How are Grades Different in the Netherlands Compared to the U.S.?

When you’re preparing to become an international student, you start searching for information and also compare the differences between the education system in your home country and the one from where you plan to go to. As for the grading system, things could get really tricky and confusing, because countries use grading systems differently.

If you’re thinking of studying in the Netherlands or the U.S., or will have to transfer to a university in one of these countries, clearly, you’d like to know more about the academic grading system of each of them.

The Dutch grading system is linear, as opposed to that of the United States, which is curved. Comparing them might be a little difficult but read the information below to clear things out.

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The Netherlands universities grading system

The traditional grading system in the Netherlands is from 1 to 10, where 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest grade. The minimum passing mark is decided upon by the university and might vary between 4 and 6. On final lists, grades are normally rounded off (above 0,5 is rounded up and below 0,5 is rounded down). So a 5.5 ends up being a grade 6 which then equals pass, whereas a 4.5 is actually graded 4, which usually means fail. Grades for exams and other course work are generally not rounded off.

grading system Netherlands

Example: a grade 4 and a grade 9 = 13 in total. If you then divide this by 2, you get a 6.5; a pass.

Failing grades 1 through to 3 are rarely given, and the same goes for grades 9 and 10. A 10 is only awarded in cases of perfection, which in exams and papers is hardly possible. However, for example, for multiple choice and yes/no questions, it is possible to get a 9 or a 10.

Basically, the most common good grades in higher education in the Netherlands are 6 and 7.

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The American grading systems

In colleges and universities from the U.S., the letter grading system is based on a 4.0 scale from A to F, where the equivalent of each letter is:

  • A = 4
  • B = 3
  • C = 2
  • D = 1
  • F = 0

In this US university grading system, an A is the highest grade you can receive and, depending on each school, A is either equal to 4, or it is equal to a multiple of 4 (e.g. 8 or 16). In the higher education system, D is not a passing grade, so it cannot be transferred to a different institution. However, if you got a D on an exam, you can re-take it to get a passing grade.

PhD programmes in the U.S. usually don’t use this formal pass standard, but most students are required to prove they can keep up their studying level around grade B or above.

All the grades you receive in one year for all your exams are marked with a grade point average (GPA). This is mainly a calculation of all your grades divided into the number of taken exams, ranging from 0 to 4. For example, if most of your grades were B’s, your GPA would be around 3.0 - 3.2.

The following chart could help you convert grades used in Dutch universities (and other European universities as well) from the 1-10 scale to a GPA. However, bear in mind that it might differ slightly according to your university and how they calculate the GPA.

Additionally, the final grade for a class/course is not based just on the final exam. The final grade is also the result of the following:

  • Class participation and attendance 
  • Weekly quizzes/tests  
  • Assignments/study projects 
  • Midterm exam 
  • Final exam 

Each element has a certain percentage (between 10% and 40%), they are added up and the overall number is converted into a letter grade from A to F. Usually, the exams have a percentage of 40-50%. So if most of your marks are in the 80-100 percentage range, you can consider yourself a "good" student.

Top universities using U.S. credits

Also, check out some good American universities offering online Masters:

grading system USA

Converting ECTS into GPA, for international U.S. studies

Most European institutions, including Dutch universities, use the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), according to the Bologna system. Transferring ECTS into GPA or vice versa means institutions convert credits according to their own system. It may not be that transparent as opposed to universities in Europe that use the same ECTS standard, but admission officers will convert either the ECTS credits or the GPA and check whether or not you would be suitable for an exchange programme or degree.

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On average, the equivalent of 5 ECTS credits is 2.5 American credits, so it is a rough 2:1 ratio. The main difference between ECTS and U.S. credits is that the first ones are more based on student workload, whereas, in the U.S., credits also take into account the number of study hours students are required to spend outside class. This can include extra-curricular activities, which is not so common in universities in Europe.

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