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Step-by-step: How to apply to a Finnish university

Finland may be cold but its universities are the hottest thing in education right now. Source: Carlos "Grury" Santos on Unsplash

“High-quality teachers,” “success story,” “top PISA scores,” “absolute inspiration” – these are the usual accolades you hear about Finnish education.

It’s no wonder that over the years, more and more students have wanted to apply to Finnish universities. In Times Higher Education’s recently published GDP-adjusted ranking of global universities, Finland emerged top, up from sixth in last year’s table, based on 24 separate variables.

These include the number and impact of research articles produced, university enrolment and graduate unemployment rates, a qualitative assessment of a country’s policy environment, and spending on tertiary education as a proportion of GDP.

The Helsinki University Library is the largest multidisciplinary university library in Finland. Source: Shutterstock

Ranked among the best in the world, its universities also offer a range of courses delivered in English.

Not to mention that this North European nation is famed worldwide for its innovative and pioneering education system. It’s consistently one of the highest performing developed countries on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) – an important tool for measuring education systems around the globe.

And the benefits aren’t just academic; Finland also has considerably lower living costs than other popular study abroad destinations, like the UK, US and Australia. Same goes for the tuition fees, which are considerably lower than their counterparts – a major plus for any prospective international student.

If studying in Finland sounds like something you want to pursue, here’s our guide on how you can apply to Finnish universities as an international student:

1. Research potential courses and institutions

Start by choosing the course you wish to apply for. The Studyinfo.fi application page search function is the perfect place to begin. Studyinfo.fi is maintained by the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) and offers official, up-to-date information about study programmes leading to a degree in the country. Following this, be sure to check out the website of your desired institution.

Once you’ve chosen a few programmes and institutions you might be interested in, it’s important at this point to find out if the language of instruction – used for teaching, assignments, exams and thesis – is English.

As a non-EU student, you will likely be subject to tuition fees. While non-EU fees are estimated to be EUR6000 per academic year, you should confirm the actual figure with the universities you’re keen on. Take note that you should be researching the total costs of studying as well – that means factoring study materials and living expenses.

2. Check entry requirements and deadlines

Once you’ve decided on a course and university, it’s time to dive into the nitty-gritty of entry requirements. Look for information, such as academic requirements, language proficiency and application periods. Like number one, do not rely on third-party sites alone and always confirm the information with the university’s official website.

Located in Helsinki, Aalto University is ranked 137th in QS World University Rankings. Source: Shutterstock

Generally, the academic year begins in September for the autumn intake and in January for the spring intake. The application period is programme-specific but begins (at the earliest) in November the year before.

4. Apply

For most Bachelor-level studies conducted in English, you can apply online using a joint application where you can apply for up to six of your chosen courses (whether from one or several different institutions) in one application form.

You should rank your six choices according to preference. Think this through carefully as it cannot be changed after the application period has ended.

To apply to each university separately, access their respective application forms from the universities’ official websites by clicking “Fill in application” and follow the instructions accordingly.

When it comes to supporting documents, make sure all are officially certified and translated to either English, Finnish or Swedish if the original document is in none of those languages.

5. Take your entrance examinations and English language proficiency tests

Entrance examinations are common, especially when you’re applying for Bachelor-level education. They take place in one phase or several. For Universities of Applied Science (UAS) you’ll usually have to take only one entrance exam that can be used across any other UAS you have applied to.

The entrance examination can be taken either in Finland or outside of Finland in a country where FINNIPS operates.

To prove your English Language proficiency, the general requirement for Finnish universities is either IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).

6. Apply for visas

Once you’ve received your official acceptance to a Finnish university, you may need to apply for a student residence permit or a short-term visa.

Studyinfo.fi states: “For studies in Finland that take longer than three months (90 days), a non-EU/EEA citizen must apply for a student residence permit before arrival. Citizens of the EU/EEA countries are not required to acquire a residence permit, however, they need to register their residence in Finland.”

A stunning Finnish view of the Aurora Borealis. Source: Jaanus Jagomägi on Unsplash

For studies shorter than 90 days, you should apply for a short-term visa.

The best source of information for this would be the Finnish Immigration Service website.

7. Plan your finances

Take note that you have to show you have sufficient means to live in Finland for the entire period of your visa, unless your university is supporting your living in Finland. That means you need to show you have at least EUR560 every month (EUR 6,720 a year) to cover for accommodation, food and other needs.

As for your tuition fees, confirm the necessary deadlines and other details – mode of fund transfer, amount, currency conversion- with your university so you know you’ll be able to make the payments accordingly.

8. Prepare to travel to Finland

Now the fun begins! Once you’ve sorted all visa and financial issues, you can start booking your flights and make arrangements for accommodation.

Take note that some universities organise orientation for international students a few days or weeks in advance of the starting period, so you should book your flight to make it in time for this.

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