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A guide to applying to Dutch universities

Choosing the right subjects can set up a student for life. Make sure your child starts the IB on the right foot by speaking with an EIB Consultant to pick the perfect subjects.

Applying to university in the Netherlands is an exciting opportunity for students to explore another part of the world academically and socially. Below we break down the key stages of applying to university in Holland, offering some advice on things to look out for.

Key statistics

15th Jan 2021: Competitive Numerus Fixus courses close earlier than most non-selective courses so applications will need to be entered earlier.

1st May 2021: Deadline for most Dutch courses (except competitive courses). Students must have set up Studielink account by this time.

4 weeks: Students are likely to receive an offer within 4 weeks of applying for Numerus Fixus courses. For non-selective courses, passing the IB diploma meets all academic requirements for the university course, and therefore students are unlikely to receive a further academic condition in their offer

An example of the application process for Political Science at Leiden university can be seen below. This course is more competitive than most, and so is limited to 600 students (this makes it a ‘Numerus Fixus’ course – please see the Numerus Fixus section below). Consequently, students also need to submit their grade average, a motivational letter and undertake an online test.

If you want help guiding you through the application process, from your IB Diploma grades to your motivational letter or online test, you can find it here where we explain all of our admissions offers.

Financial comparison

The fees at Dutch universities are much lower than those at English universities for EU citizens and non-EU citizens alike. The first year fees for EU students have recently been halved from £1,860 to £930 per year, with students undertaking teacher training eligible for 2 years of reduced fees. By comparison, English fees for home and EU students are up to £9,250 per year.

International (non-EU) students studying in the Netherlands will pay between £5400 and £13,500 per year. These are still lower than the comparative figures in England of £9,250 to £27,700 per year.

However, much less support is offered with regards to tuition and maintenance loans in the Netherlands than in the UK. In the Netherlands, EU passport holders are entitled to a loan to cover their tuition fees as in the UK (although this loan will be smaller in the Netherlands due to their lower tuition fees). However, in the Netherlands students from the UK who have not resided in Holland for more than 5 years and do not work over 56 hours per month are not entitled to any maintenance loans. For more information on the conditions, please see this article from Study in Holland. By comparison, UK students can qualify for up to £11,672 per year.

With regards to repayments, tuition loans are repaid over 15 years in Holland, whilst maintenance loans are repaid over 35 years. The Dutch tuition loan currently has a 0.00% interest rate whilst the Dutch maintenance loan has 0.81% interest rate, although these are liable to change. Loans made by Finance England are currently repaid over 30 years and are written off if not fully repaid after this time period. The current interest rate for Finance England loans is 3.3% (RPI) if you earn below £25,725 per year, increasing to 6.3% (3% + RPI) for anyone earning over £46,305 per year.  

Therefore, it is believed that, for the average student, studying in Holland will be cheaper than studying in the UK, due to smaller tuition, living and accommodation costs.

Studielink and your choices

Studielink is the Dutch equivalent of UCAS. It is used to confirm your student status and often as part of the application process (please see below) to submit your university choices. Many students may have become accustomed to the central place UCAS holds within the British system; however, due to the different university types and admission procedures in the Netherlands, you should contact individual universities about their application process. Please note that Studielink may only be reachable via post, so it is key that you note down your login details and check that you have a confirmation email confirming your account when it is set up before you proceed.

Firstly, you will need to register using the registration page below:

You will then need to enter your personal details, including your previous education. Although please be aware that, unlike through UCAS, you cannot enter individual GCSEs or A-levels in this field. Please contact the university you are applying to discuss the best way to give these to them should your course require them. It is worth noting at this point that you can apply to UK universities through UCAS and Dutch universities through Studielink at the same time. This will keep your options open as you look to make your university choices.

Following this, you will be required to make your choices, which can contain up to 4 courses, of which up to 2 can be selective Numerus Fixus courses. If you wish to study Medicine (which is very often only available in Dutch, although please see the courses at Groningen and Maastricht that are offered in English), only 1 of these options can be a medicine course.

