Picking the right course and Dutch university for you

Picking the right course and Dutch university for you

Choosing to continue your studies and attend university is an exciting and anxious time, as there are many decisions to be made and a long list of things to do before you can even start your studies. 

If you’re thinking about studying in the Netherlands, there are several high-class universities and schools to choose from, depending on what and how you want to study. 

Choosing what to study

If you know that you want to continue your education, the first step is to decide what it is you’d like to study. Do you dream of setting up your own business, or of writing the next international best-seller? If you know what your career goals are, then you probably have a pretty good idea of what you want to study. 

But loads of people finish secondary school and still have no idea what they want to do with their life - and if that’s how you feel, then don’t worry! If you don’t know what to study, then this phase will likely involve quite a lot of research and thinking. You could take an online personality or career quiz to help you decide, or think back to the subjects and activities you enjoyed most at school and when you were growing up. You can also discuss your options and interests with friends and family to hear what they have to say.

It’s worth noting that, in the Netherlands, it’s fairly common for people to start a course and then realise a few weeks or months down the line that it isn’t the right fit for them. So, if you’re going to study here, know you aren’t permanently locked into any decision you make.

Universities in the Netherlands

The 13 main universities in the Netherlands are:

  • Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Utrecht University 
  • VU Amsterdam
  • Wageningen University & Research
  • University of Groningen 
  • University of Maastricht 
  • University of Amsterdam
  • University of Twente
  • University of Leiden
  • Tilburg University
  • Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Eindhoven University of Technology
  • Delft University of Technology

As the Netherlands is fairly small with only a handful of universities, each one is generally renowned for something different. 

Which Dutch university is the right fit?

Okay so, you’ve taken the first step! You’re going to go to university and you know exactly what you want to study - great! But where are you going to be attending lessons in the autumn?

There are a number of things to consider before choosing the right university for you. No matter which route you go down, be prepared for a lot of research - it’s a big decision, so consider your options before settling on any one place of study.


The education system in the Netherlands is pretty different to anything you might have come across before, and it can be exceedingly confusing for anyone unfamiliar with all the different levels, streams, and abbreviations. 

To put it simply, when students finish secondary school, they have a choice between attending either a research university or a university of applied sciences (hogeschool). Students at a research university will take part in a WO course, which is equivalent to any international university education, whereas at a hogeschool it is an HBO course (higher vocational education) which is generally geared more towards the practical labour market.

So which one is right for you? Would you like to do a more practical study or a theoretical one? Would you rather be trained for a specific career, or have the opportunity to research different topics and have more time for self-study?

How does the university rank?

An easy way to get an overview of the different universities and their performance levels is to take a look at different international university rankings. Some of the big ones include Times Higher Education, QS University Rankings, and the Centre for World-Class Universities. Rankings will also typically include information about staff-to-student ratios, the proportion of international students, and post-graduation employment statistics, which can give you a good indication of what life at that institution will be like.

Don’t get too caught up in the overall ranking, as it might differ from the university’s ranking for your specific department. 

What does the course offer?

Each university will offer slightly different courses, so it’s a good idea to do your homework and look at how one course could differ at each institution. For example, universities offering an English Literature degree might focus on certain periods or genres depending on the teaching staff and available resources. 

Most university websites should offer a short overview of the kind of things you can expect to cover on their course, so take a look at a few different places and see which one speaks to you the most.

Also, if you're not planning on learning Dutch, definitely make sure the course you're considering is available in English, otherwise you could be in for a nasty surprise on orientation day!

Go to an open day

This might not be a feasible option for international students, but attending an open day can give you a really good idea of what life on campus looks like and what the university offers outside of the lecture hall. 

Additionally, an open day gives you a chance to explore the local surroundings and accommodation potential. If you can’t be there in person, try and set up an online meeting or attend an online open day so you can get as much information as possible.

Extra-curricular activities and facilities

Of course academics are important, but there’s more to student life than just your studies! Find out what kind of clubs and societies the university has to offer, and see if any of them appeal to you. Dutch universities also have student associations (studentenverenigingen) and study associations (studieverenigingen) which allow students to get more involved in university life and expand their social network.

Most Dutch universities have an international student network too, so you can connect and interact with other students from all around the world. 

Tuition and scholarships at Dutch universities

Going to university can be pretty expensive, so it might be a good idea to look at the scholarships available at the universities you're looking to apply to and see whether any of them are available to you. 

Tuition fees at all Dutch universities are around 2.000 euros for EU / EEA students, but if you're coming from outside of Europe then it's definitely worth looking up the tuition for the course you're considering, as it could be different at each university. The costs of your study could also help you decide which place is the right one for you.

Where could you live?

If you’re not going to be living at home when you start university, it’s useful to take a look at what kind of accommodation is available to you at each university you’re considering. There’s a serious housing shortage in the Netherlands, and student housing is extremely competitive so it’s a good idea to try and sign up and start looking / applying for places as soon as possible. 

Universities themselves also have their own (campus) accommodation, which will generally be offered to international students.

Location, location, location!

It might sound a little shallow compared to some of the other elements on this list, but remember that wherever you choose to study, you’re going to be living there for at least three years, so it’s great if you choose a city that you know you already like. 

If you’re an international student this could be a little tricky, as you might not be familiar with the geography of the Netherlands and the big Dutch cities.

Good luck!

Once you’ve found the right school for you, you can get ready to start your life as a student in the Netherlands. Not sure where to start? Here’s a handy checklist for any international students about to start a course in the Netherlands.

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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