Section 4. Student guidance and counselling
Marja Lehto, Aalto University
Key questions: What is the role of university guidance and counselling? What kind of guidance is offered by Finnish universities?
The role of guidance and counselling at Finnish universities
According to Finnish law (Universities Act 558/2009, 40§), it is the responsibility of universities to organize tuition and study guidance such that students can complete their studies within the prescribed normative time. Therefore, students’ right to guidance is statutory, but universities enjoy extremely high autonomy over the organization and implementation of guidance and counselling.
In recent years, the importance of guidance at universities has been emphasized. The reasons for this are, on the one hand, the expansion of higher education and the diversification of students, and, on the other hand, the simultaneous introduction of restrictions such as normative study times requiring students to complete their degrees within a certain timeframe.
Students enter university from different backgrounds and life situations with diverse reasons and motivations to study. Moreover, they possess varying academic and life management skills and various goals for studying. Many students finance their studies by working at the same time, and some may have families that they must care for during their studies. In addition, the current world situation, crises, climate change, and social issues cause concern and place further pressure on students.
In the midst of this, however, universities must ensure that, as a student, you can focus on your main task, studying. This is why universities offer guidance and counselling – so that you can succeed in your studies in the best possible way and enjoy not only studying but also life outside the lecture hall.
As previously mentioned, guidance and counselling are important means of helping you progress in, and gain the most from, your studies in the way you wish without forgetting the rest of your life and well-being. In a university context, guidance and counselling are usually related either to your studies (for example, the planning of studies and choices related to studies), your future career (for example, the development of expertise, professional identity, and career considerations), or your study well-being and study ability (including, for example, your study skills and resources).
Guidance and counselling in practice
At Aalto University, guidance and counselling are divided into three different subjects: support for study planning and study-related choices, support for career planning and career considerations, and support for study well-being.
At the beginning and throughout the duration of your studies, you will receive guidance and counselling from your own degree programme and your own school (at some universities, your own faculty). At the very beginning of your studies, you will draw up a personal study plan (PSP) with the help of the study advisors, study coordinator, and planning officer of your programme. A PSP is based on the programme curriculum, but you can tailor it to your own interests and needs with elective studies and minor studies. In addition to your own programme and faculty staff, guidance and counselling are also available at general student service points, where you can receive help in various practical matters, such as registration for the academic year.
In addition to university personnel, at the beginning of your studies you will also meet your own tutor. A tutor is a fellow student – a supportive peer who helps you navigate the university and its academic and non-academic practices. Your tutor, who has undergone specific training, is an enthusiastic and motivated older student who will introduce you to student life and help you become involved in the student community.
An important part of guidance and counselling, especially at Aalto University, is academic advising. Each new student is assigned their own academic advisor, who is usually either a professor or a lecturer from the student’s own degree program. The academic advisor will provide particular support with questions and reflections related to your field – for example when you wish to consider your study-related goals, discuss which direction to take, or ponder what you find interesting and motivating in your field – and will help your professional identity develop.
As mentioned, your academic advisor can help you with career considerations, but guidance and counselling related to career planning and searching for a job are also available elsewhere at the university. For instance, career counsellors and career guidance psychologists will support you in designing your career, improving your working life skills, finding different opportunities, and searching for a job. Many universities also organize mentoring programmes for students where students get to know alumni who are already making an impact in working life.
For your studies to progress smoothly, it is important that you possess sufficient study skills and feel well. Finnish universities and their guidance and well-being professionals also offer support in these areas. For example, study psychologists can help when, for one reason or another, your studies are not progressing as you would like, or you feel that you are stuck. With study psychologists, you can discuss, for example, time management, motivational issues, and study-related stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.
In addition to study psychologists, many universities employ, for example, guidance counsellors, with whom you can discuss a wide range of issues related to your studies and future, and gain support in evaluating your current study situation and exploring alternatives.
Study psychologists, guidance counsellors, and other professionals working at the university offer not only individual but also small group counselling, and there are also workshops and self-study materials available.
As part of the development of student well-being services, the Starting Point of Well-being, a low-threshold counselling and guidance point, was launched at Aalto University a few years ago. The Starting Point of Well-being offers no-appointment-needed, drop-in guidance by study and career guidance psychologists, career counsellors, and other well-being professionals. In addition to drop-in guidance and advising, the Starting Point of Well-being organizes various events, for example co-studying sessions both online and on campus, events for international students, and workshops and other low-threshold events.
Skaniakos, T., Honkimäki, S., Kallio, E., Nissinen, K., & Tynjälä, P. (2019). Study guidance experiences, study progress, and perceived learning outcomes of Finnish university students. European Journal of Higher Education, 9(2), 203-218. https://doi.org/10.1080/21568235.2018.1475247
Last modified: Monday, 8 May 2023, 1:26 PM