FAQs about the student admissions reform in higher education institutions
On this page you will find FAQs about the reform of higher education institutions’ student admissions.
General information about student admissions in higher education institutions in Finland
The number of student places in each field of higher education is decided on the basis of the needs of the labour market and society in general. The hopes of young people and the educational needs of society may not fully meet. For this reason, many applicants do not get a student place in their preferred field.
Ultimately, the number student places in higher education is a political decision. The Finnish National Agency for Education is responsible for anticipating educational needs. Based on foresight information and educational policy objectives, the Ministry of Education and Culture and higher education institutions agree on the required number of degrees in different fields. On this basis, higher education institutions independently decide on their maximum intake.
Provisions on eligibility for higher education, in other words, the prior learning needed for applying for higher education in Finland, are laid down in the Universities of Applied Sciences Act and the Universities Act. Under the relevant provisions, a person who has completed:
a matriculation examination,
a vocational upper secondary qualification, including an initial qualification, a further qualification or a specialist qualification, or
a qualification outside Finland, which in the awarding country gives eligibility for corresponding higher education,
is eligible for higher education in Finland. In addition, a person who has completed:
general upper secondary education syllabus
is also eligible for higher education provided by universities of applied sciences.
In the application process, applicants may be divided into separate applicant categories on the basis of their different educational backgrounds. This means, for example, that students who have taken a matriculation examination, completed a vocational qualification or previously pursued higher education may be subject to different admission criteria. There are different eligibility requirements for university studies starting from the Master’s level, for doctoral studies and for a Master’s degree programme in a university of applied sciences.
Under Finnish law, higher education institutions admit students and decide on the admission criteria.
However, higher education institutions and the Ministry of Education and Culture together decide on how admissions should be developed.
The Ministry and higher education institutions have agreed on a new framework: from 2020, the majority, or over 50 per cent, of applicants will be admitted based on certificates. Score-based admission will be dropped, but entrance tests will continue as an important admission method. Higher education institutions will decide independently the criteria on which they rank certificates, for example scores for grades in matriculation certificates and details of the admission examinations.
For universities of applied sciences, the Rectors’ Conference of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences, Arene, draws up recommendations on the admission criteria. These are widely followed by universities of applied sciences. Universities also cooperate in many fields and use common scoring and entrance tests.
On the one hand, matriculation examinations and vocational qualifications, which may combine a range of subjects, reflect different types of knowledge and skills. On the other hand, depending on the field, studies in a higher education institution may require different types of prior learning and skills.
Higher education institutions aim to establish admission criteria in such a way that:
success in the admissions ensures that the applicant has the prior learning needed to begin studies in the field in question,
students are ranked so that the best applicants are the ones most likely to succeed in their studies in their particular field and are most suitable for it, and
applicants are sufficiently differentiated so that they are not likely to be awarded even scores.
To ensure that applicants have the necessary prior learning, certificate-based admissions specify in the admission criteria certain subjects that applicants must have taken in the matriculation examination and certain grades they must have achieved. Similarly, universities of applied sciences require that the applicants must have completed certain general studies included in their initial vocational qualifications. In the admission criteria, these are often referred to as threshold criteria. In addition, the scores often emphasise subjects relevant to the field.
In admissions based on entrance tests, the entrance test ensures that applicants have the corresponding prior learning. In recent years, more than half of university study places have been in fields where the entrance test has been based, in whole or in part, on general upper secondary school syllabus (economics, medicine, pharmacy, technological fields, ICT, sciences, and linguistics in the field of humanities). In these fields, the threshold criteria mentioned above are often used also in certificate-based admission. Detailed admission criteria are published for each study option.
Higher education institutions have reduced the amount of other reading set for entrance tests.
Higher education institutions require students to have language skills that are sufficient for them to begin their studies (Finnish, Swedish or English depending on the language of tuition).
Entrance test reform and increased use of certificate-based admissions
In recent years, only one in three new general upper secondary school graduates has continued their studies immediately after taking the matriculation examination.
