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2 years
Full time
Master's degree
On campus
01 September 2022

About this program

Masters in Ecology

Studying nature for knowledge and sustainability

Ecologists investigate the relationships between organisms and their environment. As a master’s student you will study how nature works both as an aim in itself (to understand and explain why the world looks like this) as well as to develop the tools to predict and combat problems caused by pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change. You will study Ecology from a plant, animal and systems perspective. Moreover, ecological and evolutionary processes are investigated in their broadest sense, from the molecular level all the way up to the regional and global scale, where field observations and experiments are used to identify evolutionary and/or ecosystem patterns and functions.

This VU master programme in Ecology and Evolution, taught together with the University of Amsterdam (UvA), has an explicit research-oriented character. This specialization is designed to provide students the knowledge, skills and insights to operate as an independent professional scientist in the fields of ecology and evolution and to become a promising candidate for a subsequent PhD position or other research-related function in a fundamental or applied ecological field.Besides this research specialization, you can also decide to do one of the following specializations in your second year:

  • Biodiversity, Ecology & Evolution Joint degree 3 universities
  • Societal Specializations; Science Communication or Science in Society
  • Science Education Specialization

Double degree - International Master in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution

After a successful first year (60 ec) during which you follow our regular programme at VU, you have to option to do your second year (60 ec) of courses and an internship at either:

  • University of Århus (Denmark),
  • University of Göttingen (Germany)
  • University of Rennes (France)

After successful completion of these two years, you will receive a double degree, meaning that you receive a diploma from VU MSc Ecology as well as the partner university’s MSc degree.

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Admission requirements

Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application.

Students with a non-Dutch degree

If you have a Bachelor’s degree from outside the EU, the Admission Board will decide whether you can be admitted. In addition to relevant course and lab-work, students from outside the EU should also possess the following: average grades in the top 30% for course work in subjects relevant to Ecology and Evolution. E.g., 7 or higher for Dutch grades, 14 or higher in the French system, B or A for the USA or UK and 2 or 1 for German grades.

Main admission criteria

In order to gain admission to the Master programme, you will need to have a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university. A minimum of 180 EC or equivalent is required, including at least three full years of academic study. The main admission criteria to be admissible for the master’s programme are: a. Knowledge and understanding:

  • Basic biological knowledge in the fields of Biochemistry and Cell Biology (insight into molecular and cellular processes in living organisms),  
  • Genetics (both at the organismal and population level)  
  • Evolutionary biology (origin and development of life, processes of speciation, relationship between and within taxa, body plans of the most important groups),  
  • Ecology (understanding of ecosystems, the ecological processes that play a role within them and the interrelationship of those processes, behavioural ecology)  
  • Physiology (the function at supra-cellular level, insight into the construction and function of the main tissues, organs and organ systems and the regulation of their operation)  
  • Knowledge and understanding of basic statistical (e.g. t-test, regression and correlation analysis, analysis of variance, non-parametric tests) and mathematical principles and techniques (e.g. differentiation and integration, ordinary differential equations).

b. Skills:

  • The ability to collect data in a systematic way by means of observations during (laboratory) research and fieldwork, using literature review or internet sources,  
  • The ability to manage the collected data and observations in relation to each other, save, process, interpret them and write a scientific report that meets the bachelor level,
  • The ability to clearly define a biological question, along with accompanying assumptions and to determine a strategy for answering the question (under guidance),  
  • The ability to analyse research on main lines, both with regard to the design and conduct of research and to the interpretation of results. 

In addition to the mentioned requirements above, the Admission Board will also assess requests for admission in terms of the following criteria: 

  • a. talent and motivation;
  • b. proficiency in methods and techniques; i.e. the ability to work with computer programs in the field of: word processing, spreadsheets,modelling, statistical processing, graphics, presentations,management of databases and consultation of scientific literature. 

In all cases, the final decision for admission will be based on the evaluation of these requirements in combination with a judgment of the scientific quality of the applicant’s Bachelor’s programme.

Language Requirements

VU also requires international applicants to take an English test. You can, however, begin your application without having the test results. Please be aware of the fact that it can take a long time to receive the results of English proficiency tests, so plan your test on time! In case you have not taken a test yet, we advise you to plan a test date as soon as possible. Deadlines for submitting the test results are as follows:

Students who require a visa: June 1

Students who do not require a visa: August 30

For the minimum test scores of the different tests please consult the programme's website.

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Program content

The Master’s programme in Ecology and Evolution is a joint master’s programme of the VU and the UvA. The specialization offers the same programme to students of both universities. Lecturers from VU and UvA participate in each course. Students of both universities are automatically registered as a ‘bijvakstudent’ (external student) at the other university.

Students who are registered at VU and have successfully completed the Ecology and Evolution programme will obtain an MSc diploma in Ecology with a specialization in Ecology and Evolution, those registered at UvA will obtain an MSc diploma in Biological Sciences, with a specialization in Ecology and Evolution.

