America vs. The Netherlands Part 2: an American’s thoughts on the American and Dutch university experience

The Netherlands and the United States are two of the biggest destinations for international students. But, if you’ve never been to either, how do you make a decision on where to attend university? How does the experience differ?

The Netherlands and the United States are two of the biggest destinations for international students. But, if you’ve never been to either, how do you make a decision on where to attend university? How does the experience differ?

Trying to choose a university is tough. So many different factors go into making a decision. Cost, ranking, culture and location are all huge aspects of the university experience. How do you really know what it's like somewhere far from home, in a culture you've never lived in?

Everyone experiences things differently, but I can at least give my thoughts on the differences between the US and Holland. See part 1 to read about differences in housing, international feel and travel opportunities.

Ams Canal
A typical view on my way home from school in the evening



Everyone knows tution in the US is insane. The school I went to has tuition set at 50,424 USD, plus another 431 USD in fees (and 15,489 USD for room and board if you live in the dorm) which sounds absolutely ridiculous right? It is, but there are ways around this!

I paid much, much less, because I came from an average income family in the states. Many private schools in the US, like mine, will help pay tuition for students who don’t come from wealthy backgrounds. There are also many scholarships available.

Unfortunately, most state schools and many private schools will not extend the same offers to non-US citizens. This can make searching for financial aid very frustrating. Keep at it though! There are many scholarships, some of which cover everything!

Conservatorium Hall
If you study in Holland, you too could get a view like I get here at my school in Amsterdam!

Compared to the US, the Netherlands has very low tuition. It’s actually less expensive in terms of tuition, than the cheapest school in the US would have been for me. For the level of education you receive, and how welcoming the Dutch are, it’s a great deal!

Of course, it’s always good to keep costs in mind. Many scholarships exist, some of of which cover part, or all of tuition. Some even help cover living expenses. The Study in Holland website has a great tool to help you find scholarships.

My School
The Netherlands isn't all cute brick buildings! My university, along with many others, is in a very modern building

Learning Approach

When I studied in the US, everyone was always focused on grades. Everything would have a grade, and in many classes there were many, many homework assignments. Everyone always wanted to know what was on the test.

Here in the Netherlands I haven't heard anyone mention grades yet. Granted, I do attend a music conservatory, which is often less grade oriented than the more mainstream universities. My Dutch friends I have spoken with all agree that there seems to be less emphasis on grades though.

Amsterdam fall
Fall in Amsterdam has been beautiful

Of course I will be evaluated during my studies here in Amsterdam, but the focus is not totally on getting a grade, but on learning and encouraging exploration of different topics. In my opinion, the US has more of a get the grade, get the job approach.

Many, many exceptions exist in both cases of course, but generally the first day of class in the US focuses on when the big assignments are due and when the test will be, while here in Amsterdam, it was immediately about learning a topic that you’ve chosen to study!

Dam Square
Both the Royal Palace on the left and the Nieuwe Kerk in the center are free with the card!

There are many other things that make the experience different: the influence of the bike on student life in the Netherlands, the grading system itself (I’m still not sure of this myself, because as I said grades seem so secondary to learning!) and the fact that beer is served at my school’s cantina!

Amsterdam movie theatre
Movies in an Art Nouveau theatre! With student discount of course

The topics I’ve discussed stuck out to me as the most noticeable differences between the two university experiences. If anyone has a specific question about studying in the Netherlands or the US let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!
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