tips for writing your motivation letter

Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing your Motivation Letter

Many students have asked me to look over their Sciences Po motivation letters and give advice. I am a native English speaker, a certified English teacher and a current Sciences Po student. I’m currently finishing up the Master in International Development program at PSIA (the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po). I can review your individual CV or letter of motivation for Sciences Po – but before that, you may want to check out these general tips for writing your motivation letter:

Not sure you want to be at Sciences Po? See some pros and cons

Here are some general tips for writing your motivation letter that will help make for a winning Sciences Po application:

1. Be clear about what you want to do.
Do not write that you aren’t sure about your decision to apply or that you’re still hesitant as to whether this is the right degree for you. Even if you have some doubts (and don’t worry, everyone does), you need to sound like you are sure about what you want to do.Of course that doesn’t mean that you know exactly what organization you want to work for later on or exactly what job you plan to apply for after graduation.

It’s good to have at least one sentence that clearly states:
“My career objective is ________.”

But you can fill in that blank with a well-educated guess or a vague explanation of the type of position or organization you imagine yourself with. Keep it short though– nobody wants to read a whole paragraph to figure out what you want to do with your education. In all likelihood your plans will probably change before graduation anyways.

2. Talk about your past.
If you’re applying for a master’s degree, you ought to have more to talk about than why you love Sciences Po or how you made good grades. Take a look at your CV and ask yourself which experiences are worth elaborating on.

How did you feel when working with those refugees?
Why was your internship abroad unique?
What did you learn about project management during that poorly organized summer camp?

Sciences Po — and especially PSIA — values unique individuals with experiences they’ll be able to use to contribute to classroom conversation and student life.

3. Make it sound like an obvious fit.
The goal is to make the reader say:

“Oh, of course Sciences Po is her next step!”

If you sound like you’re begging to be let in or like you think Sciences Po is your only chance of becoming the next great UN advisor, you’ve got work to do. Sciences Po is an elite school. They want students who look like they’re already geared up to do great things. So, studying at Sciences Po should be the perfect support for your amazing future plans, not the reason for those plans.

4. Double-check your English.
Misspelled words and grammar won’t help you. Obviously.

Still working on your application for Sciences Po?
I can review your letter of motivation!

Feel free to post questions in the comments 🙂 Good luck!

Other posts about Sciences Po:
Sciences Po: Pros and Cons (PSIA)
Sciences Po: When will I know about the Boutmy Scholarship?Sciences Po Student Starves to Death (fictional post pointing out real issues with opening a bank in Paris)

40 thoughts on “Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing your Motivation Letter”

  1. Hello Maija

    I’m applying to a Master in PSIA with the international admission process, in some blogs I read that the cover letter should be in French rather than English?. Is that true.
    I’m really interest in your services checking my cover letter, how does that work?
    Thank you

    1. Hello Carmen!
      The cover letter should be in English. French is not required for a Master’s at PSIA and many students don’t speak fluent French as degrees can be completed entirely in English.

      I’d be happy to help with your letter. Just send me an email through my website to start by filling out the form at the bottom of this page. Then, I’ll email you back asking for a copy of your letter and we’ll discuss payment.

  2. Hi Maija,
    I’m applying for the international development Master’s and I can’t find any information on how long the letter of motivation should be. I assume 1 page, as that is normally employers’ preferred length of cover letters, but I don’t want to submit my application before knowing for sure. So, what do you think is the ideal length?

    1. Hi Tom!
      The letter should be 1000 words maximum. You cannot exceed 1000 words.
      When you start your application online you will see the prompt and word count on the application.
      For this year, it reads: “Please introduce yourself. Describe the reasons that led you to apply to Sciences Po’s Bachelor’s Degree program. Explain how and why the educational environment at Sciences Po will help you achieve your professional and personal ambitions. You may also want to articulate how you foresee your engagement in campus life beyond the walls of the classroom. Please be specific and do not exceed 1,000 words.”

      1. Would it be a good idea to have titles for the different sections of the cover letter, e.g. ‘Introduction’ for the first section, ‘Why I am applying to the International Development Master at Sciences Po’ for the second, and so on. Or is this a no go?

        1. Since the letter is only 1000 words, titles would be a waste of your precious word limit! If they help you to structure your letter, you could consider using titles during the drafting process. However, I would suggest deleting them before submitting.

