Jump to navigation
Sign Up to ReceiveQS e-Guides!Sign up for free
It might not be the first name on everyone's list, but the Netherlands is one of the world's unsung study abroad gems. Read our guide to find out more...
The country gets its name from the fact that around a quarter of this small north western European nation lies below sea level.
Despite its associations with windmills and clogs, it is one of the most developed and wealthy nations in the world, with a largely urban population (it is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe).
It is also home to one of the world’s oldest – dating back to the 16th century – and most highly respected systems of higher education. The 2012/13 QS World University Rankings include 13 Dutch universities - all within the world's top 500, and an impressive 11 in the top 200.
The nation’s highest ranking institution is the University of Amsterdam at 62, with Leiden University (the country’s oldest institution) and Utrecht University not too far behind, at 75= and 85 respectively.
Combine this quality with relatively favorable tuition rates and plenty of English language courses (the Dutch are generally known for their fluency in English as a second language) and you can begin to see why nearly 45,000 international students were studying in the Netherlands in 2009.
The nation is known for its tolerant and liberal ethos, and boasts a wealth of great student cities – none of which are more than a bicycle ride (the nation’s preferred mode of transport) away from some picturesque countryside.
Consider the Netherlands if you’re looking for a European study destination which offers you a little bit of everything.
Studying at master’s or PhD level? Read our graduate-level guide to the Netherlands >
Discover some of the Netherlands' top student cities...
Placed at 36th in the 2012 QS Best Student Cities ranking, Amsterdam is famed for its café culture, its leafy canals, and for the nightlife which makes it a favorite for party loving holiday-makers and students. However, that is not to say there aren’t more refined attractions on offer, such as its stunning historical architecture and world class museums.
And, let’s not forget, it boasts the country’s highest ranking university, Universiteit van Amsterdam (62 in the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings). But, Amsterdam isn’t one of those cities which need to be sold. Study here and you certainly won’t find yourself short of visitors from back home…
More about Amsterdam >
Leiden is one of those towns dominated by its university, the attendees of which account for a large percentage of its population. Leiden University, ranked 75= in the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings, is the oldest in the country having been founded in 1575.
John Quincy Adams, René Descartes and Albert Einstein, among others, all passed through its doors. Leiden itself is a small picturesque town, though the large student population means there is no shortage of social activities on offer.
Utrecht, claims the Lonely Planet Guide, is one of the world’s unsung places. It is a charming canal-veined historical town, with one of the oldest centers in the country. The countryside in the province which shares the city’s name is famously beautiful, as well being peppered with castles and palaces.
Like many other Dutch cities, Utrecht itself is student dominated, and accordingly, the city is known for its nightlife. Utrecht University, at 85, is the Netherlands’ third highest ranked university.
Home of Europe’s biggest port, the Netherlands’ second city stands out from the other cities here as result of its distinctly modern feel – the result of damage incurred during the Second World War.
Its daring modern structures, however, more than make up this. It is also famous for its music (particularly electronic), its nightlife and its multicultural social milieu. Erasmus University Rotterdam, named after city’s most famous son, is ranked 99th in the world.
Located towards the country’s southern border, Maastricht is known for being slightly different. It is one of the oldest – if not the oldest city in the country – and resultantly boasts some impressive historical architecture.
Its university (Maastricht University) is one of the most internationalized in the country, with over a third of its students coming from overseas, putting it just outside the top 10 in the world in this regard (its overall rank in the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings is 107).
Maastricht is also recommended for gastronomes, renowned as it is for being the culinary capital of the Netherlands.
Top ten things to do while studying in the Netherlands >
There are two systems for applying to university in the Netherlands – directly to the institution or through Studielink, an online centralized application procedure. Which one you need depends on the university and the course to which you are applying. You may even be required to use a combination of the two, so check carefully with the institution.
Certain oversubscribed courses in the Netherlands are deemed numerous fixus. To get onto one of these courses, you will need to be successful in a lottery – again, talk to the institution.
Fees vary depending on whether or not you are from an EU nation. If you are, the average annual fee is €2,296 (US$3,050), and if not, you can expect to pay €9,733 (US$12,850). Tuition will be in Dutch or English – be prepared to prove you can speak the relevant one.
As with any nation in the European Union, the visa process differs according to whether or not you are a citizen of another nation in the EU (or Switzerland).
• No visa required• You will need to register as an inhabitant with your local city council, proving that you are a have a place to live. You will also need to present your passport and birth certificate.• You must purchase health insurance. This is required by law.• It is also advisable, though not compulsory, to register with the Dutch immigration authorities, for which you’ll need to prove you’ve enrolled, sign a document to say you have sufficient financial means, and show you’ve purchased health insurance.• Bulgarians and Romanians are also advised to apply for a residence permit (see below), and will need work permits. You can either apply for a standard work permit, as if you were a non-EU student, or for one which allows you to work without restriction, for which your employer must prove there are no EU or Swiss citizens capable of doing the same job (no such restriction exists for the former permit).
• Depending on your nationality, you may need to apply for a provisional residence permit, known as an MVV (Machtiging tot Voorlopig Verblijf). The Nuffic website has the relevant information. Your host institution will probably make the actual application for you, but you will need to supply all the necessary documents, which must be in Dutch, English, French or German, or officially translated into one of these languages. As well as basic documentation showing you’re actually on a course, you will need to prove you have €794.69 (US$1,045) a month to support yourself.• Chinese students enrolling on English language courses must also apply for the Nuffic Certificate, which can be done online through the Nuffic Certificate Online Application System, in order to get their MVV.• You will need to apply for a residence permit. Your institution will apply for this on your behalf, which should occur within five days of your arrival in the country. Your permit will be valid for a maximum of 12 months, after which you must renew. Some, but not all, institutions will do this for you, so make sure you check which one applies.• You must also register with the local Aliens Police (Vreemdelingendienst) with three days of arriving, to whom you must prove that you have somewhere to live and that you have enough money to support yourself during your stay.• You should also register with your local municipality.• Purchasing health insurance is mandatory.• If you want to work while you study you will need to apply for a work permit, which will allow you to work for ten hours a week during term time, and full time during holidays. Your employer will apply for this.
Search universities in the Netherlands >
© QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited 1994-2013. All rights reserved.
Find your perfect study destination.
Universities in the USUniversities in the UKUniversities in AsiaUniversities in EuropeUniversities in Latin America
The world’s top universities – overall, by subject and by region
Rankings of the top universities in Asia.
Meet university admissions directors from around the world, at a QS event near you
QS Stars is an in-depth rating system for universities
Admissions, finance and careers, lifestyle and news.
Find the university that best fits your interests and career plans