How to Write a Motivation Letter
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How to write a motivation letter
The Cover Letter (CL) is i s the document that accompanies your CV when you are applying for a job. For academic purposes, the document used is typically called statement of purpose, and is laid out after somewhat different rules. The CL is short (200-250 words), with a quite rigid structure and has the layout of a letter. Its goal is to introduce the CV, to bring to attention aspects of your activity that can help your application and are not listed or not presented in the proper light in the CV. In short, its goal is to answer the recruiter's question: "Why should I hire this person?". Layout. The layout is that of a formal business letter: your address and contact details come under your name, in the upper right corner of the page. Underneath, aligned left, write the name, function, organisation and address address of the person you are writing to. It is a lot better to know the name of the person who is going to read your letter. You should address the letter directly to him or her. In the case you do not know the name, an email, a little digging in the net or a phone call should help you get that name, in case it is not mentioned in the official announcement. announcement. Under the receiver's address, but aligned ali gned right, write the date of the day when you are writing the letter. You should spell the name of t he month and use four digits for the year. You can put in front of the date the location, like Sofia, 2nd December 2000. If you do know the name of the addressee, start with Dear Mr (Mister), Ms (Miss), Mrs (Mistress), Dr (Doctor), without the full stop that you might expect to follow the abbreviation, and the surname of the addressee, followed by comma (Dear Dr Smith,). In this case, you should end the letter with the salutation Yours sincerely. If you do not know the name, start with Dear Sirs, or Dear Sir or Madam and close with Yours faithfully. In American business correspondence, correspondence, Yours truly is acceptable in both cases. Do not start the body of the mail with a capital letter, l etter, since it follows a comma. Structure. Ideally, a cover letter has no more than four paragraphs. The goal of the first is to specify what you are applying for and how did you find out about that opportunity. The last one outlines your availability for an interview, suggesting in this way a concrete follow-up for your application. The second paragraph should list your skills and qualifications that make you the right person for the position you are applying for. Read carefully the th e announcement, announcement, identify the t he requirements and see how your skills match those required. Do not simply state you have them, prove it. Ideally, you should start from your experience and show how you have developed those qualifications by doing what you have been doing/learning. Same as in the t he case of your CV, the result should portrait you as an independent, independent, creative person that can take initiative and deal with responsibilities, apart from the specific skills needed for the job. In short, the second paragraph should show why you are good for the job. The third should point out why you want it. You should outline your interest for the skills you
are going to learn if you get the job. The impression left should be that you can make a genuine contribution to the company's operations, while simultaneously deriving satisfaction from your work. After the fourth paragraph leave a blank space, same as you should do in the beginning, after the salutation (Dear). Write the proper closing, as described above and your name. Do not forget to leave a blank space between the closing and your name and to sign the letter in t hat space. Enclosure. It is customary for formal letters to mention whether you have enclosed any documents accompanying accompanying the letter. Simply mention enclosure, or write curriculum vitae under the heading enclosure at the end of the letter. Print the letter on A4 white paper same as that on which your CV was printed, and put both documents in an A4 envelope of matching color. If you are emailing it request a notification that your documents have been received. Wait at least two weeks since the day you sent your application or after the deadline before writing again in the case you did not get any answer.
How to write a recommendation letter
Recommendation Recommendation letters are letters written by professors who know you, assessing you capacity to meet the requirements of a program you are applying for. They're supposed to help decision-makers to get a better picture of your potential. The sure thing is, if you apply for a Master’s program, or for a PhD, sometimes even for a summer school, school, you cannot avoid them. Another part of the harsh reality is that due to t o different reasons, if you are a student in Eastern Europe you will often find yourself in the position to writ e these letters yourself. The professor will, in this case, only proof-read and sign the text. In case you belong to the lucky ones who don't have to write w rite recommendation letters themselves, you should still r ead this section. You will find useful hints about how to handle properly this delicate part of the application process. How to deal with them. Usually, recommendation letters have to be written on especially designed sheets sheets of paper that come as part of your application form. In some cases, letters on letterhead will be accepted, if for some reasons, you can’t use those special special pieces of paper. Read carefully what has been written in the application booklet about such situations. Fill in the fields at the beginning at the form that ask for your name, department, etc. Take the forms to a professor who knows you and is familiar with your skills or activity. Allow the professor as much time as possible (ideally 2-3 weeks) to write your letter. Tr y to make sure the professor is aware of who you are, what your interests are and understands what you are applying for. A small talk when you are handing the recommendation forms or a printed summary of all that that accompanies the forms can help to this respect. Try, with politeness and attention, to make sure the professor will write you a recommendation in warm terms. Recommendations Recommendations tend to be, even though not always, somewhat bombastic in vocabulary. If you ever get your eyes on such a text, you might upgrade the opinion you had about yourself.
