I wrote this article a while back ago. The statements are not quite true anymore as Finland will now be charging tuition for non-EU students. The introduced cost here in Finland are quite high, and not very attractive at all. There are still many countries in the EU that do not charge tuition and have studies in English.
Maybe this article can help in another way? Anyway, just read it with a grain of salt since many of the points no longer hold true
Save $70k – Study Abroad
Before starting a Master’s degree it’s important to understand the costs involved. Education is free in Finland, but does that make it cheaper? I’ve set out to compare the complete cost of a degree in Finland versus that of one in the US.
The High Cost of Living
Looking online, reading through forums, and hearing stories, Finland sounds like one of the most expensive countries you could ever choose to live in. You will find people warning that a single year of studies can easily set you back at least 12000€.
Reading messages like these surprised me. I had lived in Finland for a year during my exchange, to me these figures seemed to be quite high. I went back through my records, and was quite surprised to find out that my year in Finland actually turned out to be by far my cheapest year of my undergraduate studies. Granted, at the time scholarships paid for both my tuition at my home university and my rent at my host university. I was left only to pay for food.
Now it’s time to look back at my Master’s education. The following is a comparison between the costs involved in getting an education at the University of Helsinki here in Finland rather than at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) in the US. If it is not clear, both are universities I attended. For all prices I have used the exchange rate of 1.12 dollars per euro.
Typically apartments in Finland are on the expensive side. Fortunately as a student you are eligible for a student apartment. This translates to a relatively cheap place to live.
At EKU the price for a private single room is about 670 € month. This is a single room with heavy restrictions. You share a community bathroom with up to 32 other students and have access to a single oven that is meant to accommodate a building of nearly 500 students. Every month your room is inspected for contraband (i.e. toaster oven), and all guests are required to check-in. You are also not allowed to use the room in the summer or during longer holidays.
In contrast, a room in a shared apartment in Finland will likely range from 150€ to 400€ a month. I was lucky enough to get a room for 150€ a month in a three bedroom apartment shared with two other students. We had easy access to a kitchen and bathroom in the apartment. The only downside was that most of the rooms are unfurnished.
Fortunately, Finland’s second hand market is great. If you look hard enough on sites like tori.fi you can easily furnish your room at little to no cost. Alternatively you can check out places like Kierratyskeskus who resell used furniture and deliver at a low cost.
Rent per Academic year (8 months):
Helsinki, Finland: 1200-3200€
Richmond, Kentucky: 5360€
Food at EKU tasted great, and the same can be said about my experience here in Finland. As a freshman at EKU you are obligated to purchase a meal plan that comes out to around 5-7 euros. In Finland student meals are around 2.50€ a meal, with no obligation to a meal plan. This means if I want to save some money and eat at home, I can. Prices of staples are priced within reach: sugar, rice, potatoes, carrots, milk, flour, and apples are all under 1€ a kilo. Chicken as well as assorted frozen vegetables are 2€ a kilo.
Food on Campus per academic year:
Helsinki, Finland: 1800€
Richmond, Kentucky: 3140€
This is where the big savings come in. Finland for the moment still offers tuition-free studies for non-EU students. Compare this with the US where, in Kentucky as a resident, a graduate programme could set you back at least 12,730€. As a non-resident this figure jumps up to 21,560€.
That’s based on the cost of 30 credits (60 ECTS) at a rate of $475 per credit in state and $805 out of state. A Master’s in Finland is free of charge and consists of 120 ECTS (around 60 US credits).
A Bachelor’s at EKU is 28,282€ in state, or 62,296€ if you are coming in from out of state. Finland offers Bachelor’s degrees free of charge.
It is important to note that while many Master’s programme’s in Finland are offered in English, the same cannot be said about Bachelor’s programme’s.
Cost of Tuition:
Helsinki, Finland: 0€
Kentucky Bachelor’s: 28,282€
Kentucky Master’s: 12,730€
Every semester at EKU books were a big deal. EKU estimates that books will cost you around 892€ a year. You could always save a bit by looking for used books and asking professors if old editions were allowed. Still, this was always a significant cost. I thought books would pose the same hassle in Finland, but you know what? I did not pay for a single book. If we needed to read more on a topic, the library was always well stocked and online resources were plentiful.
Books per year:
Helsinki, Finland: Free
Richmond, Kentucky: 892€
This a bit of a hard one to calculate. In Kentucky you really need a car to get around; public transportation for all practical purposes simply does not exist. Cities are not designed with pedestrians or bicyclists in mind, and distances are not short. Now this being said, it is very easy to catch a ride with someone to wherever you might be going. I did not have a car during my entire time at EKU.
Realistically, I believe someone with a car might spend around 60 euros a month on gas within the city. This does not include the cost of standard maintenance or long distance travel. Gas in Finland is around four times more costly than in the US, but distances tend to be shorter.
The good news in the compact city of Helsinki is that public transportation exists. If you choose to travel by bus, a student pass cost about 25€ a month. Alternatively, bike infrastructure is well developed. A bike will typically get you wherever you need to go.
