October College Guy Rant for Seniors Part 1: The Cover Letter

Hey Class of ’19 - I've mentioned previously the idea of sending a "cover letter package” to accompany each of your college applications. Here’s an explanation (and an example) of what this is.

The cover letter is the "users guide" to your application. You send it to your colleges shortly after you apply (ideally a day or two after you send your application). The example below is dated December 5, which would be for those following my recommended timeline and applying regular decision. If you’re applying Early Action or Early Decision (by Nov. 1 or Nov. 15 in most cases) you’ll want to send your cover letter shortly thereafter.

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.) which did not get included in your on-line application.

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; a nobel prize for literature you’ve just won, or an especially high (or low) first quarter grade, etc.

Because the cover letter is a separate, optional addition to your application, 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. I disagree with the notion that “over applying” is a bad thing. Quite the contrary, I believe it can help.

Unless a college states in writing that:“We don’t want you to send extra stuff!”, I think it’s a good idea to send more (assuming it’s GOOD extra stuff, naturally). It can be especially effective at small and mid-sized colleges (don’t waste your time at Universities with over 15,000 enrollment).

IMHO if you send quality material that will help admissions counselors get to know you more comprehensively, such supplemental material can help improve your chances of being offered admission. 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 'schmooze' piece designed to make the reader, just prior to or after 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 have a pdf template/example of such a letter which I will be happy to email to you if you request it . Work up your own version of this letter for each application and send it out after you apply. Remember to make sure you've got the right school's name in each (don’t laugh – every year a horrified student or two calls to tell me they’ve made that gaffe.)  


If you want me to take a look at your “cover letter package” before you mail it, send me a draft of what you come up with.

From your Crafty College Counselor…your Accomplished Advisor…your Masterly Maharishi of Matriculants…your Ebullient Essayist,



P.S. Got questions? Call or email me. Know seniors behind the proverbial 8 ball? Parents who have questions about the FAFSA, CSS PROFILE or IDOC? Send ‘em my way. That’s why I’m here! Rather not get these occasional missives? Let me know, and you won’t.


Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711 

College Placement Services provides high school students and their families
assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application
and financial aid process.