The Dutch University system: timetable, exams, credits, my thoughts

I thought this would be a useful blog post for potential study abroad students in the Netherlands (specifically Amsterdam) because upon deciding to study abroad, I did not even consider that the timetable and academic year dates would be any different to Leicester’s and English university’s in general.

Not understanding how it all worked made choosing modules quite difficult when trying to figure out what I was studying and when and how much it was worth etc.




First of all, the academic year here in the Netherlands is far, far longer than in England (and not to mention only €1200 a year as opposed to £9250 a year in England…) Generally term starts at the same time as schools in England do, around the 5th September. Though the induction started two weeks before that, on the 21st August.


There are two semesters:

Semester one runs from September – (the end of) January.
Semester two runs from The beginning of February – (the end of) June.


Now there is some slight variation between the universities in the Netherlands, however all run on a ‘period system’. At VU Amsterdam, semester one is made up of period, 1,2 and 3. Semester two is made up of period 4, 5, 6.


You’ll be expected to do a total of 60 credits for the entire year, thus, generally most people do 30 credits each semester. At VU Amsterdam, generally, each module is worth 6 credits. So when choosing your modules the most common pattern to follow is:


Period 1: 2 modules (12 credits)
Period 2: 2 modules (12 credits)
Period 3: 1 module (6 credits) – period 3 is short compared to the other periods, lasting only five weeks.

and this same pattern is repeated for periods 4, 5 and 6.


What is interesting about that, however, is that if you chose to do 3 modules in a period instead of just picking 1 or 2, and therefore no modules in period 3, you would simply have this period off, with no university.


The biggest shock I received was that for the entire year, you only get two weeks off at Christmas and nothing else. In England we get around a month off for Christmas (yes, I have an exam on the 22nd of December coming up this year- three days before Christmas!?) and we get around a month off at Easter and we start term much later, at the end of September.


Somehow, I don’t think we get £9250 worth of teaching in England…


However, the short ‘periods’ don’t seem to allow much time for in-depth teaching; it all seems a bit rushed.





Because of the period system, unlike English universities which have two big exam periods, in January and at the end of the year, here, you have exams at the end of every period. It is nice because you do truly get a free Christmas (which will be appreciated as I’ve been revising over Christmas since year nine!) But, it does seem very full- on and non-stop, and having to fly home two days before Christmas is not appreciated.


Exam length here is also different. It seems that rather than having to write as much as you can, as fast as you can, your exams are all around three hours long, though you can leave and most people do. This just gives you the opportunity to really put effort into your exams. They are not writing speed tests.



Hope that made sense and that it helps any potential students in figuring out the system earlier!

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About Louise

Hey, I’m Louise. I am currently studying on an Erasmus year in Amsterdam at VU University! I am a third year Criminology student and will be blogging about Criminology at Leicester, studying abroad, student life in Amsterdam specifically and student life in general all in aim of providing some insight and useful information!

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