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Written by Debbie BrideDebbie Bride

The Power of a Motivation Letter

27 min read
The Power of a Motivation Letter
Artwork by:Alina Kugush
Feeling unmotivated about that motivation you need to write? Would it help if you had a better idea how to go about it? Fret not! We’re here to guide you through the steps of creating this important application booster.

Motivation letters can be a game-changer for the same reason cover letters are a vital job application document: so you stand out in the crowd of dozens, if not hundreds, of qualified others. That’s the key common ground, and there are also similarities in the writing style and process. But the circumstances for creating a motivation letter and cover letter are not quite the same, and neither is the slant. Here’s what this guide will explore:

  • What is a motivation letter?
  • Cover letter vs. motivation letter — what’s the difference?
  • How to write a motivation letter — including an adaptable example
  • Writing tips for an effective motivation letter
  • Motivation letter templates for university, scholarship, internship, volunteering

What is a motivation letter?

A motivation letter — sometimes called a letter of motivation — is a succinct, one-page synopsis of your background, abilities, interests, and aspirations. As an adjunct to your application for an academic institution, scholarship, internship, or volunteering position, it’s a platform for conveying enthusiasm, determination, commitment, and distinct qualities you bring to the table. The case you make for acceptance hinges on your rationale and affinity with the programme or organisation in question.

CVs and application forms are orderly ways to spell out your qualifications and experiences on paper. They provide essential factual information in a structured manner, so those on the receiving end can find what they are looking for to meet specific requirements for school acceptance, financial aid, or an unpaid job. 

But by design, those relatively impersonal documents reveal little about who you are and what lights your fire. A compelling motivation letter provides insights into your “why” — what inspires the opportunity you’re pursuing. Infused with personality, passion, and purpose, it’s meant to resonate with the recipient on an emotional level.

What universities and charitable organisations have in common with employers is the flood of applications they have to sift and read through, often from equally worthy candidates. A motivation letter can boost your application for a classroom or volunteer spot above the rest, just like a cover letter can do for job contenders.

So doesn’t that mean motivation letters and cover letters are pretty much the same thing?

Not exactly.

Motivation letter vs cover letter: one big difference

We’ve touched on the circumstances that set motivation letters and cover letters apart as crucial components of an application, both in a personalised narrative format. 

Cover letters are meant to accompany a job applicant’s experience-focused CV, offering a targeted commentary on the professional achievements that align with the hiring organisation’s needs. 

Motivation letters are meant to support applications for a university or college programme of study, a scholarship, or an unpaid position as an intern or volunteer. There is more resonance with the ethos of the recipient body, as opposed to employment needs.

The biggest distinction between the two types of letters comes down to the degree of emphasis on impact or intent. In a career move context, employers are keenly interested in the impact of your past professional successes as a predictor of your future potential. 

A hard-hitting cover letter will make that connection so the benefits of hiring you are clear. While a motivation letter also takes a forward-facing perspective, your past impact is less relevant to the than your future intentions — how you aspire to make the most of the opportunity being sought.

How to write an effective motivation letter

Fortunately, most of the same advice that Resume.io offers job seekers for writing persuasive cover letters also applies to motivation letters. You’ll find an abundance of step-by-step insights in our growing collection of occupation-specific cover letter examples and writing guides. That includes an internship cover letter example, which could be useful for writing a motivation letter in similar instances.

In addition, general cover letter principles are covered in various blogs, which we’ll link where applicable in this section of our motivation letter writing tips.

Start with the right structure

Whether the personal connection you aim to make is with a university admissions officer, scholarship committee, intern recruiter, or volunteer coordinator, your motivation letter takes the same approach following this universal format for business correspondence. Here is a breakdown of sections:

  • Header
  • Greeting
  • Introduction
  • Middle part (body)
  • Closing and salutation


The ground rules for writing any kind of motivation letter are simple and straightforward. It’s all about doing busy recipients a favour by keeping it:

  • Short — 200–400 words on a single page
  • Reader-friendly — clean and uncluttered, with legible legible fonts and ample white space in the margins, between lines and paragraphs, and line endings (which should be irregular using the left-justified text setting)
  • Tailored to the specific application circumstance and recipient organisation

Here is an adaptable motivation letter example for a volunteer role, to help you write your own.

Adaptable motivation letter example

Dr. Anthony Roberts

Furry Friends Animal Shelter

Dear Dr. Roberts,

With ambitions to become a veterinarian since the age of four, I used to pester the fruit and vegetable vendor in our small rural community for packing crates to furnish the animal “hospital” on the porch of our sprawling farmstead. 

Fast-forward 28 years to my acceptance at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, and those dreams are closer than ever to becoming a reality. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to curb my excitement at the prospect of joining your team of dedicated volunteers at Furry Friends Animal Shelter. 