The two-year programme is full-time, covering 120 EC. Courses are mainly scheduled in the first semester. The remainder of the each year is spent on two research projects and a literature thesis. The programme has the following four components:

Components of the programme 

1. Compulsory courses(18 EC)
The programme is composed of 18 EC of compulsory courses (including experimental design, statistical analysis, training in scientific writing and masterclasses), 12 to 18 EC of elective courses (chosen from the courses on offer within the specialization and elsewhere), 12 EC of Literature thesis (a literature research focusing on a fundamental or applied question in ecology and evolution), and 72 to 78 EC divided over two research projects with a focus on ecology and/or evolution (the first to be performed at the VU or UvA, the second can be carried out elsewhere).

2. Elective courses (select 12-18 EC from the list in the handout/study guide).
Detailed descriptions of all these components can be found in the Study Guide Ecology.
You can also consult this handout and/or the year schedule for an overview of all the courses.

In addition, students are allowed to take ecological courses from other master’s programmes instead of the elective courses offered in the Ecology and Evolution programme. These must be ecological or evolutionary courses or courses otherwise fitting to their profile (and need to be approved by the Examination Board).

3. Research projects (72-78 EC)
Students carry out two research projects/internships. Depending on the number of credits points the student obtains in elective courses both internships together will cover 72 or 78 EC. The minimum duration of a research project is 30 EC. Hence, 60-65% of the Master’s programme consists of two research internships. This allows the student to participate actively in a current research project, put newly-acquired knowledge and research skills into practice, gain valuable work experience and obtain a good impression of the future field of action. Moreover, it forms the starting point of a future professional network. An extensive guideline is available to help organize and complete internships.

To ensure that students reach the quality we aspire, the first internship has to be carried out at the VU or UvA. Though not obligatory, students are encouraged to complete the second internship elsewhere, at another university or research institute in the Netherlands or abroad. Both projects focus on an ecological and/or evolutionary subject, which can range from using a molecular, ecophysiological, behavioural to theoretical or ecosystems approach, or a combination thereof. Societally oriented projects performed elsewhere, dealing with an ecological problem are accepted, provided that they include sufficient academic level, clear research questions and proper supervision.

4. Literature thesis (12 EC)
Students are required to write a literature thesis of 12 EC. The literature thesis can focus on a fundamental ecological question, but may also take a more applied or societal approach. 

Scholarships & funding

With our own scholarship, the VU Fellowship Programme (VUFP), we offer highly motivated students with excellent study results the unique opportunity to pursue a Master’s degree with financial support provided by the university. The VUFP scholarship is a tuition fee waiver. The Holland Scholarship Programme (HSP) is meant for students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who want to follow a Master’s programme in the Netherlands. VU Amsterdam embraces diversity as an enrichment to our teaching, research and our contribution to society. This scholarship is specifically intended for excellent students who contribute to the diversity at our campus. As an international student planning to study at VU Amsterdam, you can apply for a variety of grants and bursaries.


  • Tuition fee for EU: € 1,084
  • Tuition fee for NON-EU/EEA: € 14,236


MSc in Ecology

Continuing studies

As a Master’s graduate in Ecology, you have a wide range of career options. The demand for ecologists is considerable these days. About 50 percent of our graduates continues their studies, pursuing a PhD project.
Others (10-15%) find jobs as researchers in applied environmental sciences and the remaining in societally related fields. They deal with topics such as:

  • Nature management, conservation and restoration
  • Landscape planning
  • Plant breeding
  • Environmental consultancy
  • Teaching
  • Nature education and scientific communication
  • Policy supporting research, development, and  implementation
  • Environmental toxicologist 

Science teacher degree

Science education is the foundation of innovations that improve our world. Due to the shortage of certified science teachers and the fact that our economy is knowledge based, you will be highly valued both in and out of the classroom. With a science teaching degree you can become involved in improving science education both as a teacher or other positions in the educational industry. Practical and scientific knowledge of teaching methods and educational psychology can steer your career in many directions.

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About this institute

Welcome to Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (‘VU Amsterdam’) is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 175 English-taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to more than 26,000 students from all over the world. Students and staff...

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Why study at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

With more than 24,000 students, of which 4,088 are international, VU Amsterdam conducts cutting-edge research into problems of societal and scientific importance.

They distinguish themselves in research and education through four interdisciplinary themes:

  • Human Health and Life Sciences
  • Science for Sustainability
  • Connected World
  • Governance for Society

As a student this will help you to look beyond the boundaries of scientific disciplines, and to seek for tangible solutions for a better world.

In addition, VU Amsterdam regards diversity, whether in culture, conviction, nationality or prior education, as source of innovation and progress, and hence as special strength.

The Dutch higher education system has been ranked in the top 10 by Universitas 21. In the first Times Higher Education University Impact Ranking, VU Amsterdam is ranked 16th worldwide. In this ranking, universities are assessed based on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to measure the impact of the universities on society. In the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2018 (Shanghai Ranking) VU Amsterdam holds the 104th position. The international QS World University ranking 2021 places the Vrije Universiteit at number 236 in the world, which means the Vrije Universiteit belongs to the top 20% of the world.

At VU Amsterdam, the teaching style can be described as student-centred: they encourage students to develop their own opinions through independent and creative thinking. This means that teaching is mainly conducted in small tutorials, where interactivity is the norm rather than the exception. At every opportunity, students are encouraged to engage in constructive dialogue with their professors.

Contact info

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
Netherlands, the

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