From practical matters to course selections to social outings, we aim to assist you with all aspects of life as an international student and help you develop a clear path for your academic future.
All you need to know
The VU Amsterdam Gap Year Experience offers personal guidance and advising to all Gap Year participants, both on and off campus. This includes the following services:
- Extended Introduction and Orientation programme together with Semester in Amsterdam students
- A programme of social activities throughout the semester
- Pick-up service on arrival day
- One-on-One Meetings
- On-site housing assistance
- Dutch Buddy Programme
In addition, we also offer extended guidance in the arrangement of all practical services including:
- Health Insurance
- Registration at the municipality
VU Amsterdam guarantees furnished housing in shared apartments with on-site assistance to all Gap Year Experience participants. All VU Amsterdam Gap Year Experience students will live together with other Semester in Amsterdam, Exchange, and full Degree students at Our Domain/Our Campus.
Our Domain/Our Campus: Private apartments with ensuite kitchen and bathroom
Our Domain and Our Campus are two separate buildings located on a completely centralized student campus. All rooms are fully furnished with a comfortable bed, wardrobe, desk, kitchen, and bathroom. Our Domain and Our Campus have many additional facilities including study and project rooms, a gym membership which comes with access to tennis, basketball, and soccer, a service desk, handyman, 24/7 security, social events and workshops, a lounge with TV’s and a game room, and a vegetable garden (all included in the rental price).
Additionally, the campus has many more services and facilities nearby such as a supermarket, bike rental and repair shop, medical and dental services, bars and restaurants, a hair salon, dry cleaning, public transportation, and more!
Take a Virtual Tour Here!
Want More? Check out this video from one of our previous videographers, Camille!
Approximate Cost: €875 - €1050 per month. *Actual costs are determined by the housing provider and may vary slightly based on room placement and availability. Students may also be asked to pay an application fee and a refundable €1000 deposit.
Living in Amsterdam
Welcome to the world’s most diverse city! With residents hailing from over 180 countries, Amsterdam is considered to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world. With 75 world-renowned museums, more than 350 festivals a year, and a 17th-century canal ring which is now a UNESCO world heritage site, Amsterdam is a bustling capital city with a small-scale feel that has something for everyone.
Getting Around by Bike
With more than 880,000 bicycles - four times the number of cars - Amsterdam is a city of bikes. With an extensive network of cycle lanes, bicycle parking, and specific traffic lights for cyclists, Amsterdam is truly the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. Everything in Amsterdam is within biking distance and, as you may know, the Netherlands is quite flat, which makes biking long distances easy.
While cycling in Amsterdam is fun and an essential part of Dutch culture, it is not without risk. Check out this handy guide before cycling in Amsterdam.
If you don't feel comfortable biking, no worries! The city of Amsterdam has an extensive public transportation network consisting of trams, metro services, buses, ferries, and trains. NS is the national train company in the Netherlands while GVB is the local transportation company in Amsterdam. Want an app that will help you plan trips using both the trains and local transport such as trams, buses, ferries, and the metro? Check out 9292, a popular transportation app used by many locals.
Public transport Card (OV-chipkaart)
The most convenient and affordable way to pay for public transport is with an OV-chipkaart, the Dutch public transportation card used throughout the Netherlands. We will provide all students with a refillable anonymous OV-chipkaart upon arrival.
You can opt for automatic reloading which links the card to your bank account and automatically refills it when your credit drops below a certain amount, or you can use a loading machine. Loading machines can be found in stations and in some buses, supermarkets, and convenience stores. You can also purchase single-ride tickets if you prefer, but using an OV-Chipkaart is cheaper, faster, and more convenient.
Check-in and check-out
Public transportation in Amsterdam uses a check-in and check-out system. It is important to remember to check both in and out when using your OV-chipkaart. This can be done by holding the card against the check-in/check-out scanners which you will find on train and metro platforms. For trams and busses, you will find the scanner on the bus or tram, you do not need to check-in before you board. You must also check-in and out when changing to a different line or mode of transport.
*Please note that in order to take the train, you must have at least €20 on your OV-Chipkaart. This is not the case for other forms of public transportation such as the metro, bus, tram, or ferry. Ferries are free and do not require an OV-Chipkaart to travel.
