From August 2016 to January 2020, I studied at the Wageningen University (WUR). During this time, I completed the bachelor’s degree in Soil, Water and Atmosphere with a specialization in Meteorology. In this post, I will share some of my experiences at the Wageningen University.
In this post, I elaborated on why I did my bachelor’s degree in Wageningen. After 3.5 years of studying I can conclude that I made the right decision. Also, most of the judgements I made about the university and study program before deciding to study in Wageningen appeared to be true and there were very few disappointments. Overall, my time at the Wageningen University was positive and in this post I will zoom in on my experiences at the Wageningen University. I will both discuss the study program (and the excursions that come with it), as well as the university itself. Lastly, I will share my view and experiences on student life in Wageningen.
When I started studying in Wageningen, the overall structure of the study program was quite clear. However, the first courses felt very chaotic. The introduction courses consisted out of several smaller parts and it was specifically hard to find the right schedule for all those different course components, since there were different online platforms that did not give consistent information. This chaos did not help in figuring out daily structure in the first one or two weeks, but one might argue that this is also part of starting a new studies.
About the study program Soil, Water, Atmosphere
First of all, I will share my view on the study program Soil, Water, Atmosphere. I think this program is ideal for people who are interested in environmental studies. It is very broadly oriented. I generally describe the study program as geophysical version of geography. In other words, the environment is studied with the help of and with regard to geophysical and natural sciences. Implications for human life are definitely incorporated, but not the main focus: the main focus is understanding how the environment works in a geophysical sense.
The way this is done, is rather perfect. In the beginning of the course, a scientific/mathematical/physical foundation has been laid by in-depth chemistry, physics and mathematics courses, an expansion on the high school version of these courses. At the same time, you get introductory courses in water and soil and in the 2nd half of the first year in atmosphere. At the end of the year, integration courses are given, in which the interactions between soil, water and atmosphere are discussed. In a lot of courses, interesting field work is included, and most fieldwork takes place in the integration courses.
In the 2nd year, the study program is built up somewhat similarly to the first year, only this time, the courses for the three main compartments are more specialized. There are courses like Water Quality and Quantity, Meteorology and Climate and Soil Quality. Besides, there are also courses like GIS (Geo-Information Science), System Earth and towards the end of the college year again integration courses.
In the 3rd year, one has to choose three courses (restricted optionals, 18 ECTS in total) and these restricted optionals are generally used to specialize in the direction of one of the three main fields of this bachelor. I used the restricted optionals to specialize in atmosphere (meteorology) and to get an introduction course in programming (in Python). Furthermore, generally the bachelor’s thesis (12 ECTS) is done in the 3rd year and there are 30 ‘free choice credits’, that you can spend on whatever courses you like. It is possible to choose courses from another study program in Wageningen, or even do courses at another university. I used the 30 credits free choice to go on an exchange to the University Center on Svalbard (UNIS) and did a minor in Polar Oceanography, Meteorology and Climate. You can read here why I decided to do my minor in Svalbard.
I personally think the way this bachelor program is built up is ideal. The different subjects are nicely varied and spread out over the three years. There is quite some room for personal choice with the restricted optionals and the 30 ETCS of free choice. All the subjects, although very varied, are nicely connected in the integration courses and this wide knowledge is very useful, even when specializing in just one of the fields. The field work is a very fun alternation with the theoretical work and besides that it is very informative, it gives an extra dimension to studying.
The biggest disappointment of the bachelor program to me was that there was no oceanography included. Since ‘water’ is part of the bachelor in Wageningen, I did expect we would also learn about oceans and oceanography. This was actually not true: courses like Water I and Water II were mostly focussed on (geo)hydrology and groundwater. Also, in the study program there is quite some focus on water quality. Besides this I think atmospheric sciences/meteorology is underrepresented in the compulsory courses, but I made up for that with the restricted optionals. These downsides/disappointments do not take away that I was overall very satisfied with the Bachelor Soil, Water, Atmosphere.
