Personal Statement vs. Motivation Letter: Do You Know the Difference?

When you’re filling out your Bachelor’s applications, you’ll notice that universities and degree programmes will ask for additional materials, like writing samples, transcripts, CVs, and recommendations. And, more often than not, schools will ask for personal statements, or motivation letters.

Both the ‘motivation letter’ and a ‘personal statement’ are supposed to include the more or less the same information. So, then, what is the difference?

The basics are these. A personal statement is more about promoting yourself, aka why you are the right candidate for a given undergraduate degree. A motivation letter is more about your future study plans and how the Bachelor’s you are applying to is going to help you achieve your goals.

It is important to know the difference between these two because sending the wrong type of document might lead to you being rejected from the programme you are applying to. 

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Which universities should you send a ‘motivation letter’ or ‘personal statement’ to?

Before there’s any motivation letter or personal statement, you need to know what undergraduate programme you want to study at what university. Don’t put the cart before the horse.  Whatever format you use to talk about yourself in your application, you should adapt the content to appeal to that specific university. 

If you don’t know yet where you want to study here are some awesome universities to consider applying to:

When it comes to countries to study abroad you should know that some of the most popular destinations are:

Put the “person” in your personal statement

A personal statement is your opportunity to get, well… personal. It’s the chance for you to talk about yourself (and who doesn’t love talking about themselves?) and explaining to the university exactly who you are.

  • A key part of a personal statement is your opportunity to be open and honest. Talk about the struggles you have had during your studies or life-changing experiences you have undergone throughout your life.
  • You should also specify how your personal experience has shaped you into the student that you are today, and how it will continue to influence your studies (this is where there is a slight overlap between a personal statement and a motivation letter).
  • It is crucial that you be honest about yourself, and outline anything that you think the admission committee ought to know about you – things that won’t fit on your CV or show up on your transcripts.
  • Most importantly, with a personal statement, you have room to be creative. Try to grab the reader’s attention with an interesting anecdote, or story from your life. Open with a quote from your favourite author, or philosopher. Introduce an idea that keeps them reading. Being expressive is key –  this is exactly what they are asking!

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Let your motivation shine in your motivation letter

In a motivation letter you are also expected to talk about yourself. But unlike in a personal statement, you should dedicate more space to discussing your future goals rather than talking about your past experiences. Typically, your motivation letter for admission to a Bachelor’s degree should answer the following questions.

  • Why are you applying for this specific degree programme? Why is this the right time for you to be applying?
  • What do you hope to do in the future (i.e. career goals) and how is it connected with this degree?
  • What are your specific interests on this subject? Do you have a specific area you would like to research, or a topic you would like to explore?
  • What is so special about the programme you’re applying to, and what do they offer you? Show here that you’ve thought carefully about the school your applying to and the people who are there.
  • What makes you the perfect candidate for this programme? This is where you talk a bit about yourself, your life, your experiences, and your abilities that have shaped the kind of student you are.

In other words, you should spend less time on your own biography and backstory; spend more time talking about how you’ll be the best match for their programme, and what compels you to study there. It’s important to note that a ‘motivation letter’ is formal, so you should structure and write it accordingly.

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Why are the personal statement and motivation letter so important?

The personal statement and motivation letter are vital pieces in your Bachelor's or Master's application. These documents fill in any gaps in information and allow you to showcase your most important personal values. Anything that cannot show up on your transcript or your CV can go in your motivation letter or personal statement.

No matter which one the school is asking for, the point is for you to show them or convince them that you are the right student for their university.

As a bonus for you, here are a few examples of motivation letters:

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