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How to Write a Cover Letter for Recent College Grads

Once you’ve thrown your black cap in the air, the real fun begins: applying for jobs as a new college grad. Or, perhaps you’ve decided to take your education one step further by getting a graduate degree. Either way, you’re going to need to do some convincing, whether it’s proving your skills to a hiring manager or persuading an admissions director that you’re the right fit for their program. A cover letter will help you make a strong case as a recent graduate.

What is a cover letter for recent grads?

This cover letter is a professional document new college graduates use when applying to a job or a graduate education program. Though a cover letter is typically accompanied by your resume, they’re two distinct documents. 

While a resume serves as a factual, rapid-fire list of your skills and job experience, your cover letter is more personal and anecdotal. It’s a chance to give a hiring manager or admissions director a better feel for your personality as a candidate and win them over with what makes you unique.

Why does a cover letter for recent college grads matter?

As a recent college grad, you probably don’t have much of a professional reputation to rely on. Your cover letter can help you make a good first impression, demonstrating that despite being new to the workforce, you know how to present yourself in a professional, confident manner. 

A cover letter conveys your passion, which can be an asset that sets new grads apart from their more seasoned counterparts. Use it to share a little more information on why you feel compelled to apply for this specific position or what personal connection you have to the role.

Your cover letter is also a good opportunity to highlight novel skills. Since you’ve spent the last several years in the classroom, you may have worked with more modern technology or been introduced to new techniques than what the company is currently using. This knowledge can benefit you as a candidate.

When you should send a cover letter as a recent grad

When applying for a job

Most job listings explicitly ask for a cover letter. Even if the one you’re applying for doesn’t, it’s a good idea to include your cover letter in the body of your email to a hiring manager. Remember, this is their first interaction with you, so you want to make it count.

When applying for a graduate program

Graduate programs also typically ask for a cover letter from candidates. It will usually be submitted as an attachment in an online application or as part of a packet of physical documents you submit via mail.

What to include in a college graduate cover letter

The reader’s name. Avoid using a generic introduction like ‘dear hiring manager.’ Put forth the extra effort to find out the name of the person who will be reviewing applications and use it in your letter.

The position or program you’re applying for. If you were referred by a current employee or professor, include their name, as well. 

Your motivation for applying. Share a sentence or two about your personal reasons for wanting to be part of this company or university program. 

Relevant experience and coursework. Cite specific examples from your undergraduate classes and/or previous jobs that have helped prepare you for this position. 

Skills or characteristics that make you unique. How are you different from other new grads who may be applying?

What you should omit

  • A rehash of your resume. Avoid simply restating what’s already in your resume.
  • Experience that’s not relevant to the job. While club memberships and other extracurriculars are part of a holistic college experience, leave them out of your cover letter unless you can tie them directly to the job requirements. 
  • Funky formatting and other “creative” ideas. While you may be tempted to do something out-of-the-box to get the reader’s attention, you risk giving the impression that you’re not taking the application seriously. Instead, use the content of your letter to win them over.

Sample for recent college grads applying to jobs

Mrs. Daniels, 

My name is Karen Lotero and I’m writing to apply for your open forensics technician position. I was referred by George Martinez, who I had the pleasure of meeting during a career fair at my school last fall.

Like many teenagers, I stayed up late watching reruns of Forensic Files on TV. Unlike most teenagers, however, I was so passionate about breaking into the field that I completed my first two years’ worth of undergraduate science credits while still in high school in order to get a head start. 

The University of Central Florida has one of the most highly regarded programs in the nation for forensic science. During my four years there, I gained hands-on experience with emerging technologies like DNA phenotyping and forensic palynology. I would be excited to bring my skills in these promising areas of forensics to your department. 

I’m organized, thorough and hardworking, qualities that I believe would ensure my success with the Houston Forensics Center. I look forward to discussing the position with you further. 


Karen Lotero

Sample for applying to a graduate program

Mr. Stewart, 

My name is Emannuel Hart and I am applying for acceptance into Fordham’s Master of Social Work program. I recently earned my bachelor’s degree from New York University, which is where I first developed an interest in social work. When I learned about Fordham’s program, I knew it was the ideal place for me to continue my studies. 

While balancing my coursework at NYU, I volunteered with CASA, an amazing organization that advocates for abused and neglected children. After completing the required 30 hours of volunteer training, I worked with a team that’s responsible for finding safe homes for at-risk youth. Interacting with these kids and their caseworkers impacted me in a profound way and I became determined to use my future career to make a difference in the lives of children. 

I bring enthusiasm, drive and dedication to everything I do, and I feel I’d thrive as a student at Fordham. Thank you for taking the time to consider me for your program. I look forward to your response. 


Emannuel Hart

Once you’ve put the finishing touches on your cover letter, don’t forget to take one last step: editing. Have a friend or family member proofread your letter for grammar and spelling to make sure it’s perfect before you send it off.