How To Write A Graduate School Letter of Intent in 2022

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With the rise of the Fall 2020 graduate school admissions, we can conclude that thousands of letters of intent have been written by applicants and reviewed by admissions officers! The importance of a well-written grad school letter of intent cannot be overemphasized because, indeed, first impressions matter. 

At its core, every letter of intent is a formal cover letter that declares your goal of applying for admission into a graduate program. You’re also providing the proper context for your application, including the documents and related information. Think of it like an in-person interview combined with an elevator pitch, and you will realize its critical importance in your acceptance into your desired program. 

Writing the best grad school
letter of intent can be challenging even when you have excellent communication skills because it has to be a balance between humility and marketability. But with ample time, careful choice of words, and sufficient editing, you can make it! 

Letter of Intent as Proof of Your Self-advocacy 

Your letter of intent should follow its form and function conventions while also being proof of your self-advocacy, a document that contains an argument in your favor. You must express your suitability for the program in clear yet concise terms, including your intention of upholding its academic excellence and research relevance through your achievements in these areas. 

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Tips for Writing the Best Grad School Letter of Intent

Keep in mind that the best letter of intent is the one you’re writing on your behalf as a form of self-advocacy! While there are plenty of templates and writing services, the best place to start it is within yourself! Your letter of intent for graduate school should reflect your in depth knowledge of the graduate programs, academic achievements, professional skills, research skills and future interests, a successful previous research project, and future goals concerning the program’s curriculum, career goals, mission, and status. 

Begin Through Genuine Self-reflection

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Embarking on a personal reflection means taking the time to think about specific motivations, goals and attitudes that will impact your future. This is critical in writing your letter of intent because you have a clear idea of what you can contribute to the program and what the program can do for your career goals. Your final letter of intent becomes a clear, concise and compelling argument for your 100% compatibility with the program. 

  • Make a list of your academic achievements, research papers and interests, work experience, and community involvement, including relevant volunteer activities. These aspects of your life will be included in your letter of intent for graduate school, so it’s good to list and organize them for future reference. You will also find that your motivations for pursuing a graduate degree—as challenging in terms of time, effort, and money as they may be—becomes clearer through self-reflection. Your letter of intent will also state your primary motivations – gaining specialized knowledge, achieving a lifelong goal, or advancing your career. Thus, the importance of listing them first.
  • During your self-reflection, keep your professional goals in mind since these will influence your career milestones, from earning a master’s degree to getting a promotion. Your final choice in a graduate school and program will also be influenced by your career goals,such as choosing a general MBA program over a master’s management engineering program. 
  • Reflect on your lifestyle, including your current financial condition and obligations. While online master’s degree programs have the benefits of flexibility, quality and affordability, not all of them will fit your lifestyle! By listing down the important aspects of your lifestyle that will be affected by your plans of pursuing a master’s degree, you can be better prepared for its demands. 

With your comprehensive list, you have a sound basis for writing your letter of intent, particularly the part where your achievements are highlighted to increase your chances of acceptance. 

Do Your Homework About the Program

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Perhaps a fail-proof tip is customizing your letter of intent for each program. Admissions officers know a generic letter of intent when they see one, and if you give a similar letter of intent to several programs, it doesn’t speak well of your character and academic intentions. 

Don’t even think about just changing the program director’s name, date and details of the program while letting the rest of your letter of intent remain unchanged! Every program has its unique vision, mission and learning outcomes, and, thus, it’s crucial to tailor your letter to these aspects. 

  • Check out the graduate school program’s website for information about the curriculum. Learn about course descriptions and prerequisites, and perhaps ask for more information through emails and brochures. You can then assess the program’s suitability for your career goals and lifestyle and your eligibility for admission. You can set realistic expectations about the cost of attendance, duration of stay and graduation requirements. 
  • Research the credentials of faculty members in the program. These credentials include educational attainments, published works, including research papers, and current research projects, and the information will be useful in determining which faculty member you wish to work with in the case of acceptance. Many programs ask for the name of the faculty member and your reasons for your choice, thus, the research. Contact your preferred faculty members, too, if possible, so that you can establish a connection early on and get more information. 
  • Talk to graduate school students, alumni and admissions advisors. This way, you can learn from their on-the-ground experiences while in the program. Ask about their likes and dislikes about its components, including academic advising and career guidance, student community, faculty performance, internships, and cost of attendance. 

