Complete guide to the Dutch Higher Education System

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    Maybe you had finally received confirmation for enrollment at one of the most prestigious Dutch colleges, or maybe you are still considering whether to apply to one of the top universities in the Netherlands or not. Regardless of your reasoning behind clicking on this article, if you are in doubt about how exactly the higher education system works in the Netherlands, below we have covered up all the main topics of interest.

    Universities in the Netherlands

    The Dutch Universities offer over 2,100 English-taught programmes in various cities spread all over the country. Some of the preferred places for students to pursue their higher-education include Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Groningen, Eindhoven, The Hague, Tilburg and Utrecht.  

    Students can apply to three types of degrees in the Netherlands:

    • Undergraduate (Bachelor)
    • Postgraduate (Masters)
    • PhD

    Types of Degrees


    Bachelor’s programmes in the Netherlands are divided into two main spheres of interest: universities of applied sciences (hogescholen; HBO) and research universities (universiteiten; WO). Other educational organisations provided by the Dutch system are Institutes for International Education and University Colleges

    Research Universities (WO)

    Undergraduate degrees at a research university usually take up to three years to complete. As the name implies, the focus of professors at a WO faculty is to prepare their students to become the future generation of researchers in humanities studies and science.  

    There are 18 Research Universities in The Netherlands. Popular choices among international students include:

    Universities of Applied Sciences (HBO)

    HBO studies require 3 to 4 years to complete, as they tend to focus on the practical aspect of preparing for a future career. Students enrolled in an Applied Sciences programme usually consider working in fields such as design, engineering, IT or teaching. In the Netherlands, there are around 43 universities of Applied Sciences, including: 

    Institute for International Education (IE)

    These academic institutions offer courses, often Master or PhDs, to teach the participants skills in various fields. The classes frequently encourage a multicultural environment so students can exchange knowledge and experiences with peers from different parts of the world. There are a total of 6 IE degrees in the Netherlands which students can opt for, some of which are integrated into the curriculum of research Universities. 

    University College

    University Colleges offer honours programmes for students already enrolled in a Dutch university. Their aim is to select the students performing the best academically from diverse faculties to expand their field of knowledge in topics beyond their main sphere of studies.

    Depending on the college, the requirements to enrol in such a programme differ. Some universities may ask you for an interview, your grades or a motivation letter, therefore, if you consider applying for such a programme, do check this in advance.

    Master’s degree

    Master’s programmes last between one and three years and they primarily help students further specialise in their chosen career. One can apply for a Master’s course only if they have earned their undergraduate diploma.

    PhD (Doctorate)

    PhDs in the Netherlands usually require at least 4 years of dedicated involvement to complete. Universities often offer PhD candidates the possibility to work along with researching for their thesis. The thesis, like in any other academic system is supervised by an expert professor.

    University of Amsterdam
    University of Amsterdam

    Structure of the year & Courses

    One academic year in the Netherlands lasts from September to June. The year is divided into 2 semesters and each semester further consists of two blocks. In total, students have to complete 4 blocks of lectures, seminars and/or tutorials for around 3 to 4 courses per block. 

    Additionally, students have to complete graded or ungraded assignments either individually or in groups. At the end of a block (in most cases after 7 weeks) students have to take written and/or oral exams.

     Most universities strive to offer state-of-the-art facilities for their students, so do not be startled if your future exams or some of your courses will take place on an online platform. Furthermore, especially during Bachelor’s degrees, students can apply to a Minor, an exchange programme or an internship in their final year.

    Popular Modes of Assessment in the Netherlands

    Depending on the field of study you opted for, your future assignments & exams will include

    • Open-Book Exams
    • Essays or Academic Journal Articles
    • Individual or Group Presentations
    • Quizzes (usually online)
    • Multiple Choice Exams
    • Practical Exams
    • Take-Home Exams
    • Dissertations
    • Research Proposals


    In the Netherlands, for completion of an academic year students need to accumulate a total of 60 ECTS. A student’s workload is measured in ECTS credits (The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System), which are recognised in most countries. 

    The grading system used in the Netherlands is on a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 10 (the highest). The passing grade is 5.5 for most programmes. Keep in mind that grades like 9 and 10 are hardly given, so do not be shocked if your grades seem lower than in your previous studies.

    Furthermore, you must complete a minimum of 45 ECTs in your first year to receive a positive Binding Study Advice and have permission to advance to the second year. If you receive a negative BSA, you must wait a full two academic years before having permission to continue with your studies, or you may retake the first year in exceptional circumstances.

    Tuition fees

    Tuition fees differ for EU/EEA students and non-EU students.

    For EU/EEA students the fee was around 2080 Euros for the 2019-2020 academic year. The tuition fee is recalculated each year and may suffer modifications, so consult in advance on the official website of your university how much you will have to pay for the following year. Moreover, the Dutch government has halved the fee for first-year students enrolled in an undergraduate programme.

    For non-EU students, the fee varies from 6,000 to 20,000 euros depending on the degree chosen.

    TIP: You may be eligible for student finance offered by the Dutch government.

    The tuition fee loan is offered to any EU/ EEA citizen with a BSN number and a Dutch bank account. Remember that, in both cases, depending on your family’s income and your future salary, you will have to pay back the loan, partially or in full, in monthly instalments.

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