A cover letter is often the first thing that an MBA admissions committee reads when they receive your application, so it’s important to make a good impression with it. Your cover letter should tie together all of the pieces of your application so the committee can get a sense of your overall qualifications for the program.
If there are any parts of your application that require an explanation, such as a gap in education or employment, this is your chance to let them know. Your cover letter should be brief and to-the-point, and leave the reader wanting to find out more about you from the other parts of your application.
A good cover letter won’t make up for a mediocre application packet, but it can get the reader on your side, looking for the positives in your application.
How Important is an MBA Cover Letter?
Each MBA program has its own requirements, and may or may not call for a cover letter. Some programs may ask you to answer essay questions or write a Statement of Purpose instead of or in addition to a cover letter. Always check your school’s admissions criteria to make sure your cover letter is the right length and style for your program.
For example, the Sloan School of Management at MIT asks for a cover letter of no more than 300 words in the form of “standard business correspondence.” It should have “one or more examples that illustrate why you meet the desired criteria” for the program. They also ask for a 1-minute Video Statement introducing yourself and explaining why you want to attend MIT. They don’t require a separate essay or Statement of Purpose.
The Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University doesn’t require a cover letter, but has guidelines if you choose to submit one. It should be no more than 1 page and should “include reasons why you are qualified for a place in the graduate degree program, how your participation will add value to the graduate degree program, or explain any other information useful to the admissions committee.”
Some schools in Europe have begun to require video essays instead of written cover letters, such as the SDA Bocconi School of Management. This allows the admissions team to recognize names and faces out of hundreds of applications.
So, how important your cover letter is depends on what other materials are requested. If your cover letter is the only space you have to introduce yourself, then use it wisely. This is especially important if you have an unusual resume or education that doesn’t fit neatly into the boxes of a typical MBA application.
But if your application includes one or more essays that already provide an overview of your resume and career goals, it may be less important. If your program doesn’t specify the criteria for a cover letter, then it’s best to keep it short and professional and let your resume and other materials provide the information the admissions team needs.
What They’ll Be Looking For
When the admissions committee reads your cover letter, they’ll be trying to get a sense of who you are as a candidate and if you’re likely to be a good fit for their program.
Think of it like the summary on the back of a book: you’ll need to read the whole book to get the whole story, but the summary lets you know what to expect and whether it’s likely to be a match for your interests and reading preferences.
Your cover letter serves a similar purpose. It gives the admissions team an idea of who you are, which is then expanded on by the other parts of your application. In a way, it’s about personalizing your application.
A good cover letter shows that you can follow directions and have done some research into the particular program you’re applying for. The admissions team wants to see that you understand what the program is about and what you can bring to it.
This is also your opportunity to manage expectations. If your GMAT score is lower than the school’s average, or you don’t have a lot of work experience yet, you can highlight other strengths that you bring to the table.
That way, when the team turns the page to your resume or test scores, they won’t be surprised by what they find, and are more likely to give you a fair assessment.
You can also use your cover letter to mention anyone who has agreed to write a Letter of Recommendation for you, so the admissions team knows what other documents to look forward to in your application packet.
Tips for Writing an MBA Cover Letter
The length and format of your letter will depend on what your program requires, but there are several tips that apply to all cover letters. If you’ve ever written a cover letter to apply for a job, then you should have a general idea of what a cover letter looks like.
A typical cover letter has 3-4 paragraphs and is written on standard letter-sized paper in 12-point font and with 1-inch margins. The letter should include the date and recipient’s address at the top left and your name and signature at the bottom.
Here are a few more tips that apply specifically to cover letters for MBA programs:
Write a unique cover letter for each program
Don’t use the same cover letter for every application. Show the admissions team why you want to attend this particular program. Some of the information you include will be the same for each school, but the letters shouldn’t be identical.
Highlight any experience on your resume that aligns with the school’s focus or values. If there’s a particular course or professor you’re interested in, mention it. Also make note of any other connections you have to the school, such as a visit to campus or conversation with a recent graduate that influenced your decision to apply.
Address the letter to the right person
Avoid starting off your letter with a generic “To Whom It May Concern.” If the application instructions don’t say who to address the letter to, then look up the name of the Dean of Admissions or another faculty member who is likely to read your application.
Your letter should be more formal than an email. Addressing the letter properly shows that you understand the conventions of professional business correspondence. It may seem simple, but it’s an easy way for the admissions team to tell a serious candidate from someone who just put a cover letter together at the last minute.
