How to choose the right course at a Dutch university?


For students looking at Dutch universities the very first consideration has to be language. On our website we list all of the degrees taught in English in the Netherlands. There are some degrees offered in German but still the majority are offered in Dutch only.

The Netherlands has the widest range of degree programmes offered in English of any European country except the UK and Ireland. There are currently around 375 Bachelor’s degrees and 1,425 Master’s degrees listed on our website. These cover most academic disciplines but some are not offered at all. The most common subjects that are not offered in English are dentistry, nursing and health and social care.

The course you wish to study at a Dutch university will also determine where you can go to university. The Dutch higher education system is often described as binary, meaning that there are two distinct types of universities and it is unlikely that you will find the same subject offered at both types of university. If you do, it will be taught in a fundamentally different way. The two types of universities are usually referred to as:

  1. Research Universities (WO in Dutch): These are the traditional Dutch universities with a strong focus on academic excellence and research. There are 13 research universities, including three universities of technology. Ten of the 13 are in the Top 150 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the other three are only just outside this range. If you are looking for a traditional Bachelor’s degree in science and engineering or social sciences, arts and humanities, you will probably find it on offer at a research university. It is quite common for Bachelor’s students at research universities to continue on to take a Master’s degree but this is by no means compulsory.
  2. Universities of Applied Sciences (HBO or Hogeschool in Dutch): Universities of Applied Sciences generally offer more practice-oriented degrees. Originally they only offered Bachelor’s degrees but now many of them also offer Master’s degrees as well as conducting applied research. For students who are looking to learn something with a practical dimension, including compulsory work experience, a University of Applied Science is likely to be the right choice. There is no global ranking of Universities of Applied Sciences as such rankings tend to focus mostly on research output. Students are prepared to enter the workplace upon graduation rather than to continue with further study. Because of the requirement to gain work experience, degrees at Universities of Applied Sciences typically last four years although many will have a fast-track programme available for students with A’ levels, International Baccalaureate or similar. Subjects that you will only find on offer at Universities of Applied Science include physiotherapy, hotel management, teaching, music, and graphic design.

The distinction outlined above is not as clear as it once was. Both types of institutions now conduct research, for example, but when both offer degrees in the same subject there is still a clear difference in approach.

It is possible to find degrees in business and engineering at both types of university. A business degree at a research university would be better suited to a student who is interested in the theory of business whereas a student at a University of Applied Science will be learning more practical skills in particular fields of business. Much of this learning will happen in company placements either in the Netherlands or abroad. Research universities will also offer placements but these are a less integral part of the degree. It could be argued that a University of Applied Science education is better preparation for a graduate’s first job in business but a research university qualification might be a better start for students aiming for senior management. For degrees in engineering, a research university education will have a strong emphasis on maths and physics whereas a University of Applied Sciences education in engineering will focus more on project management skills. These examples are offered for illustration purposes. You should always investigate exactly what a Dutch university degree involves and it is not a good idea to assume it will be the same as a similarly named degree in the UK or anywhere else.


What are University Colleges?

In the above explanation we have not mentioned one of the most popular options for international  Bachelor’s level students. Many Dutch universities have not simply duplicated European-style subject-based degrees when teaching in English. Instead, they have developed more general, interdisciplinary degrees in the Liberal Arts & Sciences, such as are commonly found in elite US universities and colleges.

Degrees in the liberal arts are designed to enable students to follow several disciplines simultaneously, as well as developing key academic and research skills that will enable their graduates to pursue a Master’s degree in a specialist field.

The University Colleges in the Netherlands offer smaller class sizes and a collegiate atmosphere. They are usually residential, meaning that students will live together as well as study together. Because of this they are more expensive than the standard Dutch university degrees with fees typically around €4,000 a year for EU nationals and €12,000 for non-EU nationals.

The University Colleges are not separate higher education institutions. They are all affiliated to Dutch research universities. As such, they do not appear in the World University Rankings under their own name.

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.