One thing I remember being very confused about when I was searching for information about studying in the Netherlands is the way in which the academic year is structured. So, in order to save some trouble to those of you who are interested in studying/are going to study here, I have decided to briefly and clearly explain to you how it works. Bare in mind, please, that the structure I am familiar with is specific to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the Maastricht University. Depending on your course and university, the structure might be slightly different.
The academic year in the Netherlands is split into 5 periods. These differ in length, lasting between one or two months. The first period lasts, roughly, from the beginning of September to the end of October. The second period lasts 2 months, from the beginning of November until the end of December. The third period is shorter, lasting only throughout the month of January. The fourth period starts in February and ends at the beginning of April. And the final period lasts from April to mid-June.
In each period you are going to take at least one main course and a skills class. The difference between the two is that the course usually requires more work and gives you more “heavy” knowledge, whilst the skills class is there to train you in a particular area/ability (for instance, interviewing, doing quantitative or qualitative analysis etc.). Sometimes, two courses run in parallel, so you might need to take both, in addition, of course, to the skills class. Other times, two skills classes run in parallel, so the same logic applies. In some other cases, one course might run over two or three periods, instead of one. For most of the time though, for each period you will have one course and one skills class.
The academic year here is also split into two semesters: the fall semester, lasting from the beginning of September until the end of January, and the spring semester, lasting from the beginning of February until mid-/ end of June. Logically, each semester encompasses 3 periods.
The Examination and Resits Periods
Unlike in the UK, where you have two main examination periods, in the Netherlands, you have an examination period at the end of each period (except in cases in which a course lasts for more than one period; in these cases, you probably just have one examination period, at the end of the course). Given the number of courses, you will not have more than two or three exams at once (unless you take resits). For Humanities and Social Sciences degrees, take-home exams are also quite popular, meaning that you get a task and have one week or a couple of days to write it up and hand it in. In case you failed a course, you have the possibility to resit it at the end of the following period, and sometime in July for courses failed in the last period. Good news – The marks for the resits are not capped like in most of the UK universities to just passing!!! This means that if you fail miserably a course, you actually have the chance to get a really good mark in the resit.
Now this is a sensitive aspect! When it comes to breaks, we all love them in one way – long! Unfortunately, for UK students wishing to head to the Netherlands, I have bad news. The breaks are much shorter here than in the UK. There is a two-week Christmas break, followed by a week off for the Carnival, which is a big celebration (particularly in Maastricht; other universities across the Netherlands don’t allow students to have a break during the Carnival) that happens at the end of February/beginning of March. There is no Easter break, apart from a couple of days off and…this is it! You start earlier, finish later and have very short breaks throughout the year. Don’t you come complaining afterwards that I haven’t warned you! But, in all honesty, it is totally worth it!
Having said that, I hope this made sense and has given you a rough image of how your academic year might be different if you become (at least for a while) a student in the Netherlands. And since we are in January and I know that the “black period” of exams is approaching in Leicester, I wish you all the best of luck! 🙂