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What’s it like to study in… Amsterdam?

The BridgeU guide to one of Europe's most attractive cities for international students

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If your students are currently finalising their university choices, and looking at their international options, then we’ve put together a guide to a very popular city for students – Amsterdam. With its famous canals, café culture, bars, clubs and renowned art scene, this is a city that scores highly in ‘student satisfaction’ surveys. Amsterdam’s appeal to international students also owes much to the Dutch liking for English. As well as many higher education courses being taught in English, students will find that everyone from bar staff to shop assistants will be happy to speak English.

The city itself is tiny. With a population of just 814,000, its universities are fewer in number than other capitals, such as London or Paris. But its flagship institution, The University of Amsterdam, is placed 57th in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017. Offering around 200 international degree programmes at undergraduate and post-graduate level, subject areas that score particularly well in global rankings include Communication and Media Studies, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities and Life Sciences.

There are also a number of specialist institutions dotted around the city. For business-minded students, The Amsterdam School of International Business (AMSIB) offers a four-year Bsc in International Business, with plenty of field-work and practical experience, or a three year fast-track option. The Amsterdam Fashion Academy, located in the city’s museum district, is a private academy with a high-end international feel, offering fashion-related degree courses taught in English.

What’s different about it?

Compared to the UK and elsewhere, Dutch universities typically have longer terms. Classes may run for 40 weeks each year, with two weeks off at Easter and Christmas. This can take some of the pressure off academic timetables as work can be spread out over a longer term. Students have more time to combine studying with exploring the city and surrounding area. Amsterdam is in the heart of Western Europe and well-connected. Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne and Paris are just a few hours by train or coach, quite doable for a weekend away, even on a budget.

Teaching styles are generally open and informal, as befits this generally tolerant, laid-back country.  Most courses have relatively small teaching groups of around 15, with plenty of student-teacher interaction. Amsterdam University’s buildings are centrally located and students are an integral part of city life – there is no secluded campus. There are a good range of clubs and societies, and the University Sports Centre offers over 50 activities at discounted rates for students.

How much will it cost?

As a place to study, Holland is a cheaper option than countries like the US and UK. But choosing the capital city will cost more than a smaller town. At the University of Amsterdam, tuition fees are around 2,000 euros a year – for EU students. International students applying from outside of the EU/EEA are charged more for tuition – around 6,000 euros a year for an undergraduate degree course. Masters programmes cost between 2,000 and 5,000 euros per year, for EU students while non-EU applicants can expect to pay anything between 8,000 and 20,000 euros per year. For UK students, applying now will mean they have EU discounts, and while there is uncertainty over Brexit, the situation is unlikely to change in the next couple of years.

Settling into student life

Bikes are everywhere in this city and cycling is the favourite mode of transport. Even when it rains. It’s a great way to travel on a student-budget (and you can save on gym fees), but it’s fair to say if your students hate cycling then this is probably not the city for them.

While Amsterdam is bustling and vibrant, in some respects it is quieter than other international cities. Stores typically close at 6 or 7pm and are closed on Sunday. For some students, this may be a cultural shift that may challenge their personal planning skills.

Most students live in shared accommodation, for example house shares of four or five people. In Amsterdam, this will cost around 350-500 euros each month. Prospective students should get in touch with the university’s housing office as soon as possibly – and certainly by May of the year their course starts – for the best chance of finding something suitable.

Dutch universities often have proactive housing offices which, although they charge a fee, can be a relatively convenient way for foreign students to find somewhere suitable to live. Many buy up apartments and houses, and sub-let them to students, which means the student does not have to deal with a private landlord.

Other things to flag…

If you have students who are interested in studying in Amsterdam they’ll need to think about some practicalities, including:

  • Opening a Dutch bank account. This will be useful as many shops and restaurants only accept payment by cash or debit card.
  • Finances. Students should check directly with the university about how and when tuition fees will need to be paid. When budgeting for housing and living costs, remember that a deposit may be required.
  • Visas. For students coming from non-EU countries.
  • Work permits. Students from non-EU countries who want to work while studying will need Dutch health insurance. International students from outside the EU are permitted to work for 10 hours a week throughout the year OR part-time or full-time during June, July and August.

On the academic side, Amsterdam tends to be well-regarded, though encourage students to find out about employment and graduate opportunities for their particular course. Amsterdam is small enough to get around easily, and big enough to attract leading international faculty to its institutions. University of Amsterdam professors and alumni have won six Nobel prizes.

If you’re currently supporting students with their sights set on Amsterdam, encourage them to attend a university open day, and use it as an opportunity to ask questions about the course, as well as get a feel for the city. If they take up a place, chances are they’ll enjoy the unique, international flavour of this city – as well the flat, tulip-carpeted country that surrounds it.  

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