I’m beyond inspired by the new facility you’ve created for not only sick and injured pets but also those rescued from sometimes insufferable circumstances. It was a pleasure to support your fundraising efforts, knowing transitional housing would become available for rehabilitated dogs and cats awaiting adoption. Witnessing your own dreams come true alongside my veterinary aspirations is awesome. I’m eager to assist the caregivers at Furry Friends to help your patients thrive in any shape or form needed.

Besides the typical indoor pets we were allowed to have growing up on our family farm, the “patients” I cared for included horses, cows, pigs, goats and chickens. I shadowed my dad daily tending to their every need, even when perfectly healthy. I lost count of how many obstetric and newborn care procedures that I observed. And my proudest self-initiated accomplishment— at age seven — was suturing a broken chicken’s wing using a needle and thread from my mom’s sewing kit.

During my two years living in Costa Rica, I volunteered helping local vets care and advocate for homeless domestic animals and vulnerable wildlife. Surgeries ranged from amputating a sea turtle’s damaged fin to repairing an iguana’s injuries from a testosterone-fuelled fight for a female’s attention. I bandaged howler monkey burn victims, electrocuted carrying them across uninsulated power lines. I helped operate the regular low-cost spay and neuter clinics to help decrease the population of homeless dogs and cats. And at the local shelter, I supervised the volunteers who took shifts walking, bathing, feeding, and socialising with the healthy adoptees in waiting.

My upbeat demeanour and passion for animals make me an ideal fit for Furry Friends. I look forward to discussing my potential contributions at your convenience.

Sincerely, 
Jane Gibson

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Motivation letter header

Create a striking visual impression off the top of your motivation letter by prominently displaying your name and contact information, so recipients can easily remember and respond to you. 

As a visual signature, the header helps set your application apart from everyone else’s. It should contain your name, email, phone number and address. If you have a LinkedIn profile or other relevant social media, or even an online portfolio of work samples, include those URLs as well.

Motivation letter greeting

Addressing your motivation letter recipient by name will be like music to the recipient’s ear. Science supports the impact of a positive response when you make an effort to identify someone with decision-making responsibility. If no one is identified in the application instructions, do some sleuthing online or make a phone call. Then, simply address that person as “Dear <Dr.> <Mr.> <Ms.> Surname.” 

If your name search hits a wall, use an appropriate alternative that fits the situation as specifically as possible. Try something along these lines: “Dear Admissions Officer,” “Dear Dean of Education,”  “Dear XYZ Foundation Chair,” “Dear DEF Memorial Scholarship Committee,” or “Dear ABC Foodbank Volunteer Recruiter.”  Anything is better than the outdated and impersonal “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern. 

Motivation letter introduction

An attention-piquing introduction is necessary to engage with your motivation letter recipient on a relatable level. Be explicit about why you are writing. Set the tone with just a hint of background on where you’re coming from and how it would feel if your application is accepted and after you settle into the situation being sought.

Express enthusiasm about the opportunity while suggesting how the academic institution or organisation stands to become a meaningful part of your life journey. Strive not to sound like anyone else with the same aspirations. Your own authentic voice must come across as energetic, and heartfelt.

Here’s the greeting and introduction from our motivation letter sample.

Adaptable motivation letter greeting and introduction example

Dear Dr. Roberts,

With ambitions to become a veterinarian since the age of 4, I used to pester the fruit and vegetable vendor in our small rural community for packing crates to furnish the animal “hospital” on the porch of our sprawling farmstead. Fast-forward 28 years to my acceptance at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, and those dreams are closer than ever to becoming a reality. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to curb my excitement at the prospect of joining your team of dedicated volunteers at Furry Friends Animal Shelter. 

Copied!

Motivation letter middle part (body)

This is where you share your story. Describe what has brought you to this crossroads and inspired  and how they align with the institution's or organisation's values. Infuse the narrative with the aforementioned personality, passion, and purpose on a deep enough level. Use dynamic action verbs to substantiate your motives with concrete examples of your interests and experiences.

Strive not to sound like anyone else with the same aspirations. Your own authentic voice must come across as open, energetic, and heartfelt. Above all, it must resonate with the reader to the extent of having a “one of us” impact. Customise this part of your motivation letter for:

  • University: Why are you drawn to your chosen field of study and to this institution? How will its programmes advance your learning aspirations?
  • Scholarships: Articulate your dedication to the educational path you are pursuing. How does this align with the scholarship's goals, and your career ambitions after graduation?
  • Internship or volunteering: Detail your enthusiasm for the occupation or industry. How does this unpaid work role align with your career path, and how will your contributions have a meaningful impact?