According to the OECD Education at a Glance 2019 report, there are major differences between countries as to the percentage of applicants admitted in a given year. In Finland, two thirds of the applicants are left without a place in higher education every year. This is the highest rate of rejection among the reference countries.
The model which the reform is about to abolish and which requires almost all applicants to take at least one of the hundreds of different entrance tests, is not only expensive and burdensome, but also internationally exceptional. It delays the starting of studies, forcing applicants to take unwanted gap years. Many young people also go to study abroad because in many countries the admission process is considerably easier. Under the law, the matriculation examination and vocational qualifications confer eligibility for higher education studies. Success in upper secondary education is a good indication of the applicant’s capabilities for pursuing higher education.
No, they won’t.
Entrance tests will still be used for student admissions after 2020. However, certificate-based admissions will be the main route to higher education, which means that just over half of the places are filled on the certificate grades. The current system based on admission scores, in which points are awarded for both the entrance test and the certificate, will be dropped. Entrance tests will be changed so that applicants will not have to prepare for them in advance.
The reform will cover all fields of study, excepting the arts, culture and sport as well as the community interpreter and sign language interpreter programmes of Diaconia University of Applied Sciences. In some fields, aptitude tests will also be held as part of the entrance test or arranged for those who have been successful in the certificate-based admission.
From 2018, no entrance tests requiring long preparation should be organised. From 2020, certificate-based admission will be the main route to studies, meaning that just over half of the places will be filled through certificate-based admission.
However, applicants who cannot be admitted based on their certificate because they do not have a suitable certificate or their grades are not high enough may continue to take an entrance test.
In all fields, students will be admitted based on their matriculation examination grades and, at the discretion of each higher education institution, grades obtained for an initial vocational upper secondary qualification. However, the reform does not concern the arts, culture and sport. Grades obtained for individual general upper secondary school courses (general upper secondary school certificate) will not be used in student admissions. General upper secondary school diplomas may continue to be used in admissions.
Each higher education institution will decide whether it will only admit applicants who have taken the matriculation examination, or applicants who have completed either the matriculation examination or an initial vocational upper secondary qualification.
Universities of applied sciences are introducing admissions based on initial vocational upper secondary qualification grades in all fields where admissions based on matriculation examination are also being used.
For the 2020 certificate-based admission criteria for universities of applied sciences and universities visit Studyinfo.fi -service:
Admission criteria will be announced early enough so that students are aware of them, especially as regards the use of certificates, when beginning their studies in upper secondary schools.
To answer this question, future admission criteria should be compared with the previous ones.
In many fields, universities in particular have wanted to ensure that students have the relevant skills to begin their studies. To facilitate this, universities have required that applicants exceed certain target grades in their matriculation examinations. Alternatively, universities have used the entrance test to gauge applicants’ knowledge in the general upper secondary syllabus relevant for the field.
In recent years, more than half of university study places have been in fields where the entrance test has been based, in whole or in part, on general upper secondary school syllabus (economics, medicine, pharmacy, technological fields, ICT, sciences, and linguistics in the field of humanities). In these fields, certificate-based admissions will generally continue to require that applicants have grades in certain matriculation examination subjects.
However, in some fields, threshold criteria such as those described above have not been set and entrance tests have been based on material other than the general upper secondary syllabus. But even in these cases, the joint scores based on the grades achieved in the matriculation examination and the points from the entrance test may have resulted in different scores depending on the matriculation examination subjects. For example, taking the test in the advanced syllabus in mathematics or in a language has often yielded more points than taking a test in the basic syllabus.
If the applicant wants to meet the entry requirements, good performance in certain subjects of the general upper secondary syllabus has also been expected. These factors will continue to matter in admissions. However, as before, the skills required by higher education institutions in different fields can also be acquired after upper secondary education. Applicants will be able to demonstrate their competence by sitting the entrance test or by taking the matriculation examinations in new subjects.
Universities and universities of applied sciences decide on their scoring, so this question must be addressed to them.
