We often hear from students who earned their bachelor’s in one area of study but are now interested in a master’s degree in a different field. We also hear from people who are interested in changing careers. Another group we hear from want to pursue a master’s degree in Europe but don’t meet all the requirements of the program. Is it a lost cause for these groups of students? No, it’s not. There are options, such as a Pre Master, which is a series of courses designed to fill in the missing pieces on the transcript.

It’s impossible to generalize admissions options across the thousands of programs and all of Europe, so let’s narrow the discussion to admissions in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a popular option because they have the most English-taught master’s programs in continental Europe (1,148 of the 6,200). 9 of the 13 research universities are globally ranked in the top 200 and English proficiency is the highest in Europe, which makes it an easy choice.

The higher education system in the Netherlands is quite different than the US. There are research universities, like Leiden University or Delft University of Technology, and there are also Universities of Applied Science like NHL Stenden that focus more on preparing students for professional work over research. Both provide full bachelor’s degree programs, but the universities of applied sciences don’t require the research focused classes.

When evaluating your academic background for a master’s program at a research university, your bachelor’s degree will first be assessed by the admissions department to determine whether it is equivalent to the Dutch research-oriented bachelor’s (WO) or professionally-oriented bachelor’s (HBO).

Let’s look at an example: We have a student with a BA degree in Speech Communications from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has would like to pursue a Master’s in Management or an MBA at Erasmus University Rotterdam or potentially at University of Twente.

In order to qualify for the master’s programs at Rotterdam, he would need the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in a related major. While his degree from Illinois may meet the requirement as a WO degree under Nuffic, the BA in Speech Communications, which is in the faculty of liberal arts at Illinois, wouldn’t meet the requirement for entry into the program, since it’s not a business degree. To understand the equivalent Dutch level of your diploma, you can check the list of common diplomas from your country on the Nuffic website. Nuffic is the central Dutch organization for the evaluation of foreign diplomas awarded in higher education.
  • The “related major” aspect can sometimes be very broad. Some schools are good about listing them out in the admissions requirements.
  • Relevant Course Work: According to EUR’s website, the student must have 60 EC (equivalent to one year of US college credits) of relevant course work in business, which he doesn’t fully meet.
  • English Proficiency: Native speaker satisfies this requirement

For students with an international diploma, EUR recommends the student apply for entry, so the admissions team can evaluate the student’s qualifications.

One option they may come back with is a one year Pre Master course to gain the necessary courses, but even so, with little or no business administration in his bachelor degree, he may only have access to the following MSc program: Master in Management, which is aimed at non-business bachelor degree holders to acquire knowledge and skills in business management. Since this was already on the list for the student, this may be a good option.

Let’s look at another example: the MBA program at University of Twente in Enschede, which is in the eastern part of the Netherlands. Again, the student meets some of the requirements, but will be light on business courses.

At the University of Twente, you don’t apply for a pre-master directly. Rather, you apply to the master’s program directly. The Admission Office will then evaluate whether you are eligible for the master’s program, or if you still need to enroll in a pre-master program. The Admission Office would then create a customized, pre-master program for the student. In this case, since our example student is a native English speaker, there would be no need to take classes in English, but he would need missing courses in business administration.

What Courses Are in a Pre Master?

There isn’t a set standard of courses for the Pre Master across the Netherlands. It varies. At Groningen University, the business pre master follows a set series of courses.  At Twente, a Pre Master isn’t a set program with the same courses. International students are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. At Utrecht University, the pre master is not available to international students who haven’t been in the Dutch educational system previously at all. For students entering a master’s program with a bachelor’s degree from a Dutch university of applied science, there may be a set program, since this case is uniform and known. For an international student, it will depend on what classes are missing and what has been taken.

What Does a Pre Master Cost?

Each university sets its own Pre Master tuition. From a budgeting standpoint, a reasonable person could expect to pay equivalent tuition to the associated master’s program as an international student. Depending on the program, an international student will be between 12,000 to 16,000 EUR for a Pre Master program at Twente. The previous link has data on a number of different Pre Master tuitions.

Here’s Are Some Tips

  • Make Sure You Can Opt Out of English

One area of Pre Masters courses that likely won’t apply to you are the language requirements. In order to be admitted to an English-taught program, international students must prove English proficiency at a certain level. Since you are most likely a native English speaker, you should be sure you can opt out of any English language requirements, so you aren’t stuck in English proficiency classes. Ideally, the program has a track for students who are already proficient in English.

  • Find out the details

If you’re looking at a private foundation year program, confirm their placement agreements with universities. Some of these organizations guarantee placement for grad school. Be sure to get written communication as to which schools you’d be guaranteed to be accepted at, then look at the schools to be sure they’d be a good fit for you.

Final Analysis

It’s important to note that many Pre Master programs focus on providing students with only the research related classes that they didn’t have to take as an undergrad, and the master’s program will still require a major in a related area of study. While pursuing a Pre Master won’t open the door for every program, it does create a path to many more good options for students seeking to change the direction of their studies or career.