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)

26 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?
    Thanks,
    Tom

    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!

  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.

    Simon

    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!
      Maija

  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?

    Best
    Mark

    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.

      Best,
      Maija

  10. Hi there,

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

    Thanks!
    Marelle

    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: http://www.sciencespo.fr/admissions/en/content/le-campus-europeen-europe-centrale-et-orientale-dijon-les-prerequis-linguistiques-1259

      Basically, the choice is up to you!

      Best,
      Maija

  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.

    Thanks,

    Gabe

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