‘You can’t flake out in a pre-master’

All out for the master

If you want to do a master programme after studying at a university of applied sciences, you have to take a year-long pre-master and take courses from the research university bachelor. Pre-master students say getting into the programme is hard, but finishing it in time is harder.
By Lyanne Levy / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen / Illustration by René Lapoutre

What is a pre-master?

A pre-master is a 60 ECTS transfer programme for students who finished their university of applied sciences studies or a non-related research university bachelor. They can’t start the master until they’ve finished the pre-master. Students need a diploma from a university of applied sciences, and often need to hand over a list of their grades and a motivation letter. Some pre-masters ask prospective students to do an entry test.

‘Both the lecturers and the study adviser at the university of applied sciences warned me that a pre-master is very different from what I’d done before. It takes a lot of hard work’, says Joren Tijmensen, who just finished the master of environmental and infrastructure planning. Before that, he took a pre-master in technical urban planning. ‘They’re not trying to scare you; they just want you to be aware. You have to brace yourself.’

‘I didn’t think there was much of a difference between a university of applied sciences and a research university. The style of studying is different, but I got used to it quickly because I knew the material.’


‘But there were some differences. I had never read a scientific article before I started the pre-master. The writing is different from the books I read before.’

He passed all his pre-master classes in one go, except for one exam. ‘It was a difficult class, but I knew that I just had to study harder so I could pass it later. You only get one resit, just like at the university of applied sciences. I was no more stressed than during my bachelor or my master.’

When I didn’t pass a course I got pretty nervous

He worked ten hours a week on top of his studies. ‘I was allowed to keep my job at the company where I wrote my applied sciences thesis. I had a single task and could decide my own hours. A lot could actually be done from home. I didn’t start working less until I started the master, because I couldn’t combine it with my studies.’


He says the difference between the pre-master and the master was bigger than the difference between the university of applied sciences and the pre-master. ‘The pre-master matched my applied sciences programme really well. The master was in English, and I had to learn a lot of new material. The pre-master was in Dutch and there was an overlap with the courses I had at the university of applied sciences.’

Not all students who want to do a pre-master are admitted right away. They almost always have to hand over a list of their grades and a motivation letter, although it varies per pre-master. For some, students have to talk to a study adviser or a teacher, and take an entry exam. If they fail, they can try again the next year, or go for something else.

After he finished his studies at a university of applied sciences, Sebastiaan Rodenhuis was looking for something else, and found it at the university. But he got so stressed out it almost broke him.

Enormous pressure

‘You can’t flake out in a pre-master’, he says. ‘You only get two chances. If you fail your resit, you’re delayed by a year. You can’t mess up anything, you have to pass. There is no other option. The pressure is enormous.’

He started the pre-master of communication and information studies after studying journalism at a university of applied sciences. Now he’s doing a master in communication.

Sebastiaan says it was a big step from the university of applied sciences to a research university. ‘At applied sciences I studied in addition to having a life. But during the pre-master, studying became a priority. At the university of applied sciences I put much less time into my classes. But at the pre-master every single course demanded my time. At the start I had trouble with the lack of instructions they gave me. They used to instruct me much more at applied sciences.’

Care home

He used to work at a call centre three nights a week and volunteer at a care home on Sundays. ‘I serve cake at the home. I had been doing that for four years before I started the pre-master. When I started the pre-master I did it every week for two months, but I just got too busy. I needed that Sunday to get some rest.’

I just kept going; I had no choice

He had a hard time combining studying and working. ‘I couldn’t actually work less, but it just became too much. I had so many classes, and when they finished, I had to go straight to work. My days were so long, and at the end I was just running on empty. I had very few free evenings and I had no time to rest.

He failed a single exam. ‘When I found out I had to resit it I got really nervous. I was so stressed out about it. If I failed the resit I’d fail my whole pre-master. I’d been studying for so long and I didn’t want it to take even longer.


After two months, he’d hit his limit. ‘The pressure became too much. I was tired, wasn’t sleeping well. But I just kept going; I had no choice.’ He decided to reduce his shifts at the care home from once a week to once every two weeks.

In September, Sebastiaan started the communication master. ‘The difference between the pre-master and the master is big as well. The pre-master was very theoretical, and I had a lot of homework. I had to do several assignments every week. The master is more flexible and less work.’

‘Beforehand, all I’d heard was how much pressure there was in the pre-master and how difficult it was and that a lot of people don’t make it. When I look back I realised it wasn’t all that difficult, but the pressure I felt may have been bigger than the actual pressure.’


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