Sim Card and Money Matters
Upon arrival in Amsterdam, you will receive a goodie bag which includes, among other things, a SIM card. The SIM card is from Lebara and allows you to add credit for calling, texting, and internet data. It is easy to download the app for iOS or Android and to top up credit on your phone. The SIM card can be used in all EU countries without extra costs.
You may consider bringing some cash for the first day, but it is usually easier to pull out cash upon arrival from one of the many ATMs in the airport and all over the city. Major credit and debit cards are accepted in most shops and restaurants. Bear in mind that most ticket machines for the tram and metro do not accept cash and some shops, such as many popular grocery stores, do not accept cards without a V-Pay or Maestro logo. It is for this reason that we recommend you open a bank account soon after arrival.
Apart from housing, you may consider the following estimated cost of living per month:
Food €200-350: This depends on how much you cook or eat out. You can reduce this price by shopping at discount supermarkets such as ALDI or LIDL, or shopping at one of the local markets. Insurance €75-125: All students are required to have health insurance. You can sign up for discounted student insurance during the arrival days if your home insurance does not cover you in the Netherlands. Transportation €0-125: This depends on how much you bike and walk. It is possible to get from one end of Amsterdam to the other on a bike in just 45 minutes, so it is possible to travel around for free if you purchase a bike. If you are not comfortable cycling or are not able to cycle, consider signing up for a product with NS or GVB. Course Materials €50-150: Most professors make their reading materials available online. Other Costs
This depends entirely on your personal lifestyle and preferences. If you want to go out to bars or events every weekend you can of course expect to spend much more than if you prefer cheaper alternatives. Luckily, there are plenty of free things to do in Amsterdam!
We also highly recommend getting a museum card for anyone that plans to spend their weekends at one of the many world-famous museums! Below is a general estimate of average costs to help you budget for your semester. You can find more information about how to budget for student life in Amsterdam here.
* Coffee: €2.50 - €4.50
* Soup: €6.00 - €9.00
* Sandwich: €8.00 - €13.00
* Main course: €15.00 - €25.00
* Beer/house wine: €3.00 - €6.00
* Museum Card: €64.90
* Entrance to Rijksmuseum: €20.00
* Entrance to the Anne Frank House: €14.00
* Haircut: €20.00 - €35.00
* Cinema ticket: €10.00 - €20.00
Centralized On-Site Campus
VU Amsterdam is a campus university: almost all university buildings are situated on-site. This means that all of your courses will be located in one place, making it easy to get from one course to the next. The university campus is also home to various sports fields, restaurants and food options, and flexible study spaces, making it a great place to take a break, meet friends, or get a bite to eat between classes.
The campus is located in Zuidas, Amsterdam's business district, and is located next to one of the city's biggest transportation hubs, which means it's easily reachable from any part of the city and also situated in the middle of the most dynamic and fastest-growing business district in Europe. The VU Amsterdam campus is only a 15-minute bike ride from the historic city center and you can catch a train to Schiphol Airport in just 8 minutes.
The campus offers a wide range of related services such as:
- A variety of shops, cafés, and restaurants including a student supermarket
- A cultural programme offering a variety of theatre, music, and dance performances and courses at the Griffioen Cultural Center. Prices are reduced for students and staff
- Two Sports Centres with new facilities and a variety of classes including yoga, spinning, Zumba, and more
- Basketball field, beach volleyball field, and tennis tables located on campus and free to use any time
- Permanent exhibition space which showcases the work of new and established artists
- Extensive underground secured bike parking.
- Academic and cultural events organized on campus throughout the year
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 found at the VU bookshop located in the Main Building of the VU Amsterdam Campus.
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 workspaces available to study comfortably and quietly. All faculties have their own study and computer rooms. Students can also study in the faculty libraries. See opening times for each building.
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 and Amsterdam and to make them feel at home. ESN VU Amsterdam organizes a number of activities throughout the semester including boat parties, borrels, weekend and day trips, pub quiz and movie nights, and more!
The International Office is located on the ground floor of the main building on the VU Amsterdam campus. This is where you will find the Semester in Amsterdam team. We are happy to meet with students by appointment. Please don't hesitate to contact us to set up a meeting (please do not visit without a meeting as this area is secured).
The International Service Desk is open weekdays from 12 to 2PM for any general questions you may have.
