Home Student Life A Complete Guide to Studying in the Netherlands

A Complete Guide to Studying in the Netherlands

by Micaela Zaslabsky

University rankings don’t lie. All Dutch Universities are ranked between the 350 best of the world according to QS World University Ranking. The University of Amsterdam, Delft University of Technology and Eindhoven University of technology are between the best 100 universities of the world. No wonder why many students from all over the world are interested in studying here.

This article is a Complete Guide to help international students work their way through the Dutch Higher Education System: the difference between a research university and a hogeschool, application procedure, financial matters, pre-university and graduation useful information.

Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

The Netherlands offers some of the best higher education institutions in Europe but if you are considering studying in the Lower Lands, there are a lot of things to take into account in order to decide where and what to study, how much you will have to pay, what you should do in order to live in the Netherlands and the tricks of the trade from the hand of an experienced international student, keep reading!

1. Dutch Higher Education System: Research Universities vs Hogeschools

The first thing that you have to learn is that Dutch people have their own way of articulating everything, including the educational system. For instance, there are several paths, to end up going to Uni, some longer than the others.

Once Dutch students graduate from high school (middelbare schools), HAVO ( standing for higher general continued education), VWO (the so-called preparatory scientific education) or VMBO (or Dutch secondary vocational education), they have access to three different types of a higher education institution.

The higher education institutions are divided into three, depending on the type of programme they offer: Research Universities, Universities of Applied Science and University Colleges.

Each of these universities offers a different type of programmes, so it is very hard that the case is given that a student doesn’t really know what type of university to choose from.

  • Research Universities: the first type of education is oriented to those students who want to pursue an academic career or a research-oriented instruction. If you would be interested in getting a PhD or keep studying, this is the one to get into.
  • University of Applied Sciences: higher education institution with very profession-oriented study programmes.
  • University College: exclusively English-taught programmes that imitate the American style of teaching, but in the Netherlands.

All Dutch citizens and European passport holders who have completed high school are eligible to attend university and pay the lowest tuition fee. Students from all over the world with an equal level of education are also entitled to enter as long as they can prove the equivalence. They will also have to pay a higher tuition fee: institutional fee.

2. Research Universities

Students who would like to attend to Utrecht University, Leiden University and Groningen University will have to meet the restricted list of requirements based on their academic ability. The rest of the institutions tend to be more flexible and entrance depends on the number of attendance, programme-specific requirements and so on.

The Research Universities or WO (Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs), as its name implies, offers research-oriented programmes. There are 19 of them in the Netherlands and all of them offer English-taught programmes.

What is a research-oriented programme?

It means several things: the main focus of these programmes are going to be doing research and writing about the field of choice. Besides, the main focus of these institutions is teaching students how to apply and do critical thinking, preparing them for any type of study they would want to follow in the future.

This is also the path you should take in order to end up doing a research master programme or a PhD.

Rankings: The 13 best universities in the Netherlands for 2019/2020

In the Netherlands, these institutions are public, but the tuition fee is determined by other factors that will be explained down below. Most BA programmes last 3 years and MA between 1 and 2. Each year you have a variable tuition fee that grows accordingly with the increase of taxes.

Delft University of Technology, the University of Amsterdam and Eindhoven University of Technology are the three with the highest score in most rankings:

The University of Amsterdam is the one that offers the broadest amount of BA and MA programmes of all fields. Its location (in the amazing city of Amsterdam, of course) and its prestige makes it an attractive institution for both Dutch and international students. This is a classic example of Dutch Research University: counting with a Medical Center, Language and Literature programmes, Law, International relationships, and many other technical fields.

Both Eindhoven University of Technology and theDelft University of Technology, as their names imply, offer technological programmes: Aerospatiale engineering, Architecture, Physics, Maths, etc.

3. University of Applied Sciences

The Universities of Applied Sciences ( or hogescholen) are higher education institutions that offer programmes that focus on the practical application of both arts and sciences, giving priority to experiences like internships. 

These are large institutions, home for 20,000 to 40,000 students, with most programmes in Dutch but also with a broad variety of English-taught programmes. These universities offer very specific programmes with oriented internships, activities and classes to prepare professionals ready to work as soon as they graduate. Therefore, one of the biggest advantages of studying one of these programmes is definitely the high chances you will have of starting your career as soon as you graduate: up to 95% of the graduated-students find their first job within a year of finishing the programme.

What is it important to know if you are considering enrolling on a Hogeschool?

University of Applied Sciences BA programmes have a duration of 3 to 4 years, depending on the specialisation. Master programmes are between 1 and 2 years.

You need to know that this path does NOT allow you to follow a PhD. Students of a Dutch University of Applied Sciences can opt for a pre-master programme and, of course, a master programme. But that is the highest stage of their education following this line.

