Universities in the Netherlands are split into two categories: research universities and universities of applied sciences. There are 14 of the former and 41 of the latter in the country, all of which are state funded. In addition to these, there are many private universities and university colleges in the area.

There are over 80,000 international students currently studying in the Netherlands. Here you can find over 1,500 courses taught in English, ranging from short seminars to Master’s degree programs. The Netherlands is also home to six of the world’s top 100 universities (the highest-ranked being the University of Amsterdam, at number 50).

If studying is your sole purpose for going to the Netherlands, and you have a European Health Insurance Card, you can use it to access medical treatment. However, if you work, even part-time or in a paid internship, you will need to purchase additional Dutch insurance (even if you have insurance elsewhere that covers you while in the Netherlands). Ask your university about discounts; as a student, you may be entitled to reduced rates through your school.

Campus culture

The rich cultural heritage and professional educational institutions in the Netherlands attract tens of thousands of international students each year. Most major cities in the Netherlands have officially recognized historical buildings alongside modern development and technology, making it a unique place to experience the best of both worlds.

Most universities in the Netherlands are designed to serve a wide English-speaking audience, conducting many courses in English. In fact, new students here learn very quickly that the average Dutch resident is highly tolerant and welcoming toward expats—after all, some 45% of the population is non-Dutch. In Amsterdam alone, it seems that every restaurant serves up cuisine from a different country.

Most universities in the Netherlands do have on-campus accommodation, but these are usually assigned on a first-come, first-served basis and can be difficult to obtain. However, there are plenty of options for living off-campus. It’s typical for four or five students to live together in a shared apartment or house. In addition, most universities have international student resources available for helping expats find accommodation.

Applying to a Dutch university

You will use one of two methods for applying to your university of choice in the Netherlands. You may apply directly to the university or institution, or you may use Studielink, a centralized application system. You should first contact the university where you want to study and ask which method they use.

In general you will want to apply about a year in advance of when you want to begin your first term. Some applications will stay open until May or June of the year in which the term begins, though, so if you miss the opening of the application period, you’ll most likely still have some time.

Certain programs such as law and medicine have a limited number of spaces, and a lottery-style system is used to select applicants. Deadlines for these programs are typically earlier than deadlines for other programs.

Paying for a university qualification

For EU students taking undergraduate courses, annual tuition fees average about €1,700, although fees will be higher at university colleges and private universities. Loans are available to many students to enable them to pay the annual tuition in full and then repay the loan after graduation.

Some students (those under 30 and working full time) will be eligible for government-funded grants of a modest amount per month. However, this grant is not available until you’ve been working in the Netherlands for at least three months. Some universities offer a limited number of scholarships designed for foreign students.

Of course, private loans are also an option, but these typically have higher interest rates and often must be repaid while you are still in school. It is not typical for Netherlands students to live on campus, and finding a room can be expensive and time-consuming, so be sure to start the process early.

Top universities in the Netherlands

Five of the Netherlands’ universities appear on the 2014-2015 QS World University Rankings Top 100 list. They are:

1. University of Amsterdam

The University of Amsterdam offers a huge number of degree programs, such as anthropology, art history, communication science, dentistry, economics, law, medicine, philosophy, religious studies, and many more. More than 30,000 students study here, drawn by the school’s strong international programs. Indeed, the University of Amsterdam offers over 100 programs taught entirely in English. This university serves those pursuing degrees from Bachelor to Ph.D. and beyond.

2. Leiden University

The oldest university in the Netherlands, Leiden University was founded in 1575! This university prides itself on freedom of thought and expression and has produced such scholars as Descartes, Einstein, and others. The educational options here are innovative, research-based, and multidisciplinary. Many courses here are taught in English, from Bachelor degree programs to Ph.D. programs and more.

3. Utrecht University

Utrecht University was founded in 1636 and is a well-known international research institution. Unsurprisingly, it is located in the city of Utrecht, one of the most popular (and beautiful) cities in Northern Europe. The academic community here is internationally oriented, with over 30,000 students from 118 different countries. They offer 138 graduate programs (74 taught in English) and a selection of teacher training programs as well.

4. Delft University of Technology

Located in the picturesque city of Delft, this is a modern university with 40 English-language Master programs. There is a rich international culture here with students of over 100 nationalities, and the school partners with leading universities around the world. This allows for students to increase their international experience through cooperation and exchange.

5. Erasmus University Rotterdam

Erasmus University Rotterdam specializes in research and has strong links to the business world, making it a great choice for enterprising students. This school offers degree programs in fields such as economics, health sciences, and business administration, as well as law, history, social sciences, arts, and philosophy. EUR is located in the city of Rotterdam, home to Europe’s largest port.