Study in Finland
Stunning natural beauty and laid-back cities, a strong focus on research and innovation, a good selection of world-class universities and a commitment to offering higher education free of charge... It's easy to see why many international students choose to study in Finland.
- Parliamentary democracy with unicameral legislature
- Head of state is president (largely ceremonial), head of government is prime minister.
- Finnish and Swedish are official languages, though English is more widely spoken than Swedish.
- Capital city is Helsinki, which is the second most northerly capital city in the world.
- Part of Sweden until 1809, then duchy of Russia until gaining independence in 1917
- Known as Suomi in Finnish
- Slightly larger than Malaysia, but with population (estimated to be 5,400,000) smaller than Kuala Lumpur alone
- Currency: Euro (€)
- Eastern European Time (UTC+2), switching to Eastern European Summer Time (UTC+3) in summer
- International dialling code: +358
- Homeland of Nokia and Santa Claus (Lapland is in Finland)
- Finland has 180,000 islands and 230,000 reindeer.
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Universities in Finland
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. Nine Finnish universities are featured in the QS World University Rankings 2014/15, led by the University of Helsinki at 67th in the world.
While fellow Nordic nations 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 may be available.
Read about the top five universities in Finland, all ranked within the world’s top 300:
University of Helsinki
The University of Helsinki is Finland’s oldest university, established in 1640. It has been located in the Finnish capital since 1829; before that it was known as the Royal Academy of Turku and located in the country’s oldest settlement, Turku. Today, the University of Helsinki is Finland’s highest ranked institution, at 67th place in the world. As well as being the oldest and the highest ranked, the university is also Finland’s largest higher education institution, with more than 36,500 students currently enrolled. It has 11 faculties and 11 research institutes, and it offers degrees taught in Finnish, Swedish and English.
Also located in the capital, Aalto Universityis Finland’s second highest ranked institution – 187th in the world. The university was founded in 2010 through a merger of three existing institutions, namely the Helsinki University of Technology, the Helsinki School of Economics and the University of Art and Design Helsinki. The idea of the Finnish government was to create a new university, which would be a model of innovation and a symbol of high quality education. Today, about 19,600 students are enrolled in the newly created Aalto University, which makes it the third largest higher education institution in the country.
University of Turku
The second largest university in Finland is the University of Turku, where more than 20,000 students are currently enrolled. The higher education institution is ranked at 208th place in the world. Its main campus is in Turku, in the southwest of Finland, but it also has faculties at Rauma, Pori and Salo. The university was established in 1920, following donations from more than 22,000 citizens. It places a strong emphasis on international collaboration, and offers a number of master’s and PhD programs which are offered in partnership with universities in other countries.
University of Oulu
Ranked at 259th place in the world, the University of Ouluwas established in 1958 in the northern city of Oulu. Currently more than 16,000 students are enrolled across six faculties, which offer degrees in the fields of technology, science, humanities, medicine, education and business. The university promotes student mobility through participation in international programs such as Erasmus Mundus and others. It prides itself on its many notable alumni, including Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
University of Eastern Finland
The fifth highest-ranked Finnish university, the University of Eastern Finland currently ranks at 267th place in the world. It was established in 2010 after merging the University of Joensuu and the University of Kuopio. Today, more than 15,000 students study in one of the university’s four faculties. The institution is internationally recognized for its research and good quality education. It has an extensive network of foreign partners and often takes part in international projects. The university’s main campuses are in the cities of Joensuu and Kuopio, with some facilities also in Savonlinna – all within the south-east of the country, in the region formerly known as Eastern Finland.
Four more universities in Finland are featured in the latest QS World University Rankings, all ranked among the global top 500. These are: University of Jyväskylä, Tampere University of Technology, University of Tampere and Abo Akademi University.
Life in Finland
A technology-driven western market economy, Finland boasts an extremely high quality of life, with considerable (and reasonably equally shared) wealth. Located in the far north of Europe, it experiences fairly dramatic seasonal variation – almost continuous daylight at the peak of summer, countered by almost complete darkness during winter. This is accompanied by a similar diversity in lifestyle; summer is an explosion of music festivals, lazing by the lake, exhibitions and beer gardens, while winter is the time to hit the ski slopes, go mountain trekking and make the most of the nation’s love of saunas.
Discover Finland’s top student cities:
Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is by far the largest city in the country, with a population of around 1.2 million. Located on the south coast of the country, it’s fairly well-connected to the rest of Europe – a short flight, drive or cruise away from other major cities such as Saint Petersburg, Stockholm and Tallinn.