There are 39 universities and some of them offer programmes in English. These are:

The programmes offered are from the fields of Business Administration, Engineering, Technology, Commerce, Finance, Leisure, Tourism, Marketing, Healthcare, Gaming, Horeca, etc.

4. University Colleges

University Colleges are the Dutch version of American colleges: exclusively English-taught programmes that imitate the American style of teaching but in the Netherlands.

There are nine of these institutions in the Netherlands, and these are:

Like American universities, you chose a major when you start your studies and on your third and last year you will get the chance to chose one or two minors to focus on your field of preference.

One of the advantages is the limited places: since it is a small-scale education, most universities accept a maximum of 250 to 400 students. These are allowed to ask for accommodation at the institution, as well as access to all of the facilities this offers.

Lastly, and since it is an international environment, it is a great place to meet people from all over the globe: 60% plus international students. A proper melting pot!

5. Application: How to Complete It

Before starting with your application you have to decide what universities and programmes you want to follow: it can be more than one programme at the same university or more than one university that offers the same programme. The main things you have to consider are the application fees (those 50 or 100 euros each university will ask you to pay to enter) and all the requirements, that you will have to check beforehand.

In order to enrol you have yo enter Studielink, the Dutch designated website for students. You can enrol to a maximum of four programmes in total and only one of them can be medicine.

First of all, check the entry requirements! One of the most important things are deadlines, of course, and also taking into account all the document you will have to have ready:

  1. Diploma: before even being eligible for any programme you will have to show proof of your accomplishment of the previous education you have studied (for both BAs and MAs). If you have it, the easiest way is to ask your home university to scan it and certify the diploma for you. If you haven’t finished your studies just yet, you will have to show proof of anticipated degree (this document has to be provided by your home university, sometimes filling a form from the Dutch institution, sometimes just showing your own form).
  2. Transcript: one of the main documents you will have to show is the transcript of records, a document showing what subjects you have taken, how many credits or equivalent you have already obtained and what your GPAs are. Most Dutch universities accept this information in either Dutch, English, French or German. Some may also include Spanish or Italian, but that doesn’t tend to be the case. Your home university should provide a translation of the transcript. If that is not the case, you will have to pay a certified translator to do it for you. This is an important step! It is also relevant to consider that sometimes you are asked for both your high school transcript and your BA transcript for a MA programme.
  3. English certificate: don’t worry! If you are planning on following an English-taught programme, Dutch is not needed. However, Dutch universities are way more strict than American, British or Irish universities when it comes to the English level of future students. In order to be eligible, you need to have a minimum score (approximately): either IELTS ( mostly 6.0 on average), TOEFL (minimum 83 or higher) or Cambridge Certificate(C1 or C2).
  4. CV
  5. Proof of identity: either a passport or a valid ID if you belong to the European Union.
  6. Extra: some universities ask you for a motivation letter where you should explain why you are the best candidate for that programme, recommendation letters from your professors, residence permit if needed, and proof of language if your programme requires it, in case you go for a multilingual track.

What is Studielink?

Studielink is the designated platform the Dutch Government uses to control the education system. It is an easy way of making your enrollment no matter where you are. Dutch people love doing as many things as they can online, and this is no exception. You can either enter with your DigiD (digital ID that you get once you start living in the Netherlands) it without it, asking for permission to enter the system.

This platform is the one you are also going to use in case you ask for a loan, scholarship or grant. Having all your personal information and applications accepted through here is the first step into the Dutch system.

Completing your application

In order to complete your application, you will have to follow the instructions: online steps. In all the universities you will have a platform where you will be asked to upload all the documents named above. In order to follow all the information you only will have to control your email and you will keep receiving information there, everything explained, or who to ask to if you need help.

My tip would be to have everything ready before you start completing your application: create a file in your laptop’s desk and prepare it all, properly named and double checked in PDF version if possible.

Lastly, and after confirming the payment, of both the Admission fee (50 to 100 euros) or/and the Tuition fee, you can finally enter the universities personal platforms and enrol in the courses (divided into blocks, and 2 blocks per semester, two subjects each block). The university will provide you with a student ID and a password to access their platform.

6. Financial Matters

Studying in the Netherlands is not free, and living here is definitely not cheap. Scholarships are always an option, and I dedicated a whole post to the best ones and all the tips you need to know in order to get one.

For now, in this post I will focus on those not so lucky who have to pay for their education:

Tuition Fees has to be your first concern. Here we have a post where statutory fees and institutional fees are explained and you can solve your doubts.

How much does it cost living in the Netherlands?

Here you have a post explaining fully and completely all the aspects you have to take into account when it comes to expenses of studying and living in the Netherlands. On average, you will spend 900-1000 euros per month.

