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Is College in the Netherlands Free for Students?

I get this question a lot from prospective students curious about studying in the Netherlands. And I‘m always happy to share the honest truth:

No, university is not 100% free in the Netherlands, even for local students. There are tuition fees at both public universities and universities of applied sciences.

However, compared to countries like the US and UK, the Dutch system of heavily subsidized higher education still provides an affordable, world-class education!

In this detailed guide, I‘ll walk you through exactly how university tuition works here, scholarships available, true costs of studying and living as a student, and insights from my own experience as an international master‘s student at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

After reading, I hope you‘ll see that while not free, the Netherlands is still an incredible value for ambitious students looking to get a top education abroad!

The Dutch Model for University Tuition Fees

When it comes to charging for higher education, the Netherlands utilizes a unique model aimed at keeping university accessible, while still delivering a high-quality experience:

  • Public universities receive about 75% of funding from the Dutch government through annual block grants. This heavily subsidizes the cost of education.

  • The remaining 25% of university funding comes directly from tuition fees paid by students each year.

  • For Dutch and EU/EEA students, tuition rates are standardized and capped by the government at around €2,083 per year for bachelor‘s programs and €2,168 per year for master‘s programs at public universities.

  • Non-EU international students pay much higher variable tuition rates ranging from €6,000-15,000 per year depending on the specific program and university.

  • Private universities operate independently and charge all students, domestic and international, higher tuition closer to international rates.

So in a nutshell, the Dutch system relies on substantial government subsidies to keep tuition affordable for residents, while still requiring students to directly contribute a portion of the cost at public universities. Education is not completely free, even for Dutch students.

Reduced Tuition Options for Non-EU International Students

Now as an ambitious but broke international student, I know your next question – how can I avoid paying those crazy high international tuition rates at Dutch universities?!

Thankfully, the Netherlands offers excellent scholarship options:

Holland Scholarship

This prestigious scholarship provides talented non-EU students a €5,000 reduction in their first year tuition fees. It also covers visa application costs and health insurance.

The Holland Scholarship is awarded at participating Dutch universities based on academic performance with some consideration for financial need. I highly recommend all eligible international applicants complete the separate Holland Scholarship application!

University Merit Scholarships

Many Dutch universities, including Erasmus University, the University of Amsterdam, TU Delft, and Maastricht University offer substantial scholarships and grants to top-performing international students admitted to bachelor‘s or master‘s programs.

For example, I received a 25% tuition reduction from Erasmus University for maintaining high grades during my master‘s program!


If you are an EU citizen looking to study or complete a traineeship in the Netherlands, check out the Erasmus+ program. It provides monthly grants of €300-400 towards living expenses and full coverage of tuition fees at Dutch partner universities.

Numerous Foundations and Organizations

There are many charitable groups that offer scholarships specifically aimed at international students from developing countries who want to study in the Netherlands. This includes the Netherlands Fellowship Program, Holland-High School Scholarship, and Atlas Scholarships.

I highly recommend spending time thoroughly researching all possible scholarships and grants from Dutch universities, EU programs, non-profits, and other sources when applying as a non-EU student. They can make an expensive-seeming Dutch education much more affordable!

Student TypeTuition Fees (EUR per year)Potential Scholarships
Dutch Bachelor‘s~€2,000None – already low tuition
EU Bachelor‘s~€2,000Erasmus+ funding
Non-EU Bachelor‘s€6,000-12,000Holland Scholarship, Uni scholarships
Dutch Master‘s~€2,000None – already low tuition
EU Master‘s~€2,000Erasmus+ funding
Non-EU Master‘s€10,000-15,000Holland Scholarship, Uni scholarships

*Table shows average charged tuition fees and possible scholarships available by student type

As you can see, there are numerous options to receive discounted or even free tuition as an international student if you know where to look!

Total Costs of Studying and Living as a Student in the Netherlands

Even with reduced tuition through scholarships, studying in the Netherlands requires sufficient financial resources to cover living expenses and other mandatory costs.

