Study vocabulary and the academic year
The academic year and academic term
The academic year starts on 1 August and ends on 31 July. The academic year is divided into two terms: the autumn term and spring term, which end at the end of the calendar year and at the end of July, respectively.
Compulsory and elective studies
All degrees have both compulsory and elective studies. You can check the curriculum of your degree programme to see which courses are compulsory. Elective studies are a requisite part of the degree, but you can choose them freely to meet your interests. Elective studies may constitute a minor study module (i.e. a fixed set of courses), a practical training period or a student exchange period.
A unit of study specified in the curriculum. It which may consist of one or several study attainments (components).
The scope of university studies is expressed in credits. At Aalto, one credit is equal to about 27 hours of student work, which is equivalent to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). One academic year has a scope of 60 credits.
‘Student work’ above includes independent thinking and acquisition of knowledge. Hence, in accordance with the Aalto recommendation, an appropriate student workload for a 1-credit course could be, for instance, 8 hours of lectures and a 2-page writing assignment.
‘Curriculum’ often refers to the overall/totality of knowledge that the student is expected to have gained upon completing the degree and the courses that make up the degree. Each degree programme and minor may refer to their own set of courses as their curriculum.
Degrees and degree students
Aalto University provides education leading to various degrees. You can earn a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration (BSc Econ & Business Admin), art and design (BA) and technology (BSc Tech). Students pursuing any of the above degrees are called ‘bachelor’s students’.
You can also earn a master's degree at Aalto. The options are Master of Science (Economics and Business Administration), Master of Arts (Art and Design) and in the field of technology, Master of Science (Technology), Master of Science (Architecture) or Master of Science (Landscape Architecture). Students pursuing any of the above degrees are referred to as ‘master’s students’.
Aalto also grants licentiate and doctoral degrees.
In addition to degree students, there are other types of students at Aalto, such as exchange students, Open University students and students pursuing non-degree studies.
Duration of studies
The normative (i.e. recommended) duration of studies is 3 years for a bachelor’s degree and 2 years for a master’s degree.
Bachelor’s degree: three academic years. You have a right to exceed the normative duration by up to one year, meaning to earn the degree within four academic years.
Bachelor’s and master’s degree combined: a combined normative duration of five academic years. You have a right to earn this combination within a period exceeding the combined normative duration by no more than two years, which makes the maximum total duration seven academic years.
Master’s degree: two academic years You have a right to exceed the normative duration by no more than two years, meaning to earn the degree in four academic years.
If your right to pursue a degree expires before you have finished your degree, you can apply for an extension to the right to study. You can check your remaining study time in Sisu.
Examination, examination week
Examination Some courses have an examination at the end or during the course, which may either be organised either as a traditional in-class examination, an electronic examination in the Exam system or other computerised exam. Schools may have general examination dates, where students are taking different exams at the same time in the same hall. Evaluation week is one name for the week between two teaching periods when tests are usually given.
Degree programmes may have different majors, which are essentially study options or areas of specialisation. A major is a fixed set of courses defined in the curriculum and it will be marked on your degree certificate when you graduate.
A minor is a less extensive module with its own curriculum. Bachelor’s students must complete at least one minor study module, while master’s students may complete one, but it is not compulsory. The name of your minor is printed on your degree certificate when you graduate.
Personal study plan (HOPS)
Each student draws up a personal study plan (HOPS) on the basis of the curriculum. The personal study plan is where the student chooses which courses they intend to study and when. The personal study plans are made in the Sisu student information system. At the end of the studies, all the degree parts are compiled into the degree certificate in accordance with the personal study plan. You can update and modify your personal study plan as your studies progress, and you can get help and support in drafting it.
The six units providing education at Aalto University are called ‘schools’ (korkeakoulu or abbreviated koulu in Finnish). Many universities have faculties, but at Aalto, the division into schools is not based solely on disciplines. The Aalto schools of technology are the School of Chemical Engineering, the School of Electrical Engineering, the School of Science and the School of Engineering. The field of business is represented at Aalto by the School of Business. The School of Arts, Design and Architecture represents two fields of education, technology (which covers architecture in the Finnish education system) and art and design. Outside of Aalto University, all Finnish universities and universities of applied sciences are referred to in Finnish as korkeakoulu (higher education institution), which is the same word that is used for an Aalto school in Finnish.)