You will then need to confirm your identity, which requires you to notify the university of your intention to apply for their course so that they can correspond with Studielink, confirming this is you. If you currently live in the Netherlands this process will be automated. Please also regularly check Studielink for any additional application details that need to be filled in; for example, a CV, motivational letter or online test. Finally, you will be required to begin the process of paying your tuition fees. Entering these details will not set up a direct debit or recurring payment, but will enable the Studielink to pass your details on to the university.

Although this process can be tricky at the best of times, it is key that all of the above details are correct and it is, unfortunately, a part of the process of applying to a university, in any country. If you have any questions about this process, Study in Holland has some very useful summative guidance.

If you would like help applying to UK universities through UCAS we offer a range of free talks that discuss this. If you want a more personalised experience, we have a team with a wealth of experience that offer consultations about UCAS admissions.

Numerus Fixus

“Numerus Fixus” or “Numerus Clausus” both translate as “fixed numbers” and limit the number of students admitted to a particular course. These will typically be more competitive courses, such as Law and Medicine, but also applies extensively to Psychology and Business Administration. To see a full list of the course requirements at Dutch universities, we break them down here.

Places used to be allocated via a lottery but Dutch universities are now allowed to choose which students they accept in a process known as “decentralised selection”. This makes the (small) number of degrees that are Numerus Fixus more competitive and often means grades are weighted higher than they are for other courses. For example, to study Biology at Radboud university, which has a fixed number of 200 students per year, you must achieve 30 points (excluding core) which is above Radboud’s standard 24 points offer. The number of students per course will vary so it is essential you check the course pages at your chosen university. You should also be aware that the deadline for Numerus Fixus courses is 15th January for 2019 (4 months earlier than for standard courses which have a 1st May deadline).

Numerus Fixus courses may also require additional documents as part of their application process, with a CV and motivational letter often being sent along with your (predicted) diploma score. Moreover, Numerus Fixus courses often also hold an online exam and an assessment day that will take place in late February to early March. It is recommended that you attend these assessment days as this will help you make a good first impression and also enable you to look around the university. If you receive an offer you will be notified by Studielink in mid-April and will normally have 2 weeks to accept or decline it.

Structure of your Application

Applications to Dutch universities will often require a CV and motivational letter and may, for Numerus Fixus courses, also involve assessment days where further tests or interviews will be conducted. Both Utrecht university and Amsterdam university publish advice and tips for writing a CV and motivational letter which are very much worth reading!

Please do, however, go beyond the general advice and personalise your CV and motivational letter to the advice from your course (as Amsterdam do, tailoring their CV advice to the PPE course). As with a personal statement, it is important to show your passion for your course, be that through super-curricular activities, additional research or any other opportunities around your course.

If you need help writing a personal statement for UK universities, please see our article on Crafting the perfect personal statement for some advice and tips.

If you progress with your CV and motivational letter, you may be invited to interview at one or more of the universities you have applied for. Some universities do not make it mandatory for you to visit the university for your interview, conducting them over Skype instead. However, visiting the university is both a good chance to make a positive impression and look around where you may be studying over the coming 3 or 4 years.

Please see the links below for links to advice on interview questions at a selection of Dutch universities:

Amsterdam, Amsterdam university College, VU Amsterdam, Delft, Eindhoven, Erasmus, Groningen, Leiden, Maastricht, Tilburg, Utrecht, Twente, Wageningen.

The best point of contact for your admissions questions is the university you are applying to. These will be able to reply with detailed information on the application process, specific to their university and the course you want to apply for.

If you want that extra edge when applying to UK universities, please consider contacting us regarding our consultation services. We are able to offer advice on university and course selection, entrance tests and personal statement support amongst a host of other support.

Matching/Study check

‘Matching’ or ‘Study check’ is a feature of the Netherlands university application process that does not have an equivalent stage in the UCAS process. This is designed to check that you are sufficiently motivated for your course at your chosen university. Utrecht university use an online questionnaire about your motivations and expectations about the course and a day at the university where you will attend lectures, review course materials and sit a test.

