Blog 🍎 School 26th July 2023

The Beginner's Guide to Studying in the Netherlands

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James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

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 increasingly popular amongst international students, both for study abroad programmes (think year-long or semester exchanges, like through Erasmus) and full-time study: 115,000 international students studied in the Netherlands on permanent university courses in 2022.

Like some of its European neighbours, studying in the Netherlands offers a rich variety both academically and in the range of cities that students can live and work in.

In addition, the proliferation of English taught courses means that the Netherlands now rivals higher education offerings in countries like the USA, the UK and Canada – and with lower tuition fees.

f your students are curious about studying in the Netherlands, 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 feel right at home! 
  • Dutch universities are well known for their internationally-recognised degrees – all but one of the universities in the Netherlands rank in the top 250 in 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: many Dutch universities partner with businesses in a variety of industries. 

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

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

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Post-secondary institutions for those studying in the Netherlands

There are a few different types of post-secondary institutions your students might consider attending in the Netherlands. Some of these are very distinct from one another, because the Dutch higher education system differentiates between HBO (hoger beroepsonderwijs) which means vocational education, and WO (wetenschappelijk onderwijs) which means academic education.

Broadly speaking, students studying in the Netherlands can expect to follow one of three pathways:

  • A more academic/research-based degree, with courses normally lasting 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 for studying in the Netherlands

Research universities offer students a rigorous academic education, and degrees there usually last three years. There are 13 research universities and 12 of these currently teach 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, research universities in the Netherlands offer students a specialised path into a certain discipline. So for students who have a fairly good idea of what they want to specialise in after high school, a research university is worth consideration. 

Examples of research universities 

Universities of Applied Science for studying in the Netherlands

A degree at a University of Applied Science is typically four years in length and involves a work experience or study abroad element. These universities place greater emphasis on the practical application of the arts and sciences, and class sizes tend to be smaller than in research universities. 

Degrees conferred by UAS are called Applied Science Bachelor’s, Programme of Professional Higher Education or HBO (vocational) Bachelor’s.

Examples of the 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 taught in English. By contrast, the larger Universities of Applied Science offer a range of English-taught courses. 

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

The two major courses that could be offered by both types of university are law and business. 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 of these institutions have started to introduce three-year courses. These fast-track courses often condense the first two years of a degree into one. Some students might be attracted to the idea of graduating early, but keep in mind that these fast track degrees are intensive and not necessarily the best fit for everyone. 

Is a University of Applied Science right for my students? 

If students at your school are interested in studying in the Netherlands and want to go straight into a practical, work-based approach to learning, they might want to consider a University of Applied Science. 

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 Universities of Applied Science 

University Colleges for studying in the Netherlands

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. 


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 while studying in the Netherlands 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.

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).

As a result, university colleges in the Netherlands may have more individualised entry criteria, so it’s important that students check each institution’s entry requirements carefully.

Is a University College right for my students? 

This is the ideal university pathway for students who may not have a particular subject 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 mean that they can look forward to a university experience that combines academic rigour with a good social life.

Examples of University Colleges 

Private universities for studying in the Netherlands

All three types of universities mentioned above are public universities. In fact, almost all universities in the Netherlands are public. The exception is a handful of private business schools.

There’s also an American university in the Netherlands (Webster University Leiden) which is accredited by the USA and not by the Dutch government.

Are your students in the process of researching Dutch universities? Get your free BridgeU account to smooth the process.

Applying to study in the Netherlands: essential application information 

Academic requirements for studying in the Netherlands

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.

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

Students applying to an English-speaking course may need to take an IELTS or TOEFL test to prove their language fluency.

One thing that frequently confuses international students applying to the Netherlands is the seemingly low entry requirements. Let’s look at an example:

Entry Requirements Example:

The University of Bristol and the University of Amsterdam both consistently rank in the top 100 university rankings. The University of Bristol typically has entry requirements of AAA (for A Levels), while the University of Amsterdam frequently asks for CCC.

The difference can be explained by a distinctive feature of Dutch universities: the probationary first year.

The academic year in the Netherlands is divided into two long (20 week) semesters: it’s common to have 5-6 exam cycles during that first year, and the academic pressure to do well is high: students who don’t achieve high enough results aren’t allowed to continue into the second year of university (and around 7% of first years drop out annually).