Be prepared with envelope and stamps, in case the professor wants to send the letter him-or herself. You should also read the related lines from the application booklet about this point. Some universities prefer to receive the recommendation letters together with the rest of the application, while some would rather get them separately, sent directly by the professor who recommends you. It is usual practice that envelopes are signed by the professor over the lid, in such a way that one cannot open the envelope without deteriorating the lid. In order to increase the confidence the recruiters put in the letter when you have to send the recommendation together with the rest of the application, we advise you to request such a signature and/or an official seal. Content. Sometimes, a busy professor will suggest more or less directly that you produce a first draft of the text that he or she will correct and sign. In other cases, this is the only way you can get a letter that differs from the standard text every student gets from that professor. Our goal is not to discuss the reality of Eastern European campuses here. Still, if you think you might be offended by the practice of writing your own recommendation letters, it is probably better that you do not read the rest of the text. A recommendation letter ideally starts by stating the name of the professor who writes the letter and his/her title, together with the name of the student for whom the letter is written. The professor should also state since when has s/he known the students: year, class or other activity. It should in any case be clear that the professor had the opportunity to get to know the student well and assess his/her capabilities. The assessment of the student’s capabilities should be made from a multiple point of view over the next 3-4 paragraphs. From a professional point of view, it should give account of the student’s knowledge, interests and capabilities, activities and results, work capacity, etc. Personally, it should assess the student’s personal characteristics, character, social skills, his or her relations with the students and professors. Same as in other application documents, the direction should be from facts/experience to qualifications, and from those, to value judgments. Especially those skills relevant for the desired program should be outlined throughout the paper. The final paragraph should provide an overall assessment of the student’s potential to fulfill the requirements of the program, even though partial judgments can and should be provided in the body of the letter. Some of the graduate study programs supply you with forms for the recommendation letters that ask the professor to ask a number of specific questions about your skills and qualifications. Sometimes, space for the answer is allowed after each question, and there is where the answers should be written, rather than on a separate sheet of paper. Other times, the questions come as a block, an in this case you have the option to answer the question still in the form of a letter. Should you chose this option, make sure the letter answers clearly every single question, preferably in the order in which they are asked on the form.
Don't forget to write the date and the name of the home university. The name of the program you are applying for should come out explicitly in the body of the text, in order to make clear that the letter has been written for that occasion. Unless the format of the paper on which the letter should be written makes this difficult, you can print the text. Even better, have the text on a disk with you, in case the professor will consider any changes necessary. Be ready to give the professor time to read your draft and make those changes. Most recommendation forms contain a certain number of fields, the multiple-choice kind, where the professor has to assess, by checking cells, your abilities. Make sure those fields are checked and insert the text in the place left for additional remarks. We strongly suggest that you do not leave blank that portion of the form, but use it instead as a self-standing recommendation letter. Good luck.
How to write a structured essay
During your academic work, or even as part of your application, you will have to write essays on different topics. It is well to know that the generally accepted way of writing these essays demands compliance to a number of « academic writing» rules, mostly related to the structure of the essay. Some of these rules are outlined below. Even when assigned, the topics on which the essay should be written are generally quite broad, allowing the narrowing of the topic. You should first do some research and try to get an idea about what has been written on the topic so far. Most often, your essay will build on, analyse or criticize one or more pieces of work, while building an own position. In the introduction, you should clearly state the subject you are going to deal with, the narrowed topic, if any, and the position you are going to take. Specifying the position (thesis statement) is one of the most difficult parts of writing a structured essay. In the end, you should be able to state in one phrase what your thesis is. It should be narrow, specific and clear. You should not promise to analyse, review, interrogate or examine a problem, but to find and defend a specific side in the debate. As an example, a good thesis sounds like « I will argue that the differences in economic status between the countries in transition are the result of economic policy options made at the beginning of the transformation process», rather than « I wish to analyse the differences in the economic well-being of countries in transition». Version A takes a stand, defends it and by introducing a new idea, contributes to the debate, while version B merely points to some facts. The thesis statement is one of the few places in the essay where it is acceptable to use the first person writing, while most of the rest should be written in the third person. Announcing the organisation of the essay is what follows the thesis statement in the introduction. Depending on the size of the essay, you will develop a number of arguments to defend your thesis. It is advisable to enumerate those arguments in the paragraph following the thesis statement. « Three arguments defending the thesis will be presented. First, it will be pointed out that ... . The second argument developed
will be that ... . Finally, it will be proved that ... »
The body of the essay should discuss the arguments you presented, preferably in the order that you have announced. Each chapter/paragraph starts in a well-written essay with a « topic sentence», restating the argument and the author's position to it. In case you use chapters, give them names that respect the structure and make the lecture easier. The discussion should follow the statement of each argument in a manner resembling the overall organisation of the essay: facts, ideas, and opinions of authorities in the field, as well as own reasoning should be brought in the discussion one by one. In the end, it should be examined whether the argument survived the debate or not, inside a conclusive sentence/paragraph. Conclusions. When all the arguments have been presented and discussed, the essay closes the end, and you should be able to present the conclusions. If the essay has been well written and organised, the arguments have been proved and, together, they prove your thesis. You only have to show that, note the progress that has been made in the research of the examined subject, mention its possible implications.
A possible, but not mandatory section, usually met in academic papers on more import ant dimensions, is the limitations. Here you can note the limitations of your reasoning, assumptions held true, but which if proved wrong could invalidate your conclusions, aspects that have not been brought under scrutiny, possible conditions that could limit the impact of your conclusions, etc. The specified size of the essay is, unless otherwise stated, under the +-10% rule. That is, the entire text should not be shorter or longer than the suggested size with more than 10% of that size. Ex: for a 3000 words essay, it is acceptable to write 2700-3300 words. Use the Word's Word Count function to see the size of your essay measured in words. In some, very very rare cases, it is very difficult to reduce your position in the essay to a thesis. It is acceptable in such cases, for reasons of clarity, to replace the thesis with a research question, that should meet the same requirements, with the exception of the fact that the author postponed taking a stand until the end of the paper. We do not recommend such an approach; still, if it happens, make sure you directly address and answer the research question in the closing of your essay. The reason we support these strict rules that, we admit, make writing rather boring, is simply put, quantity. Think how many essays will read the examiner or university recruiter, essays that have to say more or less the same thing. You surely want under these conditions, in order to increase your chances, to make the lecturer’s mission as easy and pleasant as possible, don't you? This is why we recommend you to enforce those rules. An academic essay necessarily contains a bibliography, where you quote all the sources used. Western universities tend to be very rigid with plagiarism rules. So quote every source you have used. In the body of the essay, avoid lengthy citation, use paraphrasing - sa ying with your own words what other guy said before. If you quote, make it clear, and give the source!
