Finding a Perfect Match: Writing a Statement of Motivation

Not surprisingly, when finalizing your PhD study application, you may find that the Statement of Motivation is the hardest part. Summarizing who you are, what you do and what you would like to do in the future usually turns out to be a bigger challenge than it looks.

“The most common mistake applicants make is being too general and forgetting that we need to see what makes them stand out compared to their peers.  What matters to them, how they would like to achieve it, and why they would like to achieve it here should be clear,” says CERGE-EI Deputy Director for Graduate Studies, Fabio Michelucci.

Deborah Novakova, Head of the CERGE-EI Academic Skills Center, adds: “Statements of motivation are extremely individual.  They tell us a lot about you.  This is true about the concrete information about your background and goals, and it’s equally true as regards the style, tone, and language choices you make.”

To make the task a little easier for you, here are few tips:

Applying for graduate studies is different from applying for an undergrad program. You’re applying to join our academic community and your statement should tell us what you understand about our institution and how you will fit in and contribute.

Your chance to use your own voice: This is the only part of the application package that you shape entirely yourself, where you can stress what you feel is important for us to consider or give additional information that is not evident elsewhere.

Think about the audience: Evaluators will go through hundreds of letters like yours. They will not spend much time reading; the average may be just a very few minutes. Condense the content and focus carefully on the most important information. Evaluators are looking for substance, not phrases.


  • Progression: Explain what your past academic and professional experience means, and how it has shaped your current academic and professional choices, research interests, and career path. Show your preparedness, competence, suitability, and desire.
  • How you match: Show that you have specific reasons to apply here. Explain why you believe that you are a good candidate for our program. You may even mention specific researchers that you would like to work with, and any concrete research plans you have.
  • Who you are: Readers need to see a human being behind the education and experience, so do not hide behind general statements. You will only slip back into a pool of neutrality while you had a chance to stand out.

Do not…

  • Do not make it what it is not: A Statement of Motivation is not a full research proposal, an autobiography, a list of accomplishments, or a plea. Your selection of information shows your judgement – tell us exactly what is relevant.
  • Do not flatter: Evaluators will not admit you so that you can keep telling them how excellent the institution is. They aim to admit the best students who will contribute to the excellence of the institution.
  • Do not cheat: Inflating or misrepresenting your accomplishments or plagiarizing any of the content of your Statement of Motivation guarantees that it will not be successful.

Finally, do not use templates. A Statement of Motivation from a website or other source might seem to be a safe and easy option. However, use of these will be seen as plagiarism. Further, they omit the core of a good Statement: your own words, telling us your personal reasons for why you should be admitted to CERGE-EI.



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