From its neoclassical and Art Nouveau architecture, to its multitude of colorful festivals and its busy harbor, Helsinki – World Design Capital in 2012 – is full of character and life. As a newcomer, you may join the tourists flocking to see the city’s highlights, which include the Ateneum art gallery, ancient island fortress Suomenlinna (a 15-minute ferry ride away), the iconic Helsinki cathedral, and the impressively imposing architecture of Senate Square. Having settled in, you’ll have time to choose your favorite among the city’s many cafés, sample the locally caught seafood, and join in with annual events such as the Flow music festival, the traditional Baltic Herring Fair, and Vappu – a May Day celebration particularly popular with students.
Helsinki is home to Finland’s two highest ranked universities, the University of Helsinki and Aalto University, and several others. Its strong universities and high quality of life earn it a place among the world’s top 50 cities for students, as featured in the QS Best Student Cities.
Around 160km west of Helsinki, Turku is a former national capital, a legacy which is seen today in the impressive cathedral and medieval castle. Its roots can be traced back to not long after the end of the Viking Age, making it the oldest city in Finland; for the most part, however, it has a much more contemporary feel, due in part to the extensive damage caused by a fire in the early 19th century. A European Capital of Culture in 2011, it has plenty of museums, galleries and festivals to explore, and is also the official “Christmas City of Finland” – the perfect study location for anyone who can’t get enough of festive markets and winter celebrations.
Turku is home to the second and third oldest universities in Finland: the Swedish-language Åbo Akademi and the University of Turku, which is the country’s third entry in the QS World University Rankings.
Located much further north, on the west coast, Oulu is another popular destination for visitors to Finland, with an attractive city center spread across several islands and connected by pedestrian bridges and well-used cycle paths. It’s the fifth most populous Finnish city, and is known for its lively and diverse music scene; annual events include the Oulu Music Video Festival and the Air Guitar World Championships. Oulu is also well known as a leading center for technology, with talented professionals from around the world coming to work in its research centers and science parks.
Those considering studying in Oulu for more than a few months should be prepared for a pretty severe winter; the city’s subarctic climate means an average annual temperature of just 2°C (36°F).
The University of Oulu is Finland’s fourth entry in the international rankings.
Back down towards the south of the country, but this time inland, Tampere is situated between two lakes, connected by the Tammerkoski Rapids which run through the city center. The power provided by these rapids led to Tampere being at the heart of Finland’s industry in the 19th century (leading it to be nicknamed ‘the Manchester of Finland’).
It’s the third most populous urban area in Finland, but the city center is reasonably compact and walkable, with plenty of cafés, pubs and cultural venues to keep its sizeable student community entertained. The University of Tampere is ranked among the world’s top 400 universities, and is joined by several other higher education institutions.
Around 260km to the north of Helsinki, Jyväskylä is part of the country’s “Lakeland” area, and like most inland cities in Finland, is located on the edge of a lake. It was the home of famous architect Alvar Aalto, whose creations are in evidence throughout the city. Aalto’s masterpieces include several buildings belonging to the University of Jyväskylä, Finland’s sixth entry in the QS World University Rankings. JAMK University of Applies Sciences is also located here, giving Jyväskylä a lively student community. The city is the host of the Finnish leg of the World Rally Championships, which attracts half a million spectators annually.
Applying to study in Finland
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.
Languages in Finland
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. Alternatively, you could study in Finland for a shorter period, for a summer school or as part of an exchange program; here there are more English-led options.
Student visas for Finland
Visa requirements depend on your country of origin.
Applicants from the EU/Nordic countries/Switzerland/Liechtenstein:
- Do not require visas or residence permits.
- Must obtain a certificate of registration from the police within three months (six for Nordic countries).
- Must prove that you have adequate funds to cover your stay in Finland.
- Health insurance is not mandatory, but it is very highly recommended.
- There are no restrictions on how many hours you can work.
Applicants from outside the EU/Nordic countries/Switzerland/Liechtenstein:
- Must obtain a residence permit from the Finnish embassy in your country of residence before entering Finland, for which you will need a letter of acceptance from a university. This must be renewed annually.
- Must have at least €6,720 per year (approximately US$8,570) to cover living expenses for the year. A bank statement, a certificate showing you have a grant or a guarantee of sponsorship must be shown as proof.
- Obliged to purchase health insurance to cover medical treatment of up to €30,000 (~US$38,260).
- You will be permitted to work for a maximum of 25 hours a week.
- It usually takes around a month to process applications. You’re advised to apply as soon as you receive your letter of acceptance.
Fees and funding
If you are successful in your application, you will be glad to hear that, no matter where you’re from, you will not have to pay a penny in tuition fees to study in Finland. 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.