There are some similarities between the admissions process for Dutch and British universities but it is safer to say there are also some major differences.
1. When do you apply?
The admissions calendar usually opens in September or October for the following year ie. October 2013 for entry in September 2014.
The deadline for submitting an application varies depending on the type of university you apply for and any entry restrictions such as Numerus Fixus. The deadlines also vary for EU and non-EU applicants. In 2014 the deadline for most courses is 1st May 2014. However, even here there are exceptions so it is worth checking directly with the university you are interested in. Some universities have their own selection processes and you will need to adhere to their terms and conditions. In all cases, however, you need to have set up your account on Studielink by 1st May 2014.
The entry process at University Colleges is completely different as prospective students may have to attend an interview in person. This has a significant impact on a student’s likely chances of gaining a place. University Colleges are much smaller institutions with much clearer limits to student numbers. As all students are required to live on campus there is a physical limit to the number of students they can recruit. Typically students should apply to University Colleges in time for a January deadline. Applicants may then be invited to interview in February.
2. What grades do you need?
Dutch universities usually do not make offers based on your achieving certain grades at A-levels. There are some exceptions. For example, if you wish to study engineering you will probably need to have A' level C or above in maths and physics. However, for most courses it is necessary simply to have A' levels. All courses require you to have studied six different subjects. Sometimes this can be made up of 3 A-levels and 3 GCSEs. In other cases it may be 2 A-levels and 4 GCSEs. The International Baccalaureate is well understood by Dutch universities, other qualifications such as national diplomas less so. Therefore, if you are not taking A-levels in the UK it is worth checking whether your qualifications will be recognised. In some cases BTEC qualifications might actually be better preparation for courses at Dutch Universities of Applied Sciences. The single most important subject that you might need at A' level is maths; certain subjects such as economics or business cannot be studied at a Research University unless you have maths A' level.
3. When do you know if you have a place?
Dutch universities usually make unconditional offers in the British sense of the word. These offers will be conditional on you passing the A' levels you say you are taking, or at least passing enough of your A' levels to meet the minimum entry requirement. You will need to produce originals of your certificates at some point during your first term but most Dutch universities understand that there is a time lag involved in your receiving this official documentation.
If you are applying to a course without Numerus Fixus it is possible that you could receive an offer within four weeks of applying. If your course is subject to Numerus Fixus then you may have to wait until the application deadline before the lottery process can even start.
If you do not meet the minimum A’ level standard required for your course you will not be able to enrol but in all other circumstances once you have your offer you are guaranteed a place at the university of your choice. It is quite common for universities to issue offers that would be classed as unconditional in the United Kingdom (EEE). However, when you receive notification of your offer through Studielink it will describe your offer as conditional. Passing your A' levels is the only condition. Dutch universities cannot withdraw an offer after it has been made.
4. How can Dutch universities offer places with such low A-level grades?
It is important to note that this is in no way a reflection on quality. There are excellent universities in the Netherlands but they have a very different entry philosophy. Generally speaking if you have the necessary grades then you are entitled to prove you can cope with a university education. The first year at a Dutch university is seen as a probationary period. You will take regular exams and if you fail them, you will be asked to leave. This contrasts quite markedly with the UK situation and it is something that you need to be fully aware of if you are planning to study in Holland.
It is also worth pointing out that the Dutch higher education system is different from the British system. In the Netherlands only 15-20% take the appropriate high school leaving certificate for going to a Research University (VWO). The majority of students take HAVO which gives them direct access to Universities of Applied Sciences but not directly to Research Universities. As around 37% of students in the UK take A' levels it is often different for the Dutch system to judge the precise quality of a British student's application. We would advise students to think very seriously about whether they would be able to cope at a Dutch Research University if they don't achieve a minimum of BBB in their A' levels.
5. How do you apply to a Dutch university?
Contact the university directly. They will then advise you of the best way to apply. Although there is a centralised admissions service in the Netherlands, Studielink, it is not always necessary to apply through it in the first instance. You will need to set up an account on Studielink at some point as this is a pre-condition to being registered as a student in the Netherlands. Your chosen university's admissions staff are usually the best people to advise you on when and how to do this.
See the Studielink page of this website for a lengthy explanation of the application process.
6. Can you apply to Dutch universities and British universities at the same time?
Yes, there is nothing to stop you from applying to universities in both countries at the same time. As the UCAS deadline is usually on or around 15th January, it is possible to apply to Dutch universities after you have been all the way through the UCAS process and received offers from British universities. However, we would suggest that you do your research in to Dutch universities at the same time as you investigate British universities.