Life as a student - From pre-university education to a University of Applied Science

After earning her VWO diploma at pre-university, May Bergervoet started her Mechanical Engineering study programme at the HAN University of Applied Sciences. "The fact that you're actually creating something is what drew me to this programme."

HBO study programmes are interesting to those who have a VWO diploma and want to put theory into practice. Those like May Bergervoet. She started off with a study programme at the Engineering and Automotive Academy of the HAN University of Applied Sciences, after she earned her VWO diploma at the Rietveld Lyceum in Doetinchem. May speaks about her experiences in the interview below. More information about the Dutch educational system can also be found here. 

How did you explore your study options when you were still at secondary school?
"I started looking around when I was still in fourth grade. I went to information sessions, such as education fairs. There were a lot of options, and it took a long time before I knew exactly what I wanted. In secondary school, I did both the 'Nature and Health' as well as the 'Nature and Technology' profile [profiles are sets of subjects aimed at specific professional sectors - Ed.], so I was trying to figure out which direction I would like to take. I was considering either something medical or something technical."

Were you already looking at HBO study programmes as a VWO pupil, or were you initially only interested in university programmes?
"When I was in fourth and fifth grade, I was only looking for university programmes. I never found a perfect match for me, however. I would ask: 'What are the job prospects?' The answer would usually be: 'lab technician or researcher'. It didn't feel right to me, the idea that I would only be absorbing theoretical knowledge, doing research, and doing very little practical work."

So how did you transition into looking for HBO programmes?
"I spoke with my parents. My father and mother suggested the idea. They said that the fact that I had a VWO diploma didn't mean that I could only consider university programmes. In sixth grade, I saw some information about the HBO programmes Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. I subsequently went to an HBO fair for two information sessions. When I went to the Mechanical Engineering session, things clicked straight away. I thought: Yes! This seems like a lot of fun!"

What exactly did you witness during the HBO session that made you decide to go for it?
"I felt that the academic universities focused completely on the analysis and never reached any sort of final product. During the information session for Mechanical Engineering, they actually showed us the clear progress being made in tangible projects. They described how first-year students were working on a wind-turbine project, for instance. That is the main reason that I decided to go for HBO; the fact that you're actually creating something, is what made me pick my study programme."

You're in the third year of Mechanical Engineering at the HAN. How do you like it so far?
"It's all I hoped it would be; I haven't regretted my choice for a second. Some subjects are really easy for me and some are just as hard for me as they are for the former HAVO pupils and MBO students. During my first year, I noticed that I was ahead of the others with my maths, for instance, but was behind when it came to practical knowledge. You shouldn't underestimate your studies. Even if you earned your VWO diploma with flying colours, your HBO studies will require you to focus and exert yourself."

Which of the themes covered in your programme appeal to you the most?
"There are two main fields within Mechanical Engineering: Construction engineering is purely mechanical. Think of bridge constructions, cranes –  proper mechanical stuff. Energy systems engineering has, as you might expect, everything to do with energy. Solar panels, wind energy, installation technology. My primary interest is in construction engineering. When we were doing physics in school, I always found calculating speeds and forces the most interesting."

What is the most interesting project you have participated in during your studies?
"I did a traineeship with Nedcon, a company that specialises in logistic storage systems. Think of warehouse equipment; supermarket shelves, distribution centres, web shops, etc. I've developed a system for metal fatigue testing. If you put repeatedly put heavy boxes on a shelf, a certain level of fatigue develops in that metal. It might even break at some stage. As that's not an easy thing to calculate, tests are done. The test system is used in the company since April."

Why did this project appeal so much to you?
"It gives you a taste of what it's like to work in a company. That makes it the most fun project up to date for me. Mechanical Engineering teaches you a lot about specific business situations – like meetings and presentations – but in the end, you can only really learn about those things once you're working in a company.

Would you like your working life after your studies to be like that too?
"I definitely want to work for a company. I'm thinking about applying for a job with a steel or construction company. That's where my passion lies."

Looking back at your days at pre-university school now with your experience with HBO; what advice would you offer your younger self?
"Don't let your background limit you. The fact that you've graduated from VWO doesn't mean you should only focus on university education. There are plenty HBO study programmes out there that could work for you."

This is a translation. Click here for the original Dutch article.