Fencing, figure-skating, sailing – any sport can be combined with studies

Aalto University is participating in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Sports Academy Urhea, whose goal is to support the flexible coupling of sporting careers with academic studies.
Purjehtija Oskari Muhonen, kuva: Tapio Nirkko.
Sailor Oskari Muhonen is the under-23s world champion in the Finn class and a third-year student of industrial engineering and management.

Student athletes are supported in many different ways. Like all students, they receive guidance in planning and scheduling their studies.

‘In addition, they can talk about examination options and alternate ways of completing course requirements,’ says School of Business Planning Officer Elli Hämäläinen, who is in charge of Aalto’s Urhea team. 

The demands of athletic careers are also considered if students need to request additional time for completing their studies. Athletes can participate in shared events and individually tailored courses dealing with issues related to wellbeing as well as with possibilities for exploiting personal sports expertise in career planning.

‘Many athletes have only a little work experience because most of their free time has been spent in practice and competing. The course teaches them how they can successfully articulate the competence they have accumulated through sports.’

A sporting career can also be of benefit when applying to Aalto. Since 2019, the School of Business has made allowance for the acceptance of up to 12 students for the Bachelor’s programme under special criteria. Athletic achievements are one of the criteria considered.

More than one hundred Aalto students are involved with Urhea, with footballers and track athletes forming the largest groups. Other common sports include ice hockey, sailing, triathlon, cross-country skiing, synchronised skating and competitive cheerleading.

The variety of other sports ranges from golf, beach volley and curling to motorsports, horse riding and ultimate. 

Effort to promote dual career paths for athletes wins recognition

The work of Aalto University, and in particular our Planning Officer Elli Hämäläinen and her team, was recognised with an honorary mention for promoting dual career paths for athletes from the Finnish Olympic Committee’s Sports Academy Programme and the Foundation for the Advancement of Athletes’ Professions in autumn 2020.

Urhea, Finnish for brave, is an official, Finnish Olympic Committee-approved elite sports academy that launched in 2003. It operates in close cooperation with the Finnish Olympic Committee’s elite sporting unit and is backed by the Urhea Foundation.

Topias Tauriainen, kuva: Tero Koski.

Fencer Topias Tauriainen took bronze in the épée at the European Youth Fencing Championships in 2019, the same year he started his computer science studies.  

‘Being able to complete a large part of my courses without mandatory attendance enables me to travel overseas for training and tournaments. I don’t compromise at the expense of sports, however. If there’s too much coursework, I’ll take that course at a later date. Once I have more time away from sports, I’ll focus 100% on my studies. I want to reach the global elite in my sport, but I also want to do well in my studies, which is why I prefer a slower pace.’

Juulia Turkkila, kuva: Lehtikuva.

Figure skater Juulia Turkkila has won several national championship medals and is in the fifth year of her studies majoring in management.

‘Success in sports requires flexibility in studying. The pace of my studies is necessarily slower. It’s great that my teachers at Aalto understand my situation, allowing me to take courses although attendance can sometimes be challenging and my main focus is, for now, on sports. My hope is that I’ll get to combine my management knowledge and elite sports in some way when I eventually move into working life.’

Oskari Muhonen kasvokuva, kuva: Tapio Nirkko.

Sailor Oskari Muhonen is the under-23s world champion in the Finn class and a third-year student of industrial engineering and management. 

‘As it is an Olympic year, my studies are entirely subordinate to sports. My aim is to secure a place at a qualifying race for the Tokyo Games that’s being arranged in May – and then to win gold at the Olympics. I think elite sports is excellent preparation for challenging work. It has given me self-confidence, taught me to set goals and fostered an ability to manage totalities as well as to tolerate setbacks. It has also provided me with an extensive network of international contacts, which will surely benefit my professional career.’

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