Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Looking further

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is one of the world’s top 100 research universities! More than 350 English-taught courses are available in seven different faculties. Located in Amsterdam’s southern business district, a multicultural and creative environment, the university is 15 minutes from the city center.

Education at VU Amsterdam likely differs from that at your home university. Read below to understand how the academic calendar, credit system, and instruction style works.

VU Amsterdam is a leading European research university with about 25,000 students and 2,500 academic staff. 14% of the student body is international. Eleven faculties share one campus and cover a wide spectrum of arts, sciences and medicine. With almost 50 Bachelor degree programmes, of which 4 completely taught in English, and over 100 Master degree programmes, over 70 English taught, the university offers a wide choice of study options. Each year around 250 PhD's complete their doctorate. The VU School of Medical Sciences also has its own hospital, the VU Medical Center.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is ranked in the top 100 universities of the world according to the Shanghai ranking. The fields of Life and Agricultural Sciences and Social Sciences are ranked in the top 100 while Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy are ranked in the top 75. We have a strong reputation for high quality teaching. Students work in relatively small groups, in which considerable emphasis is placed on interaction and a personal approach. More extensive information about the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam can be found in the online brochure.

Higher education in the Netherlands is world renowned through a national system of regulation and quality assurance. All Bachelor and Master degree programmes at VU Amsterdam are accredited (officially recognized) by the Accreditation Organization of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO). No other country matches the Dutch percentage of universities in the top 200.

About the campus

The university campus is located in the business district called Amsterdam-Zuid (South). Most students live at the student housing campus, which is just a five minute walk from the university campus. From campus you can reach the lively city center within 15 minutes. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has a welcoming and centrally located city campus, with excellent facilities for teaching and research. It is a hub where people feel at home and meet each other. The campus offers a wide range of related services, such as:  

  • A variety of shops, cafés and restaurants, including a grocery store (more information further).
  • A cultural programme of film music and dance at the Griffioen Cultural Center. The center also has a wide range of courses to choose from, greatly reduced in price for students.
  • Sports Centre with new facilities, many types of classes and a gym. Provides cheap entrance for students and the possibility to subscribe for a short period of time.
  • A basketball field, multiple beach volleyball fields and tennis tables are located on the campus ground, free to use for students any time of day.
  • The campus is located in the middle of the most dynamic and fastest growing business districts in the Netherlands.
  • Great public transport connection: 15 minute tram or bike ride to the historic city center, 8 minute train journey to Schiphol Airport and 5 minute tram or bike ride to the student housing.
  • The Main Building has a permanent exhibition space, which showcases work of beginning and established artists. All over the campus you can view the university’s art collection, including an art route through the public areas.
  • The campus has its own bike repair shop, which also sells reasonably priced second hand bikes.
  • A number of academic and cultural events are organized on the campus throughout the year. For example the opening of the academic year and a public event programme including the VU Summer Break Festival, On the Roof Film Festival and the Open Air Festival.
Food and shopping

From the first cup of coffee in the morning to a delicious hot meal at the end of the day: the campus has a wide variety of cafés and restaurants to satisfy any craving. The Doppio coffee corner recently won the audience award in the coffee top 100. You can enjoy your food and drinks indoors or outdoors at one of the numerous picnic tables or on the steps. Books and other study materials can be find at the VU bookshop. Furthermore there is a Fair Trade shop and a student supermarket. The latter with a wide range of products.

IT and study facilities

Free WIFI is available for all students and employees on campus. There are several computer rooms, a notebook study room and internet work spaces to study comfortably and quietly. All faculties have their own study and computer rooms, often combined. Students can also study in the faculty libraries. The buildings are generally opened from 7AM to 11PM on weekdays and from 8AM to 6PM during the weekend. See opening times for each building.

Student associations

There are several types of student bodies at the university, mostly linked to a field of study. ESN VU Amsterdam is an organization for all international and Dutch students at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. It brings together students from around the world to introduce them to the university, to Amsterdam and to make them feel at home. ESN VU Amsterdam organizes a host of activities, including cocktail parties, weekly get-togethers (borrels), weekend trips and social gatherings every two weeks.

International office

The International Office is located on the ground floor of the main building. It provides support to incoming and outgoing students in order to help make the transition to a new country easier. Students are supported in finding accommodation, with immigration matters and in applying for scholarships. The International Service Desk is open on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 12 and 2PM for any general questions you may have. Keep an eye on the International Office Facebook page for the latest news, promotions and activities.

Career centre

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers career services to both international and Dutch students at the information centre in the main building. Services include personal advice and assistance in finding a job and workshops on how to write job applications.

Dutch society is distinctively multicultural. People from all parts of the world have been living in the Netherlands for decades, thanks to the country's historical legacy of being a welcoming and tolerant place. The university is located in vibrant Amsterdam, which boasts the largest concentration of students in the Netherlands and English as a second language.

Residents in Amsterdam hail from over 180 countries. The city is therefore considered the world's most diverse city. Most people get around by bicycle. There are estimated to be about 881,000 bikes in the city, which is more than the number of residents. Amsterdam is also a very green city with 40 parks, a large forest, and the World Heritage canal ring. 

