Thinking about studying in Belgium?

This page has been developed as an informal resource for American students and scholars who are applying for the Fulbright Program in Belgium and are looking for additional guidance and resources.

Understanding the Belgian Education System

Education in Belgium is regulated and for the larger part financed by one of the three language communities. All three communities have a unified school system with small differences from one to another. The national government plays a very small role in deciding the age for mandatory schooling and indirectly financing the communities. On the whole, Belgium offers very high-quality education, which is something Belgians are proud of as well.

Belgium’s school system is relatively straightforward. Compulsory education starts with primary school at the age of six. It consists of six years of basic education in reading, writing, and mathematics. Classes are held in the community language and learning a second language begins during the next-to-last year of primary education (usually the second official language, i.e. either Dutch or French, but also English). Secondary education starts at the age of twelve. It is divided into four branches: humanities, technical, artistic and professional. With the exemption of the professional track, all branches prepare students for university. The technical and artistic branches differ from the general humanities branch to the extent they offer students the possibility to specialize earlier on in their academic career.

In Belgium, any student with a qualifying diploma of secondary education is free to enroll at any institute of higher education of their choosing. With some exceptions (polytechnic schools and performing arts programs), students do not have to apply and be admitted to a university before enrolling. In addition, the cost of higher education in Belgium is relatively low in comparison to the cost of study in the USA. 

Universities offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, whereas university colleges (known as hautes écoles or hogescholen) offer professional bachelor’s and some master’s degrees. Most U.S. Fulbright grantees to Belgium are affiliated with universities, but university colleges are also eligible as host institutions.

Classroom and teaching styles in higher education are very different from those in the U.S., as it tends to be more formal or traditional. Depending on your field, courses can be heavily lecture-based, which creates a distance between professors and students and it is expected that students respect that. While discussion and participation is increasingly becoming more customary, it is not always the norm. Classes usually last 1 to 2 hours, ending on the hour, but are irregularly scheduled and usually only given once a week (instead of shorter classes multiple times a week). Finals occur twice a year, in January and in June, and are absolutely crucial for Belgian students as they often do not have as many assignments or participation marks to fall back on like American students do. Classes end several weeks before the examination period begins to allow students time to study. Most exams are scheduled within a period of approximately two weeks. The grading system gives the student one mark for the entire duration of the course, usually a mark out of 20. In most cases, there is no helpful “curve”. If students fail one or more exams, they are given the chance to retake them in August or September. If they fail again, they have to retake the entire course the next year.

Universities in Belgium

Higher education in Belgium is administered at the level of the language communities. Most Fulbright grantees to Belgium interested in applying for affiliation at a university will choose among Belgium’s five French-speaking and six Francophone universities.

These are as follows:

  • Universiteit Antwerpen | University of Antwerp 
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) | Free University of Brussels (Francophone)
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) | Free University of Brussels (Flemish)
  • Universiteit Gent | Ghent University
  • Universiteit Hasselt | Hasselt University
  • Université catholique de Louvain (UC Louvain) | Catholic University of Louvain (Francophone)
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) | Catholic University of Leuven (Flemish)
  • Université de Liege | University of Liege
  • Université de Mons | University of Mons
  • Université de Namur | University of Namur
  • Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles | Saint-Louis University
Both the Flemish and French communities also have institutions known as university colleges which issue professional bachelor degrees as well as academic bachelor and master’s degrees. Additional institutes of higher education include specialized programs in the arts (e.g., Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles), theology, and medicine as well as international programs (e.g., College of Europe, Vesalius College).

Student Testimonials

What is it like to study in Belgium as an American student? Thanks to a grant from Study Abroad USA, the Fulbright Commission in Brussels has conducted a number of interviews with study abroad students in Belgium. Students share their motivations for studying in Belgium, reflect on their experiences, and give advice to students and study abroad program organizers.

Here are some of our favorite excerpts:

  • “Having taught by French teachers and professors my whole life, I was, at first, surprised by the informality of Belgian culture. I felt I was being disrespectful if I didn’t address a staff member as Madame or Monsieur. But, as time went on, I appreciated how community-oriented Belgians seemed to be. I had many meals at my professors’ homes and never felt intimidated by their credentials. Even my host family was incredibly welcoming — I even spent Easter at their family’s private chateau in southern Belgium!” – Nairuti, who studied abroad in Belgium via Internships in Francophone Europe (IFE) in 2016
  • “I was motivated to choose Belgium as a study abroad location because I wanted to be somewhere unique in Europe where I would likely not spend that much time in the future. I could have studied in somewhere like Paris or Nice, but I hope and expect to return back to those places in my lifetime, so I wanted to choose somewhere a little more off the beaten path. Interestingly enough, since I have been living here and experiencing the beauty of Belgian culture, I realize how much I love it here and how much I will want to return in the future. So my initial reason for picking Belgium was disproved through my living here.” — Liesl, who studied abroad in Belgium via Vesalius College in 2020
  • “My original motivation in choosing Belgium was to practice my French. I have been studying French for several years and thought that living with a French speaking family would be the best way to fully immerse myself in the language. Additionally, as a political science and international studies major, Brussels was the perfect place for me to study abroad due to the various international organizations located here ranging from NATO to the European Parliament and Commission.” — Citlali, who studied abroad in Belgium via Vesalius College in 2019

Additional Resources

For more information about Belgium, please consider the following resources:

Note: Check out these opportunities provided by “Study in Flanders”, the higher education agency of the Flemish community in Belgium. Two programs to highlight are the “Priority Country Programme” which promotes and provides financial support to facilitate exchanges of students between Belgium/Flemish community and countries including the U.S., and the “Master Mind Scholarships” which students from the U.S. can receive to pursue a masters degree for up to 2 years in Belgium/Flemish community.