If you’ve decided that an occupation in academia is right for you, you’ll need a well-written academic cover letter to start you down the path. Fortunately, if you’ve faced a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation before, writing a one-page cover letter should be a walk in the park – if you know the right way to go about it.
That’s where we can help. This academic cover letter writing guide and the examples it provides will describe what you need to know to craft an outstanding application letter, including:
- The best format for an academic cover letter
- The six elements of a successful academic cover letter
- The psychology of writing an effective cover letter
- Common mistakes to avoid
You can find more writing and formatting tips in Resume.io’s 125+ occupation-specific cover letter examples and writing guides.
Best format for an academic cover letter
Proper formatting for an academic cover letter requires good structure, design and layout. Cover letters should almost never be longer than one page, and they must include six essential elements:
- Sign-off and signature
Your letter should also look as good as it reads. Here are some of the design choices you need to consider:
- Font: Choose a professional, easy-to-read font that doesn’t distract from your content.
- Font size: Use a font size of 10 to 12 points. Do not resort to using a tiny font size to make your letter fit onto one page.
- Margins: Use 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, left and right.
- Align text left: Text should be aligned left, not justified from margin to margin.
- Paragraphs: Do not indent paragraphs, but leave a space between them. Use enough paragraph breaks to avoid big blocks of black text.
For more design advice, see our comprehensive guide on how to write a cover letter.
Below you’ll find adaptable academic cover letter examples that can serve as a framework for your own.
Cover letter header: How to reach you
The cover letter header, also known as a letterhead, should be an attractively designed section at the top that includes your name, occupation, mailing address, phone number and email. If you have a LinkedIn profile or another website that highlights your academic or professional achievements, you can include that as well.
The header is your best opportunity to give your letter a stylish design and layout, with thoughtful use of typography and layout and perhaps an accent color. Your letter should look nice at a glance, before anyone even reads the first word, creating a positive visual impression as soon as it’s opened. Check out our cover letter example for more ideas on creating a great header.
Cover letter greeting: Always try to personalize
“Dear Dr. Hernandez,” “Dear Ms. Starling” and “Dear Mr. Thompson” are all appropriate ways to write a cover letter greeting. “To Whom It May Concern” is not.
Always try to personalize a cover letter by addressing it to the person responsible for processing applications for the job you’re seeking. If you happen to know this person on a first-name basis, then a greeting that uses the first name is also acceptable.
If you don’t know the name of the person you should be writing to, make an effort to find out. If you can’t find that info online, simply call the employer and ask. People like to read their own names, and you’re more likely to get a response to a letter addressed to a person than one addressed to an entire company or department.
If you can’t find the name you need, you’ll have to take a more generic approach, like “Dear University of Florida HR Team” or the like. Some writers take a more casual approach by substituting “Greetings” or even “Hello” for the word “Dear,” which may be fine, but you can’t go wrong with “Dear.” Below you’ll find the greeting from our cover letter example.
Dear Professor Wilkinson,
Cover letter introduction: Start strong
Your first paragraph, the cover letter introduction, is how you make your first impression, and you want to get off to a strong start. Specify the job you’re seeking, and open with a compelling statement about why you excel in your field.
Cover letters often open with the years of job experience a candidate has. For a career in academia, it may also be a good idea to mention the degree you hold and where you obtained it. Lead with your strengths, and try to fashion a lead that a job recruiter would find irresistible.
Do not open with “I am writing this letter to,” or “Please consider this letter my application for….” There’s no need to make reference to your letter – just write it!
The introduction from our academic cover letter sample appears below.
The academic part-time MBA lecturer role in the business department at University of Miami would be an ideal fit after my move from UCLA and my recent book series commission.
Cover letter middle part (body): Make your case
The middle two or three paragraphs of your letter, the body, must build a persuasive case that you are the right person for the job. Go into greater depth on your employment experience and academic credentials.
Be specific about what you’ve achieved in past jobs, or mention any special distinctions received as part of your education. Use facts and figures where possible, and see if you can relate an anecdote about a challenge you once faced in your field and how you surmounted it successively.
It’s also helpful to mention the name of the institution you’re applying to and why you want to work there. Avoid writing a one-size-fits-all cover letter that could be sent to anyone, and personalize it for the employer you’re targeting.
Here’s the body section from our academic cover letter sample:
I taught first-year MBA students a broad range of economics courses for seven years at UCLA. After fifteen years of business leadership in finance and technology, gaining my own MBA at the same institution, I switched to a career in academia and gained my teaching qualifications. Imparting knowledge to the next generation of entrepreneurs is as enjoyable as working on any new product or service.
My MBA specializations lie in the supply chain and procurement functions in terms of my practical experience, but I also teach courses on P&L management, forecasting, M&A strategy and all aspects of financial planning. I have published two books and over thirty whitepapers on artificial intelligence in business management and I am about to embark on my third book. I would like to be part of an institution where my students can join me on my exploration of this fast-growing area.
Cover letter conclusion and sign-off
The conclusion, your final paragraph, can serve as a wrap-up and a thank you, but it should also include a call to action urging the recipient to respond. You might say that you’re always reachable at the contact info provided, that you look forward to a reply, and that you would be delighted to be invited for an interview. Plant the thought in the reader’s head that s/he should do something as a result of receiving your letter.
Close with a sign-off like “Sincerely,” “All my best” or the like, then add a space and type your name, as shown in the academic cover letter example below. (There is no need to actually sign the letter in electronic correspondence, although you can add a digital signature if you wish.) See the conclusion from our academic cover letter sample below.
I enclose a sample of my published works and some reviews for my books. I always try to teach with real-world examples at the heart of my lessons and speak at 25+ conferences a year on the latest industry developments. I would welcome the opportunity of an interview to explore the position in more detail.
The psychology of writing an effective cover letter
The reason for writing a cover letter is to establish a personal connection with a hiring manager. So although this is a formal business letter, it should also be somewhat personal. You may choose to discuss your personal reasons for seeking a new job, and you may want to highlight the inner passions that drove you to your field.
You want to write your letter like a real person – not a robot – so avoid cliches, HR-speak and “fluff,” which is language that sounds fancy but really says nothing. Write in a human, friendly, relatable voice.
Imagine that you are the hiring manager receiving this letter. Would you be interested in meeting the person who wrote it? Your letter should exude both competence and confidence, without ever striking an arrogant or presumptuous tone. Try to come off as both professional and likable, bearing in mind that nobody wants to hire someone they don’t like.
Common mistakes to avoid:
- Typos, misspellings and bad grammar are unacceptable in a cover letter for any field, but especially in academia.
- Do not write a copy-paste letter that could be sent to multiple employers. Each cover letter should be targeted to a specific employer.
- Poor design and formatting can detract in major ways from a well-written letter, so be sure your letter looks great.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the person receiving this letter, and make sure it strikes a professional but relatable tone.
A great looking cover letter is the best way to lure the hiring manager in and make a professional first impression. If you don’t have time to fine-tune your formatting, consider using an expertly-designed cover letter template to make the job quick and easy.
- A great academic cover letter includes a friendly introduction, name-specific greeting and body section that highlights your accomplishments
- Don’t forget to quantify your achievements and focus on your academic career.
- Check out our adaptable academic cover letter example for more ideas on creating an attractive header.
For more ideas about crafting an academic cover letter, review some of our related education cover letter samples:
- University cover letter sample
- Master’s cover letter example
- Teacher cover letter sample
- Teaching assistant cover letter sample
- Harvard cover letter sample
Best of luck in your academic career!