Brief Background: The Netherlands hosts more than
122,000 international students annually, and 1 in 5 new bachelor’s
students were international in 2017-2018 The Netherlands was the first
country on the European continent to widely offer programs taught in
English. A high level of English proficiency nationwide and hundreds of
English-taught bachelor programs make the country an attractive
destination for students. The Netherlands is also near some of Europe’s
most popular travel destinations and has a reputation as one of the
safest countries in the world.
The Dutch are historically explorers, inventors, and entrepreneurs,
and this legacy continues to be a driving force in Dutch academia. The
Netherlands boasts strong science, architecture, economics, and
engineering programs, as well as a thriving creative sector of
designers, journalists, artists, and film producers.
Although small in size, the Netherlands is a strong academic force.
Thirteen Dutch research universities rank among the top 250 universities
in the world, according to the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
Good to Know: Higher education in the Netherlands is a binary system featuring research-oriented and profession-oriented institutions.
Research-oriented programs—wetenschappelijk onderwijs or
WO—are available at 13 public research universities. Among these
research universities, some are general comprehensive institutions and
others specialize in technology, engineering, or agriculture. Academic
programs focus on theoretical aspects of the field of study and prepare
students to undertake independent research. Many programs offer
internships and study abroad opportunities; minors are also possible.
Students in these programs typically complete a bachelor’s in three
years. The vast majority of students continue on to complete a master’s
degree, a process which typically lasts an additional one to two years.
Research universities are a good fit for students who like asking “why” questions, students who enjoy abstract thinking, building analytical skills, and the theoretical. The emphasis is on learning to look analytically and critically at the way a certain field can be approached. Students learn to present convincing oral and written arguments and to draw conclusions from them. Students are expected to study of their own initiative, have self-discipline and independence.
Over the past 20 years, many of the large, traditional Dutch
universities have created university colleges, or selective honors
colleges, that follow a liberal arts and sciences curriculum. These
international programs are relatively small—between 300 to 900
students—and are often residential to foster a tight-knit community of
students within the larger university.
Profession-oriented education, or professional higher education—referred to as hoger beroepsonderwijs or HBO—is offered by more than 50 universities of applied sciences, called hogescholen.
Universities of applied sciences are teaching-oriented, and offer
programs specializing in a specific field of study. These programs
prepare students for particular professions, tend to be practically
oriented, and include internships and minors in the last two years of
study. The programs lead to four-year bachelor’s degrees. Though less
common than at research universities, students can continue on to
master’s programs at universities of applied sciences. Graduates of
these universities can also transfer into a research university to
complete a graduate-level qualification, however this will likely
require a bridge year in which research skills and specific preparatory
requirements are taught.
Dutch professors often encourage student participation and questions.
The Dutch teaching style is often interactive and student-centered,
focusing on teamwork and problem-based learning. Students learn not only
to operate at an academic level, but also to work independently on
real-world issues—just as they will later in their careers.
Universities of applied sciences are a good fit for students who like to ask “how” questions, as they provide opportunities for concrete, practical learning. Students apply knowledge and work in a solutions-oriented way. The educational experience is directed toward the acquisition of competences. Programs at universities of applied sciences usually involve more contact hours as compared to research-oriented programs. More time is spent on each topic at a relatively relaxed teaching speed.
Under a code of conduct
created in 2006, and renewed every five years, participating higher
education institutions commit to provide reliable and easily accessible
information for international students about their programs of study,
accreditation status, admission process and requirements, and similar
“The individual application processes of the Dutch
universities were relatively straightforward, had helpful details—all in
English—and connected me to dedicated international coordinators who
understood and promptly addressed any difficulties I encountered. The
application process is nearly identical to that in the US, making it
easy to understand and follow.”
—Stefan Harrigan, Ohio, Leiden University
Academic Calendar: The academic year generally
begins in late August or early September and ends in June or July, with a
holiday break in December/January. The academic year is 42 weeks long
and is either divided into two semesters or four blocks or periods.
Search: Study in Holland
includes a course search, scholarship finder, and information about
visas, housing, daily expenses, working while studying, learning Dutch,
and more. Study in Holland is run by Nuffic, an independent, nonprofit
organization based in The Hague that supports internationalization in
higher education, research, and professional education. Students can
also search study programs taught in English.
a Dutch national enrollment system for degree-seeking university
students, also provides a complete list of Dutch institutions.
Apply: Applying to a bachelor’s program in the
Netherlands generally involves applying to the program of choice and
registering for free on Studielink.
Step 1: Decide on the program(s) and institution(s) of choice.
