This summer, social media is once again swamped with screenshots from Studyinfo and admissions results. But for more than half the applicants the doors to higher education did not open this year.
“Don’t worry, try again next year.”
“Most applicants get into university within a few years of their first application.”
Phrases that do not necessarily give any comfort. Being rejected at the door into higher education can cause strong feelings of failure. The situation is probably crushing for many people. Remember that you are not alone, and that you can get help. Not getting into university does not mean you have failed. The system also failed on your behalf.
I applied to university three times before I got in on my third attempt. I did the classic “one point away from law school” and tried to be clever with the first timers’ quota. I did not dare to read the entrance exam book for the Faculty of Social Sciences even though it sat in my bookcase for a year. I could have accidentally got in and lost my first timers’ place at the Faculty of Law if it turned out that social sciences were not my thing after all. After all, I was supposed to become a Parliamentary Ombudsman. As a 19-year-old I did not really have much hope of getting into law school unless I was a first timer. This lit the flame in me to lobby against the first timers’ quota.
For more than 10 years, attempts have been made in Finland to move young people from secondary education into higher education faster. The fact that people have gone to a lot of trouble to achieve this does not mean that they have completed the process. No one has had a proper overall picture of how these constant changes impact young people and applicants in general. Instead, the applicant gridlock is still a reality.
This spring would have been problematic even without the coronavirus.
First times’ quotas have not been the right way to speed up the transition into higher education. They make people try to apply tactically and put applicants in an unequal position. Transfer routes on the other hand are slow and inflexible, and understandably it has not been a top priority to improve these during the past few years’ upheaval in education policy. Those applying for a second right to study still apply through the joint application.
There are fears that admissions based on exam results will break down the all-round education of upper secondary school and the universities’ autonomy to choose their students, as well as putting even more pressure on young people when they are making their choices. A combination of grade-based admissions and the first timers’ quota might push a young person into a field that does not feel right for them and lose them their first timer’s place.
Entrance exams are not without their problems either. It is nerve-racking to potentially spend hundreds of hours reading the exam materials under pressure, while being aware that it might all be for nothing. Improvements have been made to the entrance exam process with the aim to shorten the study times and make the entrance exams independent from prep courses, but there is still some way to go. Entrance exams do, however, make it possible to get in regardless of the choices that the applicant made in secondary school.
But it is still the case that the applicants who did well in their matriculation examination are also more likely to do well in the entrance exam. Those with good grades in long maths and their mother tongue often do well in their university studies. In a way it is understandable to try to move these applicants straight into university without forcing them to go through a tough entrance exam process.
It will be interesting to see what impact this is having on the access to education when the VATT Institute for Economic Research and the Labour Institute for Economic Research publish their interim report on their study into the impact of the admissions reform at the end of this year. Will it be the case that those who know what they want and are successful in their studies will find it even easier to get into university, while those who are still trying to find their place and who do not get the top grades in their exams will do worse than ever?
So no, not getting into university does not mean you have failed.
Finally a few words to those of you who just found out you have been accepted to university
If, on the other hand, you found out that you have been accepted to university I offer you my warmest congratulations and welcome you to the world of academia!
Keep your heart and mind open to new adventures, strange minor subjects, and new acquaintances. Some economist will probably be angry with me if I encourage you to drift a bit and search for your own thing, but please do that! Personally, I drifted straight into the student union and on to the Board of SYL. You never know what you will find or where you will end up, and that is the best part of being a student.