In any case, referencing should be used only to start discussing an argument, never to end it. In some essays, like those that you write when applying for an MBA, you have to answer question like « What would you do if you were the manager of a plant and why ?». In this situation, the rules explained above do not apply that rigidly. You should maintain a clear structure, but a bibliography is no longer necessary, since your answer will be more practicaloriented than theoretical. Good luck with this one as well!
How to prepare for an interview
Whether applying for a job, or for a scholarship (yes, even here! J ), an interview shows up in the way of your desire to get what you applied for. Scholarship interviews are included in the application process in the programs administered by the Soros Foundations (Open Society Network) and are also used by most American universities, at both undergraduate and graduate level. What's an interview about? Well, being invited to one means you look good "on paper" (your application documents are all right) and that you made it over the first part of the application process. It also usually means that you're in a "now or never" kind of situation. Hard but true, screw the interview and you're out, no matter how fine your application is. This is why you definitely SHOULD PREPARE before the interview. Before going any further, please note that the rules and recommendations below apply for both scholarship and job interviews, unless otherwise stated. If you're after a job, an interview is normally expected if your application awakens the employer's interest. In the case of scholarship applications, if interviews are part of the application process, than this is normally stated in the application details you receive together with your application form. The part below deals with what you should do if you receive an invitation to an interview, both before, during and after it. Before the interview Preparation before an interview IS A MUST. Before stepping the interview room, you should document in detail about the program you are applying to, the kind of question you expect to be asked, how much the interview will last, etc. While an interview is clearly a testing situation, and you should be prepared accordingly, you're not facing the Inquisition there. The goal of a Western-style interview is to put you in the best possible light. The interviewer wants to get an impression about what kind of person you are, to complete the image s/he has from the application documents with things that cannot be put on paper. Therefore, you should expect a formal, but relaxed atmosphere, in which you will do most of the talking. First, try to read as much as possible about the company/scholarship program you have
applied to. If you haven't done this yet, this is a proper time. If it's a company, find out exactly what they do, how successful they are, what is their market position, what they and others think about their corporate culture, what somebody with your job does there, how a usual day looks like. If it's a scholarship, look at what subjects you'll study, how many will they be, how much freedom you have in choosing the subjects, how your work wil l be assessed, professors, the size of the department, student/faculty ratio, accommodation, extracurricular activities, cultural life. In short, try to get an as exact as possible image about what you'll do if you get the scholarship/job. Write down whatever is of int erest to you, what is not clear, or what you'd like to find out more about. During the actual interview, there's almost always a time when it's your turn to ask question and you'll want to have some useful questions to ask. Second, re-read the announcement. Examine the requirements, think of reasons and examples that prove you can meet those requirements. Very probably, you'll be asked questions about that during the interview. Attention: don't exaggerate, you'll seem overqualified, and don't lie: it may sound paranoid, but you never know how will "they" J be able to double check what you say. Look at the job/scholarship description: what recommends you for that thing? That's another probable question. In some interviews, the question will be even more direct: why are you the best for that place? You'd better have some answer here. And be convinced you are the best: it will show during the interview, and help increase your chances. Attention: there's always a thin line between self-confidence (the good thing) and arrogance (should we say, obviously, a bad thing J). Third, try to find out how much the interview will last, who's gonna be your interviewer, even, if possible, what topics are of most interest to him/her and will show up during the discussion. Of course, that is easier to do if you get the invitation by phone, but there's always a second option: do some digging in their website, some useful material may show up, or get in contact with persons who have been through the interview before you. Fourth, there are a few common questions which show up in almost any interview. Prepare answers for them and ask a second opinion on those answers from a friend. While specific questions appear in each interview, take a look at the list below - you'll meet some of these questions for sure: 1. Why are you good for... what recommends you for...? 2. Mention 1 or 3 personal qualities/downsides. 3. Why this program/job? 4. In what way do you meet the requirements for...? 5. How do you see yourself in five years' time/ what i s your career plan? 6. Tell us about a situation where you have proven to be a leader/innovator/person with initiative. 7. Don't you think you are too young/too old for...? 8. How are your studies/your background fit for...? 9. For a scholarship interview: How will you use what you learn later? 10. How does this scholarship/job meet your future plans?
