Resumes, letters and other written documents
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Beside finding the program and university you would like to attend or getting the language certificates, you will also have to think about other documents you may need to hand in with your application.
These may include your transcripts, your statement of financial resources (also necessary for your visa application), your resume, cover letter, statements of purpose or personal essays and your recommendation letters, your research plan and the summary of your scientific activities.
The style and content of these documents can and should be ways to get bonus points with your application! Often, there are many very good students competing for the same place, so how can you be the one who gets it? And more importantly, how can these documents help you to get the scholarship you need?
First of all, check whether the application is or can be sent electronically, or must be sent by mail. When you find the program you want to apply for, the university offering this program will inform you about the things you need in order to apply and how to do it. Every university or FH will provide information for foreign students on how to apply on its website. Remember that in some cases you will not have to apply to the university directly, but through uni-assist (see above). You should look into the options carefully and then decide which way would prove more effective in your case.
Most of the times, the study places and scholarships are awarded on grounds of performance. So, you first of all need good grades that show up on your transcripts. However, examiners of your application may not start with your grades, but with your resume and cover letter. This is a simple marketing principle which you are probably most familiar with: How do I know there is a good product out there, unless someone advertises for it? This principle applies for students as well: How do I make the examiners interested in asking more questions about me, and eventually to invite me to an interview (although there will not always be an interview)? The point here is how you use what you know to convince the readers that you really know what you say you know!
We have just revealed the purpose of a resume, or curriculum vitae (CV): It is, as the name suggests, a short record of the most important information, abilities and skills, and achievements in your life. Writing your resume is more than just listing some dates and facts – it is about listing these in a way that will catch the examiner’s attention and will make you stand out of the crowd. Therefore, I would advise you not to copy or to use an all purpose resume, but to try to stay within the guidelines and sections in an original way. This is not a good time to start being modest about yourself, but you should also make sure you can substantiate everything you write.
This is most probably not the first time you have had to write a resume. Fortunately literature on the topic abounds. A resume for academic purposes will not greatly differ from a classical resume. You will begin with your personal details such as full name, date and place of birth, address, telephone and e-mail, nationality. Then you move on to education, computer skills, language skills, hobbies and if applicable to experience, publications, special awards or accomplishments, and any other things that might be an advantage to you. If you are a young student who does not have too much experience or you think you have nothing to write for certain sections of your resume, just eliminate these sections and eventually create new ones that would emphasize your skills. This will in fact be regarded as an ability to make the most of what you do have!
The model of resume you choose should be the one that would help you highlight your strengths. Sometimes, the university of your choice may use a standard resume form which you can fill out online or you can print out. If you wish, you can also check the European resume model at www.cedefop.europa.eu. Here you will find models of resumes in several European languages and a description of the European foreign languages assessment.
One of the easiest models to read is the one that uses the reverse chronological order. You will begin with your current position and move backwards. Just remember, all these are general guidelines, and you can and should select only the information that paints your best picture. This selection will also help you not to write more than one or two pages, which is how many pages a good resume should have.
The cover letter
We mentioned earlier that the cover letter will accompany your resume. What is or are the purposes of this letter? Because your resume is somewhat impersonal, the cover letter is the one that personalizes your application. It will always be addressed to a person, and not to “Dear Sir or Madam”. Try to find out the name of the person or one of the people responsible for applications, or even someone in the International Office of the university of your choice, and use that name.
In the letter you will want to draw that person’s attention and write what your most important strengths are, why you would like to attend that particular university or why you should get that scholarship or grant. At the end do not forget to mention that you are willing to meet up for an interview if required. The layout of the cover letter should be that of a regular business letter. You should begin with the header, the date, the greeting. Then you move on to about four paragraphs that make up the body of the letter, and finally close your letter with the ending and salutation. You should limit your letter to one page or approximately 200 words. Also, pay attention to style, grammar, spelling and punctuation. This is your chance to make a first good impression and to pave your way to the interview or a direct contact.
The statement of purpose
The next document could be the difference maker. This is your statement of purpose. If the resume and cover letter are a factual and more general presentation of your activities and abilities, the statement of purpose is your chance to put yourself on paper and plead your case! The point is, this is your chance to give the readers a glimpse of your personality and originality. In this letter you will talk about your vision and your ambitions, but also about practical ways of how you can achieve these. You will talk about why you want to study at this particular university or why you would like to get this scholarship. But you will also tell the readers why you are the right candidate and why they should choose you over some other hundreds of prospective students.
What will the examiners are looking for? Well, again as the name suggests, you should be able to clearly and coherently state your purpose. You should have a plan, and in this plan you should be able to link your past and present experience with your long term objectives. You should stress how this program, university or scholarship will help you do just that. However, this is not only about your personal wishes. You should also state how this program or scholarship will contribute to your professional formation and that this will not be solely for your personal gain.
Sometimes, the institution of higher education will ask you to provide answers to specific questions in your statement of purpose or personal essay. Basically, the contents of these two documents are very similar. Depending on the field of study, examples of such questions could include career objectives, accomplishments and achievements, assuming responsibilities and leadership qualities, or ethical problems. You could be asked to talk about extracurricular activities or other interests you might have, or to describe an experience that had a profound effect on you. You might have to describe yourself, to state your strengths but also some weaknesses or traits that you would like to change.
If there are no predetermined questions, it would be a good idea if you had your own set of questions to help before you start writing. If this is the case, you do not even have to be too personal. You should choose the questions depending on your personality and experience. The following list of questions is only an example: Why am I applying for this particular program or scholarship? On what professional grounds am I basing my application? What are my objectives for this program, or what do I expect to accomplish after receiving this scholarship? Why have I chosen to apply for this particular program or scholarship?
This article is an extract from Study in Germany - A comprehensive guide for foreign students. Click here to get a copy now.
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