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How Does the American School System Work Compared to the Netherlands?

If you're considering studying and playing sports in America, it's essential to understand how the school system there works. This is particularly important when compared to what we're used to in the Netherlands. In this blog, I will take you through a comparison of both education systems.

Written by

Lars Blenckers

High School vs. Secondary School

Before ‘high school’ begins, there are ‘middle’ school and ‘elementary’ school stages, which I will leave out of this blog to keep it simple.

When you think of school in America, you probably immediately think of 'high school (just like in the movies)'. This is comparable to secondary school in the Netherlands, but there are some important differences.

In America, high school usually lasts four years, from 9th to 12th grade, comparable to the ages of 14 to 18. Unlike in the Netherlands, where you can choose between different levels such as HAVO or VWO, American high schools offer one general program for all students. This means less emphasis on early separation of students based on academic performance.

Grades in ‘High School’ vs. Our Secondary School

A significant difference in the school system in America vs. the Netherlands is the way grades are given. In the Netherlands, we use a 10-point scale, but in America, the GPA system (Grade Point Average) is common.

This system uses an average score, calculated from the grades obtained. Converting Dutch grades to an American GPA is not always straightforward, but as a general rule, an 8 or higher in the Netherlands corresponds to a 4.0 GPA in the US.

How Can I Calculate My GPA?

For a more detailed explanation of the GPA and how to calculate it from Dutch grades, I refer you to an extensive article on this: What is a GPA?

This article will give you a clear picture of how you can translate your Dutch grades into the American system, an important step if you are considering studying and playing sports in the US.

High school students in the Netherlands
High school students in the Netherlands

The Importance of GPA, SAT, and English Tests in America

The Importance of GPA

As we have already discussed, the Grade Point Average (GPA) plays a crucial role in the American education system. It is not only a measure of academic performance but also a key factor in university admissions.A high GPA can open doors to prestigious colleges and even increase the chances of receiving study scholarships.

Therefore, it is of great importance for students transitioning from the Netherlands to American schools to understand how to convert their grades into the GPA system and strive for high academic performance.

SAT: Is It Necessary for Dutch Students?

The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is another important factor in the American education system, especially for university admission.This standardized test measures reading, writing, and mathematical skills.

For Dutch students wishing to study in the US, taking the SAT may be a requirement, depending on the university they want to attend. It is advisable to check the admission requirements of specific universities to determine if the SAT is necessary.

Requirements for English Language Proficiency

Besides the GPA and SAT, proficiency in the English language is crucial. While this is not a problem for Americans, it is important for international students.

Universities may set requirements for language proficiency, often measured with tests such as the TOEFL or DuoLingo. These tests assess the ability of non-native speakers to use English in an academic setting.Universities have their own admission requirements regarding GPA, SAT, and English tests.

Diplomas and Final Exams in the Netherlands: Importance and Impact

In the Netherlands, the type of diploma you obtain in secondary school plays a key role in admission to further education. This contrasts sharply with the American system, where no distinction is made in educational level such as HAVO or VWO.

In America, the focus is on the Grade Point Average (GPA) and SAT scores for admission to higher education. In contrast, in the Netherlands, the type of diploma (HAVO or VWO) is crucial. This diploma determines not only which type of further education (HBO or WO) you can follow but also influences the choice of study options within these institutions.

Final exams in the Netherlands play an important role here. These count for 50% in determining your final grade from secondary school. The other 50% is determined by the grades you obtain during the upper years of secondary school.

This focus on final exams contrasts with the American approach, where the GPA is calculated over all grades obtained throughout the year.This difference in approach highlights the importance for Dutch students wishing to go to the US, not only to understand their final grades from secondary school but also how these grades can be translated into a GPA.

Higher Education: College/University versus HBO/WO

After completing secondary school, you're at the threshold of a new and exciting phase: higher education. But how does this differ in America compared to HBO and WO in the Netherlands?

In the United States, there isn't a direct counterpart to the Dutch distinction between HBO (Higher Professional Education) and WO (Scientific Education). Instead, there are colleges and universities often ranked based on prestige and academic quality. These rankings can vary depending on factors such as research, faculty, and student satisfaction.

Teaching Methods in America vs. the Netherlands

The approach to teaching in American higher education often resembles the Dutch HBO. The education is frequently practical and project-based, with a strong emphasis on group work and real-world applications. Students regularly receive homework and are assessed based on a combination of projects, exams, and active participation in classes.

This contrasts with WO in the Netherlands, where the focus is more on self-study, theoretical knowledge, and individual research. The teaching methods at Dutch universities often revolve more around lectures and individual study, with less emphasis on project-based work and group assignments.

These differences in the approach to higher education can influence your study experience and the choices you make. In the US, you can expect a more interactive and practice-oriented education, while in the Netherlands, the emphasis is more on in-depth academic knowledge and self-development.