Don’t forget to introduce yourself
Your cover letter should get the admissions team interested in you as a candidate, but it shouldn’t leave them guessing. Remember, this is your introduction, so let them know a bit about who you are and your work and educational background.
Instead of vague statements like “as you’ll see from the work experience on my resume,” mention your “5 years of employment in the financial services industry.” Specific names and numbers are more likely to get the reader’s attention.
Biographical details, such as your country of origin or the time that you spent studying abroad, are also useful to present a well-rounded picture.
Advocate for yourself (and back it up)
The cover letter is an opportunity to sell yourself as a qualified applicant, and that means explaining any inconsistencies in your application. Did you change your course of study in the middle of your degree? Did you take a year off of work to volunteer overseas?
Gaps or inconsistencies in your resume may make perfect sense once you explain them. Ideally, you’ll have a strong Letter of Recommendation to back up your claims. A shift in your career path or education may make more sense if you have a supervisor who is able to vouch for your abilities and on-the-job work experience.
That said, don’t exaggerate or make things up. A clever cover letter won’t get you into an MBA program if you don’t meet the minimum admission requirements.
MBA Cover Letter Example
Let’s take a look at an example to see what a standard cover letter should look like. This letter was submitted as part of an application for an MBA at West Coast University. The letter is only around 150 words in all, making it a very clear and concise example.
The letter starts off with a standard greeting “To Members of the Admissions Committee”. You can address your letter to an individual if you know the name of the Dean, but this is an effective introduction and is more specific than “To Whom It May Concern”.
Next, the applicant clearly states the purpose of the letter and goes on to reference a personal connection to the school in the form of an alumni interview. The information includes a specific name and date if the admissions committee wants to verify it.
“This letter expresses my interest in applying for admission to the School of Management’s Fall 2003 MBA Program. On December 21, 2002, I had the pleasure of interviewing with your alumnus, Mr. Stephen Meeker, a meeting that solidified my decision.”
Then, the applicant mentions what it is about the program that they’re drawn to. They show the research that they’ve done and highlight some of the program’s features:
“After comprehensive research into your program, I was pleased with your educational policies and the culturally diverse environment in which I can learn much from both professors and students of many nations.”
This paragraph is short, and could include a little bit more information on the specific focus of study or likely career path, but it gets the job done.
Next, they bring up their resume as evidence of their qualifications. Without going into too much detail up front, they mention a few skills and experiences that the admissions team can look out for in other sections of the application:
The enclosed resume provides my inclusive and accomplished background, including:
Seven years of experience in international banking.
Strong quantitative and analytical skills.
Fluency and solid communication capabilities in English, French, and Italian.
Inspirational leadership in a cross-cultural environment in France and Italy.
While they don’t mention much about their educational background, their skill in three different languages is likely to make them stand out from other applicants.
Finally, they go on to mention future steps they will take to further their investment in the program, including an upcoming visit to campus. They provide contact info so that they can easily be reached for the next step in the application process:
“I will be visiting West Coast University during the second week of February to audit classes and interact with the students. Should you require additional information, I can be reached at the number above.”
This is a relatively short cover letter, but it includes all of the important information in a clear and straightforward way. The applicant could have offered more details on their education, for example, but chose to highlight their overseas experience instead.
In general, a cover letter is less detailed than a personal essay or Statement of Purpose, so it’s best to stick to a single page and 3-4 paragraphs. If your program asks for a longer letter or a personal essay, you can go into more detail about your current employment or career goals, but don’t repeat the same info too many times in your application.
If you’re asked to submit a video introduction instead, you can cover the same points in your video as you would in your cover letter. Your video should appear casual and less formal than a cover letter, but it’s a good idea to make some notes and rehearse it a few times to make sure you don’t forget to include anything.
A cover letter isn’t the most in-depth part of your application, but it lets the admissions team know what to expect from you. Just like the preface to a book, it can set the tone of your application and influence whether the admissions team looks at the rest of your documents with a hopeful or a skeptical eye.
A good cover letter will help the admissions team see a real person, not just a resume and a GMAT score, when they consider your application.
If you’re not sure what to say in your cover letter, don’t worry. Whether your MBA program requires a standard cover letter, a personal essay, or a video, we can help you figure it out. We’ll make sure that you’re clear on the application requirements and submit the right type of cover letter for your program to increase your chances of success.