The Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning prepares students to excel as professionals capable of understanding and addressing complex urban development challenges.

The programme balances theoretical, historical and conceptual knowledge with the acquisition of methods, skills and experiences. Students gain a broad understanding of urban phenomena as well as practical experiences in collaborative and concrete situations.

Below you find the programme structure and curriculum explained in detail. Teaching in the programme is given in English. Exams can also be taken in Finnish or Swedish, and the Master’s thesis can be written in English, Finnish or Swedish, depending on the chosen language of the degree.

Why urban studies and planning?

Urbanisation is a global phenomenon that determines the future of our societies. Most of the key challenges of contemporary societies are encountered and addressed in cities. Cities provide enormous economic, technical and cultural opportunities, but they are also places of social conflicts and segregation as well as environmental and health problems.

The magnitude of such challenges implies that no single field of research or profession can tackle them alone: urban development requires an integrated approach. To this end, two prominent Finnish universities have joined forces in this unique and interdisciplinary Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning.

As graduates of the programme, students are able to:

  • apply relevant concepts and frameworks to analyze, and critically evaluate urban questions in their own professional fields;
  • recognize and acknowledge the multidisciplinary foundations of urban studies and planning;
  • apply rigorous methods and tools to address practical and scientific research questions and solutions;
  • use relevant methods to collect, analyze and produce knowledge concerning urban challenges;
  • recognize and develop their disciplinary roles;
  • identify and develop interdisciplinary interaction;
  • participate in public discussions on contemporary urban challenges.

Who is the Master's programme in USP for? Read more in this article:

Read about an USP study example:

Structure, content and courses

The scope of the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning is 120 credits (ECTS), which can be completed in two years. The programme is designed for full-time studying. At the University of Helsinki, the curriculum consists of:

Core skills and methods coursework (20 credits)

Core skills for thesis research and professional practice are offered as basic courses. Students will become familiar with different approaches to urban studies and planning through a set of introductory lectures. Students will also acquire skills relevant to digital representation, analysis and communication, modalities and techniques of communication and argumentation, research methods and methodologies of academic research. Students will learn, for example, how to use digital tools to analyse and study urban phenomena and how to illustrate ideas and solutions visually and graphically. The core courses include:

  • USP-301 Introduction to urban studies and planning, 10 cr
  • USP-302 Research methods, 5 cr (can be replaced with another methodology course)
  • USP-303 Urban GIS and visual tools, 5 cr

Core Urban Challenge Studios (20 credits)

Common urban challenge studios integrate multiple expert areas to study and address contemporary urban phenomena from different perspectives. The challenge-driven educational model of the studio crosses disciplines and specializations, prioritizing design thinking, learning-by-doing experimentation, transdisciplinarity and solving societal challenges. The students will produce research exploration. 

  • USP-304 Urban Challenge Studio 1, 10 cr
  • USP-305 Urban Challenge Studio 2, 10 cr

Specialisation module (20 credits)

The specialisation coursework offers three interdisciplinary modules: Peoples, Plans and Systems. These spesialisation modules offer courses to specialise within one of the three competence areas in the broad field of urban studies and planning. Both universities offer courses for each study track; these can be adapted to support student's advancement, background knowledge and skills. The courses cover topics such as urban geography, urban sociology, urban ecology, urban economics, urban ethnology and history, environmental policy, urban planning, urban design, landscape architecture, real estate economics, service and strategic design. Students choose to follow one study track during their first year of studies.

More information about the spesialisation modules: Peoples, Plans and Systems.

Electives (25 credits)

Students can select elective courses according to their personal study plans. They can select electives to deepen knowledge in a specialisation or broaden exposure to additional areas (for architects and landscape architects, some electives will guide development according to the EU directive for these professions). Courses can also include those in other Finnish universities, student exchange abroad, language courses, or an internship.

Master’s thesis (30 credits) and Master's seminar (5 credits)

The master’s thesis is a piece of applied research conducted independently by the student. Its key goal is to solve a problem relevant to the field of study, based on existing scientific knowledge and in compliance with the principles of responsible conduct of research. Master’s theses are written on topics related to the advanced studies of the programme, agreed upon between the student and the supervisor(s). A master’s thesis may be, for example, an independent scholarly research project, a directed thesis within a larger research project in one of the universities, or a professionally-oriented thesis developed in the context of a cooperating partner.