Lecture Hall in the USA
Lecture Hall in the USA

Public vs. Private Schools

The distinction between public and private schools plays a significant role in both the American and Dutch education systems, but the dynamics and impact of these two types of institutions differ significantly between the two countries.

America: A Clear Distinction

In the United States, there is a clear distinction between public and private schools. Public schools are government-funded and are therefore relatively cheaper. Private schools, on the other hand, are independent and are often funded by tuition fees, donations, and other private sources.These schools can charge high tuition fees and are often seen as more prestigious, sometimes with better facilities and smaller class sizes.

The Netherlands: Predominantly Public Education

In the Netherlands, the majority of the education system consists of public schools, funded by the government. However, there are also private institutions, such as Nyenrode Business University, known for their specialized programs and networking opportunities. These schools can charge high tuition fees, but they are less common than in the US.

A School Year in America vs. the Netherlands

The structure of the school year in both the United States and the Netherlands has its unique characteristics, affecting the rhythm of studying and how vacations are scheduled.

United States: Two Semesters and Long Vacations

In the United States, the academic year is typically divided into two semesters. The first semester starts at the end of August or beginning of September and runs through December. After a 'winter break,' often lasting four weeks, the second semester begins in January and ends in May. This structure is common in both secondary and higher education.

Additionally, students in the US enjoy a long summer vacation, lasting from May to the end of August. This long break is often used for internships, summer jobs, or simply relaxation. There are also shorter vacations, such as 'spring break' in March or 'Thanksgiving' in November, giving students a week off from school.

The Netherlands: Vacation Spread and Periods

In the Netherlands, the system is slightly different. The school year typically starts in the first week of September and is divided into periods or trimesters, depending on the school or university. There are usually three of these periods, each lasting about ten weeks, with short vacations in between.

Education Costs: America vs. the Netherlands

Deciding to study abroad involves considering the cost of education, and there is a significant difference between the United States and the Netherlands.

Education Costs in America and Scholarships

Although higher education in the United States is known for its high costs, there are opportunities to alleviate these costs, such as scholarships.These scholarships can cover a significant part of tuition and other expenses, depending on the academic or sports qualities of the student.

For international students, including those from the Netherlands, obtaining a scholarship can be key to affordable education in the US. For more detailed information about scholarships and how to obtain them, read our blog: What Does a Scholarship Mean.

Education Costs in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, the costs for higher education are considerably lower than in the US, especially for EU students, thanks to government funding. The costs for international students from outside the EU are also relatively lower compared to the American standard.

Sports and Study: Opportunities in America

A unique aspect of the American education system is the integration of sports and study, particularly within the college sports system. This system offers students the chance to excel both academically and athletically, an opportunity that is less prominent in many other countries, including the Netherlands.

The College Sports System in the US

In America, college sports are an integral part of the university culture. Universities provide students the opportunity to participate in a wide range of sports at a competitive level while continuing their studies. These programs are known for their high quality of training, facilities, and competition.

Student-athletes have the chance to practice their sport at a level comparable to professional standards while also having access to academic opportunities. For many students, this is an ideal combination of pursuing sports passions and achieving a university degree.

Opportunities for Soccer and Hockey

Football (soccer) and hockey are two sports in which American universities offer particularly strong programs. These programs attract talents from all over the world. Students excelling in football or hockey may have the opportunity to play at a high level while studying. This can lead to further opportunities, both in sports and academia.

For Dutch students with talent in these sports, the American college sports system offers a unique opportunity. Not only can they practice their sport at a competitive level, but they can also gain an international academic experience valuable for their future career.

College Field Hockey at St. Louis University

Conclusion

After exploring the differences between the education systems in America and the Netherlands, it's clear that both countries offer unique opportunities and challenges for students. Whether you are interested in the academic experience, sports opportunities, or a combination of both, being well-informed about these differences is essential when making your choice.

Summary of the Main Differences Between the School System in America vs. the Netherlands
  • Education Structure: The US has a uniform high school structure without the level differentiation like HAVO or VWO in the Netherlands. GPA and SAT play a crucial role in admission to higher education.
  • Final Exams: In the Netherlands, final exams and the type of diploma (HAVO/VWO) are important for admission to HBO or WO, unlike the continuous assessment through GPA in the US.
  • Higher Education: American higher education does not distinguish between HBO and WO like in the Netherlands and focuses more on a practical, project-based approach.
  • Public vs. Private Education: In the US, there is a greater contrast between public and private institutions than in the Netherlands.
  • School Year Structure: The US system has two semesters with a long summer vacation, while the Dutch system has multiple vacations spread throughout the year.
  • Cost of Education: Studying in the US can be significantly more expensive, but scholarships can reduce these costs.
  • Sports and Study: The college sports system in the US offers unique opportunities for student-athletes, especially in sports like football and hockey.
Advice for Students

For students considering studying and playing sports in America, it's important to make a well-informed decision. Consider your academic goals, sports ambitions, and financial possibilities. Research the educational institutions, their programs, and the support available for international students.

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