  3. Hi I’m applying to sciences po for an undergrad degree. The instructions ask us to introduce ourselves. How do you think I should go about doubt that? Thank you

    1. Great question, Leah! Definitely a question that could merit its own blog post, but let me go ahead and reply here.

      When they ask you to introduce yourself, what they want is for you to tell them who you are. Of course, it’s up to you to decide how you want to define yourself. For example, maybe you define yourself by your nationality, your most recent job/internship/studies, or your academic passions.
      Examples of self-introductions:
      — “I am a hard-working Vietnamese immigrant who is passionate about Asian culture.”
      — “I am a traveling musician who believes in the power of music to promote peace in conflict-ridden regions.”
      — “I am Barney, the happy purple dinosaur from your childhood.”
      Pretty much any sentence that start with the words “I am…” is a type of introduction.

      You can include a line that literally starts with “I am,” but it’s not required. You may be able to think of a more create way to go about it. In the same way, many applications I’ve read choose to include “My name is Leah and I am…” However, you don’t necessarily have to tell them your name, either. (After all, they know what your name is from your application.) Ultimately, the choice of how you decide to introduce and thereby define yourself is up to you! Hopefully, no matter how you decide to do it, you’ll introduce yourself as the kind of person that Sciences Po simply won’t be able to pass up. 🙂

  4. Hi,
    I’m applying to PSIA and I am wondering one simple thing: do they want a statement written as a letter, beginning, with “sir, madam” etc or do they want a personal statement like they do in the UK for example? Do you think it really matters?
    Thank you!

      1. Hello Maija,

        Thank you for the clarification because I was also confused as I’m more familiar with the American system of personal statements. Anyways, you said most people start with “Dear Admissions Committee”. I just want to know if that is compulsory because I am trying to make the most of my 1000 words. By the way, I’m applying for one of PSIA’s master’s programs if that makes a difference in your answer.

        1. Hello Charity,
          In order to make the most of your word count, I don’t think it is a problem to simply starting directly with your first paragraph. The reason I insist on starting with “Dear Admissions Committee” is in part to steer students away from starting with “Dear Sir/Madam” or other outdated formalities. Hope this helps.

  5. Hi Maija 🙂

    Thank you so much for this post. This has been a great help to writing my personal statement. Thank You! I look forward to study International Development at PSIA too!! Once again my heartfelt thanks to you!

  6. Hi,
    I’m applying for the undergraduate at Sciences Po. Do they want a statement written as a letter, beginning, with “sir, madam”? Thank you

  7. This is a great post. I just grabbed a wonderful instance of the need for asking questions. Though the article didn’t explicitly state the word count, Maija’s question prompted you to reply, which was just what I needed.
    I am applying for a joint scholarship between Total and Quai d’orsay and science po is among the recommended schools. I hope the word count would also be a guide for my scholarship essay since it wasn’t stated.
    thanks again.

  8. Hello Maija,

    thank you for your very helpful post regarding motivation letters. It definitly helped ! Concerning CV’s would you advise people to try and fit everything on one page? Does expanding your CV on a second page penalize you?

    Thank you a lot.


    1. Hello Simon,

      I’m glad to hear that my post was helpful! For most applicants, I would suggest fitting everything onto one page. The only exception would be for applicants who have extensive (3+ years), relevant paid work experience.

      Having your CV expand onto a second page won’t directly “penalize” you, but it does show a certain inability to organize your experiences and make good judgement calls as to what is most relevant and important to highlight. If you decide to submit a CV that is 2 pages long, be sure that it fills the full two pages! Also, don’t use any fonts smaller than size 10 or 11.

      If you are truly struggling with keeping your CV to one page, you can contact me and I can help you with editing it to size.

      Happy editing!

  9. Hey Maija,
    Thanks for your extremely helpful blog 😀

    You mention that you would check application documents for Science Po. I am planning to apply for the PSIA Master in International Public Management and for the double degree with Freie Universität Berlin.

    I know that acceptance – at least for PSIA – is on a rolling basis and the deadline is in less than two weeks. So my question now is if you could check my documents withing the next few days?


    1. Hi Mark,

      I sent you a response via email! For anyone who might be reading this comment (or in case you didn’t get my email), you can request a personal statement review from me by going to this page and filling out the form near the bottom of the page. The form sends me an email directly, making it easy for me to respond to you with details.


  10. Hi there,

    I am applying to the Dijon campus for an undergraduate degree. Should the personal statement be in English or in French?


