There are three things that (almost) every university requires from their graduate applicants: a minimum number of relevant courses/credits, a motivation letter, and letters of recommendation. We have tried to write as detailed a description of these three parts as possible.

Note that many programs, especially in certain countries (the US, for example) and in certain disciplines (music performance, for instance), have additional requirements. We cannot enumerate all possible requirements here, but have attempted to include some of the more common ones below as well. Make sure to check with your desired program and to reach out to them if you are not entirely sure!
Courses and grades
Almost every graduate program requires students to have taken a minimum number of relevant courses or academic background. The specifications, such as how many courses and what is counted as relevant, depends on the program and university. Usually, humanities and social science programs are a bit less strict than science programs in this regard. It is important to take a look at these requirements while planning your academic program at UCR. If you are not sure whether a course counts toward your admission, email or call the university.

Beyond simply having taken a number of courses, grades obviously also matter. The importance of your GPA to admission committees depends on a number of factors, including the country, the discipline, and the university. For instance, while grades generally matter a great deal in the UK, they matter less in the US where there are standardized tests and a greater emphasis on extracurricular activities. Regardless of where you apply, though, it is not true that a less-than-perfect GPA will mean you will get rejected. Some programs have minimum requirements, and many think that if they are close to the minimum, they will have no chance of getting in. This is not the case. A great motivation letter, additional research, and professional experience, etc. are often important factors too. Who you are beyond your transcript has become a lot more important in recent years. Our advice can only be: apply, even if you think you will be rejected - you might surprise yourself!
Some Dutch graduate programs will require you to do a Pre-Master year as they are used to students receiving specific education rather than a broad Liberal Arts and Sciences curriculum. What exactly this year (or sometimes half a year) entails depends on the university and the program you want to attend. The main purpose of a Pre-Master year is to enhance your knowledge of a particular field enough so that you reach the entry-level of the Master's program. Students are required to take them either if they switch majors too late to take enough courses in their new major or if UCR does not offer enough courses about a particular subject (psychology graduate programs in the Netherlands barely ever directly accept students with a LAS degree, for example – more on this in the faculty advice section). Some programs abroad could also require you to take additional courses. However, these are usually not included in a Pre-Master year organized by the university but are taken independently of the university you want to apply to. Taking a pre-master can be a great way of still doing your desired graduate program while still having your relevant broad background.
From the intranet: "Third-year UCR students (5 semesters) can use a Transcript Request Form to request a number of certified transcripts. These transcripts are part of Master's applications. A complete form can be sent to the Registrar ( You can order a set of 5 transcripts (EUR 5), a set of 10 transcripts (EUR 10), or a set of 15 transcripts (EUR 15). Transcripts will be printed and certified after receiving the fee for these transcripts on our account." All these printed transcripts include a digital transcript - these can often be used for applications.

Request your transcript some weeks or even months (in case no additional courses would be included by waiting) before the application deadline so that you do not have to stress out if it is delayed or something else goes wrong. You can always email the student office if you are unsure on how to request transcripts or with any other questions regarding this.
Motivation / Cover Letter
Your transcript is the first thing a university looks at. But your grades are not everything there is to you as an applicant. You are more than your grades after all. You should use your application letter to distinguish yourself from other candidates. Grades can get you only so far, and whatever your GPA is, there will likely be many people with the same or higher grades. Most of the time you spend on your application should be spent writing this letter. You will probably go through at least three drafts, making slight tweaks or complete overhauls each time, having different people review it for you.

Motivation or cover letters are also sometimes referred to as "statement of intent", "statement of purpose", etc. Ask friends (who probably are also applying) for help by reviewing each others' letters. You can also approach UCR's writing center for additional help (!
So, what should be in the letter? First and foremost, what you can contribute to the university: why you are a suitable candidate, what your expertise is, and what you are capable of. If you have done research related to the program or have other relevant (extracurricular) experience, write about it in some detail.

