An academic cover letter should follow the basic format of a business cover letter, discussing your research and teaching objectives, and be tailored towards the specific institution to which you are applying. Before you write an academic cover letter, you should learn more about where you are applying and its main areas of focus. Introduce yourself, explain your experience, and relate your skills specifically to the needs of the school. You should also offer to send examples of research papers or other works the school might be interested in reading.
The first step in writing a cover letter is to learn more about the academic institution at which you intend to apply. Learn the culture, backgrounds, and interests of the student population. Check the degrees, past research, and preferred research areas of faculty members. Know the classes and special courses offered, books used, and the department you wish to join. Find out whether the institution is oriented more towards research or teaching.
You can find information about a school through the official websites, forums, college catalogs, faculty and student directories, and course syllabi. If you know someone who has worked there, ask questions. Pay a visit to the campus and observe faculty and student activity; some colleges and universities may even allow you to sit in on class lectures. Once you have obtained this information, you will be better able to tailor your academic cover letter specifically for the educational institution to which you are applying.
Start your academic cover letter by introducing yourself and outlining your academic experience. Academic cover letters generally run to two or three pages, so you don't need to keep it too short. It is acceptable to reiterate any highlights in your resume that you wish to emphasize to the reviewing committee.
If the institution is research-oriented, concentrate on your past scholarly work when detailing your experience. Your intellectual capacity, as well as productivity in undertaking and publishing research, are your selling points for this type of institution. Explain how your chosen field of research will be of benefit to the school, and how your work is of relevance to the academic community. Enumerate your past academic papers to showcase your research experience.
For teaching-oriented institutions, your intellectual capacity will also be of interest, but the primary focus will be on your ability to educate students. Focus on your teaching experience, philosophy, and goals. Use the information you found out regarding the student interests and prevalent teaching styles in the college, and discuss how your own teaching style will fit in. Cover not only how you can benefit the college students, but the community as well, in accordance with the school's mission. Feel free to also mention your research as this will still be of interest to the institution.
Include an offer to send the evaluators past research papers, lesson plans, articles, and other work that you feel will impress the reviewing committee. List specific pieces of your work and allow them to decide. Only send the samples of your work that they request to see.
To give your academic cover letter a better chance of making an impression, find out who heads the department you wish to join and address the letter to him or her. Send the letter as early as possible in order not to get buried in the inevitable flood of applications when the deadline approaches. Be sure to proofread your letter for errors before sending it; typos and grammatical errors will make a poor impression.