Master in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems


Program Description

Application deadline update

  • Non-EU/EEA students: 1 May (the original deadline of 1 April has been extended due to COVID-19)
  • EU/EEA students and students who do not need a study visa/residence permit through VU Amsterdam*: 1 June (the original deadline of 1 May has been extended due to COVID-19)

Experimental computer science - New solutions for globally distributed systems

Our Top Master's program in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems was founded by prof. Andrew S. Tanenbaum and is designed to challenge students with the hardest problems in modern systems-oriented computer science. If you want to reach the top of the field of experimental computer science, PDCS is your program. The program aims at highly talented students and is selective. After having completed this master, many students move on to pursue careers at leading companies like Google or Microsoft, PhD programs in top research schools, or join R&D labs in the industry.

In the last years, computing architectures have evolved in order to meet the challenges of growingly important areas (e.g. Big Data, Cloud Computing, Security & Privacy, etc.). The Internet is now constituted by large-scale datacentres, mobile devices, RFID tags, and sensor networks, forming a complex ecosystem we increasingly call the “Internet of Things” (IoT). This connected world brings new opportunities to science and business, but also new challenges to reliability, security, and privacy. The students will study entirely new software architectures and large-scale, geographically distributed systems which can serve billions of applications in parallel. Scalability, performance, reliability, and security are key topics of this Master.

This Master focuses on empirical computer science, featuring many software lab courses designed to teach methodologies to solve challenging research problems.
Often, students will have to design, implement, and evaluate the properties of complex systems. The students typically work in small teams in order to learn collaborative research skills which are the norm in the industry. Courses include Parallel Programming, Distributed Systems, Web Data Processing Systems, Advanced Operating Systems, and Computer and Network Security. Concretely, all our (research-oriented) courses revolve around the following research areas and topics.

Study programme

The curriculum requires that students take compulsory subjects worth 32 ECTS and optional subjects worth 27 ECTS. The emphasis shifts gradually from classroom lectures to independent and research-oriented study with practical work, seminars and the identification of open research questions.

Compulsory subjects include:

  • Distributed Systems
  • Parallel Programming
  • Computer & Network Security

In Distributed Systems you will learn about the development of middleware systems for large-scale computer networks. Parallel Programming teaches you how to reduce execution time by writing programs that run in parallel on a large number of processors. Computer & Network Security is a wide-ranging course on security of computer systems and networks.

The final semester is dedicated to the Master’s thesis, which usually involves conducting research together with a member of the academic staff.

The entire programme is taught in English, and your fellow students come from all over the world. Upon successful completion of the programme, you will be awarded the title Master of Science (MSc).

The Master's in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems is a two-year programme that strikes an effective balance between classroom and applied work. About one third of the first three semesters is devoted to practical projects.

Career prospects

PDCS is a research Master’s, which means that most of our students are preparing for a career in academic or industrial research. Many of our graduates continue their studies by obtaining a PhD research position at a top university. Others join industrial research laboratories. The PDCS programme is also an excellent preparation for students who are considering a different career path. For example, some students may want to join high-tech companies where their specific skills are needed for the execution of innovative projects. Others will be snapped up by firms looking for the ideal combination of engineering skills and creative problem-solving abilities. Some graduates have an entrepreneurial drive and start their own companies.

Graduates in demand
High-quality PhD candidates are in very short supply at virtually all university Computer Science departments in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Students who complete this Master's programme in PDCS are ideally suited to pursue a PhD in Computer Systems at many universities around the world. Well-qualified graduates in this field are also in great demand in industry.

Why VU Amsterdam?

  • PDCS emphasizes experimental computer science rather than theory
  • PDCS involves the design, implementation, testing, and analysis of complex systems software
  • The curriculum includes many software lab courses, which are aimed at training you to carry out scientific software experiments that solve challenging research problems
  • For some projects, you will cooperate in small teams to train you in collaborative research
  • The programme aims to prepare you specifically for research work at commercial or government laboratories, or for a PhD study at a university
  • PDCS is unique in the Netherlands and one of the few of its kind in the world. It is organized mainly by the Computer Systems Group at VU Amsterdam, which enjoys an outstanding international reputation in both research and education
An outstanding group

The Computer Systems Group and the PDCS program were set up by Professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum, a winner of the ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award, the ACM/SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education and the IEEE award. The Computer Systems Group at VU Amsterdam enjoys an outstanding international reputation in both research and education. Our staff are world-class scientists in operating systems and computer networks, in distributed systems and grid computing, as well as in the security and reliability aspects of all these systems. The textbooks they have written are used at universities all around the world.

