Helsinki Yliopisto

This is info page about my experiences with the Erasmus Exchange Student Program at the University of Helsinki.

Location of Helsinki

Elementary & Secondary Education

Having one of the world's lowest illiteracy rate, and reaching repeatedly top scores at the Programme for International Student Assessment, also called PISA, Finland is known for it's good education system.

The education system usually works as follows:

  • Age 1-6: All finish children have the possibility to go to a day nursery where they are taken care of, so the parents can continue working. The day nursery is not mandatory, parents can also choose to take care about their children on their own, and get financially support from the government for doing so. From the third to the sixth year of life, parents have the option to send their children to daycare facilities for children.
  • Age 6-7: About 90% of young children attent a preschool before going to the comprehensive school. Though, parents still have the possiblity to keep their children at the day nursery.
  • Comprehensive School: The Comprehensive School is mandatory for all children above 7, till they finished the 9th year of the comprehensive school. Home schooling is legal, but relatively uncommon.
    • Procedure: The first 6 years in comprehensive school, classes are held by class teachers teaching all subjects. The last 3 years, students attend courses provided by teachers specialized for each subject.
    • Curriculum: The main learning objectives are provided by a central institution, the Finnish National Board of Education. Based on these learning objectives, each commune and / or school creates their own curriculum for teaching at school. Teachers are allowed to use their own learning materials.
    • Grading: Students don't get any marks from class level 1 to 4. From the 5th to 6th grades, students are allowed to get marks, though this is not required. Starting 7th grade, all students get marks for their performance. Additionally, all students get a report about their performance in school once a year.
  • After Comprehensive School: Students are offered two options to choose from, to continue their education:
    • Final secondary-school examinations: Students have the option to attend a school for general education for ~3 years. Students attending these schools attend courses; once they completed all courses, they are ready for attending the final examinations (comparable to the german "Abitur") qualifying for university entrance. It's also possible to finish all curses within 2 or 4 years.
    • Vocational training: Students also have the option to attend vocational training (comparable to the german "Berufsausbildung / Lehre"). They then work at least 20 weeks at a company within their 3 years of vocational training. After finishing these, they are qualified for university entrance as well.

University education in Finland


Finland has about ~15 universities; the biggest one is the University of Helsinki ("Helsingin yliopisto" / "Helsingfors universitet"). The universities, though mostly still founded by the Finish states, the universities in Finland are separate legal entities and thus at least somehow independent from the state. Since Finland is part of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), it's possible to compare Student performance between different countries within Europe. Each ECTS is comparable to about 30 hours of work, students are usually encouraged to achieve about 60 ECTS per year.

Polytechnics or University?

Polytechnics, comparable to the German "Fachhochschule", provide more practical way education for students to achieve higher education. Whereas a bachelor's degree at a finish university usually requires an equivalent to 180 ECTS, a polytechnic bachelor's degree requires 210 to 240 ECTS, depending on the chosen subject it might even require 270 ECTS. This is also due to the fact, that a polytechnics degree also contains practical training, and a final project to be delivered. Thus, completing a polytechnics degree usually takes three and a half to four and a half years, whereas a bachelor at a university usually takes about 3 years to complete.

Entrance exams

Each university is able to decide on it's own which criteria to choose for student admission. However, a lot of universities participate in joint entrance tests, where an applicant only has to be tested once for applying at multiple universities. Due to much more applicants than places available, a lot of students prepare up to a few months for passing the entrance exams. If a student fails to pass the exams the first time, they have to wait till the next year to then try to apply again. It seems to be a common procedure to span this time doing internships, shopkeeper work and preparing for the next try for the entrance exams.


When studying at a finish polytechnics or university, students have to attend courses for their native language, Finnish or Swedish, and the other language as a foreign language. Furthermore, they have to attend courses for at least one foreign language, usually English. Whereas the bachelor's degree is usually held in Finnish and / or Swedish, the Master's degree is usually held mostly in English, especially at universities wanting to attract foreign students as well.

University schedule

University courses usually start early September, each year consist out of two terms, each 14 weeks long. So the first term is from early September to mid of December, the second one starts mid of January and ends end of May. However, universities may split these terms into sub-terms. For example at the Computer Science Department of the University of Helsinki, each year is split into 4 smaller terms - so each year consists out of four sub-term. Thus, students are tested after the first sub-term, which is about six to seven weeks long, and finish a lot of their courses, and then take new courses for the sub-term. This system seems to work great, as it lowers the pressure during the exam phase for the students. At the same time, it's enforcing students actively participate in each subject, as they just attend a few courses at the same time, and thus are focussing more on them.

Housing Situation in Helsinki

After having applied at the University of Helsinki, I was offered a housing option from Unihome ( at their student house in Vuolukiventie. Vuolukiventie is about a 30 minute bus ride away from from the City Center (Rautatientori, the Central Railway Station), and it took me about 25 minutes to get from my apartment to my University in the quarter Kumpula.

Compared to the housing options offered to other students, I used to live relatively far away from my university. If possible, I'd highly recommend new exchange students, to try to apply for a student housing within the city center. Though 30 minutes still do not sound like much, living in a student housing directly in the city center offers more cultural options, as you then can just go there and don't have to think how to get there / when to return back home. Still, I totally enjoyed my stay in Vuolukiventie, and can't complain at all. I'd definitely go there again.

For Finnish students, the housing situation seems to be relatively difficult. For the student housing, waiting times of several months are not uncommon, so it might take a few semesters to be accepted to a student housing.

Disclaimer: The housing situation for students may greatly vary depending on whether a student is an exchange student or not, which university he's going to, how much luck the student has. Thus, I'm only describing the situation how I've experienced it, though the situation might be completely different for other students.

Courses I chose to attend

Each lecture / seminar is usually about six to seven weeks long, but therefore, requires more hours each week. After these six or seven weeks, it's usually followed by an exam. I attended some lectures, however, most of the courses are Seminars or kind of "interactive lectures" where it's still a lecture, but the teacher makes sure people actually participate in class, for example by having smaller groups of a maximum of 40 students, group work, or extra discussions about the topic in class. I really enjoyed studying at the University of Helsinki, especially because of the small learning groups in which the seminars are held. Further information about the Computer Science Department of the University of Helsinki can be found on their website,

Course unit code Course unit title
582325Introduction to Game Programming
582365Software Design (JavaScript), Finnish
582366Introduction to Computational Creativity
582417Distributed Systems
582514ICT Driving License
582615Overlay and P2P Networks
582643Programming in Scala
582646Mobile Middleware
582665Distributed Systems Project
582704Mobile Platform Security
582708Software Security
582709Reading Group on Digital Literature
582714Pop-Up Course: SomeJam


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