Transportation per academic year:
Richmond, Kentucky: 480€ on gas
Helsinki, Finland: 200€ by bus
A huge savings for a US citizen. Even though you are not covered by the Finnish Social Security system (KELA), medical costs in Finland are far cheaper and accessible than anything you would find in the US.
If you decide to study in Finland for a period of two years or more you will receive access to the municipal health care system. Apart from this, the required 120€ yearly student union fee provides you with access to health care and dentists. Some services will have an additional small cost. For example, emergency care might cost you between 15-30€.
In the US, cheap health insurance might cost you around 50€ a month. Be aware that you will still have many additional costs billed to you when using the health care system. This is not a number that is easy to calculate as it will vary greatly from person to person. Just know that it is never cheap.
Health care per year:
Finland: 120€ + Usage
US: min 600€ + Usage
Just to throw some figures out there, minimum wage in Kentucky is about 6.50€ an hour. As a college student, don’t expect too much more than this.
In Finland there is no minimum wage. Instead, all wages are decided upon via collective bargaining. Don’t be surprised to make 10-15€ an hour for unskilled labour. Apart from the fantastic benefits in Finland, nearly every job will have a union to make sure your rights as a worker are protected.
(food + tuition + books + transportation + healthcare + rent) x years = Total Cost
(1800+0+0+200+120+1200) x 2= 6640€ (Finland: Master’s – 2 year programme)
(3140+12730+892+480+600+5360) x 1= 31230€ (EKU: Master’s – 1 year programme)
(1800+0+0+200+120+1200) x 3= 9960€ (Finland: Bachelor’s – 3 year programme)
(3140+7070+892+480+600+5360) x 4 = 70,168€ (EKU: Bachelor’s – 4 year programme)
Completing a Master’s in Finland cost roughly 24,590€ less than completing it in Kentucky.
Completing a Bachelor’s in Finland cost roughly 60,208€ less than in Kentucky.
What about entertainment?
So what about the costs of entertainment, fun, and the rest of the luxuries that come with any free time you may have? You cannot eat out like you do in the US; even the cheapest kebab will be expensive. A normal ticket to a movie theater in Finland cost as much as the 3D IMAX version in the states. Ten minutes on the go-kart track will set you back a good ten euros. Prices in the mall will seem unreal.
There is plenty to do for cheap or even free. From ice skating in the winter to a stroll through the public part. The student union often hosts events at a reduced price. Check out second-hand options for shopping, or look online.
As with anywhere, there will be those that want to travel and visit their surroundings. Travel within Europe is more than possible on a tight budget and should definitely be taken advantage of.
With Ryan Air in Tampere, Norwegian in Helsinki, and Wizz Air out of Turku, you have plenty of low cost options to visit the rest of Europe. When I say low cost, I mean low cost; I have booked round trip flights for as low as 5 euros (All fees and taxes included). Just be flexible with your travel dates, as prices constantly fluctuate.
Ferries are also a cheap option if you wish to see Stockholm, Tallinn or Saint Petersburg. Promotions happen often; it’s not unusual to get cabin tickets free of charge during the low season.
As for accommodation, look into staying at a hostel. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard many have success with couch surfing. Many of the airports where low cost airlines fly out of will be packed from end to end with travelers spending the night. I tried this once at LaGuardia in New York City, not quite the same experience.
Do note that if you travel out of the Schengen area (e.g. Ireland, United Kingdom, Morocco, Russia) to make sure you have the proper permission to do so.
World class education
Teaching facilities in Finland are incredible. Although my professors at EKU were great, one step into a Finnish learning environment and the difference is clear.
Universities in Finland are focused on the students. Facilities are well funded, exposing you to some of the best resources available. I have worked in labs with some of the most modern equipment available; exposing me to practical knowledge that far surpassed anything that would have been made available to me at EKU.
Finland is also known for its high level of quality education. The University of Helsinki is one of the top Universities in world, ranking 67th in QS top universities.
Studying abroad is an educational experience in its own. You will learn from classmates who come from a multitude of cultures bringing with them a different perspective.
The social cost
Education in Finland is free of cost to all students. Taxes pay for this incredible benefit, often a point of discussion in Finnish politics.
It is estimated that International students provide about 170 million euros a year to the Finnish economy. Aalto University recently ended a tuition fee trail period, stating “When tuition fees were tried out in Finland, only 6% of international students required to pay tuition fees accepted their place of study at Aalto University.”
Because of the reduction of incoming international students, there was also was also a reduction in revenue as “the expenses of Aalto’s tuition fee trial are almost twice as high in comparison with the revenue.” This does not take into account the future long term economic benefit by building the skilled workforce.
Not only has it been shown to be a direct benefit to the country, but due to Finland’s aging population it is projected that current immigration levels will need to double.
As the price of education continues to skyrocket in the US, it is wise to review your options. Finland is the option I went with. If you research online you will find that many other European nations offer free tuition to students coming from abroad.
Not only will you save yourself from falling into terrifying debt, but you are also immersing yourself into a new and unforgettable experience that will shape you and your future.