We're sure you'll be able to think of a few other, more particular questions that fit your situation and are likely to show up during the interview. Fin answers for those as well. When you're done with all this answer finding, have a rehearsal or two. Get a friend who will play the interviewer and ask you questions. Do this in an atmosphere as interview-like as possible and, of course, in the language in which the interview will take place. Here's some hints on how to answer the questions above: 1. Link the requirements of the position to your background, showing how your previous experience and knowledge will help you manage this task successfully. Interviewers look for a clear progress from one task to the other, in your past, in order to show growth potential. Be sure you can prove that with examples. 2. Enumerate those of your qualities relevant for the job/scholarship you want to get. 3. While the downsides have to look like downsides, show they have some kind of potential of turning into something positive that can become and advantage in some sense. Here's an example: stubbornness is something bad, perseverance is something good, but can you tell the exact difference? Guerrilla troops on the side of war winners are partisans, those on the side of the losers are terrorists. This kind of game should you play with your minuses and their potential of turning into something positive. 4. In general what makes you good is your background and particular interests and knowledge, all of which match exactly the requirements of the job/program. Even more, your personal characteristics and your pleasant way of being make you a more valuable candidate. This is the message you have to get across. During the interview The evening before the interview travel to the actual place of the interview, especially if this is not a route you know well. See what transportation you need and how much time is necessary - add some more if you'll have to travel during rush hour. One of the worst things you can do at an interview is to be late. Arrive a few minutes later and wait outside, rather than later. Still, punctuality will look best. On the day of the interview, bring with you a copy of all your application documents (not recommendations, of course J ), and an updated CV. The interviewer will very probably not accept new documents and have its own copy of those files, but you never know when an extra copy is needed during the discussion. DRESS FORMAL. Even if you're one of those lucky programmers about whom nobody really cares how they dress when go to work, still wear a suit during the interview, or at least matching trousers and blazer, and of course, a shirt and a tie. Have your mom or room mate check they go fine with each other J. In many cases, the interviewer will be less formally dressed then you. Never mind, you're the one expected to make a good impression, s/he's
trying to look relaxed and not stress you. If you feel/think you look too stiff, unbutton your blazer during the interview, but mind your appearance and position on the chair all the time.
The discussion will usually start with some informal chit-chat, meant to warm the atmosphere and to make you look less stressed. Smile when you enter and while saluting. Enter the game of chit-chat, while remaining polite and relaxed. The serious questions will start arriving soon. Towards the end of the interview, you will probably be asked if you have any questions of yourself. Remember, you have those prepared already. At the very end, as the last question you have, ask for feedback on your performance. Not only because it looks damn good J in the eyes of the interviewer, but also because you wanna know what you did fine and what not, and what could you do better next time. Don't expect any hint towards a decision in your case. You will never get one, if you have to deal with a professional interviewer. S/he has some other interviewers to conduct and review before reaching a decision. Never mind what you think about your performance, stay polite, relaxed and self-confident until you walk out the door. Your impressions don't necessary coincide with t hose of the person taking the interview and therefore you should play your chances until the very end. Here's some dos and don'ts during an interview: 1. Try not to dominate the discussion by speaking too much or too loud. Let the interviewer have the initiative but when talking take enough time to make your points clear. Also pay attention in order to avoid a dominant body-language. 2. Don't criticize colleagues, friends, competitors for the same thing, current university/workplace, etc. The reason you should get what you're after is because you are very good at it and not because the others are bad. Criticism will decrease your credibility: what will keep you from criticizing the same position you are now after? 3. Don't bring financial aspects into discussion yourself. In the case of scholarships, the sums are fixed and clearly stated from the beginning, there's nothing to negotiate. As for jobs. Don't ever be the first to call a wage, even if you are directly invited to. Avoid po litely and see what the employer thinks you're worth. If you ask too little, you might end up underpaid, if you ask too much, you may not get the job. 4. Unless there's a scholarship for minorities or disabled persons, don't bring personal aspects into discussion. The interviewer cares less about where you sleep, and more about what you know and can do. In some cases, the interview will not look at all like what you have imagined. This is the case mainly with job interviews and it materializes into two most often situations. Either the interviewer sits back relaxed in the chair and says: tell me about you, never to make a word for the next 30 minutes, either s/he's straight forward, putting pressure on you, not letting you answer, sometimes going as far as being disrespectful and talking down to you. We personally wish you this never happens. Still, interviewers are people themselves, not always perfect for the job. In other cases, they think they're more professional if they do so - that's especially the case with the second alternative, the more difficult one. Or, the job you're about to take requires somebody that does not go under that easy, and it is all a t est about how
well do you manage in conditions of pressure. No matter what the case is, you should not lose temper and remember you are still very well prepared for the interview. Bring in front what makes you good for the job, mention your qualities, your background, your knowledge, bring examples. Stay polite and try to state when you answer is finished. If it's a test, that's how you'll pass it. If the interviewer is an asshole turned Master of All Knowledge when confronting you, ask yourself: do you still want to work for the company that hired such a person on such a job? After all you're good and unless this is not 100% the chance of your life, you can do better anyway. But do this after the interview; during it there is a time for making your best, staying polite and as relaxed as possible. And above all, these are rare cases that we hope you'll never meet.
After the interview If you have the e-mail or mail contact of the interviewer, write a "thank you" note. That's a good occasion to: 1. thank the interviewer for his/her time and the interesting discussion you had. 2. Make him/her remember you better than the other 20 people s/he met that day. 3. Outline those things that, even though mentioned during the interview, did not make it to the front line of the discussion, but are still an advantage for your application. This is a bad moment, however, for bringing in new arguments: it will make you look unfair. 4. Remember the most important elements that make your application so valuable. You should do that on the day of the interview, and in not more than 3-4 paragraphs. The interview would not be such an stressful event, should you have the occasion to go through, say, 200 of them. Since this is not the case, intensive preparation will have to do. So do it carefully, it might be this interview that will get your future started.
