How to choose a university in the Netherlands?


1. About Dutch universities

There are two main kinds of universities in the Netherlands: research universities and Universities of Applied Sciences (hogescholen in Dutch).

Research universities offer more academically rigorous education that focuses on specific subjects.

Universities of Applied Sciences offer profession-orientated programmes that are designed for students who are looking to enter a particular career upon graduation.

In addition to the two main public university types, you can also find a limited number of private universities in the Netherlands. These typically specialise in particular areas such as hospitality and tourism or business and charge higher fees than other Dutch universities.

a. Research universities in Holland

Undergraduate degrees at Research Universities typically take three years to complete and usually do not include work experience. There are 13 Research Universities in the Netherlands and 12 of them teach bachelor's degrees in the English language. Between them, they now offer around 185 Bachelor's degrees in English. For a full list of undergraduate courses taught in English at research universities please visit our course finder.

Some research universities offer most of their teaching in English at their University Colleges. Universities such as Utrecht, Leiden and Amsterdam, have established colleges which are separate from the parent university but still very much part of that institution from a recognition and reputation point of view. University Colleges offer a liberal-arts style of education which is very different from the British single-subject bachelors degree approach to undergraduate education and has more in common with elite, American colleges. Here students are expected to study a range of subjects before going on to specialise at a later stage. They are perfectly suited to you if you have a wide range of interests and do not wish to be constrained in your choice at this stage of your higher education. Some University Colleges will have an emphasis on a particular field, such as the social sciences or technology. For example, Academy of Technology, Liberal Arts & Sciences (ATLAS) at University College Twente may be perfectly suited for you if you are interested in the interface between technology and the humanities or you might want to consider University College Groningen for a more comprehensive programme.

University Colleges are usually residential, meaning that students will be expected live together as part of an academic community for the three years of their study. Other universities offer Liberal Arts and Sciences as a degree programme without the residential element. Here you would study a similar curriculum but still be part of the wider student body. Examples of this kind of degree can be found at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Maastricht University and Tilburg University.

b. Universities of Applied Sciences in Holland

Undergraduate degrees at Universities of Applied Sciences typically take three or four years and will always include a work placement and usually a period of time studying abroad. It is possible therefore to spend up to 18 months of your degree in the UK but this is not recommended. There are 41 Universities of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands although they vary in terms of their size and focus. Some are very small and specialise in a particular area such as agriculture, design or teacher training. These smaller, specialised universities may offer one or two courses in English in their area of expertise.The largest Universities of Applied Sciences typically offer a range of courses in English and you can now find around 300 such degrees. There is almost no crossover between the types of subjects offered at Universities of Applied Sciences and Research Universities so the discussion about which is the right place for your subject rarely arises. The exceptions here would be law and business. Business degrees at Universities of Applied Sciences will suit those students who want to get stuck in and do things better than those who wish to study academically.

Many Universities of Applied Sciences now offer fast-track three-year degrees. Students with 3 A levels might be able to access the fast-track of their chosen degree. Students with BTECs are unlikely to be able to do this. The fast-track universities will not cover less ground but will condense the first two years of classes into one more intensive year. There will still be exactly the same work experience and study abroad opportunities on a 3 or 4 year version of your degree.  Many students are attracted to fast-track degrees because they wish to graduate sooner. However, it is not automatically a better idea to take the fast-track and we would advise you to listen to the opinion of your professors.

Universities of Applied Sciences typically offer smaller class sizes than Research Universities (although not University Colleges). The style of education is more practical and there is a strong emphasis on group work and teaching skills necessary for the work place. The type of subjects you can study at Universities of Applied Sciences is very different to Research Universities. Some examples of the kind of degrees on offer are Life Sciences at HAN University of Applied Sciences, Process and Food Technology at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, Hotel Management at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences and International Game Design and Architecture at BUAS University of Applied Science. These degrees are highly practical in nature and you should be highly employable upon completion of such a degree.

Universities of Applied Sciences focus almost entirely on teaching although some have limited applied research activities. This means that they will never feature in global league tables of universities as these focus heavily on research outcomes. Universities of Applied Sciences may be the right choice for you if you are more concerned about improving your employment opportunities than continuing with your studies beyond undergraduate level.

Both Dutch Research Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences compare very favourably with their British equivalents.

2. Rankings of Dutch Universities

a. Dutch rankings

There simply isn't the same fixation on league tables in Dutch higher education as there is in the United Kingdom. However, there are some national rankings that are worth mentioning.

The two main rankings of Dutch Higher Education Institutions are Keuzegids and Elsevier. Neither is published in English. Keuzegids offers separate publications covering Research Universities, Universities of Applied Sciences and they are further subdivided into bachelor and master levels. It is possible to access Keuzegids rankings online but only in Dutch. We have copies of all relevant Keuzegids publications in the office and they rarely reveal any significant difference between universities. Elsevier rankings are published annually and are not available online. Many universities will publicise favourable results on their own websites so you can quite easily use a search engine to build up a reliable, if only partial, picture of their rankings.

Rankings of universities of applied sciences focus on teaching quality, course content, employability outcomes and industry opinion.

A major drawback of Dutch university rankings is that they mostly focus on courses taught in Dutch. There is actually very little data available specifically about English-taught courses. Once you start to investigate which Dutch university is best for which subject you might very well find that the choice offered to you is an illusion; in many cases you will only have a choice of one university that teaches the subject you want in English. This is beginning to change but at the moment, the only subjects which offer significant choice are business, law, economics and psychology. Within Universities of Applied Sciences this is a little different as you will find many of the same subjects offered at a range of universities.

In common with British universities, Dutch universities are required to publish certain key information sets in all of their marketing material. This information is of limited use for international students when choosing where to study.

b. Global rankings of Dutch universities

The suitability of global rankings when choosing where to take a Bachelors degree is debatable. Almost all of the criteria used to measure universities have no relevance whatsoever when it comes to the quality of undergraduate education or student experience. These are at least partially addressed in national rankings.

The most important component of any global ranking is research activity.

Having said that, a university with a reputation for excellence in research will be extremely well regarded and should be able to offer innovative, advanced education. This in itself may be an important consideration when you are looking where to study.

Dutch universities as a whole perform very well in global league tables of universities and their positions are typically improving. While we don't recommend that you choose a university based purely on ranking, they can make for an interesting diversion. The two rankings that are generally accepted to be most useful are the Times Higher Education Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (also known as Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking). In both cases it is worth looking beyond the overall ranking to the subject or region specific rankings.

3. Choosing a Dutch university

While you can only sensibly choose a university that offers your subject, and rankings can only ever tell a partial story, the best way to choose a Dutch university is to go and visit them.

Studying abroad is going to be a big step no matter how much research and preparation you do in the comfort of your own home. We recommend that you go on an Open Day if possible. If not, most Dutch universities will be relatively accommodating if you wish to schedule your own visit (although don't expect to see much if you go in mid-August and turning up in the first week of each semester will not be encouraged!).

We also recommend that you get in touch with British students who have already taken the decision to study in Holland. A starting poing could be the testimonials on this website. We can often put you in touch with students directly but you can also join one of the following facebook pages as well:

About Study In Holland is an information service designed to assist British and Irish students in pursuing their university education in the Netherlands.

We have extensive knowledge of English-taught degrees in Holland and we also work with careers advisory services. is owned by A Star Future Ltd and is not affiliated with the Dutch government.