If you search “University of Amsterdam” on YouTube, you’ll get a handful of perspectives, from the school’s picture-perfect admissions videos to ex-students’ slanderous depictions. Combined, these videos don’t offer a cohesive narrative—but rather a slew of contradictions.
As my first year at the University of Amsterdam draws to a close, I wanted to compile my own experiences and paint an honest view of the school. For a university that has existed for over 400 years, there really haven’t been a lot of public accounts of the student experience here; I definitely remember struggling to find information about what I was getting myself into prior to enrolling.
I was in the dark, and even though there are times when I’ve questioned my decision, in the end I’m happy that I chose to study here.
Personally, I applied on a whim. I completed all of my applications to American schools by early October, and at that point I hadn’t really looked into colleges in Europe. The University of Amsterdam’s admissions reps made frequent visits to my high school, though, and they were always nice to me. Plus, their media studies program is ranked number one worldwide, and the application was free—so I applied.
The UvA application is similar to that of any other school. I made an account on Studielink (the website used to apply to college in the Netherlands), and requested an application to my desired program at the university. From what I’ve heard, everyone had a different application experience. Personally, I only had to upload my past transcripts, curriculum vitae, a letter of motivation, and letters of recommendation. Some of my friends had to also participate in “UvA matching,” an assessment that determines whether or not a student is a good fit for their desired major.
Six weeks later, I was accepted.
The University of Amsterdam seems like a college student’s ultimate dream. Sure, the area is open to marijuana and alcohol—but beyond that, it’s geographically blessed. With a short bus, train, or plane ride, you can be in Brussels, Paris, Berlin, or Milan, all while on your student visa because they’re a part of the Schengen zone. Culturally speaking, you’re gifted with the city’s rich history, impeccable art collection, and breathtaking scenery.
But none of those things are what drove me to the University of Amsterdam. My parents always placed a heavy emphasis on academics, so to me it didn’t matter how much I loved the city—if the university itself wasn’t up to par, there was no way my parents were going to allow me to attend.
The University of Amsterdam is ranked 57th worldwide in the 2018-2019 QS rankings. Its education program ranked 23rd, psychology ranked 17th, geography ranked 14th, linguistics ranked 14th, anthropology ranked 14th, sociology ranked 14th, and dentistry ranked 4th. With its communication and media studies ranked number one, I felt like I couldn’t say no.
Campus and Facilities
There are four main campuses for the University of Amsterdam: City Centre, Roeterseiland, Science Park, and the Academic Medical Center.
I study at the City Centre campus, where the Faculty of Arts is located. Like many other schools located in big cities, our campus consists of buildings scattered around the city, making the class-to-class commute quite inconvenient at times. To be transparent, the buildings aren’t always clean, and there’s a clear lack of study space. Even though there are three libraries and study centers scattered around the City Centre campus, there’s never enough space for everyone during exam week.
The Roeterseiland campus is situated in the East of Amsterdam, and its buildings are definitely newer and more modern—but it also holds more students than the other campuses. The Faculties of Social Science, Law, Business, and Economics are all based here. The few times I’ve been here, I really enjoyed it. Roeterseiland has more of a college atmosphere than the City Centre campus.
The Science Park campus is also located in the East of Amsterdam. Fittingly, it houses the Faculty of Science. Asides from that, though, it also accounts for the university’s gym and fields, so the sports teams have their practices here. There are a lot of study spaces here, too.
I can’t comment too much on the Academic Medical Center, which—as suggested by its name—houses the Faculty of Medicine. I’ve only been here to take exams, as it’s located further out in Southeast Amsterdam and is a bit of a commute. The surrounding area is a little shady, and there seems to be a lack of street lights and general patrol.
Service and Support
Prior to my arrival, I had a complicated relationship with the University of Amsterdam’s immigration office. In order to study here, I had to obtain a student visa, which involves sending a lot of documents to the school for them to pass on to the local government.
My overall experience definitely wasn’t pleasant. All of the international students were encouraged to send their documents in by the beginning of June, but many of us didn’t receive information about these documents until late May. Needless to say, I was extremely stressed during the days leading up to June—I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to obtain my student visa on time.
The complicated immigration process aside, the school itself provides pretty good support for its students. They open up a puppy room during exam week, and they also have a dedicated team for student services—you can call, text, or visit them at any time.
The worst part of attending the University of Amsterdam has to be the lack of housing options. The city of Amsterdam itself is facing an ongoing housing crisis, and between a lack of space and ever-increasing rent, it often feels impossible to find a decent place to live. Luckily, though, the university connects freshmen with housing organizations to find affordable, suitable accommodations.
This housing isn’t directly associated with the school, as UvA chooses to use third-party companies that own property in Amsterdam. It’s pretty quite questionable for a university that has existed for over 400 years to not have a proper student housing system, especially when students have been left homeless, living in actual prisons, or having to pay outrageous rent prices. I personally didn’t enjoy living in the UvA-provided housing, thanks to problems with facilities and the division between races; now, I’m trying to find my own place.
If you’re looking for the traditional college experience you’ve seen in movies and on TV, the University of Amsterdam is not the way to go. For me, though, I’m glad that’s how it worked out.
At UvA, going to college doesn’t just feel like a phase in your life, but like a job. We complete all of the required credits for a traditional four-year bachelor degree in three years, so the workload becomes wild at times. This can become extremely stressful—especially for the majority of my classmates who are working part-time alongside their studies. But even so, being a student here means you have to develop a good work ethic. I genuinely feel inclined to work harder because of the structure.
If you’re thinking about applying to the University of Amsterdam, you can read my column, A Freshman’s Guide, on Adolescent to hear about my freshman year.
By Wen Hsiao
Photo by Rina Dokai