Bachelors in Liberal Arts & Sciences

University College Utrecht

Summary: Exclusive video interview with Kim Zwitserloot from the University College Utrecht about their Bachelors in Liberal Arts and Humanities, living in Utrecht and studying in Holland as an IB student.

Length: 22 minutes. Read video transcript here.

Course overview

University College Utrecht provides English-language Liberal Arts and Sciences undergraduate education. Founded in 1998, as the first university college in the Netherlands, we are part of Utrecht University. Our campus is home to 750 students with 70 different nationalities. With the help of a personal tutor, students design their individual curriculum cross-cutting Science, Social Sciences and Humanities. They are also expected to engage in extra-curricular activities. 

At University College Utrecht, students learn for life.

All students follow a three-year bachelor programme. They graduate with a degree from Utrecht University, either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts.

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, “liberal education is an educational philosophy rather than a body of knowledge, specific courses, or type of institution. By drawing on a broad range of knowledge, it asks students to grapple with complicated, important issues, and usually expects them to learn about at least one subject in greater depth and at an advanced level. Intellectual growth occurs as both broad and deep learning challenge previously held beliefs.”

The small-scale and interactive class format creates optimal opportunity for learning. Students write papers, give presentations, lead discussions about reading materials, engage in debate, work on assignments in small groups, analyse data and so on. They receive feedback on their work in order to improve their academic skills and levels of understanding.

Studying at University College Utrecht requires good planning; students have four classes every semester and each has deadlines for reading assignments, presentations and papers. 

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Official video

Transcript of video interview

 Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
We are very honored to have Dr. Kim Zwitsersloot from the University College Utrecht joining us today. And I think it's probably best if I hand over to Kim and she can introduce herself.

Kim Zwitserloot from University College Utrecht
Hello, my name is Kim Zwitsersloot, I work at University College Utrecht in the Netherlands. I have a combined job there. I'm responsible for international student recruitment. But I'm also an Assistant Professor in Economics as well as a tutor, an academic advisor with some pastoral care responsibilities.

Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
Kim, I know that you wear several hats and that you're obviously a very busy person. So we're particularly grateful that you've taken the time to talk with us today. Now, UCU is particularly famous for its liberal arts and sciences program, and there are probably a few people out there listening to this video who are confused, or perhaps unaware of exactly what a liberal arts and sciences program is; perhaps you could explain that a little bit. 

Kim Zwitserloot from University College Utrecht
Yes, of course, Liberal Arts and Sciences is a bachelor program that's very common in the US, or at least widely accepted in the US. It is newer to Europe, University College Utrecht was actually one of the first places in Europe where you could study liberal arts and sciences. And it's quite different from the norm. Because normally in Europe, you would be studying one subject only from day one. So you would specialize from day one, in either psychology or economics or engineering or anything like that. And Liberal Arts and Sciences is different. Because the idea behind it is that if you really want to get a deeper understanding of something, you need to be able to look at it from different viewpoints. And therefore it's helpful to study multiple disciplines. And that's what Liberal Arts and Sciences offers. It's a multidisciplinary education. What that exactly looks like in the curriculum itself differs a little bit per place where you study it. But it is always about combining multiple subjects.

 Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
So typically, if a student signs up for a liberal arts and sciences program, so how many different subjects would they normally be studying?

Kim Zwitserloot from University College Utrecht
That would really depend on the curriculum. In the Netherlands, right now, we have 11, university colleges where you can study liberal arts and sciences.

