Writing a letter of intent for graduate school

Writing a letter of intent for graduate school should be taken as seriously as the rest of your application. The letter of intent is where you spell out your reasons and intentions for attending that particular program. Here are some pointers:

1) Address the letter to the faculty in the area you are applying to, as well as to a selection committee. For example, if the program you are applying to is run by Jane Doe and John Smith, you might address the letter this way, “Dear Jane Doe, John Smith, and graduate selection committee,” (or something along those lines).

2) Be specific. Keep in mind that the people you are sending this letter to are reading lots of these letters, and have likely read hundreds over the years. After awhile, they all start to sound the same. So, make sure your letter is specific to their program. It’s normal for there to be sections of your letter that are sent to all schools, but spend a good portion of your letter addressing the specific reasons why you think their program would be a good fit. You might reference the history of their student work, the work of the faculty, etc.

3) Talk about your work. You will likely also have an artist statement with your application, but you still want to spend about a paragraph in the letter talking about your work and why you make it. Don’t just cut and paste from your artist statement, but rather, explain your work a little differently. You might use this description as a way to lead into why you think making that work in their program would be beneficial.

4) If you have anything specific you want the committee to know when considering your application, add it into your letter. For example, if you have additional experiences like off-campus exhibitions of your work, residencies, study abroad, assisting professional artists, work you’ve done within an art club, art sales, etc – talk about how those experiences inform your work or activity in the field.

5) These letter are usually about a page long, single spaced. If you double space the letter, it would be normal for it to be two pages. If you think about it this way: 1) short intro paragraph, 2) paragraph about your work, 3) paragraph about why you are interested in that school, 4) paragraph about additional experiences informing your work, 5) summary paragraph concluding with your contact information and something about how you’re looking forward to hearing back from them. This shows that a half a page is clearly not enough space. You should plan on using a full page.

6) Discuss your intentions and goals for graduate school. Why do you want to go to graduate school in the first place? This can be a little tricky because faculty want to know you have goals with your work in graduate school, but also want to know you are open to feedback during critiques. Most professors don’t want to work with students that can’t absorb criticism and use feedback to better their work. So, the odd part here is to explain you have goals, but also keep yourself open to feedback – it’s a bit of a line to work.

7) End the letter with your name, signature, and contact information. If you have a website, add it here.

8) Ask others to review and proofread it. Having an extra set of eyes on your letter, even it is someone that isn’t an artist, is very beneficial. It also helps to cut and paste the letter into an auto-reader (a text to speech reader like this one) and listen to it as it reads your letter back. This is a great proofreading strategy because you’ll notice the mistyped words very quickly.