Cover letters for teaching positions in academia should be tailored to the position and mission of the institution. For 4-year universities, the emphasis is first on research, then secondly teaching and thirdly service. For Liberal Arts colleges and state universities, the emphasis is on a balance of research and teaching, with the research informing your engagement of students, and service. For community colleges, the emphasis is solely on teaching and service, with research noted as a means to stay informed about the field and engage the diverse student population.
General Tips and Suggestions
- Understanding the expectations of the position and the unique characteristics of the institution are essential to writing an effective cover letter. Research the campus and department.
- In some cases and, only with permission of the department, you can use departmental letterhead for your cover letter. Otherwise, creating a header you can use for all of the application materials you are submitting (e.g., CV, Teaching Philosophy Statement, Research Statement) can help create a unified packet.
- Use the same font and margins as your CV and other materials.
- Review your materials for typos and grammar. Error free is best!
Cover Letter Content
State the specific position for which you are applying and where you learned about it. If there is not an advertised position, explain who suggested you write and why you are writing. Let the reader know who you are, what your field is and where you are attending school. Indicate any a special interest or background you have that may be of interest to their department or institution. If your research involves collaboration with a well-known person in your field, or if you come recommended by someone in their department, be sure to highlight that relationship up front.
These paragraphs will vary according to your field and possibly the types of positions you will be applying for (teaching emphasis vs. research emphasis). If you are applying to research universities, discuss your dissertation or thesis (or most recent search), what it accomplishes, your methodology, conclusions, and the implications of your work. This may take more than one paragraph, but you should write to a general audience as opposed to specialists in your field. Discuss future plans for research or research interest as well. You should also point out supporting fields in which you have expertise or enumerate the variety of classes you could teach. If the position requires teaching, be enthusiastic about your experience and discuss the courses you have developed or your teaching style. If it is solely a teaching position, your middle paragraphs should focus on your teaching experience, philosophy, pedagogical approach and teaching interests. You will also want to describe how your research informs your teaching.
Deal with logistics, namely, are you having a reference file sent, attaching writing samples or chapter of your dissertation? Mention that you look forward to meeting with the committee and to their inviting you for an interview.