Student societies in the Netherlands: what you need to know

The Netherlands has an incredibly rich student life, where students are encouraged to take on extracurricular activities. These are mostly in the form of student associations (studentenverenigingen), sometimes known as Dutch student societies

For those of you fresh off the plane and settling into your new student life in the Netherlands, you may have already experienced the Dutch introduction week known as introductieweek.

It’s basically a bombardment of banners, leaflets, and free pens, during which tall local students convince you to sign up for student clubs.  

This can be quite overwhelming, after which you walk away wondering what exactly you signed up for. Was that an academic club, an association, or some kind of sorority or fraternity? The lines get a little blurry when it comes to student groups in the Netherlands. 

What kind of student associations are in the Netherlands?

Student associations in the Netherlands exist for almost everything. From soccer, politics, rowing, LGBTQ, history, art, street dance, debating, a religious group, vegans, international students, nationalities, and more!

Generally, Dutch student societies are divided into five different groups: 

  • Social associations (Gezelligheidsverenigingen) — existing primarily to socialise and make the most out of student years.
  • Study associations (Studieverenigingen) — with a focus on your degree area.
  • Sports associations (Sportverenigingen) — for a particular sport.
  • Religious associations (Religieuze studentenverenigingen) — for members of certain religions or faiths.
  • Other associations (Overige studentenverenigingen) — anything else you can think of!

What are the perks of joining a society in the Netherlands?

Outside-of-De-Harmonie-stuent-association-in-Groningen
This could be your new home! Image: Bert Kaufmann/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

If you want to integrate into Dutch life while studying in the Netherlands, joining a society is a great idea.

Of course, it’s not without challenges. But in general, you can take advantage of some sweet benefits. Here are just a few!

Networking and student life

Student associations are a quick way to meet people and make friends (OMG totally BFF, like for reals). You’ll have to be up for learning a new language and willing to throw yourself into all the parties and activities.

If that’s the case, then student associations will be a great way to meet some friendly people. 

Of course, for international students, breaking into those tight Dutch circles can be a little more complicated. Many internationals are master’s students and are only around for a year or so.

They have a reputation for taking their studies more seriously — I mean, none of us flew across the planet to fail — so tend to have lower commitment levels to societies than local students. 

The result is that student associations sometimes put less effort into attracting internationals. Unfortunately, this can create a bit of an anti-international vibe. 

It’s also natural that many societies in the Netherlands operate in Dutch, making it difficult for internationals to feel a part of things.

There are sororities and fraternities that are specifically international, but this might not be ideal if you’d actually like to make some Dutch friends. 

If you would like the benefits of joining a student association with a bit less pressure, opt into an international student association, like ESN. Most of the students will be in the same boat as you, but there will also be some Dutchies floating around that love hanging with foreigners. 

Housing

As you may know already, there’s a nationwide housing crisis in the Netherlands, especially in student cities. 

Now we’re not here to say that joining a student association will score you an awesome place to live. However, finding a place to stay is easier when you’ve built up a network — especially if you have some Dutchies mixed into your social circles.

Meanwhile, some fraternities and sororities have student houses that will only accept members. 

Job market

In the student community, joining a student society is said to seriously help your career out.

I’ve heard stories of internships and other jobs being made possible because of a shared society membership with the employer (which many still boast about long after graduating). 

Obviously, you’re not going to magically get a job just because you joined a student association. But it certainly doesn’t hurt, especially considering that finding a job in the Netherlands as an international student can be pretty tough. 

How do I join a student association in the Netherlands?

Dutch-men-wearing-suits-at-a-student-society-party
A great way to make friends and a guaranteed party invite. Image: mild_swearwords/Wikimedia Commons/CC2.5

The easiest way to take part in a student association is by showing up to introductieweek (introduction week). Here, almost all student societies will be represented and looking for new members — like yourself! 

If you happen to miss introductieweek, check in with your university to see if it has a list of student societies, or do a quick Google search. You never know what student association will catch your eye — and you may just end up making some killer friends along the way 😉

Are you, or were you, part of a student association while studying in the Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Pexels

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in April 2021, and was fully updated in July 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Emily Burger
Emily Burger
Emily grew up in South Africa but has also lived in Egypt, the UK, Canada and now the Netherlands. She first came here for her Bachelors in Arts and Culture at Maastricht University and soon fell in love with the land of canals, clogs and cheese. When she's not daydreaming about sci-fi movies or countries yet to explore, you can find her writing for DutchReview.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Wish you would’ve touched as well the dark side of those societies, referring to the Dutch ones. Elitism& racism are the main issues going on, besides the illegal bus parties.
    Funny, I wonder how long you looked for a picture where there is other representation than the predominantly white.
    I am an international student and besides that I bartender in Amsterdam and served for years a couple of those elitist groups, I feel you are painting a much prettier picture than there it is.
    I’m saying this with absolutely all the respect for your work and I’m not trying to be a bummer, however would love to hear/ read more about the dark sides of the society we live in.

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