Even if the admission criteria change, there are just as many student places available as before. The goal is that a larger share of the places would be allocated to those applying for their first higher education place and that young people would start their studies with less of a delay than today. In practice, good grades continue to be required for the majority of places: in autumn 2016, for instance, only one third of the applicants were admitted to universities on the basis of entrance tests alone.
Before the reform, even if applicants had achieved good grades, they have often had to take the entrance test anyway. In practice, this has meant that they have not been able to apply for several alternative fields in the same year. This practice has led to double testing, which may have created pressure among the applicants to postpone taking the entrance test to the year after finishing upper secondary education.
Working hard at the upper secondary level will pay off in the future – just as it does today. And the performance required for admittance through certificate-based admissions will continue to depend on the popularity of each field, the same as today.
After 2020, certificate-based admissions will be the main route to higher education. Higher education institutions will make their own decisions about the details of the admission methods in different fields.
For details of each study option, visit Studyinfo.fi -service.
Admission criteria, especially regarding the use of certificates, will be announced in time for students be aware of them when beginning their studies in upper secondary schools. There are no plans to reduce the number of higher education places.
There are different practices. Universities of applied sciences and universities make their own decisions regarding this. In some fields, certificate-based admissions are limited to first-time applicants. Information on the places reserved for first-time applicants in certificate-based admissions can be found in the admission criteria for each study option at Studyinfo.fi -service.
As before, initial vocational qualifications, further vocational qualifications and specialist vocational qualifications will confer eligibility for higher education. The admission options offered for applicants with one of these qualifications will depend on the higher education institution and the programme.
Universities of applied sciences will have admissions based on initial vocational qualifications in all fields where admissions based on matriculation examination certificates are used.
Admissions based on an entrance test will be offered in any case.
For its certificate-based admissions, each higher education institution will decide whether it will only admit students who have taken the matriculation examination, or applicants who have taken the matriculation examination or completed an initial vocational qualification.
Universities of applied sciences have decided to use certificate-based admissions for holders of an initial vocational qualification in all fields where admissions based on matriculation examination certificates are in use.
When the use of certificate-based admissions is increased, student admission based on admission scores will no longer be used. Admission based on admission scores has been offered by universities and universities of applied sciences for applicants who have taken the matriculation examination, as it is based on the matriculation examination test grades. This practice will no longer be continued.
However, a significant proportion of places will continue to be awarded based on an entrance test alone. In fact, the number of places to be awarded by universities on the basis of an entrance test will increase.
The majority of vocational students complete an initial vocational qualification. In addition, some complete further vocational qualifications and specialist qualifications. While these qualifications also confer eligibility for higher education, no grades are awarded in them that could be used in certificate-based admissions.
Holders of a further or specialist qualification will continue to have access to admissions both through an entrance test and the open higher education route. In practice, holders of further or specialist vocational qualifications often make their way to further education through the world of work. At universities of applied sciences, admission methods where points are awarded for work experience have been used in blended teaching. The education pathway that leads from an initial vocational qualification to employment and then to further education is important and will be maintained in the future.
After 2018, entrance tests that do not require lengthy preparation should be used. For example, this may mean tests based on certain material or other tasks to be completed at the test. The number of tests will be reduced further by developing tests that can be used in several fields. This means that an applicant can take one test to apply for several student places.
Universities of applied sciences introduced a joint entrance test in autumn 2019.
In spring 2020 and 2021, the majority of the university entrance tests will be organised in such a way that applicants receive the results of the certificate-based admission before they sit the entrance test.
The matriculation examination results will become available for admissions shortly before mid-May. Certificate-based admissions are completed before the university entrance tests begin in mid-May. So there will only be a few days between the results of the certificate-based admissions and the first university entrance tests. The joint entrance test for universities of applied sciences will be organised in June so that there will be reasonable time between the test and the matriculation examination results.
It would be appropriate to leave more time between the results of the certificate-based admissions and the entrance tests. The Ministry of Education and Culture is addressing this issue and seeking solutions together with the Matriculation Examination Board and higher education institutions.
Despite the timetable challenges, certificate-based admissions allow students to apply for several fields without taking part in the entrance test.
