The popularity of studying in the Nordic countries is on the rise. After all, Nordic countries have a lot to offer, including world-class education, excellent levels of work-life balance, and a beautiful place to live. And after having studied and worked in Finland for many years now, it's also interesting to see how our perspectives have changed over time. But the real question today is: Was studying in Finland worth it, and why?
When and where did we study in Finland?
In the autumn of 2018, we started our student journeys abroad. We both set out from our home countries, India and Latvia, with lots of anticipation and ready to call Finland our "new home". Kris made the decision to come back to Turku because he had previously been here for exchange studies (in 2015) and loved the vibrant student culture. He also decided to study Finnish and Other Finno-Ugric Languages at the University of Turku (UTU) since he had past interactions with teachers, loved linguistics, and was interested in translation studies.
In fact, over 4000 international degree students, exchange students and international researchers come to Turku each year, making it a popular study destination in Finland.
Like Kris, many international students and researchers come here only for a few months but end up staying for years or a lifetime. It is also said that one in four residents of Turku is either a student or a person who works in a higher education institution.
I (Megha), on the other hand, chose Turku after being offered a study place in the university's Molecular Biotechnology and Diagnostics degree program along with a full scholarship for the duration of the program (2 years). I had applied to and been accepted by universities in a number of different cities and countries, but when it came time to make the final decision, I chose University of Turku in Finland. And that’s how we both ended up studying in Turku!
An education system based on equality
Studying to ensure we received the highest grades in class, juggling more deadlines than we could handle, and unhealthy rivalry among peers – we had been through all these bitter feelings before arriving in Finland. And that brings us to the question: Is having an education system with so much competition healthy?
Fast forward to when we were studying in Finland, the first few months of our degree programs were spent adapting to the new education system. One aspect of it was the fact that students in Finland were less concerned about how they stood out from their peers. Naturally, there was some rivalry, but there was also culture of learning from each other and focusing on one’s own performance.
A positive surprise of studying in Finland was finding out that university performance is more focused on self-improvement rather than on how you've performed in comparison to others.
Another fun fact about the education system is that it is widely believed in Finland that all universities provide more or less a similar quality of teaching. Of course, the rankings of universities may vary depending on the study fields they offer, with certain universities being the top choice for a given study program. But in case you are interested in studying at a Finnish university that is well recognised internationally, you may set your eyes at either University of Helsinki and Aalto University. Both of these institutions are often said to be the best in Finland and are also situated in the capital region, where most jobs for internationals are available.
Slow and steady wins the race
Although the saying "slow and steady wins the race" is one we have all heard, it rarely seems to be the case for education. Parents proudly talk about their kid skipping a grade in school, and even newspaper headlines like "Youngest ever student to graduate from university / from the city..." and so on. And so, it can be quite common to be under the impression – the faster the better. But is it really?
In Finland, those who are accepted to a university to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree have a maximum of 7 years to do so. While those accepted for a master's degree have up to 4 years to complete their studies. And in both cases, it’s also possible to obtain an extension for study rights if one meets the criteria.You can read more about the duration of degrees here.
This also shows that studying in Finland is not rushed and that individuals are allowed and even encouraged to study at their own pace. However, you should always check details with your chosen university to find out the specifics of your study program. For example, one of the conditions for my (Megha's) scholarship was that I had to graduate with my master's degree in 2 years or else I would have to pay tuition for another year all by myself.
Incorporating modern studying methods
When you picture yourself studying at university – how do you see it happening? Would you prefer being in a classroom where the teacher leads most of the discussion and students sit and listen? Or would you prefer studying with peers in small groups or virtually from the comfort of your own home? Well, the good news is that studying in Finland makes both options possible. The modern learning structure used here is flexible and allows for a variety of studying methods. Most of the time, students have the freedom to select the courses they want to take. Some university courses, for example, can have lectures that students are encouraged to attend, but other courses might be designed for self-studying where the evaluation method is a book exam.
During the pandemic years, much of the learning had shifted to remote learning, but in recent months, things have returned to normal with more in-person teaching. We were fortunate to complete most of our studies before the pandemic hit, allowing us to interact with and learn from our peers in person. During our study years in Finland, we particularly enjoyed the flexibility of the study methods and the freedom to choose our own workload and courses of interest.
Studying in Finland – free or not?
If you are from outside the EU/EEA area, you are required to pay tuition fees for bachelor’s and master’s level programs which are taught in English. It is also important to note that the annual tuition rate varies per university and degree program. However, compared to countries like the US or the UK, Finland's tuition costs are seen as being far lower (on average, between 4,000 and 18,000 euros per year).
In our case, Kris was not obligated to pay tuition fees because he was studying in Finnish and was a citizen of Latvia (another EU country). And as mentioned before, I (Megha) received a full-tuition scholarship from the University of Turku, and as a result did not pay tuition fees either. The cost of my degree program's tuition fees without a full scholarship would have been 12,000 €/year (two-year program).
When I was applying for master’s studies, I received study places from both University of Helsinki and University of Turku. A significant difference was that UTU offered me a scholarship whereas University of Helsinki did not, and I believe this helped me to choose UTU. When choosing a university, it's important to keep in mind that institutions with higher demand and popularity may have tougher selection process for scholarship programs.
Was studying in Finland worth it?
In summary, studying in Finland is a decision we don’t regret. We had a wonderful time studying here and appreciate the value of a degree from a Finnish university on a global scale. And we cannot emphasize enough how important it was for us to complete our higher education without having huge student loans. From enjoying our student days to making the most out of the Finnish education system, we fondly remember our good old student days.