How to Write a Cover Letter for Your Dream Internship in 2021

Free Resources Oct 28, 2021
Learn how to write a cover letter for your dream internship by leveraging education-related activities + examples, templates, and tips.
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Whether you’re in school or starting fresh in a new industry or field, there are internships, and then there are dream internships. The hands-on work experience, mentorship with industry leaders, and networking opportunities that internships provide are invaluable, so when you find one that is perfect for you and your goals, nailing the cover letter is of the utmost importance.

After all, cover letters seem a little old school--but you can play ball with both old and new school, which is why you’re the one for the position. By understanding the importance of a great cover letter for an internship, especially one that’s your dream opportunity, you can easily learn how to deliver one that wows, setting you apart from the horde of other students vying for the same internship.

Where others groan at the extra ask, you are excited for the chance to paint the perfect picture of how you, your education and related activities, career interests, and goals define you as the ultimate potential mentee. So, let’s get to work!

To understand the what and why of a cover, plus the standard formatting and content structure, open up our previous post, The 9 Essential Elements of a Cover Letter + Templates, Examples, and Tips, in a new tab for review, as you move through this post on internship-specific cover letters.

How is an internship cover letter different from one for a job?

Writing a cover letter for an internship is somewhat different from writing one to land a regular job. For starters, an internship application letter is usually less geared toward work history, since most applying for these positions are still in school, and more focused on other aspects of your life, such as academics, volunteer work, and extracurricular projects.

Students, recent graduates, and those changing fields/industries are typically the ones applying for internships because they need to understand what working day-to-day in their chosen field is actually like. They also need the apprenticeship, mentorship, and other valuable hands-on work experience, since they often are coming fresh from school or from a different field with few directly transferable skills. Internships remediate the work experience gap in this way.

So, don’t fret about your lack of extensive work experience, because if you had it already, you wouldn’t be applying to internships. Those reading your application understand that you are still in the stages of focusing on, remediating, or finishing your education. As such, it’s common practice for internship cover letters to discuss your education, career aspirations, areas/fields of interest, and other education-adjacent activities, like volunteering and extracurriculars, as they relate to the internship program.

Check out Stu Dentte’s example cover letter to see how they link their experiences to their top internship choice:

What to Include in a Cover Letter for an Internship

Wondering about specific examples of what you can include in lieu of work experience?

Cover letters for students can include any of the items listed below, but you probably won’t include all of them. Since you want to keep your cover letter to around a page total, you may actually have to be selective. No matter what you choose to discuss, it should be directly related to the requirements and responsibilities described for the internship.

What kinds of education and related experiences can be included in an internship cover letter?

Lisa Simpson with a science project at school
Lisa Simpson: Queen of class projects (Source: The Simpsons)

Examples of experiences you can include in your internship cover letter:

  • Class projects. The classes you’ve taken in school will probably fall in line with the type of internship you’re trying to land, but you’re not the only one who has taken those classes. By writing about projects you’ve completed, not only will hiring managers know which classes you’ve taken, but how you’ve applied the knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world opportunities. Class projects are an excellent way to show that you know your stuff, instead of just saying you know your stuff.
  • Awards. No, you’re not going to write about the time you won “Best Hair” in your middle school yearbook. But any award that can illustrate either your skills in your chosen field, or something about your character, is a good choice. Awards from science fairs, writing contests, debate competitions, or even superlatives like “Most Likely to Become President” can all be used to showcase your strengths. Why did you win this award, and how did you feel upon receiving it? What are you striving for next?
  • Career goals and areas of interest. If you’re going to school for graphic design, and you know you want to own your own business someday, consider applying to smaller companies. In your cover letter, detail your goals and note that you want to be an intern there so that you can see and learn from the business side as well as the design side. Make your future goals and current interests work for you by linking them to why you’re applying for each internship.
  • Clubs and sports. Leading, or even just showing up and participating, in clubs, sports, and other on-campus activities shows a commitment to others and often, to a higher cause. If you are part of an environmental club vying for your school to stop using styrofoam cups, you are demonstrating your values by pointing out an issue, which is detrimental to the environment, and committing yourself to figuring out how to fix it. That’s initiative. That’s caring for the planet, even when it’s inconvenient. That’s innovating and opting for biodegradable materials instead of choosing apathy. Sports can also produce some great talking points, such as your commitment to your teammates and to your training, self-discipline, and accountability.
  • Volunteer work. Soup kitchens, charity walks, retirement homes━any and all volunteer work is good, because it shows that you are caring towards your community, you have a work ethic, and you go above and beyond. Even if the volunteer work is not in a particular career area, such as volunteering at a library or an after-school STEM program, hiring managers will be happy to see that you’ve extended yourself towards helping others.
  • Anything else tangentially related to your field. If you really want the internship, you’re going to have to beat out thousands of other students who also want that opportunity. Make a list of everything you have done that is even remotely similar to the responsibilities of the internship. Personal projects (things you’ve done on your own time, for yourself), workshops/seminars, and certifications are all great things to add to your cover letter, especially if you lack experience.

