A college application letter serves as a shortcut through the pile of paper that is the modern-day college application. It is neither a synopsis of a student’s transcripts nor a retelling of his resume. And it is not a prompt-inspired essay -- although it certainly is an opportunity to demonstrate good writing. Rather, it is a cover letter introducing the accompanying application and offering an initial glimpse into a student’s potential fit at a college.
Regardless of its length, the application letter should show evidence that a student has performed due diligence with regard to her selected school. It does little good to speak to a passion for animal husbandry if the college to which a student is applying doesn’t offer a suitable program. And while a college website is a good place to begin research, it’s better to look in the local news to see what’s happening on campus. A future teacher might speak to a college’s educational outreach program, while a young scientist might point to recent research as a compelling reason for his application.
A cover letter’s structure should be formal and professional. Structure the single-page letter in business-letter format, including your contact information, the date and the name, title and address of the contact person. Include a proper salutation: "Dear Application Committee," or, if you have a name and title for a contact person, "Dear [First Name] [Last Name]" (e.g., "Dear Lindsay Gregg"). The letter should immediately state its purpose, as in, “Please consider my application to ….” A common concluding phrase works well to end the letter: "Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions, please contact me at such-and-such email, phone number and address. Sincerely, your name." And, of course, the letter should conclude with your name and be signed.
Even formal letters can hint at a writer’s personality, passions and sense of humor -- that last one carefully. Just as college application essays are meant to give color to the application's black-and-white representation of a student, so too can the application letter tell a little more about an applicant. Pulling a single area from an application on which to expound tells the admissions committee what a student considers important. Perhaps a future veterinarian worked at an animal shelter throughout high school. Offering a few details about the experience makes it real to the reader and allows a student's voice to be heard.
Examples of how a student will fit on a college campus should be highlighted in the application letter. Legacy students might speak to the pride they have in their family’s rich history at the college. Political aspirants might refer to intentions of becoming an active student leader. And athletes might talk about their high school success and how they expect to contribute on their college team.
Linda Emma is a long-standing writer and editor. She is also a digital marketing professional and published author with more than 20 years experience in media and business. She works as a content manager and professional writing tutor at a private New England college. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.