Student organisations, guilds, subject associations and hobby clubs
There are many student organisations on campus, many of which are registered associations. Guild is the traditional name for a student association for technology students, which brings together students from different majors or programmes. KY, the Foundation for Business Students in Aalto University (KY Foundation) is an organisation for all business students, while TOKYO (Students of Art, Design and Architecture in Aalto University) is an organisation for all students of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture. In addition to organising leisure activities, the above organisations advocate for their members’ rights when collaborating with the university and the student union. The membership of smaller subject associations usually consists of students of a certain department, major or programme.
Teknologföreningen (TF) is the only student nation operating on Aalto’s Otaniemi campus. It serves as an association for students who speak Swedish as a first language or who are interested in Swedish.
In addition, there are a large number of different hobby clubs on campus for everything from sports and music to urban gardening.
Thesis and master’s thesis
‘Thesis’ is a general term for an extensive and independent research related to either a bachelor’s degree or master's degree. The thesis written for a bachelor’s degree is usually called a bachelor’s thesis. The thesis written for a master’s degree is called a master’s thesis, and has different names in Finnish depending on the field of study and traditions (in Finnish opinnäyte, diplomityö or in spoken language dippatyö in the field of engineering and pro gradu or gradu in both business and arts). The thesis is usually written when the degree is nearly complete otherwise.
Transfer of credits, recognition of prior learning (Finnish acronym AHOT)
Credit transfer means counting studies completed outside Aalto University towards your Aalto degree by either using them to substitute for an individual Aalto course or study module or including them in the degree, for instance, towards the electives.
Aalto University degree students may transfer to their degrees credits for learning that was gained outside formal education, provided it meets the learning outcomes of the degree and programme pursued. This is referred to as opinnollistaminen (‘accreditation of learning demonstrated in some other manner’).
An honorary title used to refer to a retired professor. For male professors, the title is professor emeritus and for female professors, professor emerita
Fuksi or mursu
A first-year bachelor’s student. The term mursu is only used in the field of business.
A Finnish term for a student of business. The word kylteri is derived from the Finnish term for high-school graduates who are pursuing a university degree in business (kauppatieteen ylioppilas).
Professors, researchers, lecturers and teachers
University employees have various job titles. A professor is typically a person with a doctoral degree who has been hired through a process of academic peer review and whose work may involve managerial duties in addition to research and teaching duties.
Lecturers and university teachers are teachers whose main duty is to teach. Depending on the job description, their duties may include also some research. An hourly-paid teacher is a person who does not have a full-time permanent position at the university but has been hired to teach particular courses or parts thereof.
The primary duty of researchers is to conduct research, and their work may be funded by either a salary from the university (if they are university employees) or a personal research grant.
A Professor of Practice is a person who is distinguished in his or her field and has a fixed-term position comparable to that of professor, but who may not have a doctorate.
Taikkeri or artsilainen
Terms sometimes used for art students. Taikkeri is derived from the Finnish name of the predecessor of the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Taideteollinen korkeakoulu. The most used Finnish term for arts students is artsilainen (derived from the abbreviation of the school’s current name, ARTS).
A Finnish term for a student of technology.
Tutor, ISO tutor
A tutor (in the fields of business and arts) and an ISO tutor (in the field of technology) is a student who offers peer advice for new students. The goal of tutoring is that the tutor or ISO tutor is a student of the same field, who will be able to help you get started with your studies and gives you practical advice on studying at Aalto University. While working on a voluntary basis, the tutors and ISO tutors are trained by the university and act in its name. Depending on the field of study, the tasks of the tutor may involve, on a voluntary basis, introducing the leisure time activities available to the new students.
Time at the university is often conceived in terms of the academic year. The academic year, beginning in autumn and ending in summer, includes a great diversity of traditions and events.
