How to Write a Motivation Letter for European Universities

How to write an excellent motivation letter for European universities - Lanterna Education

If you want to attend one of the many phenomenal Universities in Europe, chances are you will have to write a motivational letter. Second only to your IB grades, this letter is the most important piece of your application. The letter of motivation is where the university’s admissions team can see a piece of your personality and decide whether you are the right candidate for their program. No pressure. 

Please note that a motivation letter differs from a Personal Statement, which you will need for your UCAS applications in the UK. Check out the Personal Statement Guide written by our fabulous team here

Writing a letter of motivation can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t fancy yourself an eloquent writer. Besides, there are already many other things to keep track of, so I do not blame you if you feel overwhelmed! That’s why I’ve made this comprehensive guide to make the writing process easier for you. But before we dive into how to write a brilliant motivational letter, let’s consider whether you even need one.

Which Universities Require a Motivation Letter?

Only some universities will ask you to write a motivation letter. Some will only need it if your grades are below a certain threshold, and others will not ask you to write anything. The most important thing is to look into your dream university’s admission requirements. Countries that often ask for motivation letters include:

  • Germany
  • The Netherlands
  • Denmark (and Scandinavia in general)
  • Spain
  • And many more…

If you find out you have to write a motivational letter, you must plan before you get to tippy-tapping on your keyboard.

How to Plan Your Letter

If you want to optimise your chances of admission, you want to ensure that your motivation letter ticks all the right boxes. The best way to do this is by thoroughly reading the university’s requirements. For example, if you want to apply for an Aerospace B.Sc. at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), you should read their requirements for a letter of motivation. On their website, they say that the letter should “describe your academic and personal motivation for your choice of degree program.” Now you know that your letter must show your motivation for the degree. Another great thing to do before you write your first draft is to see if you can find motivation letters written by previous applicants. You should, of course, never copy someone else’s work, but garnering inspiration can only help! Here is a motivation letter by a student applying to a university in the Netherlands.

How to Structure Your Motivation Letter

If you want to write a proper motivational letter, you always want to think about: how can I make the life of the person reading this as easy as possible? Remember that the admission committee has hundreds, if not thousands, of letters to get through. That is why structuring your letter well is so vital, and here is how you do it:

The Introduction

The golden rule in writing is to have a rock-solid opener. However, don’t fall into the trap of overthinking the first few lines. You don’t need to pull out your inner Shakespeare and go fully overboard! It’s much better to get straight to the point of what you want to study and why. You can always re-write your introduction, so just get started with something.

A common pitfall admission committees are dead tired of seeing are clichés. Sentences like “I’ve wanted to build a spacecraft since I was 6!” are just not all that believable, nor are they interesting to the reader. It’s much more intriguing if you discuss why you want to study this course now

Your introduction should ideally be a reasonably short paragraph and certainly no more than 15% of your letter.

The Main Body

The main body will contain the meat of your motivation letter. In this part, you want to focus on four things:

  1. Why this university and this degree (you might already have partially covered that in your introduction).
  2. How your schoolwork prepared you for this Bachelor’s programme. In other words, you can talk about your subject choice and academic interests. Which subtopics did you find particularly fascinating? Did you write your EE on something similar to the degree?
  3. Which extracurricular activities have prepared you for this next chapter of your life. The main body is where all your CAS activities finally pay off! You can show off your social engagement through service activities and share what energy you intend to bring to the university. You may be part of the student council and plan to become involved with university politics! Any internships you have completed will give you a huge advantage in writing this section. 
  4. How a potential gap year has prepared you for this degree at this university. You don’t have to do things strictly relevant to the degree to mention them. Perhaps you can note how a year off has given you the perspective to be 100% certain in your choice to apply to this uni. If you plan to take a gap year, check out our post on what you could do!

The Conclusion

No text is complete without a conclusion, and your motivation letter is no exception. It is a good idea to end your text by thanking the reader for their attention. Briefly restate why you think you’re the perfect candidate for this Bachelor, and that’s about it! Again, don’t overthink it, and just get something written down first. You can always edit it again 🙂 

6 Things to Avoid

Before you go and write a killer motivation letter, I want to share these six things to avoid with you. Even though they might seem obvious, they are unfortunately all too common and worth mentioning.

  1. Don’t be overly fancy. Especially if you’re applying to university in a non-English-speaking country, the person reading your letter isn’t a native English speaker. Make it easy for everyone to understand and resist the temptation to show off. It usually just backfires. 
  2. Don’t force humour. Yes, your letter should be engaging, but don’t try to squeeze a joke into every other sentence. One humorous passage or so is probably fine and perhaps even a welcome sight, but don’t overdo it. 
  3. Be careful with being overly personal. You’re not writing a soap opera here; keep things to the point and avoid fluff. 
  4. Don’t spread yourself out too thin. Find a few points you want to make well instead of telling them your entire life story.
  5. Avoid grammar mistakes. Have someone proofread your text; ideally, you would have multiple people proofread it. 
  6. Don’t let Chat-GPT write the entire thing. The admission committee will likely be using very accurate technology to detect Chat-GPT-generated content and disqualify you from the get-go. 

And there you have it! Everything you need to set yourself up for a killer motivation letter for the European university of your dreams. We all at Lanterna wish you the best of luck with your application!

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