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Millie’s University Guide: Dutch Edition!

Millie’s University Guide: Dutch Edition!

Aside from the gorgeous architecture and tulip season, the Netherlands is known for its high quality of life and student satisfaction. Whether you went there on holiday and fell in love with the place, or you just fancy the adventure of studying in a new country, read on to find out everything you need to know about applying to Dutch universities!

Why choose the Netherlands

“Most if not all degrees are taught in English!”

Aside from the beauty and allure of the Netherlands as a holiday destination, it has many benefits for students. Like most UK universities, and unlike US, Canadian, and Scottish universities, Dutch university courses finish in three years rather than four, making them a convenient bachelors option. But one of the best perks, especially for international students, is the fact that English is widely spoken, and most if not all degrees are taught in English! Even the locals, aside from being extremely friendly and welcoming to foreigners, are more than happy to meet you on your grounds and switch to English. This makes it easy to integrate into the local community and get settled in.

It’s also relatively easier to stay in the country and find a job after university as compared to some other countries, making it a great choice for longer-term living! On top of that, student living is reasonably affordable, with a great overall price-to-quality ratio of education for EU students (sadly however it is more expensive for non-EU students). But even if you are a non-EU international student worried about life in the Netherlands, let us put your mind to rest. Dutch universities are extremely international, with some having around 50% of non-Dutch students, making it easy to fit in.

Life in the Netherlands

Convinced yet? Let’s go into some of the aspects of life at Dutch universities that may tempt you!

#1 - Transportation
If you’ve been there on holiday, you’ve probably noticed the multitude of bikes around Amsterdam. Most people commute by cycling from place to place, and you would be no exception! You can get to almost any place in Amsterdam by a maximum 30-minute bike ride, making it an extremely efficient and green method of transportation. Buying a bike at the start of your degree is one of the best new investments you can make, and they’re relatively cheap too! If cycling is not your thing however, walking is also an option as most of your classes will be relatively close (great way to go outdoors and get a bit of exercise into your daily routine)! For longer journeys, the Netherlands also has a variety of trams, buses, metros and regional trains to get you where you want to go. So whatever the need, the Netherlands has got you covered!

“Buying a bicycle is one of the best investments you can make”

#2 - Food

One of the great things about many Dutch universities is that you’ll never be stuck for food options, especially in the big cities. Most universities offer varied and affordable food options in on-campus cafeterias, and will also have supermarkets and shops selling most things you would want, all within a five-minute walk!

#3 - Societies and clubs

At the start of your degree, most universities host an introduction week (similar to Freshers in the UK and an Orientation Week in the US) where you will be introduced to all of the societies and clubs the university has to offer. Whether you’re looking for sports clubs, artistic ones, or even academic societies to help out with revision and exam prep, there’ll be something for everyone. Not only is this a great way to try something new, but it’s also one of the best ways to meet new people and make friends! And if you’re thinking of staying in the Netherlands for longer, then your university will most likely also offer Dutch language classes which can help you integrate further into the community if you’re thinking of pursuing a career in the Netherlands. Some academic societies for economics and finance also invite potential employers to come to the university for talks and networking opportunities - definitely an event to put in your diary if you’re looking to pursue those avenues!

#4 - Classes

“The size of the university will determine the size of lectures”

While this varies by university, most bachelor degrees will have a mixture of lectures (with a larger number of students) and tutorials (smaller groups going in-depth into problem sets or questions). The size of the university will determine the size of lectures, so keep this in mind when applying. Typically, 30% of your final grade will be determined by essays or coursework, with the remaining 70% determined by exams, where you are generally graded on a ten-point scale.

I’m convinced! Now how do I apply?

The application process is not too dissimilar from that of the UK system. Let’s break it down.


You’ll have to apply through Studielink, the Dutch higher education application system. Here you can make a request to enrol in a university, which then reaches out to you on how to enrol and any specific requirements e.g. motivation letters (similar to personal statements or college essays) or entrance exams. Quick thing to note here: for some science majors in the Netherlands, they will require you to either have taken all three sciences at IB, or to do an entrance exam for the science that you have not taken, so keep this in mind when applying!

How competitive is it?

