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THE Netherlands: Applying to University - Must read

Applying to study in the Netherlands

Our breakdown of the application process to study abroad in the Netherlands


The Netherlands might be the most densely populated nation in Europe, but it still manages to house about 87,100 international students currently studying in Holland. Considering the nation’s rich, tolerant culture and impressive 11 universities in the world’s top 200, it’s hardly a surprise that students around the world are opting to “go orange”. With the nation’s unique education system in mind however, actually applying to study in the Netherlands may seem a confusing and overwhelming process. Let our overview of how it works help make things clearer.



The Netherlands has a unique education system that can make the process of researching programme and credit equivalents challenging.

Tertiary qualifications are awarded from two types of institution: those offering applied, professionally-oriented programmes and those whose programmes are academic or research-based. Both types of institution offer Bachelor and Masters qualifications, and may even have similar programme titles or course names between them.  Students are advised to research potential course options extremely thoroughly, and directly confirm credit equivalents with both host and home institutions before lodging their application.

Popular fields of study have limited places available, with the selection process for some done via a centralised, weighted lottery system called Numerus Fixus. This means that places for all courses in the same subject across institutions are allocated by the Dutch government. Students with the strongest academic records have the best chance, but everyone who meets the minimum programme requirements is considered in some capacity. Most courses taught in English are not subject to Numerus Fixus, except those in Medicine, Psychology, Economics and Physiotherapy. Students should be sure to check whether the application process for their proposed study course involves Numerus Fixus via institution websites or direct confirmation with a student admissions office.

Students should note that Dutch universities use the ECTS credit system.

Learn more about Numerus Fixus

Learn more about ECTS


Intake and Deadlines

Specific deadlines vary between institutions, and depend on specific entry restrictions such as Numerus Fixus. Deadlines may also vary for EU and non-EU students. Admissions to Dutch universities for both undergraduate and postgraduate students usually open around September-October for commencement in semester one of the following year (September).  Numerus Fixus places are usually all awarded at the same time, around mid-May, for a start in semester one of the same year.

Most Dutch institutions have two intake periods a year: the start of semester one (September) and the start of semester two (February). EU student application deadlines for a start in September are from March-August, and from November-January for a start in semester two.

Non-EU students have from March-May to apply for a start in semester one, and from November-December for mid-year intake. Many institutions will accept non-EU student applications even earlier than the submission date, particularly in studies of applied sciences.

Find out if you are an EU student


Undergraduate (First cycle)

Prospective undergraduate students will need to apply through the Dutch centralised admissions system Studielink. Students will need to register and create a profile from which they can search specific programme requirements, upload necessary documents and personal data, and monitor the status of their application. Studielink is a relatively new platform and students are advised to also contact their host institution to let them know they will be applying, and double check the admissions requirements.


Postgraduate (Second and Third cycle)

Applications to study at postgraduate level need to be lodged directly to your host institution. Admission into Dutch graduate programmes requires very specific academic standards, and students that are not initially eligible may complete bridging, prepatory programmes that lead into their graduate study of choice. In some cases, Dutch institutions can provide applicants with a conditional letter of acceptance that is valid for a year, within which students may complete required foundational studies. Upon successful completion of these studies, the offer becomes official and students may enter into their postgraduate programme.

Learn more about prepatory study programmes


What documents will I need?

Admission into a Dutch Bachelors programme primarily requires a recognized secondary-school diploma or academic equivalent. Similarly, postgraduate programmes require that candidates have a recognized Bachelor degree or equivalent. Students may obtain a Dutch Diploma to help define the nature of their academic qualifications so that they are recognized by their Dutch host institution.

Specific admission criteria vary across institution, study programme and level, but will always require proof of identification documents such as a photocopy of your passport photo page or home ID card.

You will also need to provide proof of your English language proficiency via either a TOEFL or IELTS exam score card. For entry into a postgraduate programme, candidates will need at least 550 on the paper-based component of the TOEFL, and at least 213 on the computer-based test. IELTS students will need a score of at least 6. Undergraduate English language test scores vary between institutions and study areas.

Masters programmes typically require a CV, at least one letter of recommendation from a previous professor or superior, and a personal statement essay introducing yourself and outlining why you’d like to complete your proposed course of study.

All documents submitted need to be translated into English and certified by your home institution or relevant authoritarian body.

Click here to apply directly through our website using our i-Apply service

Learn more about the Dutch Diploma

Learn more about TOEL

Learn more about IELTS


Application Tips

Dutch culture may favour directness, but students should be careful in the language they choose when describing their achievements. When writing your personal statement or tailoring your CV, you should be sure to use language that conveys your achievements and ambitions as accurately as possible without offering excessive commentary about why they are so great. Dutch society is egalitarian in nature, and applications that read as self-important will be frowned upon.

Entry into Dutch universities is highly competitive and students should take their personal statement as an opportunity to stand out in a positive way. You’ll almost definitely be applying for a programme taught in English, so this is also a chance for you to show off your command of the English language. The standard of English at Dutch universities is also very high and so your TOEFL or IELTS scores will also be highly regarded.

Dutch academic culture emphasises initiative and forward-thinking, and the more specific you can be about how you plan to engage with your studies, the better. Students should be very clear in their statement about their objectives in completing the programme, and should not shy away from mentioning and ideas they’re hoping to develop through their studies.


Now that you’ve got a handle on how the applications process works, why not browse courses in the Netherlands now and start planning your study abroad adventure?


Useful Links

Dutch graduate schemes for overseas students

Tuition fees in the Netherlands

The Higher Education System in the Netherlands...Simplified

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About Author

Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.