Aalto divides the academic year into five periods. The only breaks during the academic year are generally during the traditional Finnish festivals and holidays and Easter break, which in future will mark (spring 2023 onwards) the pause in teaching from Maundy Thursday until Wednesday of the following week. The time between Period V and Period I is generally set aside for no teaching when people can have a summer break (June, July, August). There is also a longer break around Christmas and New Year’s Eve (between Period II and Period III), which people can use for a holiday break.
Other traditional times off are held at Epiphany (January 6), May Day (May 1), Ascension (generally 40 days after Easter) and Finland’s Independence Day (December 6).
Opening of the academic year (avajaiset)
The academic year officially commences with an opening ceremony at the start of September. The event includes inaugural speeches and the academic procession of Aalto professors. All who wish are welcome to attend and follow the grand proceedings. Later in the day, the Aalto Party gets started, an informal outdoor event presenting many of the recreational activities available at Aalto. Still later on, the Aalto After-Party takes place, organised by the student union.
Names for an event held in early autumn for incoming students and organised by students of the older classes at Aalto. (The names come from fuksi for ‘fresher’ or ‘freshman’, and mursu for first-year business students.) The programme may include tongue-in-cheek tasks assigned to new students to induct them in as full-fledged members of the community.
Public examinations of doctoral dissertations
These events are held year round for graduating doctors to defend their theses orally, i.e. discuss their work with an opponent as the final step in getting the thesis academically approved. Public examinations are held during the daytime and students may attend, and are encouraged to do so when possible. There is no dress code for public examinations. The graduating doctor usually arranges a post-doctoral party, called a karonkka, for the evening of the event. The karonkka party is for invited guests only.
Sitsit, vujut and other student parties
The Aalto student union (AYY) and other student organisations organise many kinds of social events throughout the year. Sitsit are generally sit-down meals or dinner parties with a master of ceremonies, the singing of sitsit songs, and dining and spending the evening together. Different organisers have different sitsit traditions, and these will be gladly explained to new participants.
Vujut, i.e. anniversaries, can vary widely between different student organisations. The anniversary celebrations of larger organisations – especially for even years (5, 10, 20-year and so on) – might be very formal and require attire such as tailcoat dress suits and evening gowns. For some organisations, anniversaries are more informal, such as the masquerade party ‘Maskerad’ organised by TOKYO, the association of ARTS students. Anniversary celebrations are a fun way to see an organisation’s traditions and to get to know new people.
Vappu / May Day
May Day at Otaniemi is more than just any holiday. Student May Day, especially for students in the field of technology, hold a number of May Day events in the weeks and days leading up to May 1st. On the eve of the big day, the commencement of the May Day revels is officially proclaimed from the top of the campus building Smökki (Servin mökki), followed by the capping of the Havis Amanda statue in Helsinki’s Market Square. At midnight, first-year students are allowed to don their teekkari caps (see teekkari above) for the first time. On May Day itself, people congregate especially in the Kaivopuisto park area of Helsinki for a picnic. The Aalto student union AYY often puts together all of the new about May Day events into a single information channel.
Finnish May Day is a holiday for students and working people alike. In addition to the students in the city centre, you will also see families celebrating as well as May Day political marches.
Aalto University invites all student graduates of the academic year to a joint celebration held at the beginning of June. Graduation Party is celebrated with speeches, music and other programme events. New alumni may also invite their family members to the celebration.
Graduation ceremony (publiikki)
Publiikki is the ceremony in which new graduates receive their degree certificates. These certificate award ceremonies are held several during the year, with one occurring as part of the Graduation Party celebration.
Independence Day torchlight procession
Students celebrate Independence Day with a traditional torchlight procession. The route departs from Hietaniemi Cemetery and proceeds through the city centre to Senate Square to join the general observances of this national holiday.
Ceremonial Conferment of Degrees
Conferment (Promootio) is a formal commencement ceremony in which master’s and doctoral degrees as well as other marks of academic distinction are awarded. Invitations to attend conferment go out to degree graduates who completed their studies between certain dates. Conferment ceremonies are not held every year.