In the Netherlands, education is obligated to children between 4 years old and 18 years old. Also, the education system in the Netherlands differs from most countries being split up in different branches and pathways. Read more about education and international schools in the Netherlands.

Education phases

Elementary Art Class
Students Taking Exams
Students with iPad


4 - 12 years old

Basisschool is the type of school children go to for primary education. Generally, a basisschool can be found in each neighborhood/section of the city.

Voortgezet onderwijs

12 - 16/18 years old

In the Netherlands, secondary education is divided into several branches which prepare for tertiary education. These branches specialize in a certain degree of practical and/or theoretical learning.



Depending on the branch in high school students take on tertiary education. VMBO results in MBO, HAVO in HBO, and VWO in university.


Primary education


Basisschool (primary school)

4 - 12 years old, 8 years long

A primary school has eight "groepen" (grades). During primary education students gain basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. They will also start studying English by the time they reach Group 7, if not before then.

Mixed Race Down Syndrome Class

Schakelklas (transition class)

1 year long

A transition class is a class specialized in learning the Dutch language (and culture) in order for international students to be able to properly participate in the Dutch education system. Sometimes this done in specialized schools

Chalkboard with Different Languages

Alternative education

Similar to primary school

The Netherlands also have alternative primary education to offer, such Montessori schools or so-called "vrije school" (Waldorf school) in which learning is often structured in a more creative way.

Kids in Art Class

Voortgezet onderwijs

Secondary education

Voortgezet onderwijs or "middelbare school" is secondary education / "high school". In the Netherlands it is split in different levels, with up-/downscaling possible. Also, after finishing VMBO or HAVO, it is possible to enter the above level in the second to last year.


VMBO (preparatory vocational education)

12 - 16 years old

This type of secondary education, which encompasses 60% of the Dutch population, combines vocational training with theoretical education (mathematics, language, arts, history, science). 

VMBO is divided into five pathways: VMBO-TL (theoretical oriented); VMBO-GL (mixed oriented); VMBO-KB (mixed oriented); VMBO-BB (vocational learning oriented); Praktijkonderwijs (practical learning oriented).

Basketball Class

HAVO (senior general secondary education)

12 - 17 years old

HAVO is education which prepares for HBO level education (applied sciences). All students follow the same subjects: languages, history, mathematics, sciences and arts.

HAVO is divided into two phases, with the second phase starting in the fourth year. In the third year, students have to choose a profile which determines the focus of studies and subjects. There are four profiles to choose from: C&M (arts/social/languages); E&M (economics/social); N&G (biology/natural sciences); N&T (natural sciences)

Teacher Assisting a Student

VWO (university preparatory education)

12 - 18 years old

VWO prepares for University level education. It is similar to HAVO regarding subjects, phases and profiles, although slightly more difficult and challenging for students and one year longer.

Within VWO another branch exists named Gymnasium. In this branch, students learn Latin and historic Greek in the first phase and have the option to choose it in the second phase. 

Experimenting in Lab

Vervolgonderwijs (tertiary education)

Vervolgonderwijs is the type of education following secondary education / high schools. The level is determined by the degree obtained during secondary education and tertiary education. For example, with a HAVO degree someone can apply for HBO, but also someone with a MBO4 degree can apply to HBO.



16+ years old, 1-4 years duration
Requirement: VMBO

MBO is the type of education that can be attended with at least a VMBO degree and is oriented at vocational training. Typically, two pathways are possible: school-based education (less than 60% training at companies) or apprenticeship education (more than 60% training at companies). 

MBO is offered in 4 levels: MBO1 (assistant training, 1 year); MBO2 (basic vocational education, 2-3 years); MBO3 (more independently performed tasks, 3-4 years); MBO4 (middle management VET, 3-4 years).​

Smiling Student in Lecture


17+ years old, 4 years duration
Requirement: HAVO, MBO4

HBO level education unique to the Netherlands as it provides a third option next to vocational training and university. HBO can be described as applied sciences and provides more practical learning than university education. 

After finishing HBO, it is possible to do a master, however, a pre-master trajectory often is required. 

Group Students Smilling


18+ years old, 3-6+ years duration
Requirement: VWO, HBO (propaedeuse)

University education is split in bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. Students start with their bachelor then are able to do a master and/or Ph.D. Universities are theoretical oriented and in most cases teach students to become scientists/researchers. 

HBO students can enter a bachelor (with a propaedeuse) or master (with an HBO degree).

Giving a Speech

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