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Letter of Intent

Lesley Nicholls' Guide to the Application Process

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I wonder if Joseph Conrad ever had to write a

Joseph Conrad's Writing Desk: I wonder if Joseph Conrad ever had to write a "Letter of Intent"?

Ben Sutherland
Table of Contents: Lesley Nicholl's Guide to the Application Process
Letters of Reference < | Letter of Intent | > Writing Samples

What is a 'Letter of Intent'?

Many schools request a short statement or 'letter of intent' from you laying out research interests and the reasons why you are applying to graduate school and to that particular school. This is the document that will sell you and your research interests to the department, so for heaven's sake take as much care in preparing it as you would a term paper. Admittedly it is difficult to squeeze all your ideas onto one page (try not to make it longer; some schools specify only one page) but thanks to computers you can use a smaller typeface (but make sure its still readable). However, sneaky people that they are, some schools have gotten wise and indicate that you must use a certain font size.

What About a Thesis Topic?

You are not expected to have a thesis topic in hand, but you should give some clear idea of your geographical and topical interests and possible topics you might be interested in that will be of interest to that particular school.

In cases where you do have access to data or a project for use in a thesis, mention this. Briefly describe the nature of the data, who collected it and what you want to do with it. Also mention who has suggested you use it and who has given approval to use it. If you are involved in a project that will provide material, give information on who is running the project, what the material is or what you expect to find (if it is a new project), and confirm that you have permission to use the material.

If you don't have access to research material, write a brief statement outlining your interests and explain how you think they will tie in with the research interests of the department.

How Will You Fit into Their Department?

Remember that your letter of intent is used to assess how you will fit into the department to which you are applying. Laying out ideas and possible topics at this time will not limit your possible choice of thesis topic. Schools realize that exposure to new ideas and people can and do change a students way of thinking.

  • Write a draft of the statement and show it to people, particularly faculty members, and elicit their comments.
  • Do not use a "generic" statement that you will send to each university; tailor the statements to each individual department for which you are applying.
  • Tell the department if they have a research emphasis which interests you and mention if you have been in touch with a member of the faculty regarding potential supervision.
  • Don't try to be all things to all people and say that you want take courses from everyone in the department on topics dealing with their particular area; this just gives the impression that you don't really know what you want. Conversely if there is some particular course you want to take (for example advanced training in zooarchaeology) mention it. Also, an awareness of any lack in your background may be mentioned--for instance if you haven't completed fieldwork or lab work. This demonstrates that you are aware of your weaknesses. I know that the foregoing sounds contradictory but there is a happy medium.
  • Needless to say, type the statement, make sure that it is grammatically correct and that you run spellcheck, and have it read by someone else one final time before it is submitted.
Table of Contents: Lesley Nicholl's Guide to the Application Process
Letters of Reference < | Letter of Intent | > Writing Samples
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