And they all have a slightly different curriculum. They've all designed Liberal Arts and Sciences in a somewhat different way. And I realize that I should probably have given you a bit of an example as well, in terms of what it is and how it works in reality, is it okay, if I still have that? 
So if you look at something like Corona, for instance, I have a few students who are doing their research thesis on Corona. And if you want to understand what's happening there, of course, it's helpful to know something about biology, about chemistry, about medical science, simply to understand the disease. Well, if you want to understand how it spreads, it's helpful to know a little bit about human behavior. So the students I have also take a class in psychology for that reason. But we also offer a class in for instance, medical anthropology, which looks at how culture influences how you view health, how that influences your behavior, all of those things. So those are all elements that are really useful to understand if we're going to tackle Corona, how are we going to do it. So all those different viewpoints simply help you to get a better understanding of the problem as a whole, and how you can find a solution to it.
Now, within the Netherlands, as mentioned, we have 11 University colleges where you can study Liberal Arts and Sciences. Some of them have preset themes. So if you for instance, look at Leiden University College, their majors will be topical. So it will, for instance, be about peace and justice.
And then within that you will take classes in politics and law, conflict studies, history, those kinds of things. But they're more or less preset majors, you do have elective space within them, of course.
But yes, it's a little bit more there's a route already set out for you. If you look at University College Roosevelt's and University College Utrecht, where I work, we have a curriculum where we give students complete freedom. So there you have in the first year, students really have a chance to try out different classes, see if they like it or not. Often, it turns out that the image they had in their head of what their certain subject would be turns out to be quite different. For instance, I teach Introduction to Economics, and a lot of people think they're gonna enjoy it until they realize how much mathematics is involved. 
Really fascinating and interesting. So you have a chance on the first year just try out different stuff. And then only from the second year do they really start to focus. And then it's still a multidisciplinary focus, but it's really whatever they want to combine. So if I look at my own students, but this will be the same for Roosevelt University to some degree as well. I have students who combine psychology and neuroscience with linguistics. I have students who do mathematics and physics with economics. I have a student who does anthropology with linguistics and Media Studies, it's really you can combine whatever you want to combine.
I have conversations sometimes with students in my office who are interested in liberal arts and sciences programs, but they are students who are more in the arts humanities direction, and they're a little bit wary or insecure about the word science.
Because maybe there's a sort of student that perhaps struggles with sciences or mathematics.
Is a liberal arts and science program still appropriate for a person like that? The first thing you need to do is look at the curriculum of the specific Liberal Arts and Sciences program. Because there is, for instance, also one in the Netherlands called University College Twente, which is liberal arts and sciences with a focus on technology and engineering. So for those students, that would not be a good fit.
Other programs do have a lot more humanities, for instance, again, my program at the University of Utrecht, but also Roosevelt and also Maastricht. If you look at the curriculum, you'll see that there are a lot of humanities classes in there as well. You could study philosophy, art history, history itself, religious studies, you name it.
So yes, that could still be a good fit. But students really need to do their research properly and look at what subjects does this college offer? And also, how much would I need to take in other areas, because for instance, for University College Utrecht we do ask all of our students to take at least one science class. Now you need 24 classes to graduate, so only one out of 24, It's not like you'll be confronted with a whole bunch of science. And because we know there are a lot of students who aren't necessarily that excited about science, we do have science courses specifically designed for this group. We, for instance, have a class called mathematics for poets, which you can use to take that science class, sounds like a fascinating cross title.

Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
So students who are thinking about liberal arts and sciences, what sort of student would would typically take a liberal arts and science course?

Kim Zwitserloot University College Utrecht
Yes, and I think you you need to make a distinction between the curriculum itself for Liberal Arts and Sciences and the specific setup in the Netherlands. Because for liberal arts and sciences, I would say you want to be a kind of student that is very curious, that is interested in multiple things, if you are too focused, this is going to be a very frustrating program, because we will ask you to do a lot of subjects in different areas from your main interest. So if a student already knows very clearly, I want to become a psychologist, and that's the only thing I want to do and everything I want to study is related to that, these are not the right programs for them. We are really looking for students who have a broad range of interests, are very curious about the world in general, who really like knowledge, who want to understand,  that can really be a prime motivation.
So that's in itself  the liberal arts and sciences curriculum.
That a specific setup in the Netherlands has two other elements. One of them is that all the liberal arts programs in the Netherlands are honors colleges. And it means they're very selective. So they're all part of a bigger research university. And it's actually what a name college comes from, as well. It's inspired by Oxford and Cambridge, where you would study at a college within the bigger university, and then it would be a very small scale tight knit community. That's the same for the university colleges. They are honors colleges belonging to a bigger research university. But the honors element does mean the workload is a bit higher than it will be in a regular program. So you do really need to be academically strong to succeed here. And you need to be willing to work hard, because it really is quite a lot of work. In my college, you will be in class about 14 and a half hours a week. But on top of that, you would be expected to spend 30 to 40 hours on your studies next to it. And of course, it depends a little bit on the classes you're taking and where you are in the semester. But that is a realistic amount of hours that you would need to spend.
So you got the Honors College elements, which requires hard work, the liberal arts element which requires a broad range of interests. And then the other thing in the Netherlands is that because the college setup really means that we want the tight knit community so often residential as well. Now what that looks like differs per College. University College Utrecht has an American style campus. University College Roosevelt has a city campus meaning that they have different buildings in the city where students live. Groningen has a different setup. Again, Rotterdam has a different setup. So you really want to look at that element as well. How do you want to live, because we are looking for students who really want to be part of such a tight knit community who want to be involved in all the activities going on.
Because there are a lot of activities on campus itself, we always have a lot of dance classes, for instance, in Utrecht, and this Friday, we have a big dance performance where everyone will be showing off what they learned this semester. And all of that is organized by our students at our classes in salsa, Bollywood, modern dance, you name it. But also this afternoon, I'm gonna record a show for a radio station to help one of my students. So we're also looking for students who really want to be involved in that kind of community, you want to do stuff next to your studies.

Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
Sounds like a very, very tempting and attractive option that you have for the students at UCU. I found that a lot of the students in my office who are attracted to liberal arts and science programs are those who are undecided as to what they'd like to major in and would like to try and keep things a little broader. Would you say this is realistic?

Kim Zwitserloot University College Utrecht
It's funny, because yes, as I mentioned, I'm a tutor as well. And what happens here is that every student gets a personal tutor. And that's someone who really helps you compose your curriculum. So I sit down with my students to look at what do you want to study? What is a good fit for how you think? What kind of methodology Do you like? What do you want to do later on with your life? What kind of masters are you thinking about?
And what I run into is that a lot of students will say, they don't know what they want. But what I find in reality is that it's not so much that they don't know what they want, it's just that they want multiple things, they don't want to specialize. Because once in that first year, when you try out different classes, they usually realize pretty quickly that there are some things they really don't want, and that there are other things that do excite them quite well. So very often that  in my experience, if it comes from a place of simple curiosity, and being interested in many different things, that will be a good fit for liberal arts and sciences. If the analysis of this comes from just not being excited about university in general, then it's not a good fit for the liberal arts and sciences programs.

Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
What would you say to parents who might watch this video because I've had the conversation with parents, they sort of feel that this is so broad, and would my son or daughter then be qualified in any particular area? Or does a specialization come after the bachelor's when they move on to a master's degree?

Kim Zwitserloot University College Utrecht
Yes, you can. Basically I would say, refer to three things, first of all, every single liberal arts program has very strict graduation requirements to make sure that the curriculum is coherent, because of course, we are very well aware of the danger that it becomes loose and with too much diversity in the curriculum. So all of us do have requirements in place to make sure that people have enough depth in specific subjects as well and have the methodological background needed. So that's one thing you can look at. The other thing is that if I look at my program, but I think it will be the same for the other university colleges in the Netherlands, is that over 90% gets a master afterwards. And often, that's really where they specialize. And in itself, within continental Europe, getting a master is still the norm, you are expected to get a master before you get a job. So a lot of the time this specialization will come in that master's phase. And what I see with most of my students, is that they can continue on to a master's immediately. So they don't need to do a pre master or anything like that. But, and this is very important, students do also really need to start looking at master programs in time. So as a tutor, I will sit down with my students in their second year and say, Okay, what Master programs have you been looking at? What are the entry requirements? Are there any courses you need to take in order to be accepted? If we don't offer them? Where else can you take them? Could you take them on exchange? Could you take them in another department?
So students do really need to start planning ahead and also take responsibility themselves to go out there, do their research, find out what it is they need to get into the master programs. The third thing you can do and almost all university colleges will have that information available is look at the alumni. What are they doing now? If you go to our website, for instance, but it will be the same for the other colleges, you will find information from alumni about what they studied at the college, what Master program they did afterwards and what careers they have now. And you'll see that most of them ended up just fine. And that's indeed, we don't train specialists, but society also needs bridge builders. And that's exactly what our students are, they can connect different groups of people simply because they have been exposed to different viewpoints, not just in their curriculum, not just in their classes, but also because they are part of such a diverse community with people from all over the world who study different things. I mean, they will be living with people from maybe China as well as Venezuela and from Ireland and the US, and the Netherlands, obviously. So there's already a lot you learn from living with people from all over the world. But then they themselves may be studying art history and history, but they're living with someone who's doing physics and mathematics. So you'll get conversations about that as well. So our students are really well capable of connecting different groups. So even though they're not specialists, they are bridge builders and societies also need bridge builders.

Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
Moving along a little bit, would you like to say anything particular about your college UCU University College?

Kim Zwitserloot University College Utrecht
So in more general terms, let me see. So yes, if you're looking for a chance to explore your different options combined, whatever subjects it is that you want to combine, this might be a really nice option for you. We offer a small scale campus of 750 students, which is really an American style campus. So the dorms are right next door to the classrooms. That can be quite funny. Sometimes, as I mentioned, I'm a teacher here as well and I sometimes have someone walking into my classroom, wearing something that looks a lot like pyjamas. And then they tell me it's fashion. But then I also find out that they live two floors above my classroom. So I don't know.
There's a lot of stuff going on on campus, lots of activities, I already mentioned some of them. But it can also be a bit of a pressure cooker, because it is a small town. And with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with small towns, it's not really possible to be anonymous, everyone knows everyone.
So it needs to be something you're looking for, basically. But if you're interested in that, this might be a really nice option. The other reason why you want to look at university colleges in the Netherlands is that most of them, not all of them, but most of them do come with guaranteed housing as well, because of that community element. That can be for one year, two years, three years, but that might also be a nice reason to look at it.

Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
So the Netherlands has done a fantastic job in offering English taught courses, and thus attracting many, many international students. I see every year, more and more of my students are applying to study in the Netherlands. What do you think it is that the Netherlands has to offer international students in particular?

Kim Zwitserloot University College Utrecht
Oh, well, first of all, I mean, there are over 400 Bachelor programs that are taught entirely in English. So pretty much everything you want to study, you can study in English in the Netherlands, that could be philosophy, physics, engineering, business, languages, whatever, you can think of. There are only a handful of programs that are not available in English, for instance, veterinary medicine, and nursing. But most of the programs are available in English. And you can find an overview of them all at the website, wwwstudyfinder.nl.   Studyfinder, a really straightforward name.
So that's one thing, I think the other big advantages is that pretty much everyone in the Netherlands speaks English. And that's not just your professors. It's not just the people at the university. It's also the bus driver and people in the stores. You visit the Netherlands, of course, you know, what that's like And it's my own personal theory is that that's because if you go to the cinema or you watch television, a lot of the times the programs and the movies are British or American and all with subtitles. So when Dutch people watch TV, they hear English and they read and then you sort of automatically pick up on English quite well. So it's a relatively easy country to integrate into simply because you don't need to speak Dutch to build a life here.

Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
Yeah, I would entirely agree with that. Because I mean, as you just remarked, I've been to Netherlands many, many times, and I feel totally relaxed and at home in the Netherlands. I mean, most of the people are big and tall like me. And the climate is the same as the UK sort of wet and windy and we've got the seaside. Yeah, and I love riding a bicycle. By the way, should students learn to ride a bike or buy a bike when they're in the Netherlands?

Kim Zwitserloot University College Utrecht
Absolutely, it will. First of all, it will save you a lot of money because it's a lot cheaper, It's also the fastest way to get anywhere. To be honest, a lot of the city centers because they are often very old cities they were never built for cars. So a lot of times the city centers are closed off for cars. And then a lot of the university buildings will be in the city centers depending on which city you're in.
But that means it's just the easiest and the fastest to get anywhere, by bike. Most of the time, you know students will be given an opportunity to to buy a bike already in the first week that you're here in the Netherlands. And it's probably one of my favorite things to watch. There will always be an introduction week when you come to the Netherlands. So every university, every program will have a so called introduction week, which is a week filled with all kinds of social activities and parties meant to allow you to meet other people. And in our introduction, we will always have a bicycle store come to campus on the second day to sell bikes to all the international students. And then for an hour or two, I see all the international students cycling around the quad on our campus outside of my office when they're just sort of trying to get their bearings.
And it's a wonderful thing to see because the first circle they cycle is always a little bit wobbly. But by the time they make their last circle they are confidence.

Jeremy Handcock from Wigsbury
Yes well I think on that important note, note of bicycles, we should maybe wrap up this interview. Thank you so much again for giving up your time and I know that you have provided us all with some really useful insights into liberal arts and sciences programs particularly, and also studying in the Netherlands. So thanks once again, Kim.

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Grade Expectations

IB Diploma Expected Grade Range

Minimum offer requirement

32 IBDP points

(not including TOK & EE)

IB Course Requirements

None outside of the normal IB Diploma requirements.

English Language Requirements

For students following a full International Baccalaureate program with all courses (except foreign language courses) taught exclusively in English, there is no need to add additional proof of English proficiency.

Course Competitiveness Rating

Level 3: Competitive

Level Descriptors

Level 1: Students who meet the baseline entrance requirement generally gain admission.
Level 2: There are more applicants than places but strong IB students will have very good chances to be accepted.
Level 3: There are many more applicants than places but strong IB students will have good chances to be accepted.
Level 4: Very competitive course. Even academically strong students will have to offer more than just grades.
Level 5: Extremely competitive course. Large numbers of high quality applicants so you'll need to offer your very best.

Cost of Study

EEA, Switzerland & Suriname Fees

€4.584 pa*

International (non-EEA) Fees

€14.000 pa*

Cost of Living Overview

Campus Accommodation:

€6,294 pa

Additional Personal Expenses:


€5,000 pa

Local / International

Approximately one third of all students are not local nationals.

Possible Futures

This qualification allows access to a broad range of future professional careers

Earnings Potential (% of cohort)

First year after graduation average earnings. USD per annum.

Location Information


Physical Address

Campusplein 1,
3584 ED Utrecht,