Tips for Writing a PhD Program Cover Letter

Est. Reading: 3 minutes

If you are feeling frustrated at the thought of writing yet another cover letter for your PhD program application, you are probably not alone.

Pretty much everyone hates the tedium of browsing sample cover letters online, reading advice posts about cover letters, staring helplessly at a blank computer screen on which a cover letter has yet to appear, and then giving up and eating some cake instead.

And really, you’ve already produced a resume, an application form, and probably a few writing samples as well. Do they really need a cover letter too? Will anyone even read it?

It may not be what you want to hear, but the quick answer is YES – yes, you do really need a cover letter, and yes, the admissions officers will read it.

So, what is a cover letter, exactly, and why do you need one? And more importantly, how do you writer a good one? Let me walk you through the basics.

Why do you need a cover letter?

Even though you have already completed a resume and application form, your PhD program cover letter is important because it is the one document that allows your personality to shine through – before the admissions officers decide whether to meet you in person.

Resumes and application documents are fundamentally fact-based – they comprise lists of achievements and summaries of experience, but they are necessarily formal and dry.

Your cover letter allows you to express who you are as a person, giving you the chance to “meet” the program director.

A good cover letter should tell the program director about you, convince them you will be a good addition to their program, and explain any gaps or oddities in your CV.

In other words, it’s your chance to bring your application to life. It’s also a great opportunity to demonstrate your writing ability and communication skills.

What should your cover letter include?

A good PhD program cover letter include a pretty standard set of components.

It should:

  • Briefly state your goals and what you are applying for
  • Summarize your background and include relevant experiences
  • Explain why you want to join this specific program
  • Summarize what you want/plan to research and how this research will impact your chosen field
  • Conclude with contact information

Remember, the admissions team want to know that you are capable of completing the program successfully and that you will be an asset to the program and school. By including these components, you should be aiming to show both.

Tips for Writing Your Cover Letter

Now that you know why you need a PhD program cover letter and what to include, you need some tips for making sure your letter stands out as awesome.

First and most importantly, you need to really show that you are invested in the program and school – you’re not the sort of candidate who’ll just take the first offer to come along! Research the program you are applying for so your cover letter can be “personalized” for the school and program, demonstrating that you’ll be a “keeper.”

Secondly, remember that this is your first impression, so you want to make it professional. Check with the organization for formatting guidelines, including their length preferences and what they want included in the letter.

Ask whether the letter is likely to be printed or emailed and choose your design and formatting options accordingly – tiny or fancy fonts and pale colors may not be easily readable in all situations, and your letter can’t shine if it can’t be read.

Need help writing an awesome cover letter? Find out how a writing workshop can help.

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