This motivation letter sample illustrates what you might include in the middle part:

Adaptable motivation letter body example

I’m beyond inspired by the new facility you’ve created for not only sick and injured pets but also those rescued from sometimes insufferable circumstances. It was a pleasure to support your fundraising efforts, knowing transitional housing would become available for rehabilitated dogs and cats awaiting adoption. Witnessing your own dreams come true alongside my veterinary aspirations is awesome. I’m eager to assist the caregivers at Furry Friends to help your patients thrive in any shape or form needed.

Besides the typical indoor pets we were allowed to have growing up on our family farm, the “patients” I cared for included horses, cows, pigs, goats and chickens. I shadowed my dad daily tending to their every need, even when perfectly healthy. I lost count of how many obstetric and newborn care procedures that I observed. And my proudest self-initiated accomplishment— at age seven — was suturing a broken chicken’s wing using a needle and thread from my mom’s sewing kit.

During my two years living in Costa Rica, I volunteered helping local vets care and advocate for homeless domestic animals and vulnerable wildlife. Surgeries ranged from amputating a sea turtle’s damaged fin to repairing an iguana’s injuries from a testosterone-fuelled fight for a female’s attention. I bandaged howler monkey burn victims, electrocuted carrying them across uninsulated power lines. I helped operate the regular low-cost spay and neuter clinics to help decrease the population of homeless dogs and cats. And at the local shelter, I supervised the volunteers who took shifts walking, bathing, feeding, and socialising with the healthy adoptees in waiting.

Copied!

Motivation letter closing 

It’s time to leave your reader wanting to know more about you. The end of your motivation letter needs a call to action. That’s an indication of your hopefulness for a response — be it an interview or even an acceptance of your application.  Perhaps save one anecdote or powerful motivation statement for last here. Strike a balance between sounding confident and unassuming, but neither presumptuous nor apologetic.

Add a word of thanks for considering your application, plus a reminder of your intentions being an excellent fit with the essence of the organisation you are appealing to. 

Finally, close with a professional sign-off: simply your full name below “Sincerely,” or “Best regards.”

Below is the closing section of our motivation letter example.

Adaptable motivation letter closing example

My upbeat demeanour and passion for animals make me an ideal fit for Furry Friends. I look forward to discussing my potential contributions at your convenience.

Sincerely, 
Jane Gibson

Copied!

Writing tips to optimise the impact of your motivation letter

Think of your motivation letter as a canvas for personal expression from the heart. These writing tips can help you motivate decision-makers in your favour.

  • Thoroughly research the target organisation to become familiar with its culture, values, goals, and stature. Mirror the tone and content of your motivation letter accordingly, illustrating how your personality and work ethic are in alignment.
  • Pique the reader's curiosity by starting strong with an anecdote or thoughtful statement that connects you personally with the recipient.
  • Clearly express your genuine excitement about the opportunity you are seeking, sharing your reasons for being drawn to it and how it aligns with your ambitions.
  • Highlight the strengths and interests that set you apart as an applicant. Provide specific examples of how these qualities and abilities have figured into your past and their promise for the future.
  • Share your long-term goals and how the acceptance of your application will contribute  to your personal and professional development. Convey your commitment to staying the course.
  • Keep it concise and reader-friendly. Let legibility guide your decisions about layout, design, and formatting, while the overall look should harmonise with the school, charitable group, or organisation you are targeting.
  • Proofread and edit through multiple stages of revision. Enlist a friend or mentor to review carefully so no errors slip through.
Expert tip

The tone and content of an engaging motivation letter should appeal to the reader’s right brain, which responds to emotional stimuli. That isn’t to say it should be blatantly gushy or sentimental in any violin music cueing sense. Keep it authentic and direct, writing with gusto while reining in the effusive language.

Motivation letter templates

These copyable templates can be used to create a motivation letter in each of the four most common application circumstances: university, scholarship, internship, and volunteering.

Motivation letter for university application

[Name of Admissions Officer]
Admissions Committee 

[University Name] 

[University Address] 

Dear [Mr./Ms./Dr. Surname], 
(or Dear Admissions Officer/Committee),

I am writing to express my sincere interest in the [Programme Name] at [University Name]. With a strong passion for [your field of interest], I am excited about the prospect of pursuing advanced studies in an environment that fosters innovation, critical thinking, and academic excellence.

Throughout my academic journey, I have been consistently drawn to [specific research area] due to its profound impact on [relevant industry/field]. I am particularly impressed by [University Name]'s esteemed faculty, groundbreaking research initiatives, and commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration, all of which align seamlessly with my academic and career aspirations.

My academic accomplishments, including [notable achievement], showcase my dedication to excelling in my studies. Furthermore, my involvement in [extracurricular activity or research project] demonstrates my ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical challenges, a skill I am eager to cultivate at [University Name].

I am excited to contribute to the [University Name] community through engaging discussions, research partnerships, and community involvement. Thank you for considering my application. I am confident that, given the opportunity, I will thrive in [Programme Name] and emerge as a dedicated contributor to the academic community.