How to prepare your trip abroad
So, you got invited to a congress, student conference, or you are taking up studying in another country. First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! We're really happy for you, and because you're getting a fine reward for your work. And if happened that EastChance helped you a bit on your way, don't forget to drop us a line. It's the kind of thing that keeps us going. Well, what next? You're just getting on train or plain and take off to the week/year of your life? If that's the case, happy you. Still, here's some advice that should help you prepare your trip pleasant and lean, really an event to remember. When waiting for the answer, pay attention to the timeline the organizers announced for the publication of the results of the application process. If there is a clear date, and you don't get your answer in two weeks following that date or the date of the event comes to close, and you're afraid you won't be able to make it, try an email, reminding the organizers you're
waiting for an answer. You never know when the letter or email gets lost underway. In some cases, as recruiting events, the over qualified are announced first, and in due time for travel arrangements. So, in some cases, but not in all of them, no news is bad news. Still, try an email or phone call first, before leaving any hope. And still, one day you get an invitation. Shortly after celebrating, take a look at the letter of invitation. Check, once again, what is it that the organizers cover (travel expenses, accommodation and meals, participation fee, insurance) and what not. Broadly, the events in our full grant section should cover all of the above. The ones in the no fee category ask from you to take upon yourself the travel expenses, and the ones under small fee ask for a participation fee usually covering accommodation etc. Travel expenses are also in this case on you. The participation fee should be under the actual cost of what it covers - we have a policy of listing those events that present some form of finaid for CEE students. The classifications from the invitation letter should help you build a budget in order to know for certain whether you can afford to participate or not. If you're still not clear about financial details, write the organizers an email asking more information. If you think this might be embarrassing, think how it would be to arrive there and discover you're short of 200 USD! Another thing: if, for any reason, you realize before the start of the event that you won't be able to participate, let the organizers know. Very often it happens that the number of invitees - especially those on finaid - is limited. If you won't take up your place, and there is stil l time, maybe somebody else will be invited. Think of it this way: if you would be the first on the reserve list, wouldn't you like that somebody else does so? Of course, you're not bound to do this. And still ...
You have an invitation letter, and you can cover the expenses that come upon you. Time for travel arrangements. Check first what you need to enter that country: a valid passport, maybe a letter of invitation (the case if you're travelling from Belarus to Romania, or from Bulgaria to Poland, for example) or even a visa. If you don't have a passport, ask the authorities for it in due time. Very likely, it will last a little until you get one. If you need a letter of invitation, probably the one you got from the conference should do, but check with the embassy of the country of destination first. As for visas, this part should be dealt diligently. Typically, in order to get a visa, you will need a letter of invitation, a valid passport, photos, health insurance and transportation reservation. You will need to fill in a form (attention, the form for Schengen aria has questions like the name and address of the person who can give details about you - have the name and address of the organizers; where you're gonna live, through what border crossing point will you be entering the EU etc.), and usually pay a fee. Give the embassies more time to review your visa application than the official say it will take - you don't wanna miss the trip for not getting the visa in time. In any case, call the embassy and ask for all these details in advance. Policies may vary from country to country and from embassy to embassy. If you're travelling by plane, don't buy the
ticket before getting the visa, just make a reservation, which costs nothing. In any case, secure transportation well in advance, be it by plane, train or bus. Especially during the summer and around public holidays seats fill up quickly. Also, in the case of the planes, the earlier you get the ticket, the less it costs. No matter how much of the costs is paid for you, you will still need some pocket money. If you have a card, see if it is accepted at ATMs and stores in the country you're travelling. A Maestro, Visa or MasterCard compatible card should do. A multicurrency card - which gives you local currency abroad as well as in your country - is probably the best option. If you decide to carry cash, try to secure some of the currency of the country of destination before leaving. Should you not manage to, get some widely accepted international currency like USD or DEM. When you're changing money at the destination remember that exchange rates in airports, train stations and hotels are traditionally worse that what you can get in a bank or in town. So don't change all your money at once. Check at the exchange office whether you'll have to pay a commission for the operation and how high that is. To get an idea about exchange rates, try www.oanda.com. Don't exchange money outside exchange offices, no matter how appealing the rate is!
If you carry cash, don't keep the money together with your papers and preferably have your cash divided into two or more different places. This way, if you get robbed, lose your luggage or whatever - God forbid! - you're not in danger of getting moneyless. About the luggage - well, we're not gonna tell you what to put in your luggage. Ok, two things - have some formal clothes and make sure you can lift your case from the ground! You'll have to carry it after all. One important thing is to make sure that you know how to arrive from the airport or train station to the conference venue. Usually, when you receive your invitation letter you should also receive information on how to arrive to your destination. If this is not the case, send an email to the organizers asking for detailed instructions. Also, if you receive the information but you're not sure whether you can find the place, ask the organizers to send someone to wait for you at the airport/trains station. Just before leaving your home, check whether you have on you: passport, a copy of the letter of invitation, name, address and phone numbers of the organizers, the address of the place where you're going to stay, cash and/or cards, transportation tickets and a copy of this guide :) Farewell!! Our last piece of advice: When crossing borders, try to state you're a student early in your dialogue with the customs
officer (an ISIC card "forgotten" over the passport usually did the trick for one of our friends). Customs officers are not always particularly friendly (this is why having a copy of the letter of invitation may help) but usually students get a better treatment. This being said, we wish you a very pleasant time. You're there to enjoy the results of your work, so enjoy it! :) And when back home, maybe you'll find time to write us about your impressions. We'll greatly appreciate it. Have a great time!
Cover letter While the application is a succession of documents where you are writing about yourself, the cover letter is the very document about yourself. Its goal is to provide a picture of your background and goals that will persuade the admission committee to accept you. In the cover letter it gets personal: you have to show who you are, what you know and can, and what you want. The overall philosophy of a cover letter goes like this: departing from your background, you explain your goals, and how the two go together. That is, you that prove what you know helps you achieve what you want to get. Then, you show how your goals motivate you to apply of that particular program. Recruiters expect you to prove compatibility between you, and your goals, and the program. Show how what you have matches what they want. Remember, this is a question of interpretation: don't make things up, ust put your qualifications in the right light. This means, of course, that you have to personalize your cover letter for each program you are applying to.