Step 2: Check the admission requirements of the
university and entry requirements of the specific program. Requirements
and application processes differ not only from institution to
institution, but also from program to program within institutions. Also,
check if any matching activities are required.
A matching process is used to determine if a program is a good fit for the student. This can take place via online skills testing, questionnaires, tests about the student’s interests, an interview or meeting, a letter of motivation (see below), or other requirement. Taking part in the matching process may be mandatory, but the outcome is only advisory, not binding.
Step 3: Confirm the deadlines of the specific program.
Step 4: Check the program’s application
instructions. Every application process will include both an application
to the specific program as well as registration in Studielink.
The program instructions will tell you in what order to complete these
two steps. Follow all instructions from both the institution and
To submit an application to the program(s) of interest, you will need
to do so through an online system. Supporting documents such as
transcripts, copy of passport, letter of motivation, and letters of
recommendation may be required.
Letters of motivation give students the opportunity to explain their interest in the program of study. University colleges typically use these letters as an official criterion of admission, whereas other institutions may use them only as part of the matching process.
To register with Studielink,
create an account and register your applications. Students may register
for up to four programs in Studielink, only two of which can be numerus fixus programs, though exceptions exist.
Numerus fixus programs are highly-selective programs, including medicine, physiotherapy, and some types of business, which have a capped number of seats available. (The programs listed are a few examples and do not represent the exhaustive list of programs available.)
Deadlines: Deadlines generally range from Jan. 1
through July 1 depending on the nationality of the student (for visa
purposes) and the particular program. Some programs offer rolling
admission. The deadline for all numerus fixus programs is Jan.
15. A single university may have a different deadline for each academic
program, so students should check the deadline of the specific program
to which they are applying.
Application Fees: Some institutions require
application fees. Students should confirm whether application fees are
required by their prospective program and/or institution.
Admission Requirements: The Dutch government equates
certain diplomas around the world to its university preparatory
diploma, called the Dutch VWO. Typically, a US high school diploma is
deemed equivalent to a Dutch VWO when combined with a minimum number of
AP courses (usually four) and sufficient performance on AP exam,
typically scores of 3 or higher. IB diplomas are also recognized as
Depending on the program, institutions in the Netherlands operate using one of three approaches to admission:
General AdmissionStudents applying to general
admission programs, which comprise the vast majority of programs offered
at research universities and universities of applied science, must have
a Dutch VWO Diploma or an equivalent certification. General admission
programs use few admission criteria so that more students have an
opportunity to try the program. The challenge, however, is that once
enrolled, performance expectations are very high with students being
expected to obtain a minimum amount of credits.
Numerus FixusNumerus fixus programs have a capped number of places available. All numerus fixus
programs have a minimum of two selection criteria. These criteria will
be outlined per program on the program websites and can include grade
achievement, standardized tests, international experience, letters of
recommendation, and more.
Some programs at certain universities may be designated numerus fixus while not having that same status at others, and this can change from year to year.
Special Status ProgramsSome programs offering an
intensive education in a small-scale setting, for instance the
university colleges and hotel schools, are selective and use a holistic
admission process similar to universities and colleges in the United
States. Each program utilizes a process unique to the institution where
it is based. University colleges, for instance, tend to look for
students who are highly engaged in their studies and who have
contributed to the student community. Motivation, as demonstrated in a
personal statement, is important, and so is academic achievement. Some
of these programs require interviews as part of the admission process.
These are conducted by faculty and explore students’ academic
motivation, commitment, and curiosity. When required, interviews can be
Fine arts and performing arts programs also have special status and
may require auditions, interviews, or the submission of a portfolio.
These talent-driven programs also consider motivation and prior academic
The ACT and SAT are not typically considered as part of the admission
process but may be a factor in scholarship decisions. Additional
entrance exams are not common, although a very small number of programs
may require them.
There is little standardization of eligibility requirements,
application processes, deadlines, or non-European Union (EU)/European
Economic Area (EEA) tuition fees in the Netherlands. When in doubt,
students should contact an institution directly. The university’s
admission office ultimately makes all final decisions regarding
Upon Acceptance: Each higher education institution
will provide instructions on the acceptance of an admission offer and
next steps. This will include practical information about how to arrange
housing, visas, and residence permits, instructions for joining
social/virtual communities of admitted students, welcome/orientation
week schedules, and other pre-departure and arrival information.
Tuition and Fees: Tuition rates for non-EU/EEA
citizens are set by each university and usually range from approximately
6,000 to 15,000 euros per year. Tuition fees for students with a
passport from the EU, EEA, Switzerland, or Surinam are approximately
2,080 euros for 2019-2020 academic year. A select few programs, among
them the university colleges, charge between 3,000-4,500 euros.
