Preparing to apply to study abroad and navigating a new admissions process can feel like a struggle. Not to worry though - Unifrog is here to help you get organised! This guide will help you work through the decisions you need to make if you’re thinking of applying to study in the Netherlands.
What do you want to study?
When you apply to a Dutch university, you apply for a specific programme rather than to a faculty or college. This means that you need to have made your decision about exactly which subject and programme you’re interested in before applying.
The Netherlands has a range of degrees to choose from, catering to over 300,000 students in higher education each year. So whatever you want to study, there’s a good chance of finding a programme that’s right for you! You might want to consider the Netherlands’ particular strengths when you choose a programme. For instance, the country is a popular place to study technology, design, and engineering, with a wide range of STEM-focussed companies for graduates to choose from after they complete their degrees. Delft University of Technology is even ranked 2nd in the world for architecture by QS University World Rankings 2020!
Teaching is generally focussed on self-study and building good personal relations between students and their faculty staff. For instance, most tutorials take place in small groups of students, and coursework will involve group work led by a member of staff. It’s a good idea to do your research before applying to see if the teaching approach is suited to the way you want to learn your subject.
Studying a minor
While you’re studying, some universities will allow you to choose a ‘minor’. This is an extra subject that you can explore alongside your main programme for the equivalent of half an academic year of your bachelor’s. This gives you the option to broaden your knowledge, make links to new topics, and look at your main programme from a different perspective.
At this stage in applying for a bachelor’s degree, you don’t need to worry about choosing a minor. Applications for minor programmes don’t take place until later in your studies once you’ve enrolled and passed the first year of your degree. Though, if you’re already keen to broaden your studies or use a minor to prepare for a master’s, you’ll want to use this early opportunity to check whether your university offers minors as an option.
Where do you want to study?
There are two main types of higher education institutions in the Netherlands. These include 13 research universities and 41 Universities of Applied Sciences.
Research universities teach the fundamentals, theory, and methodology of subjects. This allows students to further research and investigate their subject of choice in the future. Typical subjects range from languages and philosophy, to geography and medicine. Bachelors programmes tend to be three years in length, with two 20-week academic terms per year.
Universities of Applied Sciences
Universities of Applied Sciences (UASs) - or ‘hogescholen’ in Dutch - tend to concentrate on practical skills and the application of scientific knowledge in a professional setting. Bachelor’s programmes at UASs are generally three or four years long, with opportunities for work placements, studying a minor, and close relationships with industry. Programmes cover fields such as engineering, computer science, business management, and design. For example, you could choose to apply for Media and Game Technologies at Breda UAS, Hotel Management at NHL Stenden UAS, or Food Technology at HAS UAS.
In which language do you want to study?
You’ll need to check which university or UAS teaches the programme you want in the right language: Dutch is the main language of teaching in the Netherlands. However, beside the UK and Ireland, the Netherlands actually has the widest range of degree programmes offered in English of any European country! With well over 350 degree programmes taught in English to choose from, you can take a look at Unifrog’s European universities search tool for help with your search.
As you prepare, it’s important to know whether you’ll need proof of language proficiency with your application. You may need to book an appointment at a test centre in order to get a proficiency certificate, so check if you need this early on.
Many universities in the Netherlands use the NT2 Programme II Dutch language test to see if your proficiency is high enough. Others have their own language tests, so make sure to check individual programme websites for this information. Sitting the NT2 test will cost 180 EUR. It involves reading, writing, listening, and speaking sections. These are all tested in centres in the Netherlands, so be prepared to travel to the country at least once before your programme starts. This is a good opportunity to check out the local area to make sure you’ll be happy if you’re successful with your application.
When you apply for an English-taught programme, you’ll need to prove your knowledge of the language by sitting a TOEFL, IELTS, or Cambridge Assessment test. The costs of these can range 50-150 EUR. Universities will usually state the test and score needed for particular programmes on their websites. They will also provide details of exemptions from these tests if you're a native speaker or if you have already studied in English at secondary school.
Whether you sit a Dutch or English language proficiency test, missing a test date will mean that you have to pay the fee again to re-sit the test. If you miss a university application deadline, your language test result will still be valid for up to two years if you want to apply again. Of course, try not to miss any deadlines or dates at all if you can help it!
Do you meet the entry requirements?
Before applying to an institution, check that you meet their academic and language requirements. The Netherlands has an ‘open admissions’ approach to applications for university. This means that your school leaving certificate acts as a way of showing that you have met the minimum standard of education to move on to degree-level study. There are no set grades that you need to achieve, besides completing secondary school and its exams. This ‘minimum standard’ approach differs from countries like the UK and Finland where individual degree programmes specify which grades to aim for when you’re taking secondary school exams.
Some countries’ secondary school exams are recognised by the Dutch higher education system and so no extra tests or certificates are required when students from these countries submit their education transcripts. Your transcript effectively becomes your way of showing you have met the minimum standard for moving on to a degree. In all cases, if you are not certain that your country’s secondary school qualification is enough to apply, contact your university’s admissions office. They will be able to tell you either way.
You might be asked for further grades or certificates depending on which subject you study. For example, to study Psychology at the University of Amsterdam, you’ll need to have studied Maths to Level 3 in your home country (the equivalent of an Advanced Placement certificate from the US, or A-Level certificate from the UK for instance).
If you’re applying from an EU country, or from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland, and have a school-leaving certificate that qualifies you for higher education in your own country, it will generally also allow you to study in the Netherlands.
If you’re applying from the UK, you’ll need a minimum of 3 A-Levels in relevant subjects with grades C and higher. Relevant BTEC Level 3 Extended Diplomas will be considered for programmes at UASs, although they will generally not be treated as equivalent to A-Levels.
US applicants need to have a High School Diploma and at least four Advanced Placement certificates with grades 3-5.
A small number of programmes at Dutch universities have a limited number of places available to students. These are called numerus fixus programmes and are more selective than the usual ‘open admissions’ approach. You’ll find that this is often the case for popular programmes like medicine, economics, and psychology.
Your programme webpage will tell you whether it is numerus fixus or not. It’s important to know this because there are different deadlines and processes for these types of programmes. Head over to our guide ‘Study in the Netherlands: selective programmes’ to learn more about numerus fixus programmes in the Netherlands.
Ready to apply?
Now that you’ve decided which programmes you want to study, you’ll need to find out the deadlines for your application.
The application window for Dutch universities usually opens in the first week of October for the following academic year. If your programme is a numerus fixus, the deadline will be in January. If not, you’ll have until April to submit your application. Some universities and programmes have their own selection processes, so make sure to follow the guidance you find on their webpages.
When you’re ready to apply, head to ‘Study in the Netherlands: making an application’ for more detail on admissions processes and visas.
Good stuff from elsewhere
Dutch language test
Information on the official exams for Dutch as a second language, including registration and cost information.
IELTS English test
Information about the English language proficiency test.
TOEFL English test
Information about the English language proficiency test.