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With its stunning natural beauty and laid-back cities, Finland is an attractive destination for many of those keen to study in the north of Europe.
Throw in a strong focus on research and innovation, a good selection of world-class universities and a commitment to offering higher education free of charge, and the nation’s appeal for international students becomes clear.
While Finland’s system of higher education is relatively young compared to some others in Europe, this is definitely not at the expense of quality.
Finland has eight universities in the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings, most of which improved their overall positions compared to the previous year.
While Denmark and Sweden have both now introduced fees for students outside of the EU/EEA area, Finland has so far managed to avoid this, as has Norway.
All undergraduate and PhD courses are free in Finland; some master's courses do charge fees for non-EU/EEA students, but scholarships are available.
In fact, according to a report from the Europaeum, Finland is among the few European countries that actually managed to increase state funding for higher education in recent years – by 12% between 2010 and 2011.
Search universities in Finland >
Ten things to do while studying in Finland >
A technology-driven western market economy, Finland boasts an extremely high quality of life, considerable (and reasonably equally shared) wealth.
Forestry still plays a large part in the economy and outdoor pursuits are popular in the relatively recently industrialized nation, in which reindeer herding is widely practised by the indigenous Sámi people of the northern regions of the country.
Reindeer, by the way, may well be on the menu – though it may seem unusual, some food critics have called for it be widely available.
Finnish cuisine as a whole is unique and certainly not to everybody’s liking – former president of France Jacques Chirac and former prime minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi have both publically criticized it – but certainly has its advocates.
Fans of fish, berries and wholemeal will be in their element. Finns are also very into their saunas – there are around 1.7 million in the country, so be ready to embrace the steam if you choose to study in Finland.
Finland’s capital, by far the largest city in the country, is home to roughly a quarter of the nation’s population. Compared to many capital cities, it is relatively young, having only been founded in the 16th century and only becoming a capital city in the 19th century.
This doesn’t mean it lacks identity though. From its neoclassical and Art Nouveau architecture, to its multitude of colourful festivals, Helsinki – World Design Capital for 2012 – is certainly a city unto itself, with its bustling (in summer at least) and dynamic nature making it stand out from the rest of the quiet and reserved country of which it is the capital.
Educationally, it is home to the country’s oldest and highest ranked institution, the University of Helsinki, as well as Aalto University and several others.
See where Helsinki ranks in this year's QS Best Student Cities >
Until 1812, Turku was the capital and most populous city in Finland. Today, it is a much quieter and smaller city, and has the rather unusual title of ‘Christmas City of Finland’.
Its roots can be traced back to not long after the end of the Viking Age, making it the oldest city in Finland. However, this is not entirely evident, as the city suffered extensive damage in a fire in the early 19th century, though elements of history – such as the medieval castle and cathedral – still remain.
It is home to the second and third oldest universities in the country: the Swedish language Åbo Akademi and the University of Turku. Turku was the European Capital of Culture in 2011.
What's it like to study in Turku?
Situated between two lakes which are connected by rapids which run through the middle of the city, Tampere was the heart of Finland’s industry in the 19th century (leading it to be labelled ‘the Manchester of Finland’).
It is home to the University of Tampere, and a handful of other institutions, and is known for being a student friendly city.
It is also known for its music scene, (rock and metal are the predominant genres), and its mustamakkara (a type of blood sausage).
Located towards the country’s north, Oulu is not a city for those who do not enjoy the cold, with its subarctic temperature promising average highs below 0°c for five months of the year.
It is built on a number of islands and is known for being a technology hub, with free wireless network offered across the city centre.
It hosts a number of music festivals throughout the year, and lovers of air guitar will be pleased to hear that Oulu hosts an annual world championship in the art, so if you end up going there, make sure you dust off those hair metal LPs…
Jyväskylä, home of the University of Jyväskylä (310 in the QS World University Rankings) and JAMK University of Applies Sciences, is a student dominated city located towards the middle of Finland.
And like most student dominated cities, it is known for its nightlife, and boasts a range of pubs, clubs and music venues which cater for every taste.
It is also the home of the Finnish leg of the World Rally Championships, which attracts half a million spectators annually.
But if it’s a quieter, less high octane experience you want, the city is also in the centre of a region of beautiful lakes, forests and hills. Jyväskylä was the home of legendary Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.
Applications are usually made online, either direct to the university, or via the centralized admissions service University Admissions Finland (UAF).
Deadlines vary, but the main applications period is November-January, for courses starting the following fall. At some polytechnics it is also possible to apply in August-September for courses starting the following spring, but only for selected programs.
As well as proving your academic credentials, you may also need to pass an entrance examination.
If you are successful, you will be glad to hear that, no matter where you’re from, you will not have to pay a penny in tuition fees. This applies at all levels of degree, except for some master’s degrees, for which non-EU/EEA students may have to pay a fee.
The two national languages in Finland are Finnish and Swedish, and both are used in university tuition. It may also be possible to take courses taught in English, though this is more common at graduate level than for bachelor’s degrees.
Many of the undergraduate courses that are offered in English are found at polytechnics, rather than traditional universities. Also known as ‘universities of applied sciences’, these are institutions offering full degrees, but with a more vocational focus.
For example, Lahti University of Applied Sciences offers an English-taught degree in nursing; Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences has English-taught courses in information technology and media engineering; and HAMK University of Applied Sciences has an English-taught bachelor’s in construction engineering.
For the majority of subjects, however, it is necessary to be able to study in either Finnish or Swedish if you want to complete a full undergraduate degree in Finland.
Failing that, you could of course visit the country for a shorter period, for a summer school or as part of an exchange program.
Visa requirements depend on your country of origin.
Applicants from the EU/Nordic countries/Switzerland/Liechtenstein:
Applicants from outside the EU/Nordic countries/Switzerland/Liechtenstein:
It usually takes around a month to process applications. You’re advised to apply as soon as you’ve received your letter of acceptance.
More country guides >
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