Can I finance my studies?

The answer is yes. A couple of years ago, with the old Dutch studying programme, students were able to ask for a grant that would be gifted to those students who would finish their chosen degree within ten years. Sadly, those days are over. In the current system, students can apply for a loan if they are eligible for it, but they have to return it to the Government. The good news is that the interests are very low and that you have 10 years from the day you start your first job to pay for it.

In order to be eligible for this Student Grant and receive at least the Basic Grant of 266,23 euros per month, you will have to meet the following requirements:

-earn less than 13,000 euros a year
-be less than 30 years old
-have a Dutch or EU nationality
-work a minimum of 32 hours per month
-residence/work permit if you need it
-have a Dutch bank account

Even though you have to pay for the Tuition Fee, even if you end up getting a loan, you can always apply for the Huurtoeslag and Zorgtoeslag.

Huurtoeslag is a renting allowance that the Government offers to help students make ends meet. Once again, of course, there are certain requirements one has to meet, and certain others the renting place also has to meet. In this case, in order to ask for it in DUO, you will have to prove that you have a valid residence permit, that you are already registered in the place, that your apartment is eligible for huurtoeslag and that your rent is never higher than 652.52 euros.

Most houses and rooms are not eligible for huurtoeslag or registration, so this is definitely something you will have to consider when looking for a place. Asking the future landlord or previous tenants about this situation is very important.

Zorgtoeslag is a health insurance allowance. In this case, as the name indicates, it is to help students pay for compulsory private health insurance. The requirements are much lower than those of the huurtoeslag, and you only have to fill an online form and show proof of your incomes. If those are low enough you will be eligible for this. In most cases covers up to 90 euros per months.

7. Before departure

Once you have entered your programme of choice: congratulations! Now is the moment to start getting excited. There are a couple of things you will have to consider before arrival, among them, accommodation, enrolment of courses for the first block, study materials, permits and visas, moving and plane tickets, payment of tuition fees, application to scholarships, and many more details.

Student accommodations

This is a very important aspect: start searching for a place as soon as possible!
Looking for accommodation is a tough task, most universities in big cities like Utrecht and Amsterdam accommodation for students and you will have to look for a place to rent in the private market. When you apply for a programme and get in, if the university has student accommodations for you or some sort of agreement, they will inform you of deadlines and availability. But, it is true that most students look for a place themselves because there are more options and it tends to be a little cheaper. The private market is either real state agencies or private owners who offer rooms in their properties, most of the times, shared with other students.

A good idea to contact agencies and private owners are Facebook groups. This applies to the whole country and it is the best way to multiply your chances of finding a place.


You will need one. Ov-chipkaarts are public transport card that you need in order to move around the country and pay a considerable less amount of money. If you count with a personal one you can ask the Government for transportation help.

If you live far away from your job or university you can ask the Government to help you pay for transportation. This procedure is always made through DUO.

Since it is very hard to find a place to live close to the universities, the Dutch Government provides students with free-week or free-weekend bonus to allow them to move around the country for free in one of this modalities. As an international student, you can ask for it if you also are contributing, working, in the Netherlands.

Arrival at the university

Institutions like Utrecht University offer meetings all over Europe where former students get to talk about their personal experiences to future candidates. This is not the case for most universities, but there are ways of asking and getting to know the university and its members even before moving to the Netherlands. Sometimes this could also help you find a place, getting to know about student life in the place, etc.

ESN is an international Erasmus Organisation that you can already contact back home and ask for help and guidance once you arrive. Either the ESN or your new Dutch university help international students offering them a pick-up service at the airport or at the Central Station to help you get around

Introduction week

The introduction week starts before your actual programme and it is the best chance to get to know the university, your new professors and classmates. This is the chance you get to make sure you are enrolled in the right programme, to understand the advantages of it and the syllabus you will be working with.

The university will organise activities to get to know you, and for you to get to know more about your classmates, the city and the facilities offered by the university.

8. After Graduation

As it is explained in the Hogeschool section, 95% of the students who go for the applied sciences path end up working on their field of expertise within the first year after graduation. Students who opt for the research path can either continue studying or try to find a job related to their own field, which is a little harder.
In any case, finding a job in the Netherlands is relatively easy: Dutch is not a requirement for most jobs, which makes the whole situation a lot easier.

Being a student and working is also a great option. Not only because you become eligible for the grants and Government help, but also because the Dutch society is used to students working part-time and asking for flexible schedules in order to be able to accomplish everything.

Universities have programmes that help students find a job after graduation. Most MA programmes count with certain credits destined to take an internship at a company or institution: this is not only to gain experience but also to let the companies get in touch with students who can end up being future workers.

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