Field work and excursions
Fieldwork is quite common at studies in Wageningen, but mainly so in the environmental studies. I believe the bachelor program Soil, Water and Atmosphere includes the most fieldwork of all study programs in Wageningen. A lot of the fieldwork is done in and around Wageningen, but also all the different landscapes in The Netherlands are studied thoroughly. During the different kinds of field work, ditches, soil profiles, air quality, landscapes and way more are studied. It makes studying more fun, it gives excellent bonding opportunities with your study mates and besides that it is valuable experience for your future career. I also think you learn more by putting theory into practice and the other way around.
Depending on the courses you choose, you will also go on excursions abroad. In the course Geology and Landscapes of The World, we studied rocks, soil profiles and landscapes in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and France for two weeks in a row and in the master’s program of Environmental Sciences there is even a course that would take you on fieldwork to Iceland.
About the university
Not only the bachelor program, but also life at the university itself was very positive. The university campus consists out of several large and smaller buildings, is very spatial and contains a lot of green space. There is always enough space to sit outside on warm spring or summer days and the environment is excellent for a lunch walk. The spatial buildings and green campus gave me peace of mind in the bustle of student life.
Getting information about your study program and schedule and finding a contact person might be a little hard, especially in the beginning of the studies. Nevertheless, there is always a study advisor whom happily helps you with problems with regard to the studies and study/career plans. Teachers are generally open and happy to help, but of course this varies a bit from teacher to teacher. In bachelor courses, the classes are generally big, especially in courses that are part of several different study programs. This was in my opinion a small disadvantage. Positive is that in the first year of the study program, all the people that started the same program will follow the same courses as you, so there are plenty of opportunities to get to know people.
The Wageningen University college year contains out of two semesters, with 3 periods each, so 6 periods in total. The first 2 and last 2 periods are 8 weeks: 6 weeks of studies, one self study week in which you generally do not have any lectures and one exam week. The self study week obviously provides a lot of time for studying and this is one of the things I miss most from the Wageningen University now I am doing my masters elsewhere. It creates time to catch up in case you missed things throughout the period. Furthermore, in period 3 and 4, you have 3 weeks of studying and one exam week. Courses at the Wageningen University are generally 6 ECTS, but in the bachelor program Soil, Water, Atmosphere there are also some 3 ECTS and 9 ECTS courses. In the long periods this means you have 2-3 courses, generally divided in a ‘morning course’ and ‘afternoon course’. In the short periods, you have 1 or 2 courses.
I personally liked the course schedule a lot, although I personally considered the long periods more convenient and less stressful than the short periods. I absolutely loved the self study weeks.
About Wageningen – social life and activities
Wageningen is a relatively small city compared to other student cities. Because of this, there are not very many options for nightlife/clubbing. The place to go out are generally student associations. Every Friday, one of the 4 main associations gives an open party, parties that are accessible to all students. If you like more student parties and/or activities around studying, it is a good idea to join a student association. There are some international associations, although the Dutch associations are the biggest ones. I was a member of the association SSR-W. This student association provided a lot of joy during my time in Wageningen and my best friends during my study I got through this association.
Besides the student associations, you also have study associations, which provide activities for students from a certain study program. This is also a good way to get to know people and get involved in activities and go to events.
Lastly, there are a lot of opportunities to do sports and there are a lot of student sports associations. It is easy to join different kind of fitness sessions in the university gym, join or start a football team or do another kind of sports. This also is an additional way to get to know some more people.
As said, Wageningen is pretty small and you can bike from one side of town to the other in a maximum of 15 minutes, which I personally experienced as a big advantage. Also, the fact that you have nature areas closeby and that the campus is very spatial and green were big advantages for me personally. You might have to reach out to people and/or join some associations to get this typical vibrant student life, but it is definitely possible, despite the relatively small size of the city.
If you think a study program at Wageningen university fits you, I can overall very well recommend the university, as I had a good time, both with with regard to the study and the university, as well as to student life.