    1. Hi Marelle,

      The personal statement for undergraduate students should be written in the language of the program. Since the Dijon campus offers two different programs (one in French and one in English), it depends on whether you plan to do the French program (“The European Programme”) or the English program (“The European Programme with intensive French classes”). See:

      Basically, the choice is up to you!


  11. Hey Maija,

    Do you know if there is a personal statement prompt, specifically for graduate studies, that I could work from before applications open? I’d like to spend some time working on the letter between now and when the application period opens in October (I believe?). Any help is appreciated.



  12. Hi~ your posts are really helpful! I learned many things from your posts. while reading 4 tips for writing motivation letter, I’ve got a question to ask.
    You mentioned that it is important to include the past (btw, I’m applying for master’s degree in economics), and I have a experience being a vice-president of a club at the university. However, the club is not really relevant to my major, as it is a foreign students’ association. Do you think it is a merit to include this experience? (to emphasize my leadership at the club)
    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Jack,

      Glad to hear that my posts have been helpful for you. I think your experience as a club’s vice president could be an excellent detail to include in your motivation letter. When mentioning it, I would be sure to emphasize what you learned from the experience and how that knowledge will help you succeed at Sciences Po. For example, talk about how it improved your leadership skills (perhaps mention a specific time when you led a club competition or a club meeting) and maybe also how it broadened your appreciation for working with foreign students (after all, the student body at Sciences Po is very international!)

      Best of luck,

  13. Hi Maija,

    I am struggling with my CV for my application for Sciences Po undergraduate.

    What is the right format of this required CV/resume?

    1. Hi Yuya,

      There is no right or wrong format for your CV. The important thing is to make sure it isn’t too long, it clearly lays out your experience, and the formatting is consistent throughout (for example: use the same font throughout). I usually encourage applicants to stick to one page formats, but some applicants with extensive work experience might consider two pages.

      Hopes this helps.

  14. Dear Maija,

    your argument that I should indicate an idea of my future and show a strong commitment to my career plans is very confincing, I am wondering however if I should make a clear statement on the concentration I want to chose at SciencePo/ FU and on specific courses I am looking forward too. Unfortunately, I am not entirely sure yet which concentration suits me best, as I am ever so interest in so many things.

    Thank you and all the best,

    1. Hi Sophie,
      Ahhh… this is a dilemma for so many applicants! As political science students, we are always interested in EVERYTHING! Don’t worry — it’s a good thing (even though I know it may feel like a curse while trying to write your essay or pick a concentration).

      I think making a clear statement about your concentrations is generally a good idea, but just remember that you don’t have to stick to it. You might say something like, “Due to this internship in economics, I am excited about the possibility of concentrating in Economic Policy.” However, you don’t have to go into great detail about why you want that concentration specifically or why you don’t think other concentrations would work. In other words, the goal is to let the reader know that you’ve at least thought about what you might want to concentrate in, and that you can articulate why that would make sense.

      As far as specific courses go, I encourage you to name a course or two as examples that you’d like to take. “Courses such as X and Y would allow me to explore this interest further.” However, since you probably won’t get to take all the classes you want anyways (course registration is a blood bath), don’t feel obligated to spend too much of your word count on this. Just let them know you’ve taken a look at the course offerings and you’re aware of what you are trying to get yourself into.

      Hope that helps.

  15. Hi Maija,

    I am quite confused about the CV aspect of the application. I am 17 years old and have just graduated high school so I don’t have any experience with internships or anything of the sort. Do you think that’s a problem? What should I put on my CV then?

    Thanks in advance,

    1. Hi Bella,

      Most of my website is meant to target master’s degree applicants, so don’t feel too overwhelmed! As an undergraduate applicant, you’ll want to fill your CV with information on school activities, clubs, and other extracurriculars (whether inside or outside of school). You may have also volunteered with some organizations or individuals in your community, or worked on other projects with your family or friends.

      For example: Do you compete in Model UN or debate? Do you help out at the animal shelter on Saturdays? Does your school take yearly trips to volunteer at a homeless shelter? Did you spend last summer helping your mother update her business website? Are you a part of the community band? These kinds of experiences are a gold mine for helping to make your CV stand out.

      Hope this helps.

  16. Hi Maija!
    First of all I was very happy to find your blog, I really have been a little lost on how to continue with my application. I recently graduated from a university in the US, as an international student (I’m from Peru, grew up there) and I am on the process of finishing my motivation letter to apply for a master degree, but I realize Science Po is a very competitive, so I want to make a good impression. Could I send you my CV so you could check it? Thank you in advance for your time and congratulations on such an amazing blog!

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