By Jaana Rehnstrom


Going to university in the US is a different experience from Finland for sure! A group of students from Finland gathered around a table and discussed their experiences.  They had mostly come to the US to study because they saw opportunities here that do not exist in Finland (or did not exist at the time they were looking); for instance, Nadia just graduated from John Jay College of CUNY where she studied criminology – never taught in Finland until this year, apparently. The reality is of course that studying in the US is more expensive than in Finland - where there is no tuition, and students get a government stipend – although CUNY as a public university is much more affordable than most. How did they manage it? “I begged my mom” – laughed Nadia.

 Here are a few observations:

  • Freshmen students in the US seem younger and more immature (they are in fact a year younger, on average). Perhaps that is why the system also involves more obligatory class attendance and graded homework, just like in high school! In Finland, class attendance is mostly not required, with the exception of some hands-on fields where you have small-group instruction (such as medicine).

  • Apparently (perhaps for the same reason, or perhaps because they are paying for tuition) parents have been known to call the professors with complaints if their child is not doing well in college (yikes!)

  • Grades are viewed completely differently. Grading does not happen on a bell-shaped curve, instead, effort seems to be rewarded more than the actual result. Students expect to get A’s , and often even a B+ is viewed as a failure and can result in complaints to the professor. An F is very unusual and rarely given, as there are plenty of strategies to get out of a class if it’s not going well.

  • Students in the US are much more active in class, and class participation is also important for grades. In Finland, classes are often bigger, and students speaking up in class are sometimes considered by their classmates as self-promoting and “uppity” – always a big sin in Finnish culture J

  • Students in the US also participate in social activities such as student clubs etc. and engage with their college friends after school – this in particular at campus universities outside of the big cities. In Finland, it seems everyone just goes to class and back and socialize with their other friends after classes, although they might find new ones to include from the university.

 A big topic of discussion was the visa situation and how to remain in the US after graduation. Employment is allowed for one year after, and longer only if the employer sponsors the visa going forward.  Consulting an immigration lawyer is probably a good idea if you have this in mind, as the rules are complicated.