Should I include all of my work experience?

If you worry that your cover letter will be thin and are considering mentioning part-time work in order to have more to talk about, think carefully. If babysitting was your main job in college, but you’re applying for a robotics internship, you would only want to mention this work experience if you could directly link the duties or skills used in that job to how it would set you up for success during the internship.

Responsibility, trustworthiness, and accountability are transferable babysitter qualities which you might be able to discuss in your cover letter, especially if the internship description mentions these as being necessary. You could present this in a way that showcases that parents trust you with the lives and emotional well-being of their children, and you could bring this sense of accountability and responsibility to the robotics lab, since you know how expensive and valuable some of the equipment is.

So, no, you usually won’t discuss all of your work experience, in the same way that you typically won’t describe every class project or field of interest you have within your cover letter. There simply isn’t room. More importantly, you want to be very selective about what you discuss, only bringing in skills and experiences that show you to be the best candidate for the demands and duties associated with the internship.

The Ultimate Student Cover Letter Life Hack

Being a student is tough. You’re in school, have a job, and you have relationships, hobbies, and so many varied things to balance all at once. That’s why in this section, we’re introducing you to templates and annotated templates, which will remove the bulk of the friction associated with cover letters.

While some of the content might differ between an internship and job cover letter, due to a lack of work experience, the overall format and structure of internship cover letters are the same as those for jobs. You can simplify your application workflow by utilizing one of our 3 free templates:

Template 1Template 2Template 3

Within these templates, you’ll see that we’ve outlined what goes where, in terms of format and content. For a deeper dive into all of the elements that should go into a cover letter, see our previous post. Also discussed in detail there are annotated templates. You can utilize these if you’re applying to different categories of job roles or fields--for instance, if you’re going to school for civil engineering and are interested in both roadway and drainage internships. Another example would be for those getting online certifications in digital marketing that are interested in both social media management and search engine optimization.

Making annotated templates for each type of opportunity will save you precious resources--namely, your energy and time. This is how it’s done:

How to Make an Annotated Template for a Specific Type/Category of Internship Opportunity:

1. Pick a regular template to use, one with a style you like. (See our 3 free options above.)

2. Read through a few job announcements for the specific type of role you will be applying for, looking for what the usual skill sets and responsibilities are.

3. Then, using your résumé and any notes you made from the previous section in this post about non-work-related experience you can use, add relevant points into the body paragraph(s) section. This is so you don’t have to keep referencing your résumé or notes and copy/pasting the necessary information into your cover letter drafts every time.

4. When you’re next applying for this kind of position, open the annotated template and the job posting together. After re-reading the qualifications, duties, and responsibilities for the internship, decide what information, experiences, and other talking points would be best for use in defining yourself as the ideal intern. Delete what you know you won’t be using.

5. Draft your cover letter from the annotated template. As you begin to draft, if you realize you kept in too many talking points, prioritize them according to the needs and requirements of the position. Then, if you find it’s getting too long, you can omit the less important ones.

You’ll find that using an annotated cover letter cuts down on both writing roadblocks and distractions, which will help you knock these out faster and faster. So, where some candidates can only muster the time and energy to apply to 1 of their dream internship opportunities, you can apply to as many as you find that excite you. This will increase your chances of landing the exact kind of position you want, or one at the perfect company, or the internship that’s under the direction of your dream mentor.