It is worth noting that matching will not influence your chances of being admitted to the course you have applied for, but will inform you whether there may be a course more suited to you that the university offers. This is a useful opportunity to make use of the fact that you can change your 4 options on Studielink up to the relevant deadline to apply (15th January or 1st of May). Ultimately, matching will help you to choose the right course for you at a university that suits who you are and what you want to become.

Whilst some universities such as Amsterdam make the matching process mandatory, if you do not want to participate in the matching process some universities such as Utrecht do not make it mandatory for international students to participate. Nevertheless, it is worth reiterating that matching is designed to be a positive and beneficial process for students.

Learning at Dutch universities

The structure of the first year at Dutch universities acts as a “probationary period” to confirm that you can cope with the demands of university in the Netherlands. It is worth bearing in mind this fact when considering the attraction of seemingly low offers from Dutch universities. Indeed, Study in Holland recommend a minimum of BBB at A-level, which equates to 33 in the International Baccalaureate using the UCAS points tariff. Moreover, individual courses will make recommendations; for example, a 4 in Higher Level Mathematics is recommended to study Actuarial Science at Amsterdam university, despite the offer not requiring this.

The quality of teaching at all Dutch universities is reviewed every 6 years by NVAO (Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders) as per instruction by the Dutch and Flemish government. Moreover, under the EU’s Bologna process, the European Union guarantee that all degrees are taught at a similar standard across Europe, so you can be assured that the quality of teaching in the Netherlands will be as good as at a UK university.

Similarly, it is worth noting that the curricula at Dutch universities may differ slightly from their UK counterparts due to their focus on the Dutch or European system. For example, it is interesting to compare Global law at Tilburg with European Law at Maastricht and Law in society at VU Amsterdam. Speaking to current students and lecturers as well as looking at the course syllabus is key to finding the right course for you.

If you want to check the entry requirements for different courses, please also see our UK and Dutch summary sheets describing the entry requirements for universities in these countries.

Foundation year

Your International Baccalaureate, if undertaken in English, will qualify as evidence of sufficient English language ability. However, if you are unable to meet your English language requirements, or cannot currently meet the academic offer made by the university, it is possible to undertake a foundation year. This will strengthen your knowledge base in the subject of your choosing and your language skills. You will progress on to the Undergraduate course after one year you pass. Indeed, Twente university offers a foundation pathway that, if passed, guarantees you access to any undergraduate choice of your choosing. Similarly, Wittenborg university of Applied Sciences offer a foundation programme for English and Business for those who do not have the necessary English requirements. It is worthwhile searching your course website in case this applies to your course.

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3 kinds of universities

The Netherlands has 3 main groups of universities: Research, Applied Sciences and University Colleges. Below we break down the differences between the 3 different groups.


Research universities, such as Delft, Eindhoven and Leiden, are most similar to the style of UK universities in that they typically offer 3-year courses that emphasise academic rigour. There are 14 research universities, of which 12 offer courses in English. A full guide to their 110 Bachelor’s degrees can be found here. Cohorts normally range from 3,000 to 60,000 and a total of 240,000 students study at Dutch research universities.

Class sizes tend to be larger at research universities and focus on the academic aspects of a course. You will develop critical thinking and analytical skills that will enable you to do further research into your field of study. This is usually partnered with more independent study and fewer contact hours at these universities. This could provide a greater number of opportunities for research after university as well as providing a path into professional work. The university of Groningen gives a very useful account of research universities and their key features.

Applied Sciences

universities of applied sciences are more abundant than research universities in the Netherlands, with 446,000 students studying at 36 applied science universities. Of the 300 degrees offered in English at these universities, they are all 3 or 4 years, including 1 year of work experience. Some also offer an opportunity to study abroad opportunities.

