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Writing Academic Cover Letters

The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself and demonstrate the fit between your background and the advertised position. A cover letter must accompany and be tailored to any application you submit.

Take this opportunity to:

  • Briefly tell your story, explaining why you are applying for this position and will be a good fit.
  • Guide the reader’s attention to the most significant portions of your CV.
  • Explain how your particular experiences and education have provided you with the skills you need to be successful in the position.
  • Convey enthusiasm for the position for which you are applying.
  • Focus on your potential contributions to this institution—not why you need or want the job.
  • Answer any questions they might have. For example, “Why will you complete your degree?” or “When are you available?”

What to Write About

Although most cover letters follow a similar structure, you should tailor each one for the job to which you are applying. STEM letters should be one page, and letters for the humanities and social sciences should not exceed two pages. Sample academic cover letter can demonstrate the basic structure.

Research each institution to which you are applying, especially its philosophy, mission statement, size, and internal structure. The Carnegie Classifications website is a great tool to assist your research. Identify the areas you find most interesting and think about ways in which you could make a contribution to the department and/or institution as a whole. Work this information into your letter. This research personalizes your letter and demonstrates your sincere interest and potential fit.

The Basics

  • Address the letter to the person named in the job description, or with “Dear Members of the Search Committee.”
  • Proofread and spell check!
  • Your cover letter is a writing sample. Write concisely and effectively.
  • Single-space text and double-space between paragraphs.
  • Using a consistent heading on the cover letter and CV can help unify the two documents.

Opening paragraph

  • Introduce yourself: Mention the university you attend, your degree program, and when you expect to graduate.
  • Refer to the specific position for which you are applying, and indicate how you learned about the position or organization.
  • Briefly, but specifically, describe what attracted you to the position and institution to which you are applying.
  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm and include a thesis statement outlining the reasons why you are a good fit for this position.

Body paragraphs

  • Use these paragraphs to paint a picture of yourself in this position.
  • Highlight your achievements and qualifications, your interest in the position, and match your skills, experiences, and philosophy to the position. Support your statements with specific examples of your skills.
  • Tailor to each application. For instance, if you are applying to a teaching-focused institution, lead with one or more paragraphs about your teaching experience and commitment.
  • Indicate your knowledge of the institution and perhaps give examples of how you could fit in there. For example, if there are faculty or research centers that are potential collaborators, mention these.
  • For liberal arts or teaching colleges, emphasize commitment to and experience in teaching and undergraduate education.

Concluding paragraph

  • Reinforce your interest in the position and enthusiasm for the institution.
  • Take care of any final business matters, such as indicating that letters of recommendation are being sent under separate cover (and from whom).
  • Offer to provide extra materials or additional information if necessary.
  • Indicate what you would like to see as next steps. For example, you look forward to speaking with the search committee.
  • Thank them for their time and consideration.
  • End with a professional closing, such as “Sincerely” or “Kind Regards” and your full name.

Emailing Application Materials

  • If email application is encouraged, send documents as attachments.
  • Use a short email message to indicate your application materials are attached. Then attach your cover letter and other materials as PDF document(s).