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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've been 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 offers 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 bachelor's option. One of the best perks, especially for international students, is 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 terms 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 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 at ease. Dutch universities are extremely international, with some having around 50% 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 within 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 investments you can make, and they're relatively cheap too! However, if cycling is not your thing, walking is also an option, as most of your classes will be relatively close—a great way to go outdoors and incorporate some exercise into your daily routine! For longer journeys, the Netherlands offers 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 their on-campus cafeterias and 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 Orientation Week in the US) where you will be introduced to all the societies and clubs the university has to offer. Whether you’re looking for sports clubs, artistic ones, or even academic societies to help 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 offer Dutch language classes to help you integrate further into the community if you’re considering 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's degrees will have a mixture of lectures (with a larger number of students) and tutorials (smaller groups delving in-depth into problem sets or questions). The size of the university will determine the size of the 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 need 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 about how to enrol and any specific requirements, e.g., motivation letters (similar to personal statements or college essays) or entrance exams. A quick thing to note: for some science majors in the Netherlands, they may require you to have taken all three sciences at IB, or to take an entrance exam for the science that you haven't studied, 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 gain admission to. Many of them have modest entry requirements, often just requiring a high school diploma, and accept a large number of students, especially for bachelor's degrees. However, don't let this deceive you into thinking it'll be a cakewalk! The philosophy behind this approach is to offer everyone an equal opportunity to study, but then it's up to the individual to put in the hard work. After the first set of exams, there's approximately a 30% drop-out rate, with students being asked to leave for not meeting the requisite standards. So while it is easy to get your foot in the door, it’s up to you to work diligently and remain there! A comforting aspect is that the ranking of the individual university doesn't carry as much weight as it does in the UK or US; while there are minor fluctuations for specific majors, they all hold a comparable standing, so you won’t have the stress of applying to the 'right' university based on league tables - they’re all excellent choices!

“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: accommodation is notoriously difficult to find and secure. The university will assist you up to a certain extent if you mention it on your application form, but it's not like the UK or US system where the university actively provides accommodation on campus. So, apply early! Doing so increases the chances of the university successfully helping you find accommodation. While there are many student accommodation companies in Amsterdam, competition is fierce. Many students find it easier to seek private accommodation on their own since, by law, students can stay in student housing for no more than a year. In most places, you'll share with at least four people unless you opt for private accommodation. So, one of the first decisions to make is which type of accommodation you prefer, then start your search promptly!

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).

University Leiden

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