Studying in The Netherlands: The Different Types of Dutch University Explained

Studying in the Netherlands opens students up to multiple university pathways. We explain what they are and how to apply.

Studying in the Netherlands is becoming an increasingly popular destination for international students. 

Along with some of its other European neighbours, the Netherlands offers a rich variety of university and higher education options, both in terms of the academic options available and the range of cities that students can live and work in. In addition, the proliferation of English taught courses means that the Netherlands is starting to rival higher education offerings of countries like the US, UK and Canada, whilst offering students lower tuition fees. 

Want to learn more about the work BridgeU has been doing to support students’ applications to the Netherlands? Get in touch with us today to arrange a personalised consultation

If your students are researching the Netherlands as a potential study destination, there are a number of specific benefits they should take into consideration. 

  • The Netherlands already has a thriving international student community, meaning that new international undergraduates will be made to feel right at home! 
  • Dutch universities are well known for their internationally recognised degrees – all Dutch universities rank in the top 350 within the QS University Rankings. 
  • Universities in the Netherlands offer courses that are collaborative, with small class sizes ensuring there are strong working relationships between professors and students. 
  • Students can take advantage of a range of practical and vocational courses, with many Dutch universities partnering with industry. 

But, much like their counterparts in Germany, the diverse pathways offered by Dutch universities might leave students stuck as to where to begin with their university research. 

So we’re going to dive deeper into the different Dutch universities, and what each type of university can potentially offer to students. 

Note: It’s worth noting that the majority of universities in the Netherlands are public universities. There are some private universities offering specialist qualifications in hospitality, tourism and business. These private universities will often charge higher fees. However, in this article, we’ll mainly be focussing on public universities. 

Broadly speaking, students going to the Netherlands can expect to follow one of three pathways. 

  • A more academic/research based degree, with courses normally lasting for three years. 
  • Practical/vocational degree courses that offer a work placement or a year in industry. 
  • Liberal arts style degrees, where students can take a more general range of subjects before specialising (similar to liberal arts colleges in the USA). 

Research universities

Research universities offer students a rigorous academic education, and usually last three years. There are 13 research universities and 12 of these are currently teaching English language courses. 

Research universities award a number of different degree qualifications and, depending on what they choose to study, students can expect to graduate with any of the following: 

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) – 3 years. 
  • Bachelor of Science (BSc) – 3 years. 
  • Master of Arts (MA) – 1 to 3 years. 
  • Master of Science (MSc) – 1 to 3 years. 
  • LLB (Bachelors Law degree) – 3 years. 
  • LLM (Masters Law degree) – 1 year. 

Is a research university path right for my students? 

It’s helpful to remember that research university degrees in the Netherlands are comparable to UK university degrees. 

What does this mean?

In short, the research universities in the Netherlands offer students a specialised path into a certain degree discipline. So for students who have a fairly good idea of where they want to specialise after high school, a research university pathway is worth consideration. 

Examples of research universities 

University of Applied Science

A degree at a University of Applied Science will typically be four years in length and will normally involve a work experience or study abroad element. These universities will place greater emphasis on the practical application of the arts and sciences. Class sizes at a University of Applied Science tend to be smaller than those in Research Universities. 

Examples of the kinds of courses offered at a UAS in the Netherlands include: 

  • Agriculture
  • Hotel Management
  • Teacher Training 
  • Process & Food Technology
  • International Game Design & Architecture

There are 41 Universities of Applied Science in the Netherlands. Some are very small, and may specialise in a particular field. A smaller UAS is less likely to offer courses in English; by contrast the larger Universities of Applied Science will offer a range of English taught courses. 

There is almost no overlap between the type of courses offered by a research university and that offered by a university of applied science. This means that the decision between these two pathways is very much a binary one (and hopefully quite a straightforward one).

The only two courses that may be offered by both types of university are law and business related courses. The difference at a University of Applied Science is that students would be introduced to the more practical, work-based elements of business and law straight away. 

Whilst the majority of degree courses at a University of Applied Science are four years, some have started to introduce three year courses. These fast track courses will often condense the first two years of a degree into one year. While some students will be attracted to the idea of graduating early, these fast track degrees are intensive and aren’t the best fit for everyone. 

Is a university of applied science right for my students? 

If there are students at your school who are interested in studying in the Netherlands, then they may wish to consider a University of Applied Science if they want to go straight into a practical, work-based approach to learning. 

For the same reason, these universities might not be the best fit for students who are looking for an academic experience at university. 

Examples of a University of Applied Science 

University Colleges

In the Netherlands university system, colleges are institutions that offer students a broad array of subjects. University colleges in the Netherlands have been likened to liberal arts colleges in the United States and are perhaps better suited to students who are looking for a more holistic style of education. 

Note: University colleges were established as an offshoot of research universities and it’s worth noting that some of the Dutch research universities have their own corresponding university college. 

University colleges offer a wide range of courses in the Arts, Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. Students work with their tutors and professors to design their own interdisciplinary curriculum. 

Students who attend a university college can expect a strong emphasis on community building. Many university colleges operate residential campuses, meaning that students are expected to live on campus. University colleges aim to create a small, close-knit learning environment. 

University colleges in the Netherlands may have more bespoke entry criteria and it’s therefore very important that students check each institution’s entry requirements carefully. 

Because of the holistic nature of university colleges, they are also likely to have more holistic entry requirements. This means that they are just as interested in a student’s personal motivation, their character and their extracurricular activities (again, similar to the US application process). 

Is a University College right for my students? 

This is the ideal university pathway for students who may not have a particular degree they want to specialise in, and who are instead interested in a broad education where they have a lot of control over their own curriculum. 

For international students, the strong community focus of university colleges, coupled with the fact that many of their degree courses are taught in English, means that they can look forward to a university experience that combines academic rigour with a good social life. 

Examples of University Colleges 

Are your students in the process of researching Dutch universities? Talk to us today to see how we can help.

Applying to university in the Netherlands: essential application information 

If you do have students at your school who are interested in the Netherlands as a potential university destination, then it’s worth you and your staff familiarising yourself with some of the key deadlines and entry requirements. 

University application deadlines 

Applications for the Netherlands typically open in September or October for the following year. The application deadline for most courses is 1st May. For courses where there are a limited number of places (known as Numerus Fixus), the deadline is closer to January. 

It’s also worth noting that University Colleges will often have January deadlines, before inviting students to interview in February. 

University entry requirements 

Most universities in the Netherlands will ask for a high school qualification from students, be it A-levels, the IBDP or a US high school diploma. 

Those students who are looking to apply to an English speaking course will need to take an IELTS or TOEFL test to prove their language fluency. 

Top tip: If students are worried about how their national high school qualification compares with the entry requirements of the Dutch university system, they can visit the Nuffic website to find out more. In addition, Nuffic is a handy resource for students who want to know more about student visas and scholarships. 

All students wishing to apply to university in the Netherlands must set up an account through Studielink which is the Dutch national database for university admissions. 

If your students are preparing their university applications for the 2019-20 application cycle, then the Netherlands is a destination worthy of consideration, offering exciting academic and cultural opportunities in the heart of Europe. 

Check back here for future resources to help steer your students through the Dutch university application process. 

Want to know more about how we can support your students in applying to the Netherlands? Book a free consultation with a member of our Education Partnerships team. 

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