A common mistake is to dwell on how "very interesting" (a term, and other general, meaningless ones like it, that should be avoided regardless of the context) the program is. Considering you are applying, the school will assume you like the program and you are wasting valuable space if you dwell on this. This does not mean that you cannot mention what sparked you to apply, but make sure this has a function in your letter - perhaps it is a good introduction to you talking about relevant research you did, etc.

Do not bore the admissions committee – start with an anecdote or other provoking opening. However, always make sure that these stories relate back to the questions that the letter is supposed to answer: Who am I, and what are my ambitions? Why do I want to study at this university? Why am I qualified for the program? Be specific – it is much better to highlight a few of the most important aspects of your life so far than to write a letter version of your resume. When you make a claim about yourself, back it up with examples and stories. Additionally, if there is anything in your transcript or other aspects of your history that need explaining, use this letter to do so.

Lastly, keep it short and sweet. Application committees have to review hundreds if not thousands of applications for a program, and including useless information will not make them any more likely to select you. Aim for no more than one page in pure text.

It can be challenging to make such little text be a good representation of who you are as a student, but the trick to it is: re-write until you can dream it. But, of course, don't drive yourself crazy - you will do fine.
Style and Grammar
While the letter must be personal, it should also be professional. Generally, you should use formal, academic English (appropriate to the country of the university; do not use British English when applying to a US school), but you can use "I" and should avoid being overly dry stylistically.

A good way of making sure that your letter of motivation 1) is grammatically correct, and 2) reads well, is to do peer-reviews. Ask your graduating friends to read your motivation letter and offer to do the same in exchange. Do not be afraid to correct your letter or to write it again (several times), but also do not over-analyze your language – keep it simple. Stay human!

Avoid vague formulations: change lines like "I am not completely sure what I want to do after obtaining my graduate degree. However, I am very interested in doing research" to something more assuring along the lines of "after obtaining my graduate degree, I am interested in working in a research environment". Universities want students that will finish their programs, preferably with good grades. Explaining what your aspirations are, will convince them that you really care – you should convey passion for the program.
Letters of Recommendation
You do not write recommendation letters yourself (though in some cases professors and others will ask you to write your own and, if they agree with it, will simply sign it), but you should know a little bit about what they involve so you know who to ask and how to ask for one.

The most important thing about a letter of recommendation is that they are personal. Students are often tempted to ask the professors with the most impressive resumes. However, if these people do not know you very well, their great title will not mean much to the admission committee. These letters should be about you as a person, not about how many notable people you know. A compelling letter will outrank a title any day.

Secondly, make sure the person you ask has all the information they need. Create one document containing all relevant information: your resume, motivation letter, personal information (major, minor, courses), a description of the program you are applying to, and the format for the letter. The letter should not only contain information about you; the content should also be relevant to the program that you are applying to.

Many universities will require or allow multiple letters of recommendation. If they do, try to get at least two, and preferably three. If you know four people that can all write useful letters and focus on different aspects of your work and personality you could send in four letters, but more than that is too much. Focus on getting people with an academic background in the subject area of the program, but a letter from someone who knows you professionally or personally could also increase your chances of getting accepted. UCR students with a GPA of 3.8 or higher can apply for a letter of recommendation by the Dean. These requests should be submitted to the Dean's secretary, Sylvia Stuer, well in advance of the application deadline.

Lastly, remember to give the letter writers enough time to write the letter. Two weeks is probably the minimum, but at least a month is preferable. When you ask, give them the option to say no – do not try to pressure someone by saying "I really need this letter, and by this time". You might get more letters that way, but they will not be nearly as good. If someone asks you to write your own letter, that probably also means they do not care very much and you might want to ask some other potential writers - but you can still take their letter (just in case!).
Other Requirements
Standardized Tests
Some universities, mainly American ones, require applicants to take a standardized test. Which test that is, depends on the type of program you are applying to.

