The Netherlands gets its name from the fact that around a quarter of this small northwestern European nation lies below sea level. Beyond its traditional associations (think windmills, tulips and clogs), it is one of the most developed and wealthy nations in the world, with a largely urban population. One of the most densely populated countries in Europe, it’s 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.
Click on the tabs below to find out about top universities in the Netherlands, popular student cities, and how to get started with applications, costs and visas.
The Netherlands is home to one of the world’s oldest and most highly respected systems of higher education, dating back to the 16th century. The QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017 includes 13 universities in the Netherlands, all ranked within the world's top 350, and an impressive eight of these are within the global top 150. The nation’s highest-ranking institution is the University of Amsterdam, at 57th in the world, with Delft University of Technology and Utrecht University not too far behind, at 62nd and joint 102nd respectively.
Combine this high 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 the Netherlands is one of continental Europe’s most popular choices for international study.
The top six Dutch universities in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017 are:
The University of Amsterdam is the country’s largest higher education institution, with around 31,000 students enrolled. Established in 1632, it is the third oldest university in the Netherlands, and the highest ranked, at 57th in the QS World University Rankings. Within Europe, it is the 15th highest ranked. It teaches undergraduate and graduate programs across a broad spectrum of subjects, with a large selection of English-taught master’s degrees, and a few English-taught bachelor’s degrees.
The country’s oldest and largest public technical university, Delft University of Technology was founded in 1842, and is currently ranked 62nd in the world, according to the latest QS World University Rankings. Also known as TU Delft, it teaches about 19,600 students, with a focus on engineering disciplines, computer science, mathematics, applied sciences, and policy and management in technology. Prometheus, a figure from Greek mythology, is an important symbol of TU Delft, and his statue stands in the center of the newly renovated Mekelpark campus. In the 2016 edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject, TU Delft places within the global top five for architecture.
The oldest university in the Netherlands, Leiden University was founded in 1575 by William I, Prince of Orange, an ancestor of the Netherlands’ monarchy. The institution is currently ranked joint 102nd in the world and third in the country. It has around 25,800 students, studying a broad range of subjects from bachelor’s up to PhD level. The university houses more than 40 research institutes and has links with many national and international leaders, including former US President John Adams, two Secretary Generals of NATO, as well as 16 Nobel Prize winners.
Established in 1636, Utrecht University is another of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe. The QS World University Rankings 2016-2017 place Utrecht University fourth among universities in the Netherlands and joint 104th in the world. Currently almost 30,000 students are enrolled across the university’s seven faculties, which makes it one of the largest universities in the Netherlands as well. The university claims 12 Nobel Prize laureates among its former students and staff, alongside 13 Spinoza Prize laureates.
The fifth-ranked university in the Netherlands is the University of Groningen , placed joint 113th in the world according to the latest QS World University Rankings. Established in 1614, it was one of the Netherlands’ first few universities, and has a long history of leadership, including claims to the country’s first female student, first female lecturer, the first Dutch astronaut and the first president of the European Central Bank. About 30,200 students are currently enrolled, and like other top universities in the Netherlands, it’s a popular choice for international students.
Ranked joint 121st in the world, Eindhoven University of Technology – as its name would suggest – is especially well-reputed in the engineering and technical fields, and also ranks among the world’s leading universities for architecture. With around 7,100 students, Eindhoven conducts high levels of research, and is located in close proximity to several tech-focused companies, including Philips, ASML and DAF. The university maintains close contacts with many of these companies, and produces almost 3,000 scientific publications, 140 PhD-awards, and 40 patents every year.
Other Dutch universities ranked among the world’s top 350 include: Erasmus University Rotterdam, Wageningen University, Maastricht University, VU University Amsterdam, Radboud University Nijmegen, the University of Twente and Tilburg University.
