Writing a higher education cover letter using these expert tips will help you secure an interview and top job offer in a competitive job market. Whether you are applying to become the next Dean of Students, Campus Coordinator, Director of Alumni Relations, College Adjunct Instructor, or University Professor, ensure you are the individual getting an interview and that dream job.
When reviewing job postings, you will discover the advert could request a cover letter, application letter, letter of intent, or letter of introduction. These are just different ways to refer to the letter they expect to see accompany the resume or CV. Implement these tried and true higher education cover letter writing tips to showcase your best value.
A well-written cover letter can be just as impressive as a properly designed resume, a cover letter, a.k.a. the application letter should always accompany a resume or CV. This is the opportunity to fine-tune your storytelling abilities and speak to the institution specifically by tailoring your accomplishments and personal traits to a particular job.
Describe your abilities, competencies, skills, knowledge, and expertise, and illustrate them with concrete, institution-specific examples. This is the prime time to tell a hiring committee why you are the perfect candidate, the one whose values, expertise, and skills match the department’s mission and needs. Implementing this post’s strategies will help you make a career transition into a university or college confidently.
Top Higher Education Cover Letter Writing Tips
Research the Institution – College or University Faculty
The more you know about the institution you are applying for, the easier it will be to tailor your higher education cover letter to the college or university’s specific needs, goals, and mission. Whether you are targeting an Executive Director position or applying for an Adjunct Professor posting, being able to directly relate your skills and expertise to the institution’s needs will go a long way when your application is being assessed.
Even if some of your research does not come through in your cover letter, this is excellent preparation for the interview you are setting yourself up for with a professionally written cover letter. You will be better equipped to answer questions such as “Why this job?” and “How are you qualified?” if you have a thorough understanding of what the position requires.
Check College or University’s Website
Dive into the college or university’s website to find key institutional characteristics, strategic goals, needs, and educational mission. This is also the place you will discover the institution’s “language.” Try to mimic the wording you find in your cover letter to the website and job description. This may set you apart from other applicants. You have put in that extra effort to understand better what the position entails and how it positions itself in the educational world.
Tailor Your Cover Letter for the Position
Just because you may be sending out your resume and cover letter to multiple institutions, do not let the faculties know this by submitting a generic template cover letter. If you have done your due diligence in learning what the position entails, you should tailor your cover letter to the specific job. The easiest way to do this is to include the college or university name in your letter.
Additionally, ensure you address the college’s particular needs with your accomplishments; this will show the hiring committee that not only are you familiar with their goals, but you have the experience to back up your self-marketing.
If you take the extra time to tailor your cover letter to the position you are applying for, be it the Dean of Students or Director of Communications, you are increasing your chances of being selected for an interview.
Be Specific by Targeting the Cover Letter
When highlighting your capabilities and achievements, it is vital to illustrate how your competencies will meet the objectives of the position you aim to fill. Whether you list your capabilities in bullet or paragraph form, do it concisely so the hiring committee can see and read how you are the right candidate for the position.
List Accomplishments to Match Higher Education Position
When applying for higher education positions such as Chief Technology Officer, Campus Coordinator, or Executive Director, you want to ensure the accomplishments and experiences you add to your cover letter are relevant to the specific position and institution you are targeting.
A good rule of thumb is to highlight the job description and any other documents with the general position expectations with keywords that pertain to your own expertise and achievements. This will enable you to specify in your letter what you bring to the table.
As you move forward in your career, an idea would be to create a document that lists all your accomplishments. You would word them for a cover letter, in paragraph form, and insert them, after cleaning it up a bit, into your cover letters for new employment opportunities.
This way, you always have the sense of a tailored cover letter, although you may have a copy and pasted the middle section, and don’t have to spend hours creating a brand new note each time you want to apply somewhere.
Quantify Career Results
Whenever possible, take a cue from your resume and quantify your accomplishments. If you have “increased student enrolment by 15%” in your tenure, then say so. Take that achievement, develop it into something the hiring committee can see you taking on in their company, and specify that in your cover letter.
These may seem like tedious details, but sometimes it’s the numbers that stand out in a sea of words, so take advantage of the opportunity to market yourself in a way that the competition may not.
The job posting should provide you with a wealth of information about the employer and the type of person they want to hire. You want your cover letter to engage the reader, so make sure to speak to the responsibilities and job description without repeating it word for word. Also, make sure you are using keywords that apply to your career and apply to your competencies.
Utilizing keywords will help your higher education cover letter and resume or curriculum vitae pass the Applicant Tracking Systems as well. Look below for some examples of keywords to include based on the position you are applying for:
Dean of Students: analytical thinking, leadership, and managerial competencies, organized, self-motivated, humanitarian, technologically competent, approachable.
Adjunct Professor: syllabus creation, student performance monitoring, collaboration and coordination, organizational skills, teamwork, computer competencies.
Director of Admissions: application assessment, institution promotion, management abilities, administrative competencies, attention to detail, enrollment assistance.
Chief Technology Officer: computer proficiency, technical expertise, leadership, analytical, communication and interpersonal skills, and teamwork.