Jyväskylä University’s TRY project is developing the open university pathway, for further information, visit Toinen Reitti Yliopistoon (TRY). Other actions are also being considered.
Grounds for reform
The reform of student admissions will promote equal opportunities, because its purpose is to ensure that as many young people as possible will get a student place. Everyone will have equal opportunities to get a place.
There are rough indications that women currently do better in the matriculation examination, while men do slightly better in entrance tests. For men and women, access to higher education is influenced by the fact that male and female students in upper secondary school often take different subjects in the matriculation examination because they have studied different subjects, and by the fact that men and women often apply for different fields.
The student admissions reform may be expected to improve learning motivation among all upper secondary students because their grades will make more difference in admissions. It is important to follow whether these attitudes are changing.
Under the Constitution of Finland, everyone has an equal opportunity to receive other educational services besides comprehensive school education in accordance with their ability and special needs, as well as the opportunity to develop themselves without being prevented by economic hardship.
The current model for student admissions has created a market for entrance test preparatory courses, and the prices and availability of the courses may direct the applicants’ choices of fields. In some fields, these prep courses have become very common: of students who responded to Eurostudent VI survey, one in four university students and one in eight university of applied sciences student had participated in a prep course. The fields in which participation in prep courses was the most common were law, medicine, and business and economics.
In practice, as students can only start preparing for entrance tests after sitting the matriculation examination or finishing their studies, a new applicant is forced to compete not only with other new applicants, but also those who have been able to spend a long period preparing for the test, in some cases several years. A system based on entrance tests can be considered unfair for young people who, for economic reasons, do not have the opportunity to spend time preparing for extensive entrance tests or prep courses.
The Ministry of Education and Culture is monitoring the development of student admissions in cooperation with higher education institutions.
Offering or participating in various courses can, of course, not be prohibited. However, general upper secondary school is still the best ‘preparatory course’ for the matriculation examination. When preparing for their examinations, candidates are supported not only by all the teaching and learning they benefit from at the general upper secondary school, but also by their teachers and guidance counsellors and their peers studying for the same examinations. By contrast, candidates may have to prepare alone for university entrance test or take a prep course, which are not available everywhere Finland. And, in practice, general upper secondary students can only start preparing for entrance tests after the matriculation examination. In this case, they will feel even more pressure because they also have to compete for study places with applicants who have taken their matriculation examination earlier and have been able to spend a much longer time preparing for the entrance test.
Using entrance tests as a measure of motivation is problematic in many ways. In a system based on entrance tests, it may not even make sense for applicants to apply for the programme they are most motivated to pursue: if a young person feels that their chances of getting into their first-choice field are too poor, it may be more sensible to apply for a place that is less motivating but easier to get.
When certificate-based admissions are used, applying for one study option does not make it any harder for students to apply for other interesting options, and therefore they have no reason not to apply for their first choice. With entrance tests, applicants have to consider how to allocate time to preparing for different entrance tests: the time they spent preparing for one test is taken out of the time for other tests. It has often been impossible to prepare for several entrance tests at the same time.
A motivated applicant will always maximise their chances of success based on the admission criteria, whether they are matriculation examination subjects or separate entrance tests. It is also important to remember that motivation at the application stage is not necessarily an indication of motivation during studies.
Those who have been admitted based on an entrance test may also wish to change their field after the start of studies.
It's true that preparation for entrance tests allows students to learn about the subject matter and focus on it. This gives them a general idea of a particular field. However, you could argue that it may be better for students to learn about a number of different fields before making a decision to apply, allowing them to have an idea of the fields of study and the work that follows them.
Under the law, the matriculation examination and vocational qualifications confer eligibility for higher education studies. For that reason, higher education institutions’ student admissions should, as a rule, be based on knowledge acquired during upper secondary education and not, for example, on higher education content learned from the set reading for entrance tests. Matriculation examination grades and the assessment of vocational qualifications reflect the applicant’s knowledge and skills.
Scoring of certificates
The Ministry and higher education institutions have agreed on a new framework: from 2020, the majority, or over 50 per cent, of applicants will be admitted based on certificates. Score-based admission will be dropped, but entrance tests will continue as an important admission method. Within this framework, higher education institutions will make their decisions on developing admissions and, for example, on scoring.
