How To Write a Cover Letter for a PhD Program

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 December 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When you apply for academic programmes or to educational institutions, you may want to know how to write a Ph.D. cover letter, otherwise called an academic cover letter. These cover letters require a focus on educational background and previous achievements in your field of study. By knowing how to develop an academic cover letter, you can increase your chances of acceptance into doctoral programmes.

In this article, we discuss the definition of a Ph.D. cover letter, discuss the purpose of these letters, provide you with a guide to help you create a cover letter, provide you with tips for creating a cover letter and provide an example of an academic cover letter.

What is a cover letter for a Ph.D. application?

A cover letter for a Ph.D. application is a letter that you typically submit with your CV when submitting applications for doctoral programmes. Some programmes may require a cover letter as one of the application requirements. Here are some elements to include in your cover letter:

  • A summary of your academic background: Your cover letter expands upon your previous academic experience and your qualifications for the programme.

  • The purpose of your application: Your application requires a purpose and a direction. Consider discussing your career goals in this letter.

  • The significance of your research: When completing an academic letter, discuss the relevance and the importance of your research, along with how it applies to the programme.

  • How a doctorate is useful for your plans: Consider discussing how the programme coincides with your goals.

  • A conclusion prompting contact: In your conclusion, show your gratitude to the reader and encourage them to contact you in the future.

What is the purpose of a Ph.D. cover letter?

If you're writing an academic cover letter, this provides you with the opportunity to describe your background and experience to the reader. This letter shows the review board why you're a strong candidate for the programme, along with why they may want to choose you over other candidates. Use this cover letter to describe any gaps in previous experience or a lack of educational background.

Related: Cover Letter for a Graphic Designer

How to write a cover letter for your doctoral application

Here's a guide to help you write an academic cover letter:

1. Review the programme and organisation information

Before you develop your academic cover letter, you may want to review the information you already have about the programme or school you plan to apply to. If you apply to multiple schools, consider customising your letter for each one. Consider your qualities and how they relate to the qualities described in each programme description.

2. Format your academic cover letter

A STEM-oriented academic cover letter is generally only one page, while a humanities-oriented cover letter is more often two pages long. You can check with the schools you're applying to and follow any specific formatting guidelines they have for application materials. Consider focusing on clean formatting by using a professional font and font size and avoiding adding extra elements like designs or borders.

3. List your current contact information

Especially when you're applying to many organisations at once, it's important to make sure you've included updated and correct contact information. In the situation where an organisation needs more information or wants to organise an interview, you want to be sure that they can reach you. Including current and accurate information shows professionalism and reliability.

Related: How to Write a Cover Letter

4. Write the introduction

Once you finish the body of the cover letter, write the introduction. The introduction clearly states what programme you're applying to. You may also use this space to briefly mention an ambition or goal for the future.

5. Highlight your key strengths and experiences in the first body paragraph

Write the first paragraph of your cover letter, focusing on your educational background, key strengths and experiences. This paragraph explains who you are academically and what you hope to accomplish during your time with the programme. Explain your specific interests within the field, what inspired your intrigue and what research you've completed regarding those specific interests.

Related: Is a Cover Letter Necessary? Pros and Cons

6. Explain your unique attributes

In the second body paragraph of your cover letter, focus on your passions, motivations and the unique aspects that separate you from other candidates. You want to show not only how the programme can help you, but how you can elevate the programme if they accept you. Focus on overlaps between your qualifications and what the programme is looking for in an ideal candidate.

7. Conclude your cover letter

You may want to develop a conclusion for your cover letter that thanks the reader for their time. Use this conclusion to show your gratitude and to complement the rest of your letter. Show your passion for the academic programme or educational institution. You may also want to encourage the reader to contact you in the future.

8. Include a professional closing and signature

The last elements of your academic cover letter are your closing and signature. You may choose to omit your signature as a printed name is sufficient in many situations. Be sure to avoid intimate closing statements and instead use more professional phrases.

Related: What is a Cover Letter? (With Template and Example)

Tips for writing an effective academic cover letter

Here are several tips to consider for academic cover letters:

Begin the process early

When you prepare an application for an academic programme, this typically requires significant planning. Many programmes require reference letters and referrals to demonstrate previous experience in this field. You may want to consider providing yourself with the time to write, edit and proofread your cover letter to ensure that it coincides with the information in your other application materials.

Spend time editing

When you finish writing your letter, consider spending time thinking about the academic letter before you perform edits. Likewise, you may want to consider spending a significant amount of time on editing. This ensures that your letter lacks all errors in grammar and punctuation.

Use your resources

If you're currently a member of a post-secondary school, you may want to use the resources within that school to write your letter. For example, you can contact any tutors or writing centres within your school to obtain help with proofreading. Consider contacting your professors to obtain guidance for your application. If the professor works in the same industry as the programme for which you apply, you can also ask them for a reference letter.

Proofread your cover letter

Your cover letter shows the academic school or programme that you have an interest in them. This serves as a primary method of contact, which is why you want to ensure that your cover letter is professional and polished. Consider using a proofreading software or a tool for grammar. You can also ask your friends and colleagues to proofread the cover letter for you.

Be specific

When creating your academic letter, you may want to show evidence and measurable variables for your accomplishments. For example, if you want to discuss the importance of your research, consider discussing the prevalence of the issue within your area of expertise. For example, those who research homelessness can discuss the prevalence of homelessness nationally.

Focus on authenticity

When developing your academic letter, consider showing that you're a strong candidate by being authentic. This shows the review board for the academic programme that you have the accomplishments and academic background required to succeed in this programme. Focus on the passion behind your research, along with your accomplishments.

Ph.D. cover letter sample

Here's an example of a cover letter for doctoral candidates:

Terry Fields
123 Elisabeth Road
Kowloon, HK

1 November 2021

Sam Tarish
Example University
876 Sherbrooke Avenue
Kowloon, Hong Kong

Doctor Sam Tarish,

I'm writing to you to express my interest in your doctoral programme in the Department of Social Work at Example University. I've conducted significant research and plan to continue my research on childhood depression and the impact of early intervention following the integration of children in group homes. My research provides an innovative perspective of the implications involved with placing children and adolescents in care and also provides us with potential pathways for helping them age out of care in the future.

I first developed an interest in children placed in group homes when I was completing an internship in Protective Services during my master's degree. I observed the impact of current interventions and wanted to conduct qualitative research about those impacts. I think pursuing a degree at Example University can help me accomplish my goals and can help me develop an understanding of Protective Services and current legislation, along with the history of our current processes. This can also improve my research and allow me to thrive in the field of social work.

Thank you for taking the time to read this leader. If you require any information or want to schedule a follow-up interview, please contact me.

Have a lovely day,

Terry Fields

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