Find out more about the published Master's theses of the programme graduates.

Students participate in the Master's seminar (5 credits), where they give presentations about their thesis work in various stages, take part in discussions, and act as opponents during the seminar. In addition, students receive guidance on their thesis work and writing.


You can check out the ongoing courses offered by the University of Helsinki in the Studies service, a student information system for studies and teaching at the University of Helsinki. Current USP courses in the University of Helsinki online course catalogue.

The University of Helsinki also offers Finnish courses for international students.


The USP programme offers several degrees to apply for. The degree is selected in the application process and cannot be changed during studies. Students are appointed a tutoring teacher from their faculty who will help them draft a two-year study plan. Students of all degrees study together in the programme.

University of Helsinki

  • Master of Arts (Faculty of  Arts)
  • Master of Science (Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences)
  • Master of Science (Faculty of Science)
  • Master of Social Sciences (Faculty of Social Sciences)

Aalto University

  • Master of Science (Architecture)
  • Master of Science (Technology)

Read more about the three admission tracks at Aalto University here.

Language of instruction

The language of teaching is English. Exams can also be taken in Finnish or Swedish, and the Master’s thesis can be written in English, Finnish or Swedish, depending on the chosen language of your degree.

International scope

In the USP programme, students have an opportunity to study in an international environment and acquaint themselves with different cultures. Several nationalities are represented in both the teaching staff as well as among students. Teaching in the programme is given in English.

Students' elective coursework can include a student exchange, summer course, field excursion or internship abroad, and students are also encouraged to collaborate internationally on their Master’s theses. A recommended time to complete an exchange or internship abroad is during the 2nd year Autumn semester.

Co-operation with other parties

The Master’s Programme in Urban Studies & Planning is profoundly interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral.

Building on established collaboration with Urban Academy (Kaupunkiakatemia), the Master’s Programme develops multiple forms of collaboration with the capital region cities. Urban Academy is a platform and network that brings together multidisciplinary research, teaching and societal impact in the field of urban studies. It is a partnership of five organizations: University of Helsinki, Aalto University, City of Helsinki, City of Espoo and City of Vantaa. In addition to course-level collaboration (e.g. case studies), the programme co-organizes an annual Thesis Market with Urban Academy.

The programme includes collaboration also with other actors, such as public administrations, civil society and companies. In Finland and in the two universities involved, societal impact is highly valued and effectively implemented in education and research.

Link to Urban Academy website

Student's insight

Jalmari Sarla is a student of the Master's Programme in Urban Studies and Planning. In this video, he tells about his view on future cities. Check it out!

Gillian Henderson and Eurídice Hernández are students of the Master's Programme in Urban Studies and Planning. In this video, they tell how they want to learn to address urban development challenges.

In #NewInHelsinki series, senior students talk about their experience at the University of Helsinki and what advice they would give to their fresher selves. Once, Euridice was #NewInHelsinki. She travelled all the way from Brazil to Finland to start her studies in the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning. In this video, she talks about her experiences as a fresher!

Stu­dent as­so­ci­ation Mesta ry

Mesta Ry is the organization for USP students in the University of Helsinki and Aalto University. Mesta was founded by the first USP students in 2017. Mesta organises various recreational student activities, aims to widen students' academic and practical perspectives and hopes to create good communication platforms for students and staff. Mesta is an expert in the everyday life of an USP student, so do not hesitate to contact them through email or social media:

Student life

Student life and especially the student organisation culture is exceptionally rich and diverse in Finland. Also at the University of Helsinki, more than 250 student organisations operate within the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY), ranging from faculty and subject organisations to political and societal organisations, and from choirs and orchestras to sports and game clubs. Their activities include anniversary celebrations, academic dinner parties, cultural events, get-togethers and excursions.

As a student and member of the Student Union (HYY), you are entitled to many benefits and services. For example, affordable student housing, low-cost sports services and student-priced meals. You also get numerous discounts, for example on public transport fees across the country. 

Read more about student life, services and benefits when studying at the University of Helsinki.

Do you have questions about studies or student life? You can get answers to your questions by chatting directly with University of Helsinki students. Chat with our students!