How to Finalize Your Dream Internship Cover Letter

Drafting your cover letter is one thing, but refining it is also essential, especially for those competitive dream opportunities.

A cartoon guy writes a cover letter
The never-ending work will pay off. (Source: The Student Life)

Your cover letter should be a page, which looks polished, concise, and well-thought-out. It should be error-free, show off your personality, and demonstrate that you are the ideal potential intern who will bring tons of value to the company. It should show that you understand the position, company, and team in which you’d like to work, as well as speak to your level of competence and professionalism.

What to do if your cover letter...

...is too long:

Yikes! You got too wordy. Use a paraphraser, like QuillBot’s, to help you convey in one sentence what you’re currently doing in two. Visually build the sentence using the drop-down thesaurus, and get ideas on how to combine ideas and eliminate redundancies using the various writing Modes. Polish your language to keep it short and sweet, plus get support on saying what you want to say, exactly how you want to say it.

...doesn’t show you understand the role or company:

Research the company, hiring manager, team, and any accomplishments they’ve made. Review the company mission statement, values, and culture. You can do this in a snap using our summarizer tool, and then incorporate this into your cover letter draft, where appropriate. The paraphrasing tool can also be helpful deciding how/where to add this info.

...may have formatting, grammar, spelling, punctuation, or word choice errors:

A polished, professional cover letter, whether for an internship or job, must be error-free. Even if your word processing program isn’t highlighting any errors, you should use a free online grammar checker to review your work. Most built-in spell check programs will miss things like too many spaces between words, nuanced grammar and punctuation issues, instances of word misuse, and more, creating an embarrassing moment for you that could cost you the chance to move forward in the selection process.

...sounds very robotic: (←No shade, Quilly)

Managers want to hire kind, fun people who are capable. Period. Quilly is the only cool robot we know, but even their cover letter doesn’t sound robotic--so neither should yours. Make sure your personality and confidence is shining through in talking about your experiences and what you could bring to the table. Use the paraphrasing tool’s writing Modes and synonym slider to get some fresh ideas for warming up your language and bringing a little more “you-ness” to your draft.

How Your Cover Letter Will Evolve Over Time

Once you get some work experience under your belt, you might think it's time to move on from the internship life and find a permanent position. However, most people complete multiple internships before they start official work, so let's take a look at what your cover letter might look like when you have a bit of experience to add to your school work.

Quilly references both work and school experience in his cover letter. 

A good way to ensure you're covering all your experience is to write chronologically, and place emphasis on the most relevant experience you have. As you can see in Quilly's cover letter above, he mentions being "at the top of his game" in school while he pursues a BS in Marketing, which is a very helpful degree for the position he is applying for. The bulk of his cover letter talks about his most recent work experience, because it is very close to what he would be doing at his internship. He relays details, shares statistics, and really paints a picture of his role and everything he's accomplished at QuillBot.

Having a mix of experiences is good, but make them worthwhile! Even if you think your school work isn't "as good" as your internship work, or vice versa, mention it anyway. Employers are impressed with candidates who have a well-rounded work history because they can bring something new to the table.

Final Tips on Writing a Winning Internship Cover Letter

If I can leave you with three things to focus on while drafting your internship cover letter, let it be these three:

  1. Be yourself. Might seem obvious, but a lot of people come off as too formal in their cover letters. While you always want to maintain a level of professionalism, you want to stand out as well and show that you're a whole person, not just some words on a page.
  2. Be passionate. Chances are, the internship you're applying to is somehow related to what you're studying in school. Why did you choose the field you chose? Why is this company in particular of interest? Channel those feeling and make sure the employer knows that you love what you do and you want to continue to deepen your studies and love for your subject at their company.
  3. Don't shy away from the small stuff. As we mentioned before, all experience is important experience while you're still in school. Every award, research paper, and project can be used to show your skillset and knowledge on your given subject. Really sell yourself! If you believe in what you can do, others will follow.

Go forth and chase your dream internship. It is not as far away as you might think.

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