Hey Class of '12 - I've mentioned to many of you the idea of sending a cover letter along with your applications. Some of you have already gotten a version of this email from me, but if you haven't, read on!
A cover letter is your "users guide" to your application. You send it to your college shortly after you apply (ideally within a week).
The cover letter's sole purpose is to subtly, gracefully and humbly communicate the following:
"TA DAAAAA! Here I am! I'm psyched and hopeful that you're going to accept me! How could you do anything but???!!!"
The cover letter is an opportunity for you to present any additional things you’d like the college to review such as a resume, an extra essay, additional letters of recommendation, a 'show and tell piece', etc.
The cover letter also allows you to address anything you want to emphasize or explain, such as a contact you’ve made with a coach or a professor; the fact you’ve just retaken the SATs and the scores will be forthcoming; especially high (or low) first quarter grades, etc.
Because the cover letter is supplemental to your application (and I’m not talking about the ‘supplement to the common application’ which some schools require), there are no rules you need to follow. It’s up to you to decide what you tell and send them, and how you go about it.
Some will say that colleges don’t want extra material – that it takes them time and resources to review, and you run the risk of them thinking poorly of you if you make more work for them.
People who say that are wrong.
If you send material that will help the college get to know you more comprehensively, your supplemental material can help you. Only if you send weak or poorly conceived material will colleges be unimpressed.
Get the idea?
So to summarize, your cover letter is a brief 'shmooze' piece designed to make the reader, just prior to launching in to a thorough evaluation of your application, say to him/herself:
"Hmm, I'm impressed. This young person has got it together!!"
I’d be glad to send any reader an example of such a letter. If you’d like to see it write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email it to you.
Work up your own for each application and send it out after you apply. Remember to make sure you've got the right school's name in it (don’t laugh – every year a student makes that gaffe!) If you want me to take a look at your cover letter before you mail it, send me a draft of what you come up with.