Sincerely, 
[Your Name]

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Motivation letter for a scholarship application

[Name of Organisation Officer]

Scholarship Committee 

[Scholarship Name] 

[Organization Name] 

[Organization Address] 

Dear [Mr./Ms./Dr. Surname], 

(or Dear Scholarship Committee),

I am writing to apply for the [Scholarship Name] offered by [Organisation Name]. As an aspiring [Your Field of Interest] enthusiast, I am deeply committed to furthering my education and leveraging my skills to positively impact society. The [Scholarship Name] would provide invaluable support on this journey.

I have dedicated myself to [relevant extracurricular activity, volunteer work, or research project], through which I have witnessed the transformative power of [describe the Impact of your work]. However, financial constraints have posed challenges to pursuing my academic and career goals. The [Scholarship Name] would not only alleviate this burden but also empower me to fully immerse myself in my studies and make a lasting difference.

The values upheld by [Organisation Name], including [organisation's core value 1], [organisation's core value 2], and [organisation's core value 3], deeply resonate with me. 

These values reflect my own commitment to [related value], and I am eager to uphold them as I continue to grow and contribute.

Thank you for considering my application for the [Scholarship Name]. I am confident that, with your support, I will be able to realise my potential and contribute positively to [your field] and the wider community.

Sincerely, 
[Your Name]

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Motivation letter for an internship application

[Name of hiring manager] 

[Company Name] 

[Company Address] 

Dear [Mr./Ms./Dr. Surname],

I am writing to express my enthusiastic interest in the [internship position] at [Employer Name], as advertised on [job search platform]. As a dedicated [your field of study] student with a keen interest in [relevant skill or area], I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to your team's success and gain valuable hands-on experience.

Throughout my academic journey at [University Name], I have developed a strong foundation in [key skill 1], [key skill 2], and [key skill 3]. My coursework and projects, including [relevant university project], have equipped me with the technical skills and problem-solving abilities necessary to excel in a dynamic work environment.

What particularly intrigues me about [Employer Name] is your reputation for innovation and commitment to [core value/mission]. I am eager to contribute my creativity and drive to projects such as [relevant company project] and collaborate with your talented team of professionals.

I am confident that an internship at [Employer Name] will provide a valuable opportunity for me to apply my academic knowledge, learn from industry experts, and make a meaningful impact. 

Thank you for considering my application. I look forward to the possibility of discussing how my skills align with your internship objectives.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

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Motivation letter for a volunteer application

[Name of Volunteer Coordinator] 
[Organisation Name] 

[Organisation Address]

Dear [Mr./Ms./Dr. Surname],

I am writing to express my heartfelt interest in the volunteer position at [Organisation Name], as advertised on [organisation website or volunteer platform]. As a passionate advocate for [cause or mission], I am excited about the opportunity to contribute my time, skills, and dedication to supporting your invaluable work.

Having closely followed [Organisation Name]'s impactful initiatives, including [mention a recent project or campaign], I am inspired by the positive change you bring to the lives of individuals within our community. I am deeply committed to [cause or mission] and believe that volunteering with your organisation would allow me to channel my enthusiasm into meaningful actions.

My background in [your relevant experience or skill] has equipped me with the ability to [describe how your skills can contribute to the organisation]. Moreover, my experiences as a [relevant volunteer experience] have nurtured my empathy, resilience, and collaborative spirit – qualities I am eager to share with the dedicated team at [Organisation Name].

I am particularly drawn to [specific aspect of organisation's work], which aligns perfectly with my personal values. The opportunity to contribute to [related project or initiative] and support your mission to [organisation's mission or goal] resonates deeply with my desire to make a positive impact in our community.

Thank you for considering my application to become a volunteer at [Organisation Name]. I am excited about the prospect of working alongside like-minded individuals who share my passion for [cause or mission]. Please find my attached CV for further details on my background and experiences.

I look forward to the possibility of discussing how my skills and enthusiasm can contribute to your team during an interview.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

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Key takeaways for a motivation letter

  1. Motivation letters are an important companion document to applications for university enrollment, scholarships, internships or volunteer roles.
  2. Motivation letters have a lot in common with cover letters in terms of elevating your application for a specific, highly desired opportunity. The impact-boosting purpose and writing approach are similar in drawing attention to your background and future potential.
  3. The biggest distinction is that motivation letters focus more on the intentions behind your application as a student or unpaid worker, rather than the impact of your professional experience as a potential employee.
  4. A well-crafted motivation letter makes a powerful connection between your aspirations and your commitment to optimising the opportunity as a means of achieving them. Infused with passion and purpose, it provides relevant evidence of your preparedness to move forward on the learning or work experience path you’re pursuing.
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