Not only will the information you gathered influence your decision to apply for the program, but it’s valuable intel for your letter of intent! You will be able to make notes about the program’s components that align with your strengths and aspirations, which should be stated in your letter.  

Follow the Rules of Form

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Now that you have done your self-reflection and conducted thorough research about the graduate school program, your next step is to determine the recommended format for the letter of intent. Many programs provide guidelines for the letter of intent, including the specific format, minimum and maximum word count, and other stylistic suggestions. The letter of intent may also include academic citations and links to your published research papers, as the program requires. 

These specific format requirements must be followed to the letter because it demonstrates your ability to follow instructions. However, you can be more creative and expressive when presenting your academic and research achievements and suitability for the program. 

But when there are no specific guidelines for the format, you must keep these rules of form in mind. 

  • Use long regular white computer paper for your letter of intent! Personalized stationery isn’t a good idea since it’s a professional document that may make or break your acceptance.
  • Use a regular black font color, too. The use of gray and colors of the rainbow on any part of the letter isn’t acceptable, even for creative art programs.
  • Stick to a neutral font and size, such as Times New Roman, Tahoma, Calibri, or Arial in 11- or 12-point. While eye-catching fonts like Chiller and Comic Sans seem fun, these are inappropriate for a formal document. Since there’s no need to squeeze in your life story and every career milestone, the 12-point font is the best choice.
  • Use single-inch margins for all sides of the document. You may adjust it to as little as 0.7-inch, but if only space is an issue. 
  • Use the single-space text format since block paragraphs are used in a letter of intent. There’s no need to use the “tab” button for this reason.
  • Insert a blank line in every paragraph transition, from the salutation to the introduction.
  • Use the “align-left” margin, starting from the date and addressing the opening salutation, body and closing salutation. (The justification function isn’t recommended as it may insert weird spacing between words)
  • Use transitions to mark the flow between paragraphs. These transitory statements connect experiences and ideas and, thus, increase readability. 

Most importantly, keep your letter of intent for graduate school between one and two typed pages only or between 400 and 800 words! This can include a brief reference list on the second page. Limit your letter to 4-5 paragraphs in the body, too, since readability is crucial. 

Make It a Letter for Self-advocacy

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Again, your letter of intent is a self-advocacy letter that contains your strong arguments in favor of your admission into the program. Create an excellent first impression and put your best foot – or words – forward! Here are useful tips that will transform your long list of accomplishments into a set of compelling arguments in a clear and concise format. 

  • Write straightforwardly without gimmicks, contrivances and cliches. While your introductory sentence must grab attention, it’s best to avoid using quotes, broad or vague statements, and platitudes. Remember: your admissions officers are more interested in your insights and experiences, so that borrowing quotes may demonstrate intellectual laziness.
  • Introduce your central points early so that the admissions officers’ attention will be sustained until the end. The first introductory paragraph is the best place for these central points, which can be briefly elaborated on in succeeding paragraphs.
  • Practice using the active voice over the passive voice. You should be proud of your accomplishments, and the best way to present this is through an active voice.
  • Emphasize your strengths but don’t be afraid to explain a weakness in your resume. You may also convert a weakness into a strength in disguise, but avoid going into deeper detail. You can also briefly explain anomalies, such as gaps in your work experience, but only if it’s relevant to your application. 
  • Use examples to explain your strengths when needed. Assume that the admissions officers will not understand everything in your letter, so brief explanations of your research projects may be necessary. 

But avoid being too technical in your letter of intent, too, with nothing in it but a dry summary of facts. You have a certain creative leeway by using an engaging narrative of your experiences and achievements for graduate school. Tell your story in a professional, on-point manner and complement it with proof of your skills.  

You must also use a professional, polite and positive tone in the entirety of your letter of intent! Use upbeat words, such as “excited” or “pleased,” to show enthusiasm. Avoid casual phrases, slang and other unprofessional words. It’s better to be too formal than casual in a professional document! Thank your readers, too, but make it only once to avoid wasting valuable space on your letter. 

Finding the right balance between marketability and humility is a challenge, but it’s possible! While highlighting your achievements, you can temper them by sticking to the facts and their relevance to your application. 

