7 handy things to know before starting your university hunt in the Netherlands

If you’re considering the Netherlands for higher education, you’ve made a great choice

Lots of internationals want to study in the land of cheese and tulips, from affordability to a big international community, there’s a lot to enjoy!

But before anything, here are a few things everyone should know before they start their university hunt in the Netherlands.

1. There are different levels of Dutch higher education 

Dutch higher education is divided up into two main types: wetenschappelijk onderwijs, WO (research-oriented higher education) and hoger beroepsonderwijs, HBO (higher professional education). Try saying those three times fast!

woman-studying-dutch-in-library-using-textbooks-to-learn
University studies are rigorous all around the Netherlands. Image: Wavebreakmedia/Depositphotos

WO is focused on applying scientific knowledge to solve scientific problems. Students do a lot of research and writing at a universiteit (university), they take exams, and occasionally do internships and traineeships depending on their programme. 

HBO, on the other hand, educates students for a specific profession at a hogeschool (university of applied sciences). The programmes are oriented towards practical experience rather than research. Students usually do a year of work placement to get experience in their field. 

Depending on what suits your interests, learning style, and career goals, the options are open! If you are interested in doing a PhD, you’ll need a master’s degree at WO level (in the Netherlands, or something equivalent from elsewhere!)

2. It’s incredibly difficult to score perfect marks

Dreaming of straight A’s? No such luck. All assessments at Dutch universities are graded from a 1-10 scale — but a 10 is almost impossible. 

A passing grade is typically 5.5 or 6, and the average grades fall in between a 6 and an 8. If you’re seeking those elusive 9s and 10s, you’ll need to readjust your expectations: such high scores are seldom given by teachers because there’s a focus on finding things to improve on. 

Dutch GradeDescriptionAmerican GradeUK Grade
10ExcellentA++70%
9Very GoodA++70%
8GoodA+70%
7Very SatisfactoryB+60% – 69%
6SatisfactoryB-50-59%
5Almost SatisfactoryF40-49%
4UnsatisfactoryFBelow 40%
3Very UnsatisfactoryFBelow 40%
2PoorFBelow 40%
1Very PoorFBelow 40%

3. You need to start your housing search as soon as you can

Settling into a new country can take a lot of time and it’s not the easiest process. You may not have heard about it but there is a huge housing shortage in the Netherlands. Many international students are left with a permanent address, easily becoming one of the biggest problems for students when they first move here. 

READ MORE | Student housing in the Netherlands: your guide to finding a room in 2021

Woman-working-on-her-laptop-while-sitting-on-the-couch
Housing can be a really tough process — the sooner you start, the better! Image: fizkes/Depositphotos

We recommend starting your housing search at least three months in advance, speaking with your university’s international office, and constantly checking up on student housing websites like Kamernet and Studentenwoningweb to get a head start. 

4. Getting your visa can be bureaucratic — but your university should help

Of course, as part of any international travel and education, non-EU students must be equipped with a student visa and residence permit to study in the Netherlands. Whether you’re an expert or it’s your first time moving abroad, organising visas and immigration documents can be really draining. 

But great news: universities will usually process these documents for you (or at least help)! Along with the IND, or Immigratie- en Naturalisatiedienst (Immigration and Naturalisation Services) your school should handle your documents, and give you a hand where you need it. 

5. The average study programme length is shorter than most

An average bachelor’s degree at WO level is only three years long, while an HBO bachelor’s degree is four years.  

A double bachelor degree can be anywhere between three to five years long depending on the specialisations and combinations. Master’s degrees are often one to two years long, save for medicine, dentistry, veterinary sciences, and pharmacy (which are almost exclusively offered in Dutch). 

Group-of-young-gradutes-throw-their-graduate-caps-in-the-air
The average student in the Netherlands graduates sooner than most undergraduates. Image: luckyraccoon/Depositphotos

This could be a huge advantage if you’re coming from somewhere that has higher tuition fees — a shorter study term may mean less money to spend on your degree overall!

6. Transferring to another study in the Netherlands is really difficult

Dutch universities don’t have a “general education” year with standardised subjects like many universities in other countries. Without this general education year, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room to shift to a new study programme and academic credits are usually not transferable across universities. 

To join a new programme, you have to drop out of your current course and wait until the next application period for your new course. 

7. Study in English, maar de rest in Nederlands 

The Dutch pride themselves in being the best non-native English speakers in the world but that doesn’t mean you can get by with English alone. 

Three-students-standing-around-a-laptop-and-books-studying-Dutch
Learning Dutch as a student is a big advantage. Image: GaudiLab/Depositphotos

A lot of people do speak English (in supermarkets, in cafés and restaurants, etc.) but a lot of formal communication from healthcare to the Belastingdienst (Tax and Customs Administration) will come in Dutch. If you’re living in another country, it’s a great opportunity to learn the local language — even if just enough to order some coffee!

TIP: There are plenty of free ways to learn Dutch that you can integrate into daily life!


And there you have it, 7 handy things to know before you start university hunting in the Netherlands! Thinking about future education and career plans can be really stressful and we totally get it — we’re here to help!

What’s something you didn’t know about the Netherlands until you moved here? Tell us what you learned in the comments!

Feature Image: Dom Fou/Unsplash

Katrien Nivera 🇵🇭
Third culture kid Katrien is a Philippine native living in the Netherlands to finish her master's degree in political communication. You can usually find her trying to organize everything on Notion and the sticky notes app, otherwise, she’s nose-deep in a good book or obsessing over film soundtracks and video games.

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