From my experience as a master‘s student in Rotterdam, here is a realistic budget breakdown:


For a one year master‘s program, €10,000-15,000 per year


Shared apartment or student housing: €400-800 per month

Central Amsterdam is more expensive at €800-1200 per month

Health Insurance

Mandatory for residents: €100-150 per month

Residence Permit

Non-EU students pay ~€300 for the permit + €171 application fee

Books, Transportation, Food, Utilities

Budget ~€500 per month for basic living expenses

One-time Relocation Costs

Flights, shipping, temporary housing, insurance = ~€2,000-3,000

Total Yearly Cost

Living expenses: ~€9,000-12,000

Tuition: ~€10,000-15,000

One-time costs: ~€2,000-3,000

TOTAL: €21,000-30,000 per year

*Does not include leisure activities, travel, etc.

As you can see, even at a "discounted" international tuition rate, studying in the Netherlands requires significant financial resources. The good news? There are ways to ease the burden:

  • Apply early for scholarships and grants

  • Consider more affordable universities outside of Amsterdam

  • Get a part-time job (you can work up to 16 hours/week on a student visa)

  • Cook meals at home and budget wisely for rent, transportation, etc.

  • Take advantage of student discounts everywhere!

Is Free Higher Education Realistic or the Right Goal?

As an American from a country with crippling university costs, it‘s tempting to see "free college" policies in countries like Germany as the Holy Grail.

But the reality is more complex.

Completely taxpayer-funded models require very high income and consumption taxes across the board – is that necessarily fair or sustainable long-term?

And when students don‘t have any "skin in the game" by contributing fees, does it remove their incentive to graduate efficiently and consider career prospects?

That‘s why I ultimately think the Dutch model of moderate tuition fees paired with needs-based grants creates a balanced approach.

It requires students to have some responsibility for the cost, while ensuring money isn‘t a barrier to access through scholarships. And university funding depends on multiple sources, not just volatile government budgets.

This motivates graduates to seek gainful employment that contributes back to society through taxes supporting the next generation of students. Nothing is ever 100% free, but this strikes a workable balance in my opinion.

My Experience as an International Master‘s Student in the Netherlands

After going through the entire process myself, from researching programs to applying for scholarships and handling visas, apartments, health insurance, and more, I‘m happy to provide some real-world advice.

Overall, while not free, I found studying in the Netherlands to be an incredible life-changing experience that was very affordable compared to options in the US, UK, or Australia. Here are a few key insights:

It Takes Proactive Planning – Between university applications, scholarships, housing, visa, moving logistics – it was a ton of work! Start researching and preparing at least 6-12 months in advance.

Build Your Network – Join Facebook groups, subreddits, Discord channels to connect with current Dutch students. They will provide priceless advice on finding apartments, handling paperwork, where to study, etc.

Embrace the Culture – Adjusting to life abroad wasn‘t always smooth. But embracing activities with my Dutch friends like biking everywhere, stamppot dinners, and Sinterklaas made all the difference.

Learn Some Dutch – People speak excellent English, but making an effort with the language helps you integrate and gain true Dutch friends.

Cherish the Experience! – The year flew by. Soak in every canal stroll, museum visit and new friend. An affordable, world-class education experience like this is priceless.

Yes, you need to be organized, budget wisely, and work hard both in academics and part-time to make it work financially. But with the right approach, a Dutch university degree can provide amazing opportunities well worth the investment!

The Bottom Line: Don‘t Write Off Studying in the Netherlands Based on Cost

While university in the Netherlands isn‘t 100% free, I hope this guide has shown that with the right scholarships, part-time job, and budgeting, getting a high-quality degree here is still highly affordable compared to many other countries.

And the benefits – English-taught programs, a tolerant culture, endless recreation, and the chance to launch your career in the heart of Europe – make the Netherlands an incredible place for ambitious international students.

So don‘t immediately write off Dutch universities based on the "non-free" tuition rates. Take time to thoroughly research programs, talk to current students, and creatively investigate ways to make studying here work within your budget.

The investment into your education and future opportunities will pay off tenfold. I‘m living proof of that!

If you have any other questions about being an international student in the Netherlands, feel free to ask! I‘m always happy to help the next generation of global learners explore the possibility of an affordable Dutch education.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.