Higher education institutions make their own decisions about awarding points for certificates. The Ministry of Education and Culture does not participate in this process or direct the development of the points systems.
In the past, the criteria for matriculation examination grades have been drawn up in many different ways depending on the higher education institution. Forming an overall picture of this system has been very challenging for upper secondary students and guidance counsellors. It is appropriate that there should be fewer models than before. The Ministry has funded university development projects in which common scoring criteria have been drawn up.
In its report titled ‘Ready for Admissions I’, a working group appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture discussed the effects of the criteria for matriculation examination grades on the choices of students. Particular attention was paid to the current situation in mathematics and language studies and the possibilities of higher education institutions to influence this.
The report also identified ways to improve the comparability of grades (see Ready for Admissions pp. 58–60). However, in the development of the scoring system, higher education institutions have made their own decisions on assessing certificates and increasing comparability.
Scores have been developed in two student admissions development projects funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture (projects coordinated by the University of Helsinki and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences). Developing criteria for scoring matriculation examinations is part of both projects.
The project led by Metropolia University of Applied Sciences has also developed scoring that will enable the use of initial vocational qualifications and a single joint entrance test for universities of applied sciences.
For certificate-based admissions, universities score 4–6 subjects, while universities of applied sciences always score 5 subjects. So it is quite clear that a student who only gets a good grade in the advanced syllabus in mathematics will not succeed very well in certificate-based admissions. Only focusing on mathematics does not make sense, and no one should tell you otherwise.
It is also worth remembering that the majority of matriculation examination candidates receive an average or adequate grade in the mathematics test. This follows on from the way grades are distributed. Not everyone gets good grades. An applicant does not get much of a head start on others with an average or adequate grade in the advanced syllabus in mathematics.
If a general upper secondary student wants to look at scores in relation to subject choices, it would be good to consider, for example, which subjects are of interest and where the student is likely to succeed.
You should remember that many of the university entrance tests in are based on upper secondary school syllabus, as was the case before the reform.
Undeniably, those who have taken the advanced syllabus in mathematics before the reform have, on average, succeeded in the admissions better than those who have studied the basic syllabus in mathematics or chosen not to take mathematics at all in their matriculation examination. However, those who take the advanced syllabus test are more likely to apply for certain fields, such as science, technology and medicine.
Matriculation examination and resitting tests
Since the autumn 2019 examination, candidates can retake a rejected subject three times during the examination period.
Similarly, since the autumn 2019 examination round those who have passed a subject may retake it without restrictions. Anyone who has completed the matriculation examination can retake subjects regardless of when they passed the examination for the first time. A candidate can retake without restrictions any compensated rejected subjects included in a passed matriculation examination.
Candidates who have passed the matriculation examination may supplement it with subjects not included in the first examination or with different syllabuses in the same subjects they took in the first examination. They can only supplement the examination after they have passed it, otherwise the time is not limited.
No, because only those taking part in the examination for the first time will be taken into account when determining the target grades for the examination.
This depends on when the candidate begins the examination, in other words, when he or she takes the subject test.
If the candidate begins in autumn 2021 at the latest, the examination will include at least four subjects, of which the mother tongue and literature subject will be mandatory for everyone. The candidate will then choose three other compulsory subjects from the following four options: the second national language, a foreign language, mathematics and a humanities or science subject. In addition, the candidate may include one or more additional subjects in the examination but not different syllabuses in the same subject.
However, candidates who have passed the matriculation examination may supplement it with subjects not included in the first examination or with different syllabuses in the same subjects they took in the first examination.
Candidates who being their examination during the 2022 round or later must take five subjects. These five include mother tongue and literature and, at the choice of the candidate, at least three subjects from a group that includes mathematics, second national language, a foreign language and a humanities or science subject. These five subjects cannot include two different syllabuses in the same subject, such the basic and long syllabus in mathematics. In addition to these five subjects, the examination may include additional subjects, including those in different syllabuses in the same subject (for example, the advanced syllabus in mathematics in addition to the basic syllabus).