Beyond the particular skills required by each program, a cover letter should depict you as a clear-headed person, capable of thinking clearly, without confusion, a motivated, active learner. Before writing the first draft, take some time to think about yourself, your goals and your skills. Start by stating your goals in the intr oduction. Structure the body of the paper according to the logic explained above. Start from facts - your background, explaining what, where and why you have studied, and how that can be used in the new program. If you are changing the subject of your studies, provide a convincing explanation of the reasons that determine you to. In other words, say why are you motivated to make that change. Continue in the second section of the body of the paper with your professional goals, with your professional goals, explaining the connection between them and your studies. Present your long-term plans, and say how the program you are applying for will help you achieve those goals. Finally, in the last part of the cover letter, having explained your background and your goals, relate them to the program of your choice. Make clear why your background recommends you for the program, and how the program will help you achieve the long-term goals. In this section also explain why exactly that university is your choice - courses, faculty, research interests are possible reasons. In conclusions you should sum up the main points and state how you can contribute to the program.
The structure of a cover letter is not that complicated and is actually easy to grasp once you got the inner logic of the document. Still, writing a good draft is difficult. You need to take some time for each version. Don't respect what you have said in other documents, but try to add on them. Answer the essay/statement question, if you have one - it usually will be something like «Why are you the right person for this program?». Don't try to be modest, explain out loud your realization, without showing off. Write in a clear and logic manner, rather than being subtle - remember, your cover letter will be one in a few hundreds read by the recruiter. Don't be afraid of rewriting, you will revise it up to 10 times (no exaggeration!) until you can come up with a good cover letter. One strategy is, let i t rest after you have written a new draft for a few days, and read it again, in order to get a more objective view. Good luck! How to apply for a scholarship
So you have decided to apply for a scholarship lasting one year or longer. This implies a long, difficult and exhausting process. We have put together a time schedule that should help you work your way through the application jungle. Your preparation should start more than one year in advance than the date when you actually want to start your studies. When building this schedule, we have taken into account for reference a university that starts in the autumn (August - October), but many universities around the world admit students also in January and April. In case you are going for one of these dates, please take into account the intervals explained below rather than then the dates provided in this schedule.
Summer, one year in advance
Since you want to study at a university, the first and earliest step should be deciding where you want to study. In some cases, you have friends that went abroad earlier and from the info you have gathered from them and other sources you are certain about the place where you want to study. Happy you. You just saved a lot of work. Let's see what happens if you don't get so lucky. First, you should figure out what subject you want to study, like anthropology, mathematics, etc. It should have some connection with t he subject you have studies so far, or have a good argumentation for the change of direction you intend. Also decide the kind of program you want to follow: undergraduate, master's, PhD, etc. If you don't have a master, you still can apply for a PhD directly, but usually your first years of study will be a master. In US, Master's programs (MA - Master of Arts, MSc - Master of Science, differs according to the subject) typically last for two years, while in the UK the program lasts for twelve full months, with the summer reserved for writing your thesis. You will of course meet exceptions from this classification. In both cases you will have to write a thesis as part of the graduation requirements. The MPhil is a degree strongly oriented towards research, usually done as the first part of PhD studies. The MBA - Master of Business Administration - is a graduate business studies program with a strong practical orientation. A few years of job experience are normally required when applying for an MBA.
Once you have identified the subject and the kind of program you want to go to, you can start searching for universities. It will be relatively easy to find on t he Internet a ranking of those programs at universities in the US or UK. Such a ranking is useful for two reasons: first, you can use it as an index that directs you to the websites of the programs/universities listed. Second, it gives you a fair idea about how competitive those programs are. The logic is simple: the more competitive those programs are, the more prestigious your title will be. Famous universities are rich, so more money is available for financial aid. On the other hand, competition for admission and financing is tough. You will make the decision that suits you best, but we suggest you a few tips on how to make that choice. Choose more universities, it means more work with the application papers, but it increases your chances. We know cases when students handled up to 20 applications, but over 10 it usually gets tough. Split the ranking in top 10/15 and what's under, and choose universities from both categories. Your scores at the standardized tests should influence the final proportion of universities from each category. Compare your results with those listed as average by the respective programs. Read carefully the information posted on the websites and application booklets. You will find a lot of reasons to influence your options there. Identify the financial aid possibilities - make sure you are eligible for a number of scholarships that can give you full f inancing. Check the applications/admitted ration and the scores at the standardised tests to get an idea about competition. Check the classes offered and the research interests of faculty in order to make sure they match your own interests. Last but not least, read about the living conditions in the universities. It might seem this doesn't make much difference when you're applying, but you're applying to get admitted, don't you? Remember, you're going to spend a year or more in that place. You might end up in a campus or in a city-center skyscraper, in the desert or at the ocean, amid corn fields, in a cosmopolitan city or in a rural area. You should chose in such a way the destination that you won't get bored to death in the environment where you are going to study. A section you should read with special attention is that containing admission information. Find out whether you meet the conditions that make you eligible for the program, and read until you have understood well the admission process. Write on a sheet of paper the deadlines and the tests required, plus any unconventional requirements. In the end, when you have decided upon the programs, make a list with them, the deadlines and application documents. It will help you meet the deadlines and not miss any application documents. You should have this list ready by October, one year in advance from the proposed date of starting the study. top
September, one year in advance
Once you have the list with the programs of your choice, you have completed a long, resource-consuming and more difficult than usually considered phase of your application process. Somewhat simultaneously, you should take care of another one: the standardised