GRE (Graduate Record Examination)
The test that covers the vast majority of disciplines – unless you have to take one of the other specific tests listed below, you will have to take the GRE. It consists of three sections. The verbal section tests a student's ability to understand and analyze written material. The quantitative section measures data fluency (interpreting data, making valid comparisons, problem solving using data, etc.). The analytical writing section examines writing and grammar skills.

GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)
The GMAT is for students who want to study business and obtain an MBA. It roughly follows the same structure as the GRE, although the questions are slightly different.

LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
For law students who want to pursue their studies in the U.S., the LSAT will be required. It focuses on verbal reasoning, logic, and reading comprehension. This test does not contain any quantitative sections. Unfortunately, the LSAT is not administered in the Netherlands, but it is at other locations in Europe (such as Germany & France).

Medical School
Pre-med students could be required to take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test, US), the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test, UK), or an equivalent of these tests, depending on which country their programs are located in. Analytic writing and verbal reasoning are tested, but the main sections consist of multiple choice questions about chemistry, physics, life sciences and other related subjects. Unfortunately, the MCAT is not administered in the Netherlands, so you would have to go abroad to take this test.

All these tests can take more than three or four hours, and they should be taken very seriously. If you are required to take them, make sure you read up on their content and take several preparatory exams. Most of the aforementioned tests have unique study guides to help you in preparing. Universities often put almost as much emphasis on these test scores as on your GPA. They might also cost money so make sure to save up and do your research on this.
Note: not all universities require interviews during the application stage and the ones that do only conduct them with finalists. It is more usual for you to not have to come for an interview than it is - so don't worry if you do not get an invite early on!

When you visit websites to look for interview tips, a large part of the material is about common sense things, for instance: that you should dress appropriately, be on time, and try to avoid freaking out. However, there are some things everyone should do before and during an interview that, shockingly, are often neglected or forgotten.

Tip: search on sites such as YouTube for tips by students who have gone through an interview at the same university you have applied for! First-hand tips and tricks can be very helpful.

Research the graduate program thoroughly. Know who the professors are and what their areas of expertise are, what classes you will have to take and what projects you will have to do. You will undoubtedly be asked about these things, and if you cannot give proper answers you will come off as unmotivated and uninformed. It is also good to connect your own fields of interest/research, to those of the faculty at the university.

Prepare questions
After the interviewer has asked all of their questions, you will likely be asked if you have any. Make sure you think about this beforehand and try to bring a few to ask, even if they are small details. This makes you look like you did your research – and the information that you get is probably useful, too. Not every graduate program is as good a fit as you had imagined it to be, and the interview is a useful opportunity to find out more about the program than you can from just a website. Take initiative and don't be (too) shy!

No negativity
This is obvious when it concerns the program that you are interviewing with, but it is important to remember not to bad-mouth past schools or people in general. If you had a negative experience somewhere and are asked about it, phrase your explanation in a constructive way. It is okay to make yourself seem a little bit too good to be true sometimes!

Practice, practice, practice
Find someone, preferably a person who has interviewed people before, to do a practice interview with you. You might have the feeling that you have researched everything and know the answers to every potential question, but until you say it out loud in a realistic setting you will not know if you are properly prepared. Try to find someone who has done admission interviews before – many professors at UCR have, so this should not be too difficult. Ask your tutor or a professor if they could recommend someone. If you cannot find anyone, don't worry - even practicing with friends or family is more helpful than not practicing at all.
Increasingly often, universities will ask for your resume. While there is little you can change about your amount of experience or job history, the way in which you present what you have already done makes a big difference. There are a few questions that students often ask themselves when they try to perfect their resume:

Where do I begin?
Look at other people's resumes. The internet has many more examples than you could possibly want. Be sure to Google for "student resumes", though – there are some differences between students and professional resumes. What matters most about a resume is the content, but presentation matters a great deal. A typical resume does not get looked at for more than 10 seconds, and giving a wrong first impression by chaotic structure or odd design is a giant waste.

