Admission requirements for a Master's degree abroad can vary from programme to programme, but luckily there are also many similarities, whether you want to study in the USA, China, Germany or anywhere around the globe.
The purpose of an application fee receipt, of photos, and ID copies is pretty obvious. The university needs to be able to recognize you and accept your application. However, other common requirements may determine whether you will get a place in the study programme you apply to.
That is because there are a lot of elements that can influence the decision of the universities, which don't appear in the list of admission requirements.
To help you get into a Master's admission commission's mind, we are going to take each important document and give you some insight into what universities expect when they require it.
Not yet sure where you want to study abroad? Here are a few universities we recommend:
- University of Michigan – Dearborn, the US
- University of Portsmouth, the UK
- Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands
- WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business), Austria
- University of Cologne, Germany
- Aarhus University, Denmark
- Charles Sturt University, Australia
So here are the main documents international universities expect from you during the application process:
Copies of diplomas from your previous studies
In your Master's application to a university abroad you will be asked to add certified copies of your previous graduation diplomas, translated into English. While most Master's applications only require a Bachelor's diploma, some programmes will also ask for a high school graduation diploma.
Universities need these documents to have proof that you attended and graduated from previous cycles of education in order to qualify to a graduate programme.
However, these diplomas usually include data about the educational institution you attended, your Grade Point Average (GPA), final grades, or Bachelor's thesis.
The university admission board will take into account the reputation of the university where you graduated from, but also what your GPA and final exam marks say about you.
If you have good final exam/thesis grades, they will know you have taken your studies seriously and you are capable of academic excellence. But don't worry, if you do not have high grades, you will not be disqualified. There are many other ways in which you can win over the commission: volunteering activities, a strong motivation, and good references also count a lot.
Academic Transcripts from your Bachelor's studies
Academic transcripts give the university full details about the courses and modules you studied at undergraduate level and the grades you received. Universities expect these transcripts to be official copies and not screenshots or printed pages.
Academic transcripts are important because seeing what courses you took can help universities decide if you have the necessary background and skills for the Master's you are applying to.
At the same time, they can see at which subjects you performed better and which subjects are "weak spots" you need to improve on. That is why it is important that you have bigger grades at the undergraduate courses that are most relevant for the Master's programme you chose.
Let's take an example. Say you graduated from a Political Science Bachelor's and you want to study a Master's in International Relations. The application commission will be more interested if you followed any International Relations courses such as International Law or European Studies rather than on courses like Domestic Politics.
So, if you have lower course grades at the latter, it will probably not impact your application as much as lower grades in International policy-related courses.
Proof of language proficiency
When applying to a degree abroad, chances are that you will study in English or another popular foreign language (German, French, etc.). For this reason, universities need to know that language will not be a barrier in your studies; that you are able to understand and use that language at an academic level.
For English-taught Master's universities will typically require official language certificates such as TOEFL, IELTS, PTE Academic, C1 Advanced, etc. When they demand a specific score, it means they really expect you to have that score. The higher the score, the more they will be convinced that you master English skills.
There is also the case when universities will not demand a language certificate as long as your Bachelor's was English-taught. In this case, they will pay attention to any English-language courses found in your transcript of records, such as "Academic English".
Motivation letter or Statement of Purpose
Many students are confused about the requirement of including a statement of purpose, or motivation letter in their application. A motivation letter and a statement of purpose are very similar, but they are not the same thing
However, both documents should be focused on your background and reasons for applying for a particular degree. Typically, they should be clearly structured and well-written, but not very long (don't tell the university your life story). Try to limit it to 1-2 pages.
Here is what most universities expect you to include in a motivation letter/statement of purpose:
- Why you want to undertake that specific programme at their university, and how you have learned about the programme.
- What interests you about the programme's content, and what makes it the best study option for you.
- What particular factor convinced you to pick that programme (reputation, professors, employment options, etc.)
- How your previous studies match the Master's you want to pursue. If they don't match you should argue why you want to change subject areas.
- What career you are aiming for after graduation and how this degree fits your plan.
While a statement of purpose and a motivation letter are similar there's a subtle difference between them.
With a motivation letter, universities expect you to focus more on how their programme relates to your background and your professional plans. They might also want you to state which is the course or specialization you want to focus on during your Master's.
With a statement of purpose, universities expect you to talk about who you are, what has influenced and inspired your academic and professional journey so far, your interests and your professional goals. In other words, it is a much more personal document and your chance to shine in your application.
Reference letters let others speak for you. Typically, they are considered additional evidence of your ability that you'll successfully complete the Master's you are applying to.
If you are only required to submit letters from professors, then these letters will focus on your academic skills and achievements. If you are required or allowed to submit a reference letter from an employer, universities expect that letter to reflect the skills related to your Master's.
For example, if you are applying for a Computer Science degree, it is more valuable to have a reference letter from your supervisor in a tech company rather than a reference letter from an employer where you worked in customer service, for instance.
Make sure you ask for the reference letters well in advance so that they reach the university on time.
Project description or portfolio
A project description or a portfolio is only required for very specialised programmes, like a Master of Research or a Master of Science type of degree.
Portfolios are required in applications for Masters in the Arts, Design and Architecture subject areas. Universities expect this portfolio to reflect your experience, and, yes, your talent in your field of study. They will also look at your clients and the type of projects you carried through.
A project description is required when you are applying to a programme that will end with a research thesis. This project description should include:
- What are you going to research and why
- What is the current state of research on that topic
- How you are going to conduct your research
- What findings you expect and how your research adds to the existent body of knowledge
The CV is your business card. Universities are not interested in a detailed description of all your jobs and extracurricular activities, although you should definitely include them. They want to see how your experience matches or shows your interest in the programme you want to study.
For this reason, you should focus on including in your CV published academic papers, and work (paid or unpaid) in academic groups, relevant think-thanks, etc.
For example, if you are applying to a Psychology degree, you will impress the commission if you have taken internships at hospitals, or if you have published any study in a peer-reviewed magazine.
At the same time, if you are applying for a more professional or a STEM Master's, you should include relevant work experience in your industry. For example, if you are applying for a Finance Master's, it would be awesome if you have worked in a bank or any other financial institution.
Now you're all set! You can prepare a thorough application to your Master's degree and increases your chances of getting accepted to your dream university abroad.