The Dutch government and some institutions offer scholarships or
financial aid for students. These opportunities can be found on
individual institutions’ websites, or through Study in Holland’s scholarship search tool. FAFSA loans can be used for a few Dutch universities such as Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam.
Housing: Universities do not have a tradition of
on-campus accommodation. Finding good, affordable accommodation can be a
challenge, as there is a shortage. Students will need to take
responsibility and start looking for a room as soon as they are
officially enrolled. If the university has a housing liaison office,
this will be a good place to start. Otherwise, students can work through
private organizations or housing corporations, and network through
social media groups.
Students will ordinarily have their own private bedroom; rooms that
two or more students share together are uncommon. Universities do not
typically have a meal plan, although many provide some on-campus dining
University colleges operate differently when it comes to student
accommodations. Many university colleges in the Netherlands are
residential, and require students to live in the student residences for
all or part of their studies. Single dwellings with many amenities are
the most common.
Visa and Other Permits: American citizens do not
need visas to enter the Netherlands, but students will need to apply for
a residence permit, called an mvv. Students cannot apply on their own
behalf; the Dutch government has mandated that higher education
institutions are responsible for overseeing the visa/residence permit
application process for each international student they admit. The
institution will inform admitted students about the application
procedure and documents needed.
As part of the residence permit application process, all institutions
require students to submit documentation confirming that they have
sufficient funds to support their living costs; in 2019 this amount was
set at 900 euros a month, or approximately 11,000 euros a year. The
application for a regular provisional residence permit (mvv) costs 171
euros. This fee is adjusted annually.
Residence permits are granted for the full duration of a student’s
study. They are only terminated when the university reports that the
student has completed their studies or did not earn sufficient academic
credits to continue.
“Perhaps the most challenging aspect for me has been
navigating the bureaucratic processes. From registering at the
municipality to paying taxes, the learning curve and language barrier
can make it initially frustrating for students to settle in. Although
these become routinely familiar acts in time, it is important to give
yourself time and to familiarize yourself with what you need to do even
before you arrive in the Netherlands.”
—Stefan Harrigan, Ohio Leiden University
US students can work a maximum of 16 hours per week while classes are
in session and full-time during the summer months of June, July, and
August. A student’s prospective employer must apply for a work permit on
his or her behalf. If a student is employed, they must also purchase
Dutch health insurance, which is more expensive than student plans.
Students do not need a work permit if they are participating in an
internship that is required by their program of study.
Graduating students may opt to stay in the Netherlands for a job
search and orientation year during which time they can look for
employment. Students interested in this option, referred to as zoekjaar,
must apply for a search year residence permit through the Dutch
Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND). If the student is
subsequently offered a position that meets the requirements to work in
the Netherlands, he or she will be authorized to do so. Students have up
to three years after graduating to exercise this option. Therefore, if
they wish, they can return to their home country or travel elsewhere
before deciding to return to search for work. It is possible to apply
for a zoekjaar both after a bachelor’s program and then once again after a master’s. More information can be found at the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s website.
Advice from the Field: The Dutch government aims to
make international students feel welcome in the Netherlands. English is
widely spoken and the Dutch welcome international students into their
communities. Many universities also offer free Dutch courses, even for
students studying in English-taught programs.
English-taught programs at Dutch universities attract students from
all over the world. Dutch institutions have ample experience
accommodating international students, and tend to offer a diverse array
of related student support services, clubs, and activities.
University colleges focus on undergraduate study only, and the degree
structure can be almost as flexible as a program of study at a US
liberal arts college.
Early planning is important as some courses have strict prerequisites
that students may not meet if they do not prepare early enough in high
school. Many business and science programs in the Netherlands, for
example, require an advanced level of math. Students should check each
program to confirm specific entry requirements.
Within the Dutch higher education system, transferring to the same
type of program at a different institution may be possible, though there
may be limits on how many credits are accepted. Changing one’s program
of study is difficult, and would most likely require a student to start
his or her studies anew.
Each institution will have an alumni office in some form, which
offers resources to graduates. In addition, the Netherlands as a whole
offers the Holland Alumni Network
through Nuffic. Holland alumni are invited to join the network to: stay
in touch with fellow Holland alumni; join existing communities or
establish new ones; stay informed about upcoming alumni activities
across the globe; find refresher courses as well as news & trends in
an area of expertise; share experiences with prospective international
students; find information about career opportunities in Holland; and
browse internship and job vacancies.