Do I include every minor thing that I have ever done?
That depends on two things: your previous experience and what kind of position/program you are applying for. If you have had three jobs, one or two of which have decent job descriptions, you do not have to include the two months of kitchen work you did one summer in high school. But do not delete things too easily – a half-empty resume does not look good, and seemingly mundane jobs show employers you do not feel you are above doing unexciting work sometimes. You should not use one standard resume for all of your applications; every resume should be tailored to the specific institution that you are applying for. These sorts of jobs can add something to your resume, especially if e.g. your internship might involve getting coffee and making copies (which does not mean experience will be useless for you!). Space fillers, however, will get you nowhere. People will know when you are trying to sell them hot air, so be concise and do not include useless information just because your resume looks empty without it. Ask people to peer-review your resume if you are unsure if things are relevant!

How do I order the information?
Some people include a summary at the top. This might be a good idea for professionals (here, too, opinions differ), but we are students – posing as something you are not will not help you get a Master's. For students, education should always come first. Some sample resumes online will have it at the bottom, but that is because they are tailored to more experienced people. Do not include your high school, the knowledge you gained there is not seen as valuable in terms of what you can contribute to an organization/company.

After education, move on to your professional experience. For every job, explain what you achieved there, if anything. If you have no achievements to include, write down what your responsibilities were. If the job title pretty much takes care of this ('dishwasher', for instance), you can also leave this part out.

The third section, if applicable, should be honours and extracurricular activities: have you received any awards, served on committee boards, or presented research at any conferences? Do not forget to include a sentence or two of explanation here. If space permits, you can add a fourth section with extra information such as technical skills (experience with Adobe, Excel, etc.), languages, hobbies, etc. - make sure to consider if what you are adding is relevant! Within each section, the most recent experience comes first, and you move down chronologically. Do not forget to include contact information (email, phone number, and address) at the top near your name.

Can I lie?
Yes and no. Straight up lying is, of course, wrong, but you can shine a very positive light on the things that you have done – believe us, you will not be the only one. For instance, say you previously interned at an academic institution where 80 percent of your work was doing research. Instead of putting "intern" as your job title, put "researcher". While that was not officially your title, it more accurately described what you were doing there and makes you look more professional. These types of "lies" are okay, but obviously do not include skills you have not mastered or jobs you did not do.

How can I make myself stand out?

When it comes to your resume, there is much you can do but little you should do to stand out. Many try to get noticed by, for instance, using special fonts, or including a picture or a joke. This more often than not will have just the opposite effect, and your application will not be taken seriously. Use your cover letter to let your personality shine through, but keep your resume professional and basic.

Of course, there are many more questions you could ask – the amount of detail involved in putting together a good resume is staggering. If you want more specific information, there are several good guides online, and you can always Google your particular question. After you have finished a draft of your resume, ask a few people to look at it and give you feedback.
Writing Samples / Portfolios
Some programs put special emphasis on writing or other practical skills and will require portfolios or samples of student work. For instance, if you want to pursue a graduate study in journalism, you will likely be required to submit a number of articles you have written. The same thing goes for programs in the performing arts, photography, etc. If this requirement applies to you, we recommend you contact a professor in the relevant discipline for help with the portfolio or writing sample – they have had to do graduate studies in that field as well and will have useful and practical advice for you. The same goes for students who have to submit a research proposal at the time of application (this is usually the case for MPhils and some other programs). Make sure that the work you submit, is some of your best work and preferably is related to the program's content.
Some programs have a second language requirement. Dutch students will sometimes be able to use Dutch as their second language – to find out whether this is possible, contact the university. English-speaking universities require proof of English proficiency from their international applicants. Usually, having obtained a Bachelor's at an English-speaking university is proof enough, but in isolated cases UCR students have had to take a TOEFL test, IELTS test, or an ESOL exam. Alternatively, some universities require a specific document from UCR that guarantees English proficiency. Find out whether this is necessary before the deadline to give yourself enough time to take the test or obtain the document!