Compared to universities in the UK or the US, Dutch universities are relatively easier to get into. Many of them have low entry requirements of simply receiving a high school diploma, and will accept a large number of students, especially for bachelor degrees. However don’t let this fool you into thinking it’ll be a cakewalk! The idea behind this low competitiveness is that it gives everyone an equal opportunity to study, but it’s up to you to then put in the hard work. After the first set of exams, there’s around a 30% drop-out rate of students who are asked to leave for not performing to a high-enough standard. So while it is easy to get your foot in the door, it’s up to you to work hard and stay there! However one of the nice things is that the ranking of the individual university doesn't matter as much as it does for UK or US universities; while there are small fluctuations for specific majors, they are all roughly at-par, so you won’t have the stress of applying to the ‘right’ university based on league tables - they’re all fantastic options!

“Compared to universities in the UK or the US, Dutch universities are relatively easier to get into”

This is one of the few downsides of Dutch universities, as accommodation is notoriously hard to find and secure. The university will help you to a certain extent if you mention it in your application form, but it’s not like the UK or US system where the university actively provides accommodation on campus. So apply early! As this increases the chances of the university being able to successfully help you find accommodation. While there are lots of student accommodation companies in Amsterdam, competition is high, and many students find it easier to find private accommodation on their own as by law, students can stay in student housing for no more than a year. In most places, you’ll be sharing with a minimum of four people unless you find private accommodation, so one of the first things to decide is which type of accommodation you want to go for, then start looking in time!

Tips and advice from Dutch university students

Tip #1 - “Look at the program structure and what each course is about”

Have a forward-looking career focus when it comes to universities, this will help when it comes to applying for jobs either in the Netherlands or elsewhere.

Tip #2 - “Cast the net wide”

The academic life in Dutch universities is quite independent and self-study oriented, so having a good network of friends and study buddies is a great way to cope with the stress and work together. So socialise hard and cast the net wide; a good support group is the best way to cope with studies and take some down-time!

Tip #3 - “Learn how to do independent work”

“Self-study is important in Dutch universities’

As we mentioned, self-study is important in Dutch universities. Forming some good study practices and discipline in High School will serve you well when it comes to university. Finding good ways to manage your time and study independently is a must!

Tip #4 - “Do your research”

While Dutch universities are all great and individual rankings don’t matter a huge amount, each university has its quirks that differentiate the experience. Do you want a course that is more structured, or one where you have more flexibility? Which city do you want to study in? And how big do you want your university to be? All of these are questions you should be asking yourself, as finding a university that fits your criteria will ensure you have the best university experience tailored to what you want!

Sign me up! But wait… what are some of the universities there?

You didn’t think we’d tell you all these amazing facts about Dutch universities without giving you a flavour of some of them did you? Of course not! Let’s go into five universities in the Netherlands (although remember the list goes on)!

The university of Amsterdam

“It’s one of the most distinguished universities in Europe for research!”

Possibly one of the most famous universities in the Netherlands, it ranks 55th worldwide (Top Universities) and is situated in the heart of the Netherlands’ gorgeous capital. One of its top-ranked majors is Sociology (ranked #7), and it’s one of the most distinguished universities in Europe for research! You can find their grade calculator for various High School diplomas here.

Erasmus University Rotterdam

This is a stunning modern university with over 5,300 international students! It ranks 179th worldwide (Top Universities) and higher yet for for economics and finance majors (#43). Its diverse culture and urban flair attracts students from across the world!

Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

TU Delft is one of the oldest and largest Dutch universities, ranking 57th worldwide (Top Universities). It ​​is best known for its science majors, especially in technology and engineering (ranked #15).

Leiden University

Leiden was founded in 1575 by William, the Prince of Orange (a principality that is now Southern France), as a reward for their help against the Spanish attacks in the Eighty Years War. It is one of the best universities in the world for law and international relations (ranked #24), ranking 112th worldwide (Top Universities).

Utrecht University

Utrecht University has over 30,000 students, and offers a vibrant student community and experience! It ranks 110th worldwide (Top Universities) and is best known for its life sciences and medicine majors (ranked #40).

Now it’s your turn!

Now that you have everything you need to know about Dutch universities, we hand the reins over to you! For a quick flavour of Dutch university life, watch this 100 second video on student life in the Netherlands. If studying there is something that interests you, check out our panel on Dutch universities to hear first-hand from students studying at University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University, and head over to our website to plan your next steps by signing up for a free consultation.