You should format your higher education cover letter to be read easily if sent over the email. A PDF is the best as it can be opened and viewed exactly how you created it. Remembering this is a good rule of thumb if you intend to attach it to the email or application website.
It may be best practice to copy and paste your cover letter into the email body to ensure the hiring manager reads it. They may not open the cover letter as an attachment and instead go straight to the resume.
The overall layout should follow the suggestions below:
A cover letter is your opportunity to be more personal and speak as if you were having a conversation, however, do not make it too lengthy. Ensure you keep your resume to one page in length. This single page encompasses three to four paragraphs describing your intention, qualifications, and accomplishments, and a closing.
Address to Hiring Manager
Whenever possible, while you are researching information about the position and the institution, note which may be reading your application. Some hiring managers may not care that the letter is addressed specifically to them.
Why take the chance and leave their name out when it could be critical to the person reading your cover letter? If the name is not listed in the job description, contact the Department of Human Resources to determine to whom it should be addressed.
First Paragraph / Opening Sentence
The first paragraph of your cover letter should state the position you are applying for, the institution you are applying to, and why you are the right candidate for the job. Add your applicable educational background if the job description requires a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
The example below uses strong language and markets the professional for the Dean of Students position. This is the opportunity to briefly display what you can offer the college or university regarding their mission.
“ As an experienced leader in the academic sector for over 30 years, I welcome the opportunity to apply for the Dean of Students position with ABC University. As an alumnus of ABC University, I would love the chance to return and become a member of the faculty. I am well prepared to significantly contribute to the goals and objectives of the institution as I have honed my operational, planning, and program development skills to serve your community better.”
Middle Paragraphs – Include Achievements
The 2nd and 3rd paragraphs should describe your relevant qualifications and highlight your accomplishments. Make sure they pertain to the desired position. This is where examples of how your skills, experience, or research directly correlate with what the employer is looking for.
Over the last two years at State College, I have successfully increased donations by more than 80% bringing in over $1 million to the college”.
Each of the middle paragraphs should describe why you are uniquely qualified for the position using keywords from the job posting itself. There are two options to fulfill this opportunity: bullet point and narrative.
Bullet points are great if you want to catch the reader’s eye quickly and concisely; describe your accomplishments in about four bullet points. Using a narrative is another approach if you want the hiring committee to remember a story. Either option is acceptable; it depends on how you describe your experiences.
Example Accomplishments and Paragraph
- Established a variety of innovative and successful academic programs to attract and retain students, reinforced educational offerings, and enhanced academic professional development.
- Spearheaded an academic growth program, enhanced curriculum development, and organized grant and funding initiatives.
“My experience in the English Department has enabled me to become a skilled writer by concentrating in literature for both my undergraduate and graduate programs. I am excited to incorporate the technologies I have utilized in my teaching and am eager to work with new systems. Organization and leadership are vital to balance multiple projects and demands successfully, and this expertise has made my career much more rewarding.”
When thinking about writing your achievements in paragraph form, think of them using the CAR analogy: CHALLENGE-ACTION-RESULT.
Final Paragraph / Closing / Thank You
In the final paragraph, you thank the reader for their consideration and request the opportunity to meet in person. This is also the place for that final push, the last opportunity to tell the reader that you are the right candidate.
“As a passionate, innovative, and dedicated teaching professional, I am confident that my skills in academic oversight and directional leadership will directly translate to Taylor University’s mission. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to connecting with you soon to offer more insight into my qualifications.”
Call to Action/Ask for the Interview
A more direct way to ask for the interview is to be proactive in your approach to closing the cover letter. For example:
“I will call in one week to follow up and find out if I can clarify any questions you may have,” or “I will contact you within the next few days to set up a time to speak more specifically about how my skills will directly benefit your academic community.”
If you decide to go with this closing, connect with the institution.
Match Your Resume
Consistency is key when submitting several documents with your application. Your paperwork must reflect a polished and professional personality. Ensure your cover letter matches the formatting you used for your resume.
They all have the same look if you are sending thank you letters or recruiting/networking letters. Copy and paste your heading, thus ensuring that the same font, size, and borders are present on everything. Double-check to make sure all documents look the same before you submit them.
Proofreading may seem obvious, but it is a step that should not be missed. If your cover letter has grammatical or spelling errors, it could automatically disqualify you from the position. It may also not pass the Applicant Tracking Systems.
Your capacity to clearly communicate on your higher education cover letter will directly reflect your ability. Whether you lead a department, teach a graduate class, or recruit and retain students. Read over your cover letter, print it off, reread it, set it aside, and read it a third time. Always proofread and, when possible, have a friend do it for you.
The cover letter is the opportunity to market yourself and your skills in a much less structured way than a resume. Make sure that your cover letter is engaging. Ensure it’s reflective of your skills specific to the position and shows your passion for the job to wish to secure.
An excellent letter will highlight the best parts of your resume without copying it word for word. The goal is to explain why you are the ideal person for the job. Why your experiences are relevant, and how you will use your well-tuned skills in this new role. Take these higher education cover level tips to heart, and you are sure to land that new job as the next Director of Academic Programs!
If you need help writing your job search documents, connect with me (Candace) via phone at 1 877 738 8052 or send an email.