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Each year, some 1,000 University of Helsinki students participate in an exchange abroad. You can be one of them! You should begin to consider your destination and timetable as early in your studies as possible. All University of Helsinki degree students can find a suitable destination and participate in an exchange. The timing of the exchange and the choice of destination depend on several factors. These instructions provide you with an overview of the relevant issues to help you plan your exchange.

Who can participate?

To participate in an exchange:

  • You must be an attending degree student at the University of Helsinki.
  • You must have completed at least 30 credits of university-level studies by the time of application.
  • The credits to be completed at the target university must be transferrable in full to your degree at the University of Helsinki.

For more about eligibility and selection criteria, see Application process for exchange studies.

Most exchange opportunities are available to Bachelor’s and Master’s students only. Doctoral students can also apply for exchange studies, but fewer destinations are available to them. As doctoral student, start planning your exchange on Study abroad as a doctoral candidate - start here! website. If you have previously participated in an exchange, read more in the section Participate in another exchange.

Exchange programmes may also set their own special terms. For example, some universities accept Bachelor’s students only, while others may require several years of studies prior to an exchange. Always check the relevant exchange programme and destination for information about such special terms.

Timing of the exchange and studies to be completed during the exchange

Begin to make plans well in advance. Carefully consider the timing of your exchange and also consult your degree programme.

Exchange studies are part of your degree, which means that the studies you complete during your exchange must be included in and fit into your degree at the University of Helsinki. Exchange studies should not unreasonably expand your degree or slow down your graduation. Plan ahead which degree studies you can complete during your exchange. The International Exchange Services look at your degrees as a whole. This means that studies from the same exchange can be included in your bachelor’s or master’s degree, or both in your bachelor’s and master’s degree.  

When you are applying for your exchange, you do not need to know your future study track or the master’s programme you will be continuing to. You will create your learning agreement according to the plan that you have made up and is probable for your degree. If you are considering applying to a master’s programme that you do not have the automatic master’s option to you should make a learning agreement for the optional master’s programme as well. The amount of elective courses can differ quite much from programme to programme and this may influence the exchange destination you can select. This is because the teaching at the destination should fit into both degree options that you are considering.

Making your thesis abroad

During your exchange, you may also work your (BSc, MSc or PhD) thesis when going on broad with a Faculty/subject level agreement, for example collecting or analyzing research material, if your instructor and host university agree to it in advance. In case working with your thesis was approved as a part of your Learning Agreement, you should have an academic co-supervisor also at the host university. It's recommended to start planning on working on the thesis well in time before the application period for the exchange. One way to begin is to contact your supervisor at the University of Helsinki and ask for contacts that could suit as academic co-supervisors at your degree programme's partner universities. 

The progress of the thesis will be proved with a separate form called Agreement for Thesis Work. During the exchange, you should gain at least 5 ECTS / month whether you attend courses or work on your thesis. Please see instructions on Required documents and Returning home.

Traineeship abroad

If you are close to completing your degree, you should consider a traineeship abroad rather than exchange studies. You can apply for an Erasmus grant for such traineeships. For more information about traineeships abroad, see Instructions for students.

If you wish to participate in an exchange outside the EU, you should begin to plan your exchange at least one year before the desired departure date, preferably even earlier. If your preferred destination is in Europe, you should begin planning at least one term in advance. Read more about the application dates.

Notice the academic terms and length of exchange for your exchange university

Find out about the academic terms of your target university and their timing during the academic year so that you can also plan your studies before and after the exchange. The summer term in Germany, for example, largely takes place during the Finnish summer break.

The duration of your exchange must be more than three months and less than 12 months. The entire exchange must take place during the same academic year. However, if the term at your target university is less than three months (e.g., British universities), the duration of the exchange is considered sufficient. You can also participate in a shorter exchange (e.g., one month) through the Nordplus programme. Many universities outside Finland also offer summer and short courses, which are particularly suitable for students who are unable to participate in an exchange for a full term, but wish to acquire international experience.

Selection of destination

The choice of destination depends on several factors. Your motivation and interest in the target country and its culture are important. In addition, your academic performance and language proficiency may make certain countries or exchange opportunities available or unavailable to you. The dates of academic terms differ at universities in various parts of the world. You should take the cycle of terms and application dates into account when planning your exchange. 

You should find out more about not only the target country but also its universities. Different universities offer different types of studies. You may not be able to study your field at all partner universities. Some destinations have also limited the level of courses (Bachelor’s, Master’s or doctoral) available to exchange students. Information about such restrictions is available with regard to Erasmus, Nordplus, and Nordlys destinations in the Mobility Online portal and with regard to more faraway destinations in the relevant descriptions. You should also read about the studies offered by target universities on their own websites to find a suitable university. Please note that the course provision and related limitations may change annually.

