickly and only read carefully when the application seems promising. That means it is absolutely necessary that you craft a concise yet eye-catching motivation letter.
Your motivation letter should contain the following details:
- Your resume’s most critical details
- Your education credentials
- Your professional experiences & the plans you have for your future
Customize The Letter To Fit The Scholarship
As I mentioned earlier, don’t use the same motivation letter for all the scholarship opportunities you apply for. Instead, you should tailor each motivation letter to fit the scholarship you are applying for. As you write about your future plans in the letter, ask yourself how these plans relate to the scholarship you are applying for.
Remember that the review committee will be combing through the applications, selecting those they believe will benefit the most (and are the most suited) for the scholarship. If your future plans do not align with what you want to study, your chances of getting the scholarship will be slim.
For instance, if you are applying for a scholarship to study engineering, it doesn’t make any sense for you to say that you plan on venturing into an unrelated career one day. You have to demonstrate a strong link between your personal goals and the thing you want to study.
Therefore, in the case of an engineering scholarship, you will have to come up with an explanation that demonstrates how you plan to apply that engineering education after you graduate.
It is also worth considering how you can use the knowledge you learn during your studies to support the mission pursued by the scholarship provider.
This is not always necessary, but sometimes it can tip the scales in your favor. For instance, if you are applying for a scholarship from a wildlife preservation organization, it will be very much in your favor if your letter explains how you will use your education to benefit the organization or the field of wildlife preservation.
Another way to customize your motivation letter for the scholarship is by highlighting what unique traits you have that make you more deserving of the scholarship than other applicants.
For instance, what specific experiences have you had that make you deserve it more than the rest. This is where your past volunteering and internship opportunities come in handy – or jobs you have had, talents, hobbies, awards, and so on.
If you get the scholarship, what will you do once you have finished your studies? Is there a specific issue in the world that you wish to address? What problems will you solve?
Think about these questions carefully and in answering them you will slowly come up with a motivation letter that paints you as a promising individual whose application deserves closer scrutiny.
MISTAKES TO BEWARE OF WHEN WRITING A SCHOLARSHIP MOTIVATION LETTER
1. Expressing Mere Desire Instead Of Proving Worthiness
Let’s face it. Every single person applying for a particular scholarship desires the opportunity.
Therefore, desire is not unique. Most people applying for the scholarship also have dreams for their future, the things they want to do.
Dreams are not unique, unless they are rooted in evidence of the ability to achieve them.
For instance, every child once dreamed of being a doctor or a pilot. That should prove the worth of dreams – even a child can dream!
However, if a young person who has done volunteering at a hospital tells you she wants to be a doctor, you are more likely to take her seriously.
If another young person tells you he has done nursing and wants to now study medicine and become a doctor, you will take him even more seriously.
Do you see the point? Dreams are not unique, but when they are accompanied with the evidence of the ability to achieve them, they cease to be dreams and become goals. We don’t admire people for their dreams, because everyone has dreams. We do however admire people for their goals. A lot of people don’t realize there is a difference between the two.
In your scholarship motivation letter, ensure that you provide evidence of the ability to achieve your dreams. That means use your experience, skills, and education credentials to strengthen your narrative.
This is similar to what people call “proof of concept” – not exactly, but still similar. Your credentials and skills and experience provide proof that you deserve the scholarship.
2. Being Vague
Don’t be vague when writing your motivation letter. No one likes that, especially not scholarship review committees. They are combing through applications looking for substance.
If you have something to present, it is generally expected that you will show it off with pride. If you have nothing to show off, that’s when you start devolving into vagueness – or rather, that is what the reviewers will conclude about your vague motivation letter: that you have nothing of worth to showcase.
The scholarship motivation letter is not a place to practice modesty. By all means blow your own trumpet. If you have achievements and skills and qualities to boast of, please include them in your motivation letter. That is what makes a motivation letter eye-catching.
Take ownership of your achievements and your knowledge. Show them off – but of course, as I said, you have to try and stay on topic (keep it relevant to the scholarship). This is all part of the effort to prove that you have know how and that you deserve the scholarship.
3. Not Having A Social Conscience
The scholarship providers do not want to hear that getting the scholarship is a means for you to travel to another country or to feel safer happier, and earn more money than you would in your country.
While all that might happen if you get the scholarship, it should not be your focus – or at least, don’t show the scholarship review committee that it is your focus.
It is not attractive – it is a sign of individualism and a lack of social conscience. What are you going to do for society?
You have to think bigger, have a more holistic vision. Instead of just seeing how the scholarship is going to benefit you, start seeing how it will benefit your community or country through you.
What problems is society facing that you are going to solve thanks to the knowledge and opportunities and connections you will acquire during your studies?