tests (TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.). Universities use such widely acknowledged tests in order to assess your potential and knowledge in different areas. Tests cost (TEOFL - USD 100, GRE general - USD 125, and so on), and is practically impossible to avoid them. See what tests you need, go on the websites related to those tests, and read about costs, scheduling, scores interpretation, etc. Try a few sample questions, or even mini-tests. If the results don't look to well, it is a good idea to schedule one of the tests in spring, one and a half years in advance of your proposed course of study, in order to have enough time for preparation. Tests tend to be difficult and preparation in advance is strongly recommended. You should start as early as two months before the testing date and dedicate 2-3 hours daily to practice in order to be well-prepared for the test. A good knowledge of English language is required for any of them. Plus, each of the tests will present you with a few types of problems. The main goal of the preparation is to familiarize you with that kind of problems. Some preparation material is available on the Internet, while books tend to be expensive, but generally unavoidable. Essays are part of most of the tests, so practice on writing them as well, and take a look at our guide about how to wr ite a structured essay. After taking the tests, about a month is needed in order to have the scores reported to universities. This means you should have taken the tests until the end of November, since the first big round of deadlines comes in January. The ETS, the organisation running those tests, reports your scores for free at 4 or 5 universities, depending on the test. That is, on the condition that you are ready to specify those universities on the day you are taking the test, so be ready! Attention at TOEFL, universities in US are arranged according to the state, so do some research before taking the exam, unless you want to spend endless time on the computer after taking the test, checking your geography knowledge. Any score reporting after that day costs. You can try to avoid the extra costs, by attaching a copy of your own score reports to the application, and explaining that you cannot afford to pay to have the scores officially reported. Still, in some cases, you will have to do that, eventually. Scheduling the tests takes time, unless you have a card in international currency. When you apply by mail and use a check to pay, you can't even fix the date, but you only can write a number of dates when you would like to take the test, and the final option will be made by ETS. Allow, therefore, some time for the processing of your request. If you want to take the tests in November, as we recommend, send your check and application around midSeptember, at best. top October and November
Once you're done choosing universities, and while you are preparing for the tests, start working on you application essays, including the statement of purpose. They are difficult to write, and almost for sure some intensive re-writing will be needed until you get a good final draft. For detailed advice on writing them, see our sections on how to write a structured essay, and how to write a statement of purpose. top
In November, close to taking your tests, talk to the professors about letters of recommendation. Allow them 2-3 weeks to write those letters, but not more, since they might forget. You ask for ten days, but be ready if it takes more. See our guide on how to handle this delicate proceeding. top December
In December, with your essays almost written in final draft, your tests taken, and the forms for the letters of recommendation given to professors, start filling in the application forms and request transcripts from your current school. Make copies of the application forms and fill those in first, to avoid mistakes. Use a computer, if possible, or write in block capitals. When attaching transcripts, or any other documents originally issued in another language than English, you need to have them translated by an authorized translator and that translation authenticated by a notary. A few tips on this: make the translations yourself, if you feel confident. It will save you time and allow you to try to negotiate a price deduction with translator. Give him/her the original and a floppy disk with the tr anslated document to allow any modifications needed. You can ask the translator t o seal the documents with "true and certified translation", and avoid the notary, also saving time and money. Don't do that if the University expressly requires "authenticated translation at a notary". We know one case where the home university accepted to sign transcripts in the English language, making them documents originally issued by the university and which did not need translation. Try your chance with the dean and see if it works. If it does, have each transcript signed and sealed, put in an A4 envelope sealed and signed over the seal, in a way similar to r ecommendation letters. In case you attach translations after any document, have the translator put the seal on a copy of the original document in your language, and attach this copy to the translation. It will increase the credibility of your application. Pay attention to the number of copies in which the university requests each document and attach the right number of copies. top January
At the end of December you should have your application ready for those programs which have deadlines in January. Be careful with the way in which the deadline is specified: if it is the date of postage, your application has to be sent by the specified date. In other words, it needs a post seal with the date prior or equal to the date of the deadline. If it is the date if arrival, your application should have arrived at the university until that date and if you are sending it from Eastern Europe to the US, this may last as long as three weeks. Send the package in due time and prepare to restart the cycle for recommendations, essays and application forms for programs with later deadlines. top
Once you have the application put together and sent, you might think there isn't much left to do than wait. You still should know what and when to wait. For programs with the deadline in early January, answers can come as early as March. In some cases you will receive a place and financial aid offer, in other the financial aid comes later. Universities send offer letters in waves, so don't get scared if the answer comes later for you than for your friend who applied for exactly the same thing. This does not mean a no, automatically, you can receive offer letters until early summer. If you get more offers and have to make a decision, first look carefully at the financial aid offer, in order to make sure there are no hidden costs that are not covered, like flight, medical insurance, etc. Or even if they are, that you will be able to cover them somehow. Then, just choose what you would love most to do. Even for when you have received the offers and made a decision we have a suggestion: start your fight with the bureaucracy early. Apply for a visa well ahead of your date of departure, search a place to stay on or off campus, fill in and send quickly any other documents the university asks you to. And, good flight! Your future just started! How to write a research proposal
