A Guide to Liberal Arts and Sciences in the Netherlands, Land of Culture, Cycling, Coffee shops and more


In a Q&A session, CollegeLAH asked Matthew about his journey to the University College Utrecht (UCU) in the Netherlands.

Tell us a little bit about yourself Matthew.

I’m a proud Penangite! However, 2 years ago, I decided to take a leap of faith and ventured to Saint Joseph’s Institution International in Singapore for my sixth form studies. Academically, my next port of call will be University College Utrecht in the Netherlands where I’ll be pursuing a Liberal Arts and Sciences course.

That’s a pretty unorthodox route you’ve elected to take. What made you choose to study in the Netherlands and more particularly at University College Utrecht (UCU)?

Choosing UCU was a pretty easy choice. I felt that the course suited my learning style with its small class sizes promoting in-depth discussions while allowing students to read broadly across a wide range of subjects of their choice. For a person who hasn’t exactly found his passion yet, I figured that this would be a great opportunity seeing as instead of “closing doors”, I‘d actively be exploring avenues where my potential passions in life lie.

Additionally, UCU is the honours college of the University of Utrecht – the largest university in the Netherlands. As a result, UCU has a diverse mix of students from different backgrounds, nationalities and interests. The ability to live on campus and be part of such a driven yet diverse community was something that really appealed to me.   

Finally the generous scholarship the university awarded me was certainly an affirmation of my decision.

As to why the Netherlands, I guess that had something to do with my curiosity for adventure! However on a more practical level, many Dutch institutions are very well regarded internationally,  a plethora of courses there are conducted in English, the fees are competitively priced, it’s culturally liberal and situated in the heart of Europe… I could go on all day!

That was a pretty detailed account. What was the application process to your university like and when were the deadlines?

It was pretty straightforward. There’s a process somewhat similar to UCAS called Studielink. However I recommend contacting the university’s admissions office directly as each institution might differ slightly in their admissions process or criteria.

That being said, it is highly recommended to go to an institution’s website and read carefully. Especially, look out for what they expect of a potential candidate as well as the values that they treasure and will ultimately judge you by. This applies generally irrespective of where you’re applying to or what you’re applying for.

With regards to deadlines, a safe target to aim for would be to have everything ready and submitted by the first week of January if you’re planning to enter in Fall of that year. This chiefly includes, transcripts, letters of recommendation, essays etc. It can get pretty intense as this period is when most universities have their deadlines for international students; again this might differ based on program and institution.

Was there an interview process?

Interviews actually are the exception in the Netherlands, only the more selective courses, such as the Liberal Arts and Sciences and other numerus clauses courses, tend to interview candidates. Mine was done over Skype but otherwise admission to most programmes are usually judged based on academic merit.

How did you prepare for the interview and was there anything that stood out?

It might seem counterintuitive but a handy tip would be to ready a set of well thought out questions to ask the interviewer. The questions you ask not only reflect where your interests lie but also shows that you’ve taken the initiative to research and are genuinely curious about the subject/institution.

Apart from that I think it’s good to keep in mind that this is as much a chance for you to shine as it is for them to gauge whether you’re the right fit for their institution instead of some interrogation session. I was pleasantly surprised by how casual it all seemed especially despite our obvious differences in background we were able to converse frankly and freely on intellectually stimulating topics. Perhaps I was lucky that I got a nice interviewer, who knows?

What did you include in your personal statement/essay(s)? Maybe you could also elaborate on how you wrote the essay?

Funny you should mention it, I actually wrote my essay while on holiday somewhere in Vietnam very close to the deadline. Although the limited internet connectivity probably did help sustain my focus while writing, nonetheless I would not advise anyone to repeat that. So if you can, do start writing early!

What to include is pretty subjective, it really depends on the essay questioned posed. From my experience they tend to be short, roughly 500 words, and directed; bear in mind that this is a chance for the admissions team to get to know how you think and who you are as person. So make the best use of your words to express your ideas, it might take a couple drafts and time to proof, but that’s just part of the process.

What do you think contributed to your success of your application? What were some of the past experiences/ ECA/ work attachment/ academic achievements that you included in your essay?

Honestly, I can’t say for certain. Nonetheless, in answering the latter question, I tried to incorporate past experiences that highlighted the values that I genuinely share with the institution.

It’s not enough to say that I’ve been the president of XYZ society, or I raised XXX amount of money for charity. Personally, I think what differentiates a good candidate is how they explicitly relate their circumstance and subtly weave it into the narrative of the case that they are trying to make. In my situation, I wrote about how I adapted to leaving home for a new place to study and more specifically what I took away from the experience that might aid me in future.

One big lesson I learnt, “how you present something is often of equal importance as to what you’re presenting”.

What advice would you give to future applicants?  What are some of the useful resources you used?

Sounds like a dating website but bachelorsportal.eu is a very good way of narrowing things down if you’re interested in studying in Europe. Scholars4dev.com is also another worthwhile site to visit if you’re looking for scholarships.

As for advice, following the theme of previous CollegeLAH contributors, START PLANNING EARLY! It’s OK to not know what you want, that’s NORMAL. As a French philosopher so aptly phrased it “I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of”.

Insofar as your search continues, speak to people, dream and make a plan with realistic goals toward the direction of your choosing. At the same time be open to new possibilities which might alter those dreams; when the opportunity arises dare to sometimes take the road less travelled, life might just surprise you!


A believer in “passing it forward”, Matthew Tan encourages more to share their university application experiences with others especially on sites like CollegeLAH.  He is currently pursuing a Liberal Arts and Sciences course in University College Utrecht in the Netherlands.


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