Application deadlines for studying in the Netherlands

Applications for the Netherlands typically open in September or October of 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. 

Visas for studying in the Netherlands

The majority of international students will need to apply for a Dutch residency permit, for which they’ll need an IELTS (a specific English Language Test) score of 6.0.

And remember that the residency permit also allows students to travel visa-free in the whole of the EU and the Schengen Zone, making this a fantastic opportunity for students who want to travel!

The University of Bristol and the University of Amsterdam both consistently rank in the top 100 university rankings.

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. 

Accommodation while studying in the Netherlands

Dutch universities are a bit of a halfway point between most of Europe and the university-owned offerings in the USA and the UK when it comes to accommodation.

Many do offer university-managed accommodation (think dorms), which are the most popular option amongst first-year international students. Nevertheless, the majority of Dutch students make their own arrangements, usually in shared, private apartments.

University housing

Most Dutch universities don’t have a campus – they’re city universities, meaning the university manages buildings across a city as opposed to having a dedicated, self-contained campus.

This means that the rooms offered to students are technically university-owned, but students won’t see much difference compared with their friends’ experiences of living in privately-managed accommodation.

In other cases, the university negotiates contracts with private landlords and oversees the accommodation in that way.

It’s common for students to have a room to themselves equipped with the basics (single bed, desk, wardrobe, etc.) but to share the facilities such as the kitchen and the bathroom with 3-10 fellow students.

The upside is that universities are trusted as reputable providers, and they can keep things simple for first-years, especially those moving from abroad.

Note: It’s not unusual for students to have to apply for university-managed accommodation before June, so they need to keep an eye out! Rooms fill up quickly, so it’s best to act fast.

Student housing corporations

These look and feel just like university-managed options, except that they’re privately owned by corporations.

Private apartments

The most popular option for those studying in the Netherlands is private apartments. Students can either rent a single room that’s part of a bigger apartment, or join with a fellow group of students to find an apartment to rent together.

The former is most common, especially for first-years. Housing in the Netherlands is competitive, especially in big cities like Amsterdam.

Students should expect a lot of competition, and might even be asked to an interview by potential housemates and have to answer questions on anything from their taste in music to their lifestyle habits.

Students can find listings online, through housing agencies and student associations, or through student support services at their university.

Tuition fees & living costs while studying in the Netherlands

Dutch universities charge a standard tuition fee of around EUR 2314 for Dutch and EU Students (for 2023-2024).

International student fees for non-EU passport holders, on the other hand, are both variable and more expensive. As a general rule of thumb, it’s wise to expect to pay around 6000-15000 EUR a year for a Bachelor’s, 14,000 EUR a year for a Liberal Arts degree at a University College, and up to 32,000 EUR for subjects like medicine.

Remember, though, that private universities can set their own prices, so prices are more variable (and can be more expensive).

Depending on the subject students choose, this makes studying in the Netherlands competitive in terms of cost, with the average English-taught undergraduate degree costing less than it would in countries like the USA, Australia, and even Canada.


There are a number of scholarships available to international students wishing to attend university in the Netherlands! Some are specialised, meaning they’re only for certain demographics (e.g. women of colour), or subjects (like pharmacology). There are also some which are university-specific.

Others are more general (for example the Study in Holland scholarship), which is open to international students the world over. Students can research options online, and should always consider contacting their university directly, too.

Cost of living

The cost of living in the Netherlands is comparatively high, especially in major cities: it’s likely to be a little more expensive than in the USA, Canada, or even the UK.

The good news is that students in the Netherlands get access to all kinds of discounts. We recommend that students try to get an ISIC card which will verify their student status across the Netherlands and unlock all kinds of handy discounts.

Earning money

International students are allowed to work part-time for up to 10 hours a week during the semester, and full-time when university isn’t in session.

And for those considering staying in the Netherlands, there’s the option to apply for a visa extension of one year to job-hunt for permanent employment. It’s called an orientation visa, and you can find out more about it here.

If they manage to find a job, they can apply for a regular residency permit and relocate full-time to the Netherlands. Welkom!

 If your students are preparing their university applications 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. 

And don’t forget that you can get the full BridgeU platform for your whole school! It makes finding and researching universities in the Netherlands and beyond much simpler, and helps you and your students organise applications seamlessly.  

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