When you are applying for a research degree, like the PhD, you will very probably have to write a research proposal as a part of your application file. A PhD i s awarded mainly as the result of your making a genuine contribution to the state of knowledge in a field of your choice. Even though this is not the Nobel Prize yet, getting the degree means you have added something to what has previously been known on the subject you have researched. But first you have to prove you are capable of making such a contribution, and therefore write a research proposal that meets certain standards. The goal of a research proposal (RP) is to present and justify a research idea you have and to present the practical ways in which you think this research should be conducted. When you are writing a RP, keep in mind that it will enter a competition, being read in line with quite a few other RPs. You have to come up with a document that has an impact upon the reader: write clearly and well structured so that your message gets across easily. Basically, your RP has to answer three big questions: what research project will you undertake, why is important to know that thing and how will you proceed to make that research. In order to draw the researcher's attention upon your paper, write an introduction with impact, and that leads to the formulation of your hypothesis. The research hypothesis has to be specific, concise (one phrase) and to lead to the advancement of the knowledge in the field in some way. Writing the hypothesis in a concise manner and, first, coming up with a good hypothesis is a difficult mission. This is actually the core of your application: you're going to
a university to do this very piece of research. Compared to this, the rest of t he application is background scenery. Take your time to think of it. When you have an idea, be careful at the formulation. A well-written hypothesis is something of an essay's thesis: it provides a statement that can be tested (argues ahead one of the possible answers to a problem), it is an idea, a concept, and not a mere fact, and is summed up in one phrase. In some cases, you will have no idea what the possible answer to a problem worth being researched is, but you will be able to think of a way to solve that problem, and find out the answer in the meantime. It's ok in this case, to formulate a research question, rather than a hypothesis. Let those cases be rare, in any way. Another piece of advice when writing your hypothesis, regarding the trendy research fields: chances are great that they're trendy because somebody has already made that exciting discovery, or wrote that splendid paper that awoke everybody's interest in the first place. If you're in one of these fields, try to get a fresh point of view upon the subject; make new connections, don't be 100% mainstream. This will make the project even more stimulating for the reader. Imagine that you are writing about the trendiest subject, with absolutely no change in the point of view, and you are given the chance to make the research. Trends come and go, fast; what are the chances that, in four years' time, when your research is done and you are ready to publish your results, one of those well-known professors who dispose of huge research grants has already said whatever you had to say? Remember how, in a structured essay, right after the thesis you would present the organisation of your essay, by enumerating the main arguments you were going to present? Same thing should happen in a RP. After stating your thesis, you should give a short account of your answers to those three questions mention earlier. State, in a few phrases, what will be learned from your research, that your project will make a difference, and why is that important to be known. You will have to elaborate on both of these later in the paper.
The next step in writing your proposal is to prove that t hat particular piece of research has not been done yet. This section is usually called Literature Review. Inside it, you have to enumerate and critically analyze an impressive list of boring bibliography. The conclusion you should - objectively! - reach is that your idea of research has not been undertaken yet. Even more, you use this opportunity to prove solid theoretical knowledge in the field, and build the theoretical bases of your project. One tip: don't review all the articles and books in the fields even if you mention them in the bibliography list; pay attention in your analysis to those you will build on. Another one: avoid jargon when writing your RP. The chances are great that the person(s) who will read your and another 1000 research proposals are not specialists in that very field - niche you are examining. If you are applying for a grant with or foundation or something similar, it might happen that those reading your paper are not even professors, but recruiters, donors, etc. And even if they actually are professors, one of the reasons busy people like them agree to undertake a huge, and sometimes voluntary, work, is the desire to meet some diversity, some change from their work - so ma ybe they'll read applications for another specialisation. The capacity to get your message across in clear,
easy-to-grasp concepts and phrases is one of the winning papers' most important advantages. So far, you have proven you have a research idea, that you are familiar with the field, and that your idea is new. Now, why should your project be worth researching? Because it advances knowledge, ok. But is this knowledge that anybody will need? Maybe nobody knows for sure how the shoelaces were being tied in the XIXth century, but who cares, beyond two lacetying specialists? Find arguments to convince the reader that s/he should give you money for that research: practical use, accelerating the development of knowledge in your or other fields, opening new research possibilities, a better understanding of facts that will allow a more appropriate course of action are possible reasons. Be clear and specific. Don't promise to save the world, it might be too much to start with. Even James Bond succeeds that only towards the end of the movie. We approach now one of the most difficult parts of writing a research proposal: the methodology. In short, what actions are you going to take in order to answer the question? When will you know whether the hypothesis has been proven wrong, or has survived enough tests to be considered, for now, valid? Those tests and the way you are supposed to handle them to give rigor to your research is what is understood under methods. Methods divide in qualitative (interviews, questionnaires) and quantitative (statistics, stuff that deals intensively with numbers). For some projects qualitative methods are more appropriate, for some quantitative, while for most a mixture of the two is adequate. You should pick your methods and justify your choice. Research methodology, however, is too a complicated thing to be explained here. And this is why it's so tough: not much attention is given to teaching it in Eastern Europe. Try, before writing your RP, to read a bit more about methodology - on the Internet you will find for sure some articles - and decide which methods suit your project best. Don't forget: reading theoretical pieces of your work and providing a critical analysis of those is also a kind of research. It's fine to provide a rough schedule of your research; some grant programs will also require a detailed budget, even though for scholarships this is unlikely. Conclusions: After working your way through the difficult methodological part, you only have to write your conclusions. Shortly recap why your hypothesis is new, why it advances knowledge, why is it worth researching and how, from a practical point of view, are you going to do that. Overall, the capacity of your project to answer the research question should come out crystal clear from the body of the paper, and especially from the conclusions. If this happens, it means you have a well-written RP, and you have just increased you chances for having a successful application. One last word: how big should your RP be? In most cases, this is specified in the application form. If it is not, we suggest that you keep it at about 1500 words (that's 3 pages, singlespaced, with 12 size Times New Roman). In fewer words it can be really tough to write a good RP. With more you might bore your readers. Which we hope will not happen. Good luck!