Master in Operations Research

A mathematical way to optimize your world

We offer an academic and challenging study programme that prepares you for your transition to the job market. Come study with us at the heart of the thriving Amsterdam business district!

There are tremendous opportunities offered by “big data” and all kinds of analytics. The challenge of our times is to create value by turning data and analytical insights into better managerial decisions. The Operations Research master's programme at the VU gives you the tools to create real ­­impact on business and policy making!

Our master's programme is academically rigorous, but also designed to help you on your way into the job market, with a series of workshops jointly organized with the faculty’s Career Service. You also have the opportunity to combine your master's thesis with an internship at a company.



What is this master's programme about?

What are optimal pricing strategies in e-commerce? How does Google determine which advertisements to show? How can you optimally control a complex modern supply chain? How can you make sure that pension funds will be able to pay sufficient pensions? These questions require quantitative, analytic solutions. If you want to make an impact in business and society using your mathematical talents, then this is your ideal master program!

Area of interest

The programme has a clear focus on algorithmic solutions for problems in business and society, solidly based on mathematical modelling and analysis. For the design of algorithms, tools are used from optimization, stochastic modelling and simulation. The programme is broad and offers you plenty relevant computational experience for practical problem solving. If you have academic ambitions or just love the mathematics of optimization you can follow a theory specialization. Or you may like to specialize in applied areas; we have established links to the programmes of Finance Engineering and Transport and Supply Chain Management.

Core methodology

We promise you a mathematical way to optimize your world. And indeed optimization is the prominent topic of this masters programme. The core courses provide you with the most advanced and most successful models and algorithms from optimization. We give you hands-on computational experience with the algorithms and software packages, next to giving you mathematical insight. Real-life experience through cases taught by the director of one of the world’s leading consultancy companies complement your master.

Why study Operations Research at the VU?

Graduates in Operations Research are highly desired throughout industry and society. More than a quarter of our students already find a position during their master study, and almost all of them find a position within 3 months of graduating. According to a study by Elsevier, the average gross monthly income of graduates from Operations Research and Econometrics in their first year is approximately € 3.300.

Our research team includes both internationally renowned researchers and captains of international consultancy, including one of the founders (and current CFO) of ORTEC.


Our research team has a broad internationally renowned expertise, by which we are able to offer advanced models and methods from the whole spectrum of Operations Research. Moreover, we do allow students to personalize and specialize. The 1-year master's programme allows the student to complete a double degree by combining it with a second year of another closely related 2-year master programme, e.g., in Applied Mathematics, Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, or Business Analytics.

Our courses are oriented to computation with a solid basis in mathematics. You will master a broad spectrum of models and solution methods and will be able to design and analyze new ones in new situations. You learn how to report results of investigations, both in an academic and in a business environment.

If you choose the Theory specialization you will deepen your knowledge and understanding of the mathematics behind our models and methods, so that you will be able to contribute to the further development of the field.


Next to top researchers, our team houses two captains of international consultancy in a world-leading Operations Research consultancy firm — one of them being its founder and director.

With its focus on computation you will get hands-on experience in turning the models and methods you learn or design yourself into practical codes. You learn the use of specialized computer packages in the field and study their strengths and shortcomings. At the end of the masters students can solve complicated business optimization problems.

If you choose one of the applied specializations, you will learn a wealth of practical problem situations in which the models and methods that you learned are applied or adapted to the particular problem. You will then work in teams with people that are non-experts in OR and learn how to communicate with people outside your own discipline.

Almost all our alumni have leading positions in the companies where they work. This is thanks to their analytical excellence strengthened by the mathematical approach taken by our programme.


This master's programme in Operations Research is the only one of its kind in the beautiful and exciting city of Amsterdam — a major European business hub. The faculty’s Career Service supports you with a series of workshops and individual coaching in your transition to the job market. Optimizing your world is not just optimizing your own personal world, but optimizing the world in which you live. Reflection on societal impact is asked in courses, especially in the behavioral course, and in reporting on cases. Moreover, many thesis topics focus on the application of Operations Research to societal issues, such as fairness and optimal allocation of means.

Student involvement

The well-established study association of Econometrics & Operations Research students, Kraket, is very active in both social and study-related activities. For example, they organize a group trip abroad every two years, have regular sporting activities such as football, and publish a regular magazine called SECTOR.



The curriculum consists of:

  • 4 core courses: deterministic optimization, stochastic optimization, behavioral OR, and a case studies course;
  • 3 elective courses; and
  • an 18 ects thesis, which may be based on an internship.

The core of the curriculum consists of the following four 6 ects courses:

I. Algorithms in Combinatorial Optimization: The course is focused on algorithms for combinatorial optimization problems. This includes advanced algorithms for network optimization, with applications to the internet, social networks, traffic control, and telecommunications (and many more). You will learn techniques (both heuristic and rigorous) to tackle the theoretically hard problems that need to be solved in practice.

II. Optimization under Uncertainty: In presence of uncertainty, derivatives typically fail to be available in analytical form and optimization has to resort to simulation-based algorithms. Unbiased derivative estimators are a main ingredient in simulation-based optimization methods. The focus of this course ­­is on unbiased derivative estimators and their application in stochastic simulation-based optimization and learning algorithms. Next to classical stochastic gradient methods, this course also covers a range of related topics such as model and parameter insecurity, robust optimization and sample average approximation. Applications will stem from a wide range of domains from Financial Engineering over Inventory Management to Waiting Time Minimization.

