Survival Guide to Touring Dutch High Schools

March 30, 2016 By Margaret Smet 0 Comments

Did the Basisschool (Elementary School) period whizz by? If your child is in Group 7, you might like to start thinking about the next stage of their education: the Middelbare School (High School), which they will begin at the end of Group 8. Margaret Smet has just finished doing the tour of high schools with her child and is here to answer our questions about this important part of the application process.

When Do I Need to Choose which Middelbare Schools to Tour?

Group 7 is the school year where parents begin thinking about the Middelbare School (MS), the next stage in the education ladder. Most parents will choose to tour now to give themselves plenty of time. It can feel like a rush if you leave it until Group 8.

By Group 8 (ages 11-13) they will need to make their choices. This is a good time to re-visit your favourites to be sure of your preferences.

When Should I Visit?

It is not mandatory to visit the schools. However, between January and March, Middelbare Schools offer a visiting schedule. I recommend looking at 'stap 3' on the Gemeente's website as this provides an overview of the schools. If you listed 12 high schools to visit, you may want to prioritize your top choices. Then, the following year, visit the remaining high schools on your list.

Where are the Middelbare Schools?

For an overview of the locations, visit the Gemeente website. Go to the schools' websites to get familiar with their programs and see what they offer. 

You can apply to any school you wish. There is no postcode restriction. Since post codes do not apply, it is a “free-game” for those willing to travel far to attend a high school. It is normal in the Netherlands to consider schools within a radius of around one hour's travel. 

What are the Different Types of Middelbare School?

Every school that you visit offers either VWO, VWO/HAVO, or VWO/HAVO/VMBO.

VWO (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs) is a pre-university education and includes the Gymnasium, which requires the additional study of Latin, and/or ancient Greek. In VWO, if your child is accepted but does not pass the first year, they must leave the school and find another school. However, if the school also offers HAVO, your child has the option to move to that level and stay.

HAVO (hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs) is a preparation for university or a professional education (hoger beroepsonderwijs or 'HBO').

VMBO (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs) is a vocational education.

Read more about the different types of schools.

I recommend shortlisting 12 schools based on your child’s academic level and interest. Different schools offer different specialisms. Do they want to major in Drama and Music or are they more interested in the Sciences and in Math? Do they want a practical training or are they opting for an academic route?

Should I Keep my Child with their Friends?

There is also no guarantee that your child's friends will get into the same school as you and they may also have ranked their choices differently. Friends come and go and many students will keep their best friends regardless of the school they choose. Selecting a Middelbare School should depend mainly on your child's academic interest and their willingness to travel to the school of their choice. 

How Long Does it Take to Visit a Middelbare School?

This depends on you and your child but you will probably spend 2-3 hours per visit.  I recommend the following:

  • Prepare some small snacks for your child as the long hours can make one hungry.  
  • Take photos of your child in the classroom, during a science experiment, at the gym or in front of the high school.  This helps you distinguish the high schools later on.
  • Say hello to fellow classmates or friends that you bump into on the tour. Seeing other kids they know will be a comfort to your child.
  • Take the time to talk with the teachers and students.

What Should I do After the Tour?

Document each high school visit with notes on remarks from your child, something a teacher or student said, and photos. Remember that your child is in group 7 and it will take one year before any final decisions need to be made; that's a long time to remember the details that mattered during the high school visit. Try to rank the schools in an order which makes sense to you.

Help make your child’s important step to high school a great experience! 

For more information on Secondary Schooling in Amsterdam, visit iAmsterdam.


Margaret Smet moved with her family to New York when she was a child. The desire to discover and explore led her to move to the Netherlands at the end of 2000 for a career opportunity. She is a mama and the author of Exploring Amsterdam from A to Z. You can find out more about her on LinkedIn.

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