Navigating the Belgian university system with its different languages and structures can be quite tricky. This guide will help you find your way, allowing you to decide exactly what and where you want to study.
What do you want to study?
Belgium has a huge number of different courses in different languages, from medicine taught in French, to cinema studies in English. Lots of choice if you are not yet decided on the subject you want to study!
The OECD Education at a Glance 2019 review found that arts, humanities, social sciences and journalism are the most popular fields of study in Belgium, but the fields of medicine and engineering are also growing. Belgium is particularly attractive for those who are keen to study business, politics, or international relations. It is the political centre of Europe and is a hub of great opportunities for work experience. For instance, the European Commission takes on 1,200 student trainees per year to help out with achieving the ambitions of the EU and uphold treaties between the countries of Europe.
Where do you want to study?
The decision of where to study in Belgium is heavily affected by the subject you want to study.
In Belgium, you will find two types of institutions - universities and university colleges - across the Flanders, Walloon and Brussels regions. Universities award academic bachelor’s degrees, preparing students for further study and research. Typical subjects range from languages and philosophy, to engineering and medicine. University colleges, on the other hand, award professional bachelor’s degrees, preparing students for future careers with a vocational focus. They open up the chance to study more specific subjects like agrotechnology at University College Ghent, nautical sciences at the Antwerp Maritime Academy, or public relations at Vesalius College. Overall, this means that your decision between a Belgian university or university college will be determined by the subject you want to learn.
In which language do you want to study?
You’ll need to check which university or university college teaches the programme you want in the right language. This will be largely influenced by the primary language of each region.
The Dutch-speaking community lives in Flanders, so you’ll find degree programmes are taught in Dutch or English there. On the other hand, you’ll find programmes taught in French and English in the predominantly French-speaking region, Walloon. If you’re attracted to the capital city life in Brussels though, you will find programmes taught in Dutch, French and English. Students wanting to study their degree programme in German often travel to Germany for university.
These are a lot of programmes to think about! Unifrog’s European universities search tool will help you to find Belgian programmes taught in English.
The language of the region is important because, even if your course is taught in English, you’ll still need to be able to use the local language in day-to-day life. If the different regions of Belgium are difficult to get your head around, go to Study in Belgium: the country’s regions explained for a simple guide.
Which university or university college do you want to apply to?
You’ll then need to decide which specific institutions to apply to. There are only 11 public universities in Belgium - five in Flanders and six in the Wallonia-Brussels region - and a few more university colleges. This means it’s quite easy to consider all the public universities that offer your course and location you want.
Programmes are generally taught through a mixture of core lectures, seminars, electives and research projects. Exams can be oral, written and practical. Make sure to read faculty websites to find a programme teaching style that suits you. If you’re looking for a hands-on research experience, for example, you’ll find that seven of the country’s universities were in the top 400 of the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities 2020 based on measures of their research performance.
Do you meet the entry requirements?
Before applying to an institution, it’s important to check that you meet their academic and language requirements.
Some universities in Belgium ask for specific grades to be achieved before they consider you for a place on a programme. Their international entry requirements will be found on their websites. For example, if you’re from the UK and want to study Engineering in English at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in 2021/22, you’ll need at least three B grades at A-Level, including maths and one science subject.
Other universities only ask for passing grades, rather than specific high grades that you need to meet. Because of this, the entry requirements may appear lower, or an international grade standard will not be set. This will often be followed up by an entrance exam before you are accepted to a course. Sometimes a competitive exam is also set at the end of your first year of study to decide which students can go on to the programme’s second year.
Universities that take this approach often ask international applicants to apply for an ‘equivalence’ document. This document assesses the level of qualification you have achieved in another country against Belgian grades. For instance, AAB A-Level grades are generally equivalent to 75% CESS (Belgium’s Certificat d'Enseignement Secondaire Supérieur) and BCC grades would be about 65% CESS. Because of this, it’s a good idea to check with admissions offices well in advance of applying. That way, you’ll definitely have all the information you need, plus an idea of the A-Level grades to aim for.
Each individual programme page will have information about the language proficiency tests needed for students studying in a language different to their own.
Ready to apply?
For those students from the EU or EEA, application deadlines tend to be in June. For those students needing a visa from outside the EU and EAA, deadlines for applications tend to fall in March. This will mean that you need to prepare documentation to apply early on in the year.
If you feel ready to apply, take a look at Study in Belgium: making an application for more detail on admissions processes, language tests and visas.