III. Behavioral Operations Research: The course focuses on the modeling, analysis and optimization of complex decision making processes which involve human behavior (such as strategic, risk-averse, altruistic or malicious behavior). Building on game-theoretic foundations, you learn to model processes of complex decision making and to quantify the inefficiency caused by human behavior. The main goal of the course is to equip you with algorithmic optimization techniques to master the challenging task of reducing the inefficiency of such processes. These techniques find their applications for example in traffic routing, network design, cost sharing, resource allocation and auction design.

IV. Operations Research Case: Cases come from a wide range of industries and application areas. Examples include

  • the determination of the optimal fleet of aircraft for an airline
  • assigning the work in a railway company to its personnel (drivers and conductors) in a way that is cost efficient, but also takes care of the preferences of the employees
  • creating routes for the transportation of cash to banks that are efficient, but at the same time unpredictable (to prevent theft)
  • assigning the government budget for the improvement of road infrastructure to projects such that mobility is served best.

While these examples are diverse, they all share the feature that skillful modelling and optimization yields big improvements.

The first three courses start from a solid mathematical basis and from there offer you experience in using the models and solution methods by hands-on computational exercises. The case offers you the ultimate challenging experience in practical problem solving.


We provide a lot of flexibility to tailor the programme to your specific interests. In the free programme any three elective courses agreed to by the programme coordinator may be chosen. There are a wide variety of options, including courses in other departments and even outside the university.

The following is a list of possible elective courses that can be combined with the core courses. This list is not exhaustive; other relevant courses are possible, again subject to the approval of the programme coordinator.

Course from the Master in Computer Science (in the area of Data Science):

Courses from the Master in Mathematics:

From the Master in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems:

Courses from MasterMath and LNMB (more information can be found under the Theory of Operations Research specialization below):

  • Continuous Optimization
  • Discrete Optimization
  • Heuristic Methods in OR
  • Scheduling
  • Advanced Linear Programming
  • Queueing Theory
  • Parallel Algorithms
  • Machine Learning Theory
  • Numerical Linear Algebra
  • Probabilistic and Extremal Combinatorics

Are you interested in applications to finance, or to the management of supply chains? Or do you have academic ambitions and want to delve into the deep mathematical basis of the subject? Then you may want to choose one of the specializations below. While more focused, it remains possible to further tune the programme of any of these specializations.

Theory of Operations Research

If you are interested in an academic career, or if you just love the mathematics of OR, then this track offers you the possibility to deepen your knowledge and understanding of the research area and eventually, through the thesis, participate in front-line research in OR.

Next to the 4 core courses of the Master OR, you select 6ects-courses from the programme offered by the Dutch Network on the Mathematics of Operations Research (LNMB) The LNMB courses are taught by the best researchers in OR from all over the Netherlands in centrally located Utrecht. The following courses are offered:

  • Continuous Optimization
  • Discrete Optimization
  • Heuristic Methods in OR
  • Scheduling
  • Advanced Linear Programming
  • Queueing Theory

For a description of these 6 courses we refer to the LNMB website. In consultation with the programme director you may also choose other relevant courses at the Master level from other programs and other universities.

The theory specialization is completed with a 18ects Master Thesis, in which you will work on a research question under supervision of one of our staff members. If you belong to the very best students of the specialization and you have the creative talents to do research, you may like to do a PhD with us or at any other university in the world.

Financial Engineering

Nowadays, many of our graduates find positions in the financial industry. There is a growing interest in the financial world in instruments for financial engineering and computational finance. This is exactly where finance meets OR.

Next to the 4 core OR courses you take 2 courses from the Duisenberg Honours Programme Quantitative Risk Management or from the Master Finance. The following courses are strongly recommended:

  • Asset Pricing (or Derivatives)
  • Stochastic Processes for Finance

The other elective 6ects-course can be chosen freely.

In consultation with the programme coordinator you may replace one core OR course by another more applied course.

Students from this specialization can apply for replacing the Operations Research Case in 4.3 by the Case offered by the Duisenberg Honours Programme Quantitative Risk Management.

You finish your study with a master thesis on a finance subject, co-supervised by a researcher from the Finance Department and an OR researcher.

Supply Chain Management

Logistics is the oldest area of application of optimization. Supply Chain Management is the most advanced and nowadays one of the most relevant topics in this field. Researchers and lecturers in Logistics and Supply Chain Management speak the language of optimization theory. The field continues providing OR with new and challenging research questions and remains one of the major areas for the job market of our program’s graduates.

Next to the 4 core courses of the Master in OR, you take two of the following courses, mostly coming from the Master Program in Transportation and Supply Chain Management:

The other elective 6ects-course can be chosen freely.

In consultation with the programme coordinator you may replace one core OR-course by another more applied course.

You finish your study with a master thesis on a subject from logistics and supply chain management, co-supervised by a researcher from the Logistics Department and an OR researcher.

Applying and further information

To read more about costs, application requirements, and more specific details of the programme, please consult this website.

If you have any general questions, please contact Prof. Bernd Heidergott. For questions about admissions, please contact Dr. René Sitters.