Admission requirements

The PDCS programme is open to both Dutch and International Students and attracts excellent students from the field of Computer Science. 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.

In order to gain admission to the PDCS Master’s programme, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 ECTS or equivalent. Academic writing skill is to be demonstrated by submitting a thesis. We do not require a GRE or GMAT test score. A Bachelor degree obtained at an applied university or higher vocational education (HBO in Dutch) in most cases does not grant direct access to the programme (only exceptionally high ranking students stand a chance of admission).

Specific requirements for the PDCS master’s programme
All students undergo a selection procedure to gain admission. Competition is tough as the programme is open to foreign students and is widely advertised abroad. You will be competing for a limited number of places with students from Europe, the US, India, China and elsewhere. Standards will be very high indeed. This is a specialized Master’s, consisting mainly of classes, practicals and projects in computer systems. A background in Computer Science and demonstrable knowledge of computer systems is required. Students preferring to take a wide-ranging Master’s are advised to opt for a standard programme such as Computer Science. In keeping with the programme’s international orientation, the application procedure is based on the system in such countries as the UK, the US and Canada. Students with a degree from a Dutch institution do not need to supply additional admission documents, since the level of education and status of Dutch universities is well known.

General language proficiency requirements
VU Amsterdam requires international applicants to take an English test and to submit their score as a part of the application. Exceptions are made for students who have completed their education in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand or Australia or who have obtained an international Baccalaureate or European Baccalaureate diploma.

Admission to a Master’s programme: the Bachelor-before-Master rule
The Bachelor-before-Master rule is applied to all VU programmes. This means that you can only start a Master’s programme on 1 September if you have obtained your Bachelor’s degree. Uncompleted Bachelor’s subjects are not permitted if you want to start a Master programme.

What does this mean now for students? - You may have to adjust your study plan. For example, if you’re planning a semester abroad in the first semester and you would like to start the following Master’s programme in September, please note that every part of the Bachelor’s study programme has to be completed – not only the compulsory parts of the programme. Other (short) interruptions of your study programme can also have an effect on your ability to proceed onto a Master’s programme. If the Bachelor’s programme is not fully completed, you cannot start the Master’s programme until the start of the next academic year. Take this into account when planning your study path! Please contact our faculty’s study advisors when you have any questions.


If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required.

Step 1: Meet the admission criteria

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online
Dutch students or students with a Dutch University degree, please follow: Online application for students with a Dutch University degree. Students with an international degree, please follow: Online application for students with an International University degree.

Step 3: Await decision on admission
The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you gain admission, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam!|

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!
Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. The conditions include sending a certified copy of your diploma and submitting the results of your English language test. Also, arrange payment of the tuition fees or authorize VU to withdraw the fees (you need to have a European bank account for this option). When all conditions are met you will receive a confirmation of your registration and you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam!

Overview Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems.

  • Language of instruction: English
  • Duration: 2 years
  • Application deadline: 1 June for Dutch and EU-students. 1 April for non-EU-students. Non Dutch EU/EEA students with an international degree who do not need housing services through VU Amsterdam can still apply until 1 June.
  • Start date: 1 September
  • Study type: Full-time
  • Field of interest: Computer Science, Mathematics and Business

Last updated Feb 2020

About the School

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 150 English taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to 23,00 ... Read More

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 150 English taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to 23,000 students from all over the world. Students and staff of 122 nationalities create a dynamic international academic community. The University distinguishes itself in research and education through four interdisciplinary themes: Human Health and Life Sciences, Science for Sustainability, Connected World and Governance for Society. Curious about student life at VU Amsterdam? Click here to ask our International Student Ambassadors. Read less