Apply successfully to the University of Helsinki

How to apply to the University of Helsinki

What are my chances to be accepted into a Helsinki University Master's Program?

This differs greatly from year to year and between the different programs. The admission rates for most individual programs have been anywhere between 5% and 40%, with popular programs like Environmental Change and Global Sustainability or Economics at the low end and e.g. Forest Sciences and Theoretical and Computational Methods at the high end.

Be eligible!

The numbers above are the acceptance rates out of all applications. The chances from all eligible applications are about twice as high. There is no use in applying if you do not fulfil the formal criteria (e.g. concerning your previous degree or having a recommendation letter). About 50% of all applications do not make it beyond the formal requirements!

What else to maximize your chances?

Since the individual Master's programmes at the University of Helsinki are run by independent steering groups, there are differences in the details of the evaluation. However, there are general recommendations that should be followed by everybody who is applying for a study place at a university.

First of all, you need to realize that the typical reviewer of your application is a busy university lecturer or professor. And she has to evaluate maybe more than 100 applications (in addition to all the other reviewing that she is doing). Everything that you can do to make her work easier and faster will be appreciated!

Top 7 issues to pay attention to when filling out the application form:

  1. It's all about evidence! You want to study science, don't you? Don't tell me how good you are but tell me about things you did, that show how good you are! "My BSc thesis work was selected as the best of the class and I was presenting its results in a speech at xyz occasion". This is evidence since it can be verified.
  2. Answer the question! You get minus points if you show that you have either not read the question or you did not understand it. Some questions might be partially overlapping, but there is no reson to repeat yourself.
  3. Don't write too much! There is a maximum length, but less is allowed and if you can make your point with fewer words, that is even better!
  4. On the other hand, don't leave any field empty. Standardized evaluations give certain weight to every question and if the answer field is empty, it is impossible to give a good rating. If you cannot come up with an answer, then you might as well write a short and pithy explanation why you cannot give an answer. If e.g. the question is "What extracurricular academic activities did you maintain during your studies?" and you simply did not participate in any extracurricular activities, you might as well give an explanation for that (e.g. family responsibilites would be perfectly acceptable).
  5. Choose your recommendation letter wisely! It is not important (and is often to your disadvantage) that the recommendation letter is written by the most senior/important person you can convince to write you one (department head or professor). It is much more important that the person knows you well and perferably has been working with you or supervising you in a laboratory setting. The letter should also be not too old and it should have been written for this particular application (not a general letter of recommendation "To whom it may concern"). Also, do not choose somebody, who is already writing several recommendations for other students for the same application round. While such person might be popular among students, (s)he will probably be too busy to personalize your recommendation sufficiently to make it stand out.
  6. Follow the instructions to 100%! If you are expected to supply one letter of recommendation, supply exaclty one (and not two)! The second won't be taken into consideration and simply shows that you are unable to follow instructions.
  7. If you are less than maximally proficient in the English language, use a spell and grammar checker! This is also a courtsey to the reviewer and you do not gather plus points by showing that you cannot use (or are not willing to invest the time) to run your text through an online spellchecker. Grammarly is your friend!

The interview

Some study programs do video interviews. These are designed individually by each study program. In my opinion, the most important thing is to stay calm and not to overestimate the importanceĀ of the interview. As most interviews, they typically start with the "Introduce yourself" task. Be aware, that there is always a limited time for each interview and you should make sure to fit your answers into the allocated time (hence, talking too much and too little does not make a good impression). You also might be able to ask questions yourself and you should definitely do that if you have any! Very common are the questions why you want to study in this specific MSc program and what argues in favor of selecting you.