When deciding on your destination, you should also take into account expenses (including travel, visa, and insurance expenses), the grant amount, and the cost of living in the target country.

For more on the University of Helsinki’s partner universities and potential exchange destinations, see Exchange opportunities around the world

If you cannot find a suitable destination via the University of Helsinki’s exchange programmes, you can also make independent exchange arrangements and apply for the status of a free mover or visiting student at the university of your choice. In such cases, however, you may be required to pay the target university’s tuition fees. Students who make independent exchange arrangements can apply for a free mover grant from the University of Helsinki. For more on independent exchange arrangements, see Going abroad independently

Exchange terminology to support your plans

Exchange agreement

The University of Helsinki’s student exchange arrangements are based on agreements with other universities. These agreements define the number of students that can be selected for an exchange, the duration of the exchange in months, the discipline the students can study, the language in which they can study and the level of courses the students can complete during the exchange. In addition, the University of Helsinki has agreed to special terms with some partner universities concerning, for example, the academic performance required of students.

Scope of the exchange agreement

The scope of the agreement describes the field from which students can be selected for an exchange.

  1. Erasmus, Nordplus, Swiss-European Mobility Programme, Faculty and unit bilateral agreements: The exchange agreements apply to individual faculties or degree programmes and the priority is given to students of these programmes. priority when selecting students, but other students can also apply to study the discipline stated in the agreement (with the exception of Nordplus, which offers unit bilateral arrangements for major subject students only). 
  2. University bilateral agreements, North2North, Nordlys, Erasmus University Wide Agreements, Erasmus global: The exchange agreements apply to the University as a whole, which means that students from all faculties can apply.

You should note the scope of the exchange agreement because it affects which field you can study during your exchange. Opportunities available through unit bilateral agreements are primarily intended for studying the field specified in the agreement. University bilateral agreements allow you to study your own major subject/discipline associated with your degree programme as well as to complete optional studies. When selecting your target destination, you should note that universities may also set their own restrictions. For example, faculties of law and veterinary medicine do not admit exchange students from other fields.

Erasmus+ SMS

Erasmus+ (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, or SMS) is a European Union programme that provides exchange opportunities to students. The Erasmus scheme also offers exchange opportunities to university teachers and other staff.

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is used broadly in Europe to describe language skills.

ECTS credits

The purpose of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is to enable comparisons between the scope of studies at educational institutions in different European countries. At the University of Helsinki, one credit equals one ECTS credit. Many universities especially in Europe use credits that are directly comparable with ECTS credits. During your exchange, you must complete at least five ECTS credits per month.

Countries outside Europe do not usually use ECTS credits. For information on the minimum number of courses or local credits you must complete during your exchange, see the descriptions for non-European universities.

Language proficiency

As Finnish university students usually have excellent language skills, most people need not hesitate to participate in an exchange for language reasons. An exchange allows you to maintain and improve your language skills as well as learn new languages. Find out about the language proficiency required by your target university in good time before applying. This will leave you enough time to develop your language skills to the required level, if necessary. Language studies are an important element of planning and preparing for your exchange. We encourage you to embark on language studies during your first year of study or to complete all available courses before application or departure.

You can study in English in countries where English is the official language, but many other exchange destinations also offer study opportunities in English. If you are also proficient in languages other than English, you can choose from several target universities and a wide range of studies. We recommend proficiency in the local language because it will allow you to better cope with both your studies and everyday life at the destination.

For information on the languages in which you can study during your exchange, read the section Exchange opportunities around the world or visit the websites of prospective universities. You should also note that opportunities to study in English in non-English-speaking countries may be limited. When assessing your language skills, also remember that methods of study vary considerably in different countries. Examples include oral examinations (Italy) and long essays (Spain) completed in the local language.

For more on language requirements and the demonstration of language proficiency, see Language requirements and language certificates in student exchange.

Health and safety during exchange

You are responsible for evaluating which exchange destination is suitable for you in terms of safety and environmental health. Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland has published country-specific travel advice in Finnish and Swedish. They also have general instructions regarding crisis abroad. Follow international news media in order to receive updated information about daily events of your exchange country.  

When selecting your exchange destination, pay attention to allergies, respiratory illnesses and air pollution. When you decide when to go on exchange, remember your health: do not discontinue medical treatment in order to go on exchange. Speak about your exchange plans with your doctor or therapist and pay attention to their instructions.