Although Amsterdam is a small city with around 835,000 inhabitants, it has a diverse and bustling cultural scene offering over 350 music festivals per year, world class art ranging from van Gogh to Warhol to Banksy, as well as a booming cuisine culture with food from around the world. For those who love shopping, this is also the place to be. From top-end stores to small bargain and boutique type stores, you're sure to find what you like in Amsterdam. 

Check out the I Amsterdam website for a full overview of sights and attractions.

Fall Semester 2019
Arrival and Introduction17 August - 1 September
Period 12 September - 18 October, Exams: 21-25 October
Period 228 October - 13 December, Exams: 16-20 December
Period 36 January - 24 January, Exams: 27 January - 31 January
Spring Semester 2020
Arrival and Introduction31 January - 2 February
Period 43 February - 20 March, Exams: 23-27 March
Period 530 March - 22 May, Exams: 25-29 May
Period 61 June - 19 June, Exams: 22-26 June

The academic year is divided into two semesters.  Each semester consists of three periods. Students generally take two courses in periods 1, 2, 4, and 5 and one course in periods 3 and 6. 

Please note: periods 3 and 6 are stand-alone periods. This means that as an alternative to taking a course in these periods you can follow an extra course in a preceding period.

A regular semester's workload consists of 30 ECTS. ECTS is based on the principle that 60 credits measure the workload of a full-time student during one academic year. Each ECTS credit is equivalent to 28 study hours, which includes contact hours and self study hours. Students are advised to take a minimum of 48 ECTS per year or 24 ECTS per semester with a maximum of 60 ECTS per year or 30 ECTS per semester. A Minor programme is worth 30 ECTS.

Dutch grades range from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). The highest grades 9 and 10 are rarely awarded to a student's work. An 8 is considered a high mark, 7 and 6 are more common. Grades from 1 (very poor) to 3 are rare. Grades of 5.5 and higher are passing grades in the Netherlands but we advise you to confirm what constitutes a passing grade at your home university. 

Please be prepared for the fact that many grades are sometimes only made up of one final exam. Most courses offer resits if you fail the first exam. However if you only stay until period 2 in the fall or period 5 in the spring then the resit dates usually occur after you return home, meaning you can rarely take a resit unless you stay for all three periods in the semester.

Quality AssessmentECTS gradeDutch grade
Excellent/Very goodA8.0 - 10.0
GoodB7.5 - 7.9
More than satisfactoryC7.0 - 7.4
SatisfactoryD6.5 - 6.9
SufficientE6.0 - 6.4
FailF0.0 - 5.0


VU Amsterdam has a 100% attendance policy. Professors may allow one or two excused absences but this depends on the professor and will be indicated in the syllabus or at the start of the course. Study hours at VU Amsterdam are a combination of hours spent in class with the instructor and hours spent out of class. In general, a VU student has about 10 hours per week of strictly student/professor contact hours. The remaining hours are spent outside the classroom and can include time spent working on assignments with other students from the class, known as “work groups”, or time spent working individually on assignments, known as “self-study.” 

The Dutch understanding of “self-study” is a fixed number of hours spent working on specific assignments. Although students may spend a different amount of time completing an assignment depending on their work speed, efficiency, etc., at the VU, “self-study” hours are a fixed amount that every student is expected to fulfill per week. These vary per class but VU students usually spend more time on self-study than in the classroom. Self-study hours are weighted the same as in-class hours and are thus included in the 1 ECTS = 28 contact hours calculation.

Studying at VU Amsterdam: What is expected of you?

  • Be an active learner and critical thinker: ask questions, participate, and share your opinion
  • Be present and on time: 100% attendance policy
  • Be prepared: less lectures, more self-study
  • Be accountable: take responsibility. You will not be excused from mistakes which are your fault.
  • Be transparent: always mention your source of information

Studying at VU Amsterdam: What can you expect?

  • High level of classroom interaction
  • Independence and active learning
  • Importance of rules
  • Relative lack of competition
  • Brutal honesty
  • Social equality
  • No grade inflation or scaling
  • Freedom to choose different courses and explore different topics
  • Course content has career relevance
  • Courses do not meet daily, giving you independence to go off campus and learn outside the classroom
  • Mix of international and Dutch perspectives with an emphasis on small group work
  • The period structure allows for an in-depth approach to the material, but the courses pass quickly and are over in 7 weeks
  • Emphasis on independent learning
  • Non-hierarchical feel with little competition 
  • Guest lectures and interactive assignments

  • Sharp learning curve at the beginning
  • Grades are often only made up of a midterm and final exam, and sometimes only one final exam
  • The highest grades 8, 9, 10 are rarely awarded, which can negatively affect your GPA if your home university does not scale the grade conversion
  • Exam styles are typically closed book, multiple choice, or hand-written short answer
  • Cramming does not work: it is essential to keep up with the material from day one 
  • Most courses offer resits if you fail the first exam, however if you only stay until period 2 in the fall or period 5 in the spring then the resit dates usually occur after you return home, meaning you can rarely take a resit unless you stay for all three periods in the semester
  • More restricted "add/drop" period, whereby it is usually easier to drop rather than add courses
  • Courses do not always meet on the same day each week, and might even meet twice in one day, which can complicate planning