The Netherlands, or Holland as it is commonly referred to, is well-established as a popular study destination for students from around the world. There is plenty to do and see, and it’s fairly easy to get around the country’s relatively compact space, to explore a range of urban and rural locations. The quality of life in Dutch cities is high, and the country is known for its diverse, tolerant and cultured societies.
Explore some of the Netherlands’ top student cities:
Featured among the world’s top 75 cities for students in the QS Best Student Cities index, Amsterdam is famed for its café culture, liberal attitudes, hordes of cyclists, pretty canals, historic architecture, and the nightlife which makes it a favorite among party-loving holiday-makers. It’s home to a large selection of world-renowned museums and art galleries, including the Van Gogh Museum, and is said to be the perfect place in which to understand the meaning of the Dutch word “gezellig” – roughly translated as “warm, fuzzy, cozy happiness”. In short, Amsterdam is likely to appeal to pretty much everyone.
The Netherlands’ capital is home to the country’s highest-ranking university, the University of Amsterdam (57th in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017), as well as VU University Amsterdam (199th).
Less than an hour’s drive to the south-west of Amsterdam, Leiden is similarly characterized by scenic canals and historic buildings, as well as strong connections with the European art world – it was, for instance, the birthplace of Rembrandt. Much smaller than Amsterdam, the town is much more centered on its student community, which accounts for a significant chunk of the population and ensures a lively social scene. Leiden University is the Netherlands’ oldest university, founded in 1575, and currently ranks at joint 102nd in the world.
Towards the center of the country, and just half an hour’s drive from the capital, Utrecht is yet another charming canal-veined historic town. Its ancient city center is one of the oldest in the country, while the surrounding countryside in the province which shares the city’s name is famously beautiful, and peppered with castles and palaces. The city is the fourth most-populous in the Netherlands, with buzzing cultural and nightlife scenes, and is home to the country’s largest and third-highest ranked university, Utrecht University (ranked joint 104th in the world).
Travelling further towards the north of the country, we reach Groningen, the largest city in this northern part of the Netherlands – though still relatively small compared to Amsterdam or Utrecht. This is another city with a long history of having students at its center, and today students continue to comprise a significant part of the population and local life. There’s a vibrant cultural scene here, as well as the usual attractive gabled houses and canals, and between 2005 and 2007, Groningen was elected "de beste binnenstad" (the best city center) of the Netherlands. The University of Groningen is ranked joint 113th in the world.
Home of Europe’s biggest port, the Netherlands’ second city Rotterdam stands out from the other cities here due to its distinctly modern feel – the result of damage during World War II, which meant the city had to be largely rebuilt. Its often striking modern structures make an apt backdrop to its buzzing social scene, famed for music (particularly electronic), nightlife and its multicultural community. The city is home to Erasmus University Rotterdam (ranked 144th in the world), named after the city’s most famous son, the hugely influential scholar Erasmus. Less than 10 miles (or 15km) away is the picturesque town Delft and its prestigious Delft University of Technology (62nd in the world).
In the south of the Netherlands, close to the Belgian and German borders, Maastricht has a cosmopolitan and pan-European character, with multiple languages commonly spoken, a far-reaching reputation as a gastronomic hub, and a history of playing a key role in the development of the European Union. In contrast to much of the country, it even has some hills. Maastricht University calls itself ‘the most international university in the Netherlands’, with almost half (49%) of its students coming from other countries, representing over 100 different nationalities. Its overall rank in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017 is 173.
There are two systems for applying to Dutch universities – directly to the institution or through Studielink, an online centralized application procedure. The path you follow will depend 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 a place on one of these courses, you will need to be successful in a lottery – again, talk to the institution for further details. Tuition will be in Dutch or English, and you’ll need to be able to prove you have a sufficient level of fluency in the relevant language.
Tuition fees vary depending on whether or not you are from a country within the European Union. If you are, the average annual fee is €1,950 (~US$2,200), and if not, you can expect to pay between €6,000 and €15,000 (US$6,750 - 16,850). However, there are various scholarship options available. For more information, visit our guide to scholarships in Europe.
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).