The examination must also include at least one subject with an advanced syllabus (advanced syllabus in mathematics, advanced syllabus in the second national language or in a foreign language); mother tongue and literature instead of the second national language for candidates speaking Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue; or mother tongue and literature in the Saami language instead of a foreign language.
Reservation of places (quotas for first-time applicants)
The purpose of reserving student places is to ensure that a larger proportion of those granted a place would genuinely be new higher education students who do not yet have a place at a higher education institution. This practice safeguards the educational rights referred to in section 16 of the Constitution by ensuring that as many young people as possible get a student place.
The purpose of reserving student places is also to improve the completion rate in higher education: it is likely that more students will complete their studies if they accept a student place in a programme which motivates them.
Higher education institutions decide how many places will be reserved for first-time applicants. For an indication of the places reserved for first-time applicants, see the information on the admission criteria for each programme at Studyinfo.fi -service.
In principle, student places are intended for those who wish to complete the degree in question. If you accept a place in a programme in which you do not intend to complete a degree, you may take a place from an applicant for whom that degree would be the first choice. In other words, accept the place if you plan to complete the degree.
If you accept the place and later find that you wish to change fields, you will be able to apply for and find routes to other programmes. A person who studies in a higher education institution or has completed a degree should, as a rule, have the opportunity to apply for and be admitted to a programme that is also available for first-time applicants. While some student places will be reserved for first-time applicants to improve their position, your chances of being admitted may not be unreasonably lower than theirs (Constitutional Law Committee statement 23/2012).
In terms of the effectiveness of the education system and society at large, it would be better that student places in degree-awarding education were accepted by applicants who intend to study in the field in question. A place accepted by one person cannot be offered to another.
You should first discuss the options that are available for you with your guidance counsellor. You can apply for and accept a place in a field that interests you. If you wish to change fields later on, there will be opportunities for applying for and finding routes to other fields. While some student places will be reserved for first-time applicants to improve their position, your chances of being admitted may not be unreasonably lower than theirs. Flexible study paths, flexible rights to study, recognition of prior learning and admission of transfer students also serve this purpose.
First-time applicants are those who have not accepted a place in a degree-awarding programme or not completed a degree at a Finnish higher education institution. Those who started their studies before autumn 2014 and do not have a degree are an exception.
Only study places accepted and degrees completed in the Finnish higher education system affect your position as a first-time applicant. A degree completed or a student place accepted at a foreign higher education institution will not affect your right to apply as a first-time applicant in Finland.
No, you won’t.
No, you can’t. An applicant who has accepted a student place in a programme beginning in autumn 2014 or later is no longer a first-time applicant.
In addition to higher education institutions’ joint application procedure, separate admissions are organised for Master’s level programmes, for instance. At Master’s level, no places will be reserved for first-time applicants.
In addition, higher education institutions organise application rounds for transfer students, allowing students to change fields without re-applying through the joint application procedure. The admission of transfer students is based on the prior right to study, on completed higher education courses in the same or similar field and on performance in these studies.
You should first consider if you could specialise in an area better suited for you. For example, you could include studies at other higher education institutions or in other fields. It may be possible to change your field within a higher education institution or a faculty.
If you cannot change fields a transfer student, you can apply for a place through the joint application procedure. You may also find that a good time for choosing a new specialisation is after completing a Bachelor's degree. There may often be several degrees that confer eligibility for Master’s level studies.
The processes related to the joint application procedure, separate admission procedures and the procedures for transfers between programmes during the studies should be examined as a whole. Higher education institutions should do more to facilitate admission based on prior learning and modules completed earlier, and create flexible opportunities for transfers within and between institutions for these students.
As a whole, care must be taken to ensure that the position of students who have completed a degree or accepted a student place in higher education does not become unreasonably less favourable than that of first-time applicants, and that students continue to be able to complete a second degree and change their field of study.
This question is more relevant to the unemployment security system than higher education institutions. For more information about the conditions for receiving labour market support, visit the TE services' website.