Write, Proofread and Edit – And Sit on It For a While 

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With the above-mentioned tips in mind, you can start writing your letter of intent for graduate school! Start with a general outline of your most impactful achievements and their examples and your central points, including your reasons for applying and suitability. Avoid being stressed about the initial outline since you’re still in the process of arranging your central points logically. 

Tip: Read through your resume first and note the achievements that you’ve already mentioned and detailed in it. You can either write a brief description or completely remove the achievements described in your resume from your letter of intent. You’re not just avoiding redundancy in these documents, but you’re also giving more space in your letter of intent for other matters. 

Stick to short and simple sentences. While lengthy and complicated sentences are acceptable in research papers, these are inappropriate for a letter of intent since readability is key. 

In your initial outline, use your genuine voice while also using a neutral tone. Follow the rules of grammar, context, and construction while also checking the spelling, coherence, and clarity of thought. You’re less likely to make mistakes in the first and final drafts if you’re already conscious of these aspects. 

Then, write your first draft. It doesn’t have to be application-ready, but it should have your initial ideas on paper and more emphasis on substance and content, not yet on style. It doesn’t need to be within the recommended word count since you’re still cutting it down with every revision. 

Afterward, you can start on your initial edits, perhaps 2-3 edits, until you’re satisfied. Be sure that these central points are stated in your letter of intent early on: 

  • Your accomplishments, strengths and qualifications concerning the program’s focus and learning outcomes 
  • Your professional and research interests 
  • Your reasons for applying

With every edit, you must go over the form and substance of your letter of intent. Use an app, if necessary, to check for grammar, spelling and composition errors. 

With your workable draft, you can start asking for feedback from your family, friends and even mentors – and the more inputs you can gather, the better your letter of intent can be. If several people give similar feedback, you’re well-advised to consider it during your final edits. 

You can start making final edits to your letter of intent from the multiple feedback. You may want to get more feedback afterward since you may miss some things. 

But don’t be too pressured about the feedback either! You must own your letter because it’s your self-advocacy letter! While a second opinion is helpful, it shouldn’t be the reason for rewriting several times, much less for letting others write it for you. Besides, you must be ready to answer the questions during the admissions interview. These questions will be based on the letter of intent. 

With the lengthy process from self-reflection to the final edit, you have to start working on your letter of intent as early as possible! You should also allot about six months for your application since it will involve gathering your application documents and meeting the deadline. Your letter of intent should read like it’s part of an entire package and a summary of your story so far, not a disparate document. 

Purpose of a Letter of Intent for Graduate School

Aside from being the cover letter of your application packet, your graduate letter of intent demonstrates crucial attributes to your possible success as a graduate student. 

  • Your compliance with the guidelines shows the ability to follow instructions, particularly as your letter of intent is the first document in your application packet. You’re also showing your respect for the admissions process by following directions, and it’s a great start to your application. 
  • The ability for self-advocacy must be evident in your letter of content because it summarizes your best argument for your credentials and, thus, suitability. 
  • Attention to detail demonstrates that your letter of intent has a solid basis in research. With a well-crafted and customized letter, your thorough research into the program’s focus, learning outcomes and faculty members is displayed. The absence of mistakes in its contents is also proof of the meticulous care you apply to your work.
  • Excellent writing skills are a must in graduate school, and your letter of intent is likely the first impression the admissions officers will have of it. The hallmarks of an exceptional graduate student’s written work are clear and concise prose, professional tone, and correct format.
  • The ability to identify, plan and achieve goals can also be concluded from the achievements described in your letter of intent. The fact that your letter of intent catches the attention of the admissions officers is also a testament to your goal-oriented personality.
  • Your letter of intent can also demonstrate motivation underlined by hard work, particularly when you state your reasons for pursuing graduate work and choosing the program. By using an upbeat tone, you’re also demonstrating emotional intelligence, a vital trait with as much importance as academic intelligence.
  • Passion for discovery in general and the research interests, in particular, may also be expressly stated or implied in the letter of intent. You should also consider giving concrete examples of your committed passion for your research interests, such as the titles of your published thesis. 

