Adjusting To The Dutch Academic System: The Way To An Easier Life 

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands

When preparing to go to the Netherlands, I didn’t think much about how the dutch academic system would be different. My mind was preoccupied with thoughts about housing, friends and Covid.

Now that I’ve been studying in the Netherlands for 8 months I wanted to share some tips to help deal with the different academic style.

Tip 1: Leave Period 3 And 6 Free If You Can

The Netherlands works in a period system rather than a semester system. You have 6 periods in total and you pick different modules (all worth 6 credits) for each period. You need 30 credits worth of classes in the first 3 periods and the last 3 periods – These credits don’t have to be spread out evenly. 

When I started I planned two modules in period 1 and three in period 2. That meant that I had all of period 3 off. I was so happy I did this as the holidays in the Netherlands are very short. In the Netherlands, you only get two weeks over Christmas. However, because I had no classes in period 3, I was able to have all of January off to travel, relax, and explore. 

Tip 2: Divide And Conquer 

At first glance, the workload in the Netherlands feels very intense, with regular assignments and lots of reading! If you are quite a slow reader like me, a good way to cope is through alliances with coursemates. At the start of each period in the first lectures and tutorials see if one or two of your new classmates wants to divide up the readings each week to lighten the load. Then all you have to do is focus on one or two readings more closely and then read your coursemate’s summaries. This helps avoid being overwhelmed with the amount given and also stay on top of it whilst living the fun life of an exchange. 

Tip 3: Rethink Academic Terms 

Assignment, resit, fail… All words that we are all already familiar with, but in the Netherlands, they have different connotations. The modules in the Netherlands often have many assignments spread throughout the period. I found this intimidating at first as at UoM usually, we have one or two big assignments per module which we focus on. Here, assignments are a lot more relaxed and low stake, but very regular. It helps spread out the marks that create your overall grade. So don’t panic at the list of due dates you get at the start of a period. 

Also failing in the Netherlands is a very normal and natural part of studying. The resits are scheduled sometime in the next period and people from the class are often very open about needing to retake and so team together to help each other. It’s seen as no big deal to fail and retake, some people even do it on purpose to give themselves more time. 

So while you should try your best with all the assignments, get excited about the interesting courses offered, and engage with the new classes, don’t panic if you do need to resit. It’s okay. It always works out. 

You are already studying in a new place with a different system, and away from a lot of your support network, don’t put too much pressure on how you perform.

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