The subjects offered often do not cross over with those at research universities, with Law and Business being 2 key exceptions. Both of these extensively popular courses are offered at research and applied sciences universities. Nevertheless, those who want to focus on enhancing skills needed for work may be advantaged going to an applied science university, due to their focus on practical skills needed for the workplace. The work you will be doing at applied sciences universities will have a greater emphasis on teamwork, teaching and practical skills; whereas research universities will, mostly, focus on the academic approach to study. Whichever method you prefer, it is definitely recommended that you visit the university and talk to current staff members and their students about how courses are taught.

An increasingly popular route taken at Applied Science universities is the 3-year fast track degree option. This condenses the first 2 years of your degree into 1, retaining the year in industry so that you have your 1st year at university, 2nd year in industry, and final year back at university. For example, The Hague are offering a fast track in European Studies that takes 3 years, as well as their normal 4 year course. It is also worth noting that when the year abroad and/or work placement take place differs, as some universities do them during different years, whilst some combine the year abroad with a work placement.

Furthermore, when looking at global league tables, Dutch universities of applied sciences are unlikely to appear due to their focus on employment skills. League tables tend to measure research quality and output, which favours the Dutch research universities over their applied sciences counterparts. For instance, the Times Higher Education rankings include 13 research universities in the world’s top 250 but no applied science universities.

University Colleges

university colleges were first established in 1997 and were inspired by the Oxbridge college structure. Courses begin with a wider focus, covering a variety of topics, with the ability to specialise in Arts, Humanities, Sciences or Social Sciences during your university journey. The liberal arts style courses that are offered at university colleges mimic the American system and are very popular with students who wish to study within a number of areas.

It is important to note that the admissions policies for these universities will be different from their research or applied science namesake (for example, compare the University of Amsterdam’s admissions policy with Amsterdam university college’s admissions policy). The approach of a university college to admissions is usually more holistic, with grades, personal interests, motivation and extra- and super-curricular activities all being taken into account. As with competitive courses at other universities, the university colleges hold admissions days where you will meet members of the faculty and current students, as well as hold a personal meeting with a member of staff to discuss your application. Please see the admissions guidance for your chosen university to gain a firm idea of their process and requirements, as each university will differ in its approach.

Other institutions

If you are a postgraduate applicant it is possible to attend one of the Institutions for International Education (IE) that specialise in Postgraduate study. Alternatively, there are other Institutions in the Netherlands that specialise in certain fields, such as Architecture and local governance, that offer an alternative to traditional universities.

Key advice

When applying to Dutch universities, there can be a lot to think about, be we have summarised the above into a list of 4 key pieces of advice.

Firstly, make a decision on which type of university you would like to apply to. You are free to apply to all of the types mentioned above, but please remember that research universities tend to be more academically rigorous, focus on critical thinking and independent study (essentially, the “why”). Applied science universities are normally more focused on building skills needed for employment and have a greater emphasis on collaborative work (essentially, the “how”). If you want to study liberal arts, it is likely that you will apply to a university college, and we encourage you to check the admissions criteria for these colleges as they will differ from their research or applied science namesakes.

Secondly, please bear in mind the application process and availability of certain subject choices. As mentioned under the section titled ‘Studielink and your choices’, above, you can put down up to 4 choices. Of these, 2 can be Numerus Fixus courses whilst 1 can be medicine, both of which could have subject requirements. Therefore, please look at the relevant university webpages to confirm the course requirements and application process for your chosen course. It is also likely that you will require a CV and motivational letter for competitive courses, and could be invited to an admissions day.

Linking to this, please do not be fooled by the low offer that Dutch universities often give out. These may be attractive to British students applying to UK universities as well, but the first year will be as thorough if not more so at a Dutch university. Please do your research regarding the course you are applying to and their recommendations.

Finally, please take the opportunity to go and see the university during an open day or even as part of your admissions day. This will enable you to see the university first-hand and talk to both lecturers and students about their daily lives. We wholeheartedly encourage you to gather as much information and experience as possible before applying, as this will help you make the right decision. Additionally, being in-person at an admissions day, rather than conducting an interview via Skype, will help you make a strong first impression.

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