Contact FSHS Travel Advice at least six months before your exchange so that you’ll have enough time for vaccinations which you may need. Check health and vaccinations recommendations for each country you plan to visit during your exchange. Remember to renew prescriptions before your exchange.

Accessibility and student exchange

When planning your exchange, you should take account of any special needs you may have regarding the learning environment. Students who need additional support can apply for an accessibility grant in some of the exchange programmes (Erasmus+, Erasmus+ global, Nordplus/Nordlys, some of the bilateral exchange destinations in Russia).

For information on accessibility at specific universities, see their websites. Information on the accessibility of some European universities can also be found through the MapAbility service.

Read the instructions on accessibility and international student exchange on the website of the Finnish National Agency for Education.

Funding for exchange studies

Outgoing exchange students can receive a mobility grant as well as student financial aid (a study grant, a student loan and a housing supplement) during their stay abroad. For more on mobility grants and other funding, see Funding for the student exchange.

If you participate in an exchange through a University of Helsinki exchange programme, you usually need not pay the target university’s tuition fee. However, you must usually pay your living expenses as well as the costs associated with study material, as well as for a visa and language tests, if any.

Participate in another exchange

You can participate in another exchange as long as the exchange period fits into your degree. Previous participation in an exchange does not prevent you from being selected. If two applicants are considered equal, priority can be given to a student whom the University of Helsinki has not previously selected for a student exchange of three months or more. For more on selection criteria, see Application process for exchange students

However, the Erasmus programme encourages students to participate in an exchange several times. The maximum duration of an Erasmus exchange involving studying or a traineeship is 12 months at each degree level (Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral studies). Students can apply, for example, for a Master’s level exchange before they complete their Bachelor’s degree as long as the exchange takes place during their Master’s studies. In single-cycle degree programmes (e.g., in medicine), an Erasmus exchange period can last up to 24 months. 

Development of international competence

During your exchange period, you will have the opportunity to develop many different skills, which will be useful later in life. Language skills, cultural competences, and integration skills are some examples, but there are many other skills that are learned during an exchange. It may be difficult to talk about these skills in a specific way, so we encourage students to think about how they could take advantage of their acquired cultural competences after their period abroad.

On Returning home - instructions for returning exchange students website you will find University-organized events where you can develop your strengths, and tips on how to use your intercultural competences for job-searching and self-development.

Student exchange experiences

You can read blog posts and stories by previous exchange students (mostly in Finnish) or read about experiences of students that are on an exchange right now on Instagram to get inspiration and information on our exchange destinations.

You can also read feedback from previous exchange students in the Mobility Online portal. Click on Questionnaires at the top right corner of the page and then narrow the results using your own search criteria (e.g., by country).

In spring 2021, you can follow exchange experiences of these students on Instagram (@studyabroad_uh):

•    Hilma, Germany, Universität des Saarlandes (story-week, week 4)
•    Helmi, Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong (story-week, week 5)
•    Amanda, Norway, Universitet i Bergen (story-week, week 6)
•    Liisa, Iceland, University of Iceland (story-week, week 7)
•    Erika (with Eveliina), Spain, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (story-week, week 8)
•    Eveliina (with Erika), Spain, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (story-week, week 8)
•    Lotta, Austria, Pädagogische Hochschule Tirol (story-week, week 10)
•    Karolina, Ireland, University of Dublin - Trinity College (story-week, week 11)
•    Elli, Serbia, University of Belgrade (story-week, week 12)
•    Elina, Austria, Universität Wien (story-week, week 14)
•    Aino, South-Korea, Korea University (story-week, week 15)
•    Elisa, France, University of Clermont Auvergne (story-week, week 18)

Checklist for students planning an exchange

  1. Find out when is a good time for an exchange in your degree programme, and plan when and for how long you wish to participate in an exchange.
  2. Find out what kinds of exchange studies you should complete for inclusion in your degree. What studies can you complete during your exchange?
  3. Read more about the exchange opportunities offered by the University of Helsinki and the studies available, and select a destination based on your needs and language skills.
  4. Check the application dates for the destination of your choice.
  5. Applying for an exchange usually involves two stages. You must first apply through the University of Helsinki application process during the relevant period. If you are selected, you must then apply directly to your target university. Carefully read the application instructions and call for applications. Exceptions include the free mover and North2North exchange procedures, which have a slightly different application process.

Attend a briefing session for more information on student exchange opportunities, or contact the mobility advisors at International Exchange Services.