A Sustainable Campus for a Sustainable Future
VU Amsterdam has a clear vision for a sustainable future. We value the stewardship of our planet and the responsible planning and management of resources which leads to a sustainable future. Environmental sustainability is not only a priority for teaching and research programmes at VU Amsterdam, but is also a major consideration for construction and building projects. VU Amsterdam offers several Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes in the field of Sustainability & Energy, collectively known as Science for Sustainability. Flexibility, sustainability, and cost-consciousness are important factors in the development of the VU Amsterdam Campus. New sustainable buildings are created according to BREEAM standards, the most trusted sustainability assessment method. Old buildings are refurbished to meet current sustainability standards as much as possible.
2022-2023 Academic Calendar
Fall 2022 Semester 5 September 2022 - 3 February 2023 Arrival Day and Introduction Period 20 August - 30 August 2022 Period 1 5 September - 21 October 2022, Exams: 24 - 28 October Period 2 31 October - 16 December 2022, Exams: 19 - 23 December Period 3 (Optional) 9 - 27 January 2023, Exams: 30 - 3 February Spring 2023 Semester 6 February - 30 June 2023 Arrival Day and Introduction Period 3 - 5 February 2023 Period 4 6 February - 24 March 2023, Exams: 27 March - 31 March Period 5 3 April - 25 May 2023, Exams: 26 May - 2 June Period 6 (Optional) 5 - 23 June 2023, Exams: 26 June - 30 June
You can find the academic calendars for each academic year from 2016 - 2025 using this link.
Semester Structure and ECTS
The academic year is divided into two semesters. Each semester consists of three periods. Periods 1, 2, and 3 take place during the fall semester, and periods 4, 5, and 6 take place during the spring semester. The first two periods of each semester are 8 weeks long (periods 1, 2, 4, and 5) and the last period is 4 weeks long (periods 3 and 6).
ECTS is based on the principle that 60 credits is equal to the workload of a full-time student during one academic year. Each ECTS credit is equivalent to 28 study hours. Unlike many other academic systems, these hours include contact hours spent in class in addition to self-study hours spent independently outside of class. Students are advised to take a maximum of 48 ECTS per year or 24 ECTS per semester. While it is possible to take 30 ECTS each semester, this is a very intense schedule and is not advised for Gap Year students.
Dutch grades range from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). The highest grades of 9 and 10 are only rarely awarded. An 8 is considered a high mark while 7's and 6's 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. It is up to your home university to determine a proper conversion scale. Please also be aware that grades at VU Amsterdam are always rounded up or down. For example, an 8.3 will be rounded up to an 8.5 and an 8.2 will be rounded down to an 8.0. The exception to this rule is a 5.5, which is always rounded up to a 6.0.
Please be prepared for the fact that your final grade may be made up of only one final exam. Most courses offer the chance to take a re-sit exam if you fail the first exam, but if the re-sit is an in-person only exam and you only stay until period 2 in the Fall semester or period 5 in the Spring semester, then the resit date may occur after you have already returned home. For most courses, you must be present in Amsterdam to take the re-sit exam.
Study hours at VU Amsterdam are a combination of hours spent in class with the instructor and hours spent out of class working independently. In general, a VU student has about 10 hours per week of strictly student/professor contact hours. The remaining hours are spent outside of the classroom and can include time spent working on assignments with other students from your course, 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 the number of hours spent by each student may vary, all students are expected to complete a minimum number of hours of self-study for each course. This varies per course, but you should be prepared to spend more time studying independently than you may be used to. 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: many teachers have a 100% attendance policy; it's wise to check this with your professor beforehand
- Be prepared: fewer lectures, more self-study
- Be accountable: you are responsible for knowing when your assignments are due and when the exams take place
- Be transparent: always mention your source of information; plagiarism may result in automatic failure of the course
Studying at VU Amsterdam: What can you expect?
- High level of classroom interaction
- Independence and active learning
- Relative lack of competition
- Direct feedback
- Social equality
- No grade inflation or scaling
Curious about what life in Amsterdam is really like? Check out some of the VU Amsterdam student bloggers here! The Amsterdam Students Blog is a collection of experiences, ideas, adventures, tips, and stories about living and studying in Amsterdam. Here you can also find fun videos, tips, and insider information about student life in Amsterdam, all for students by students.
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