With this purpose in mind, your letter of intent should zoom in on these three types of information in the summarized form: 

  • Your background through a brief introduction of your intent to apply, your area of study, and your motivations for pursuing graduate study. You’re giving the admissions officer an idea of who you are as a unique individual.
  • In your letter of intent, your academic and professional achievements are a brief showcase of your milestone achievements. You’re advocating for your suitability for the graduate school’s program’s vision, so be sure to highlight your relevant achievements, keeping your letter to the recommended word count. 
  • Your research interests through a short description are also a must-have in your letter of intent, especially if you’re applying to a research-intensive program. You’re also setting the stage for future collaborations with faculty members based on your expressed research interests. 

Be as specific as possible when highlighting these components! You don’t want the admissions officers to second-guess your choices so that a brief explanation may be necessary for your critical information. 

Standard Contents of a Letter of Intent 

Again, if the program you’re applying to has a recommended format, follow its guidelines! But since it’s rare for a graduate school program to provide specific guidelines, you should follow the standard format for a letter of intent for aspiring graduate students. 


The header contains the following information: 

Your full name 

Mailing address 

Contact information (Phone number and active email address) 

Be sure to use a line break between each element in the header. 

Date Stamp

With a single blank space after the header, enter the date when you’re planning on submitting or mailing the letter of intent as part of your application packet. You can use either the month-day-year format (e.g., April 16, 2022) or the day-month-year format (e.g., 16 April 2022). 

Addressee Information

Leave a single blank space after the date stamp before typing the addressee’s information, as follows: 

Full name of the recipient, complete with their official title within the university or program 

Address of the university or department 

This is where your thorough research before writing your letter of intent comes in. You must have a specific name, title and address on your letter of intent – unless, of course, the instructions provided on the program’s website say otherwise. You’re well-advised to ask for these details since it means you’re mindful of hierarchy and respect the process. 

Note that for graduate school admission, the common recipient is either the head of the department, the head of the program, or the head of the admissions committee. Again, ask! 

Opening Salutation 

Start the body of your letter of intent with a brief, formal greeting to your recipient. Keep it simple, too, such as “Dear Dr. John Smith,” followed by either a colon or a comma. (A colon is considered more formal, but a comma is also acceptable) 

Opening Paragraph

Your opening statement should be direct to the point, including a statement of the program where you’re seeking admission and your specific reasons for applying. You can also briefly introduce yourself and your motivations for applying in a couple of sentences. 

Main Paragraphs 

In 2-3 paragraphs, you must make your case for admission into the program, and it’s the best way to showcase your ability for self-advocacy. There are two primary ways that the main paragraphs can be constructed depending on your goal: 

  • Highlight the specific components of your application packet, such as your academic achievements, published research papers, and exceptional work experience. This is the best approach if you’re applying with an impressive resume and a high GPA and GRE/GMAT scores. 
  • Add a more personalized aspect to your letter of intent to give its readers a more holistic view of your individuality beyond your undergraduate studies GPAs, GRE/GMAT scores, and work experiences. Your goal is to establish what sets you apart and why you’re suitable for the program.  

Within these 2-3 paragraphs, you should include the following elements: 

  • Your background and professional credentials, such as your experiences, served as motivation and foundation for your graduate studies and career plans. You may also describe the main driver for your interest in the field and your plans for your master’s degree. 
  • Your undergraduate studies, including your major and specialization, and a brief insight into its role in your decision to pursue the field of study covered by the master’s degree program. 
  • To establish your graduate work preparedness, you must incorporate your milestone academic accomplishments (e.g., Latin honors) and specific learning experiences. Examples include independent study courses, teaching and research assistantships, laboratory experiences, published work, research conference presentations, and study abroad experiences. 

Think of a business-oriented cover letter as a guide for your graduate letter of intent, and you’re set! 

But what if your accomplishments aren’t as stellar as you want them to be in the eyes of the admissions committee? This is where the second approach will work in your favor! You can provide a personal story – but keep it brief and to the point, not a sob story – and other elements that will give your accomplishments more context. You may highlight your keen interest in your research interest, too.  

Closing Paragraphs

In the closing paragraph, you can summarize your suitability for the graduate school program, including your relevant skills, experiences and interests. But don’t repeat what you’ve already said in the main paragraphs since redundancy is a red flag! Stick to a couple of sentences, and you will be just fine. 