If you have never thought about this, it is never too late to start. Writing a motivation letter shouldn’t be something you knock off in a few minutes. Though the letter itself should be a brief, quick read, it should take a sizeable amount of time for you to perfect. For instance, with this question, all you have to ask yourself is: “What problems is my country or town or village facing, and what can I do about it?”
Relate your solution to the scholarship opportunity – that it is the opportunity itself (education, network) that will give you the ability to solve those problems.
Even better is if you have already started solving a particular problem (through volunteering or having set up an organization) – it shows that adding education will equip you to better tackle the problem.
4. Not Mentioning The Value You Bring To Campus
The other mistake is not mentioning what value you will bring to the campus. What unique spice will you be bringing to the community of scholars? Again, this is about the value you are bringing to the table based on achievements and skills you have already attained.
What can you teach your fellow students or even teachers? What unique point of view do you bring to the campus? What extracurricular activities are you interested in? What are your special talents?
For instance, if you are a soccer player, you can join the school’s soccer team. If you have had the experience of running a business and you are pursuing a business degree, then you will be coming to the classroom with valuable experience the other students may not have and that will no doubt enrich the discourse.
5. Not Following Instructions
Be very careful that you don’t do what the instructions have explicitly asked you not to do. Follow the instructions to a T. If they say send 1 sheet, do exactly that. You should not expect the scholarship reviewers to exempt you from the requirements.
After you have completed writing the motivation letter, you should carefully go through it and compare with the instructions just to ensure you have not contravened any of them.
Since applications are usually extremely many, the reviewers are going to be happy for any reason to disqualify an application – because it reduces the number of choices they have to pick from. If you don’t follow instructions, it is very possible that your application could be thrown in the trash pile and not considered at all for the scholarship.
SAMPLE MOTIVATION LETTER
To give you inspiration that you can draw on when writing your own motivation letter, here is an example of a successful motivation letter:
|My name is Elena Palek from Southern Sudan. I got my undergraduate degree in Business Administration from the University of Cape Town, South Africa a year ago. I intend to use this scholarship to join the well-known MBA program at Boston University Questrom School of Business. I am attracted to this institution because it is the best when it comes to entrepreneurial studies and business.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I quickly found an internship opportunity at Old Mutual, a prestigious insurance company in Nairobi, Kenya. The internship lasted two months, after which I was offered employment in the company. Meanwhile, I have been running an ecommerce business called BuyFast since my campus days: I offer fast and efficient delivery services for my clients, a business that I started in Cape Town and brought with me to Kenya.
After coming to Kenya, I did not shut down the South African operations, but kept them running under the charge of a business partner. It is my dream to one day go back home to Southern Sudan and turn this into an Africa-wide (and maybe even worldwide) company. I believe this idea has the potential to be as successful as Uber or AirBnB, and I have the work ethic and dedication to make it work. BuyFast currently has a total of seventeen employees and services two cities: Cape Town in South Africa and Nairobi in Kenya. Many African countries are in dire need of affordable and accessible ecommerce services, and I am confident that I can ultimately scale BuyFast to cover the whole continent.
This MBA program will give me a better understanding of business and I can, over time, expand the company to handle more cities and cover entire countries (starting with South Africa, Kenya, and Southern Sudan, before I venture into other countries). My passion for business and entrepreneurship knows no bounds and if I get the chance to study at BU Questrom, where I will encounter all sorts of business scholars and practitioners, I will soak up as much knowledge as I can and build networks that will be useful not only to me but also to my company (and by extension, all our employees and customers).
Thanks to my background in business as an entrepreneur, I believe that I will bring a fresh perspective to the discourse at BU. That is because I will have the benefit of practical experience to glean insights from when discussing business principles and theory. What I admire about BU Questrom is the fact that it draws students from diverse fields and backgrounds: it is a veritable melting pot of intelligent minds. To encounter that diversity will help sharpen my mind, broaden my horizons, and provide a diverse set of connections that will be of value for many years to come.
If I am awarded this scholarship, it will be a huge benefit not just to me, but also to my employees and customers (present and future). I know that I need next-level knowledge to take my company to the next level, and the MBA program at BU Questrom will give me exactly that.
I thank you for considering my application and look forward to a positive response.
After reading our sample motivation letter (Elena Palek’s story), do you see what we meant at the beginning of this article when we said a motivation letter is a story? If you were in the review committee and read Elena’s story of grit, dedication, and pure entrepreneurial ambition, wouldn’t you want to give her the scholarship right away?
Everyone has achievements and skills. The good thing about the motivation letter is that you are fully at liberty to show only your strengths and hide your weaknesses (like big gaps in employment).
Take those strengths and knit them together into a compelling story for the review committee, something they won’t want to skim through!