Writing Academic Cover Letters

Special thanks to Professor Janet Farrell Brodie, CGU History, for the following information.

Academic cover letters, cover letters submitted when applying for jobs at community colleges and universities, differ from business cover letters. They tend to be longer (2 pages) and they detail the applicant’s research and teaching goals. Academic cover letters differ depending on the institution to which they are addressed. Community colleges and four-year liberal arts colleges have different goals and needs. You will have to shape your letter accordingly. The tips below will help you do so.

Prepare Ahead

Even if a particular position is not of immediate interest to you, start putting together a cover letter and CV template. You will then be ready to update these and personalize them to particular institutions when a job does interest you. In addition. You can get professors and Writing Center comments well before you face the pressure of deadlines.

Get to Know the Institution and the Department

Know whether it is research-oriented, teaching-oriented, or both. Know what the student body is like in terms of diversity, background, and common interests. Know about the faculty, what their research interests are, what they have written, and what types of degrees they hold. Know about the department, what classes are offered, how regularly special courses are taught, what books they teach, and whether they are lecture or seminar format. You can attain this information by checking college and department web sites, college catalogues, syllabi, academic directories, and by asking questions.

Research Universities and Other Four-Year Colleges

Discuss your research first. They are interested in the intellectual quality of your mind as well as your potential to produce and publish research. So explain your work, talk about how your work would benefit a particular university, and demonstrate its significance to the academic community.

Community Colleges

Discuss your teaching experience and philosophy first. They are interested in the intellectual quality of your mind as well, but need to be convinced that you can communicate your ideas effectively to a diverse array of students.

Be knowledgeable about the community and district in which the community college is located. Convey this knowledge and your ability to provide the particular community/district’s needs. Tell them about community involvement.

Talk about your research. Community Colleges still want to know what scholarly interests you bring to their faculty.

General Tips

Address your letter to a specific person. Find out who the department chair is or who heads the search committee.

Apply early. Your information is more likely to get a thorough look if it arrives ahead of the final inundation at the deadline. (Most cover letters receive approximately 20-30 seconds of review.)

Send only what the committee requests, but indicate that you are willing to furnish the committee with additional materials such as sample syllabi (from courses you have taught or envision teaching), writing samples, etc. (and be prepared to do so).

Refer to important information on your CV. Do not assume that the search committee will see and make sense out of everything on your CV It is respectful and acceptable point out what is important.

Ask to see sample cover letters (and CV’s) of recent hires and of colleagues. Have a variety of people proofread your cover letter.

Links to Samples

Sample Academic Cover Letter, Paul Saint-Amour - letter to Pomona College search committee from a professor who secured the position.

Purdue OWL: Academic Cover Letters
This page includes helpful information to supplement this handout, as well as a generic sample letter.

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