Then, thank your reader for their time. This can be followed by a list of the enclosed documents in the application packet. This list can be separated by commas or in bulleted form. Be sure to organize the enclosed documents in the order these were listed, and these can include your resume, statement of purpose, official transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Better yet, check the required order of documents provided by the program. 

Closing Greeting

The last part is a polite and professional closing salutation, and it’s best to keep it simple. We suggest “Respectfully yours “since it evokes professional respect. 

Then, insert a blank space after the closing salutation before typing your full name. You may also use 3-4 blank spaces between the closing greeting and your name to make way for your signature. But if you’re short on space, a single blank space will do but make sure your signature doesn’t cover the closing salutation. 

What’s The Difference Between Letter of Intent and Statement of Purpose?

The main difference is that a letter of intent is a general outline in essay form, while a statement of purpose provides more detailed information. The former is a sales pitch that the applicant uses to showcase their skills and potential that, in turn, the admissions committee will use to determine suitability for the next phase of the process. The latter creates a stronger connection between your past achievements and your plans in the program. 

There’s also the word count difference. While a letter of intent is usually under 1,000 words in length, a statement of purpose can be longer. But in both documents, clarity of intent or purpose, professional and positive tone, and self-advocacy must run through every paragraph. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you include a letter of intent for a graduate program even when it isn’t required? 

Generally speaking, there’s no need to submit a grad school letter of intent with your application packet unless it’s expressly required for your application to be considered. This is true for programs that use an online application system where your personal information must be provided in the required fields. Some programs require a statement of purpose, meaning a letter of intent isn’t necessary. 

But if you’re submitting your application packet for a graduate program by mail, you should consider including a letter of intent as an introduction and a cover letter in one. You can also keep it shorter than usual if you already have a statement of purpose in your application packet. 

What are the qualities that graduate schools look for in graduate program applicants? 

While there’s no standard mold for the ideal graduate student, the strongest applicants have the following qualities highlighted in the letter of intent. These traits are in addition to the above-mentioned traits discussed in the Purpose of Graduate Letter of Intent section. 

  • Research and professional interests that align with the grad school program’s learning outcomes, curriculum and focus of study 
  • Relevant work experience that demonstrates a consistent career trajectory that supports the keen interest in the field of study 
  • Proven track record of academic success and the potential for academic success in grad school
  • SMART goals 

What are the common documents requested in applications? 

First, the official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended for undergraduate studies and graduate programs are a common requirement. These documents contain information about the major field of study and minor, academic performance, and prerequisites are taken. 

Second, standardized test scores like GRE and GMAT with specific minimum requirements for section scores are also common tools for evaluating academic performance in graduate school. Many programs make these scores optional, meaning you can submit them to boost your chances for admission in case of average GPAs. 

Your current resume must contain detailed information about your background, career goals, work experiences, volunteer and community activities, and organization membership. Your letters of recommendation should be from professionals who have first-hand experience with your academic performance and work ethic. You may need to submit a professional portfolio of work, usually when applying to an arts-centric program.

When should you send your application packet? 

On or before the deadline, of course! Allow ample time for the components of your application packet. Thus, the minimum 6-month recommendation before the deadline. You may even extend it to 12 months, so you don’t have to panic about transcripts or letters of recommendation getting lost in the mail. 

What to do if you’re rejected for admission? 

Don’t take it as a personal affront, for starters! Remember that the graduate program admissions committee has a difficult task – choosing the most suitable students from a large pool of applicants for a limited number of slots. You can always apply for the next admission cycle and hope for the best! 

But before that, you should consider taking these steps: 

  • Check your grad school letter of intent and other application documents again. You may have missed putting in a crucial detail that could increase your chances of admission. 
  • Call an admissions officer and ask for feedback, but be sure to do so respectfully instead of being accusatory, defensive or desperate. Take note of the feedback so you can make the appropriate changes in your next application. 
  • Write a thank-you note to the signatory on your notification letter. 

And take heart – this is a temporary setback! You have plenty of opportunities ahead, whether in the same graduate program or another. 

Key Takeaways

  • Your grad school letter of intent is a cover letter, a sales pitch, and a self-advocacy letter, so it’s best to make a great first impression!
  • Be sure to follow the form rules and write a professional, positive, and persuasive letter reflecting your desire for a graduate degree. Edit multiple times but make it your own.

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor