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Studies in general upper secondary school

As a general upper secondary school student, you will plan your own individual learning path. The studies take two to four years to complete. The majority of students graduate in three years. At the end of your general upper secondary education, you take a matriculation examination, which is the term used for the national school-leaving examination.
Photo: Maija Astikainen

If you start your general upper secondary education in or after August 2021, your studies will follow the new curriculum. In the new curriculum, courses are referred to as study units, which in turn are made up of credits. Instead of the previous 75 courses, the general upper secondary education syllabus is now 150 credits. General upper secondary education for adults, on the other hand, comprises 88 credits.

At our general upper secondary schools, you can complete your studies in Finnish or Swedish. Helsinki Upper Secondary School of Languages also has a bilingual Finnish-English study programme. Both languages are used in the teaching. However, the matriculation examination is held in Finnish. Ressun lukio IB World School offers an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme that is taught in English.    

Choose from a wide range of studies

General upper secondary education comprises a wide range of subjects, including subjects common to all students. These include:

  • mother tongue and literature 
  • second national language 
  • foreign languages 
  • mathematics and natural sciences 
  • humanities and social sciences 
  • guidance counselling 
  • arts and practical subjects

You can choose studies offered by your own school and other general upper secondary schools of the City of Helsinki. You can choose from the studies offered jointly by these schools and complete online and distance studies through Helsinki Online Upper Secondary School. Online studies and distance learning add flexibility to your studies. 

Helsinki Upper Secondary School for Adults (page in Finnish) offers flexible study options for various situations in life. Only people over the age of 18 can study towards a qualification at Helsinki Upper Secondary School for Adults. However, anyone can complete individual study units at the school. It is possible for students of the school to complete both their general upper secondary education and a vocational qualification at the same time. In this arrangement, Helsinki Upper Secondary School for Adults provides the general upper secondary school education, while Stadin AO, the Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute provides the vocational education and training.  

Special educational tasks and emphases

The City has eight general upper secondary schools that have a special educational task assigned by the Ministry of Education and Culture. A special educational task means that the school specialises in a certain subject, such as music, PE, or science. Learn more about the general upper secondary schools’ special educational tasks on each school’s website.  

The special educational task can mean two different things: 

  1. The general upper secondary school places a significant emphasis on one or more subjects or study entities in its curriculum. If certain requirements are met, you can replace some of your compulsory studies by completing at least 24 credits in line with the school’s special educational task.   
  2. The aim of general upper secondary education is for the student to complete an international qualification at the level of the Finnish matriculation examination certificate. One example of such a qualification is the International Baccalaureate Diploma, which is completed fully in English.

At a general upper secondary school with a special educational task, you can

  1. complete your general upper secondary education or equivalent studies 
  2. build an individual study path 
  3. obtain special skills for the future 
  4. deepen your knowledge and skills in a particular hobby 
  5. obtain a matriculation examination certificate or complete an international qualification. 
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We have seven general upper secondary schools that emphasise a particular subject in their curriculum. Find out more about each school's special emphasis on the school website.

Participating in  special emphasis education means that you can complete studies and study units in line with the school’s special emphasis on a particular subject. For example, Helsinki Upper Secondary School of Languages has a bilingual Finnish-English study programme, in which at least half of the studies are in English and the rest in Finnish. 

If you participate in a special emphasis programme, you are required to complete all compulsory general upper secondary school studies. The studies in line with the school’s special emphasis are included in your personal study plan as national optional studies or other optional studies.   

Some of the special emphases schools are applied for directly through the joint application system. At some schools, you first apply for a study place, and once enrolled, you can add special emphasis study units in your personal study plan.

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Get a wide range of skills in general upper secondary education

You can also complete credits by participating in your school’s operations actively. For example, you can participate in the activities of the student council or the planning and implementing school events. Knowledge and skills gained outside your school can also be acknowledged as part of your general upper secondary education, as not all learning takes place inside a classroom. 

Our general upper secondary schools work closely with higher education institutions, other educational institutions, working life and companies. They offer their you opportunities to develop your international knowledge and skills, too.