The Million Dollar, or Euro, or Kroner, question: How and Why I Choose Amsterdam

This time last year I was in the midst of applying to schools in Europe. I had just decided against looking at master’s degrees in the US and had started to narrow down my options in Europe. If you’re currently working on applications, you’ll understand the worries I was experiencing. How do I choose when there are so many great schools and so many beautiful cities throughout Europe when I live on a different continent?

Posted by at Jan 29, 2017 11:10 PM

Narrowing my search down to three options was by no means easy. I had a spreadsheet of at least 11 different schools I was interested in! But finally, I decided on Oslo, Barcelona and Amsterdam. I think I would’ve been happy at any of these schools, but I’m confident I made the right choice!

My criteria for choosing a school were: cost of tuition, cost of living, the quality of the music program and the likelihood of being able to stay in the country after graduation. Barcelona, Oslo, and Amsterdam all had relative strengths and weaknesses in these categories that I had to weigh for my decision.

Remember, Barcelona is just a short, often cheap flight away from the Netherlands!


I’d visited Barcelona a year earlier and loved the city, which lead to me exploring the possibility of studying there. In terms of my criteria, Barcelona did well in cost of living and quality of the music school. Apartments seemed affordable and the teachers were first rate musicians.

However, the tuition was much higher (in fact, high enough to offset the lower living costs) and I wasn’t very optimistic about my ability to find a job, or make enough money playing music to get a visa after I graduated.

In the end I decided against making the trip for an audition because I wasn’t confident I could make the money I had last two years with the high tuition.

Norway, like the Netherlands, boasts a robust economy


Oslo was a really appealing option for me. While I was working on cruise ships I visited Oslo twice, and enjoyed it both times. Being a very wealthy nation with a strong social safety net also made it very enticing for a music career.

A huge draw for Norway was a big zero next to the tuition cost. They also had very low student housing costs, although you did have to be a on waitlist to find housing, and it wasn’t guaranteed that you would get a room. Also, as I mentioned above, if I managed to stay, working in Norway’s wealthy economy could be lucrative. I found quite a bit of information on government grants to the arts that funded musician’s careers.

However the cost of living is quite high (I paid 30usd for a pizza in Oslo!) so I wouldn’t end up saving much, even without tuition to pay.

The visa options, and my likelihood of being able to stay afterwards seemed a bit remote. Last, although the school I was looking at was very good, I wasn’t sure I would fit in musically.

Rush hour at night
Amsterdam rush hour traffic consists of lots and lots of bikes!


Amsterdam was a bit different than the other options I looked into. The Conservatorium van Amsterdam was the first music school offering jazz that I had heard about in Europe, and looking at the school’s website back in 2012 actually inspired me to start saving for grad school in Europe.

The pros of Amsterdam were many. The school had great teachers and many people suggested it as a good place to study. The cost of living, while not cheap, was lower than most American cities (when you take into account groceries and things like mobile bills and health care) and definitely lower than Oslo.

The Netherlands also has a program called an Orientation Year, which gives you a year to search for any type of work.  Additionally, the Netherlands is an affluent country with good social programs, making it a good spot for musicians.

The only negative was the cost of tuition, because I wasn’t sure how much the cost of living would be. However, the tuition was much lower than Barcelona, and MUCH lower than US schools.

The Conservatorium van Amsterdam


When looking at my criteria, Amsterdam often occupied the middle ground between Oslo and Barcelona. The quality of education I would receive was amazing, especially for the fairly low tuition. The professors at my school are fantastic musicians and excellent teachers. The global outlook of the city, and the country as a whole makes me optimistic about finding a path to living in this beautiful country.

I’m very confident I made the right choice, but it did take a lot of research and reading to come to that point.

Let me know below what you’re looking for in a school! Unless your dream university is nestled in the mountains, the Netherlands probably has what you’re looking for!

Posted by at Jan 29, 2017 11:10 PM
Leonardo says:
Jan 31, 2017 05:18 PM
Hi Michael

I found very useful your post. Right now I'm looking to apply for a Msc. Degree in Sanitary Engineering. I'm from Costa Rica and I would like to ask you about the weather in The Netherlands . We only have two seasons here: dry and wet. So do you have any personal choice for the weather in The Netherlands instead of Barcelona or Oslo?

Best regards
Michael says:
Feb 01, 2017 11:49 AM
Hi Leo,
Well it will definitely be a little colder than Costa Rica! Amsterdam has a similar climate to Oslo, just less extreme in the winter. It rarely ever drops below 0. Honestly the weather is not as nice as Barcelona, but here in Amsterdam you get 4 distinct seasons, which I really like! Good luck in your application process!
Tope says:
Jun 08, 2017 09:29 PM
Hey Michael,

I find your write-up on studying in Netherland quite insightful. I also at the stage where I am weighing my options between the USA and the Netherlands for a graduate degree. I am quite concerned about the difference in language though. English is the primary language of instruction in my home country and I'm very concerned about having to learn Dutch all over as I understand this is required for better integration.

Also, what are the chances of International students being able to find work after studies in comparison to the US? Is there a path to permanent residence/citizenship for an International student like Canada offers?

Looking forward to your thoughts.


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