Survival guide to Laurea Masters Program

If you are reading this post as a new arrival to Laurea Masters Program, I salute you. Congratulations of getting in for this ride. It’s a ride where you get to meet awesome people and it will provide you in-depth knowledge about service design and all that it has to offer companies. I promise you will leave this program with confidence and knowledge you need to improve your career.

Although I have not graduated just yet, I can now say that I survived the Laurea Masters with decent grades. I came with the patch of 25 students who passed the 2011 entrance test. We were the second patch ever to be accepted to Laurea Service Innovation & Design Masters degree program.

My background is bachelor of Laurea and I have worked for eight years as a marketing manager at a mid-size tile importing firm. So I am not a designer by education or profession, more of marketing pro. The reason why I applied to the program was because I do not want to be shouting how good offerings companies provide, but to be developing new offerings that beat the old ones. I also believe that while traditional manufacturing companies have moved to cheaper countries, developing new kind of services is the next big thing.

Without further babbling about me, here´s a few pointers. When you start the degree program, you should start by reading a book about service design. I promise this will help you start your journey. I recommend Designing Services with Innovative Methods: Perspectives on Service Designs by Satu Miettinen and Mikko Koivisto (who you might meet during the program). Also the book This Is Service Design Thinking by Mark Stickdorn is an easy read and provides a holistic view on what you are studying. See for more books on Service Design.

After you have read the book, decide your thesis subject. Yes, really, before even starting your studies. It sounds crazy, I know. But you have to decide your thesis subject there and then. The studies compile of courses where you need to make 5-25 page long literature reviews, learning diaries, project summaries and other writings. If you have your thesis subject ready, you can add these writings directly to your thesis. I give you an example. My thesis is to develop a new service for architects. In the Deep Insight to Customers and End Users course I wrote 28 page long literature review about ethnographic research and in-depth interviews. I could use the material directly to my thesis work. You need to have your thesis subject ready in order to spot these chances to write your thesis during the courses.

So how do you select a thesis subject? I chose to gather customer insight with an interview method and to develop a new service offering for the firm I work for. I did not discuss about the topic with my boss, because the thesis is for my learning and it has to come from my own interest. My style was to present here is what I am going to do. If you let your boss figure out your thesis, you will not learn things that are useful and interesting to you. Remember, a thesis is only practicing to work. You can for example make a new service to your current customers (or internal customers) with the tools you like. It is that simple. To admit, my first target group was housing cooperatives, but I changed it to architects, tough I was curious how they make decisions how they design buildings. Key point is that my subject was designed so that I could switch jobs or customer group and wouldn´t have to change my thesis subject.

After you land at Laurea, get to know your fellow students. I have never met as many extroverts in one room and I was stunned how people connected in the same level as our patch did. We had engineers, marketing people and design people in the same room and boy did we have a great time. I will probably miss the days we spent at school; tough I really enjoyed the people there. After all, you will all share the same pain of getting the tasks done. We organized parties and started our own Facebook-group to discuss topics related to service design and to get in touch with each other. Service design is a relatively un-known topic in firms and you probably do not have a lot of colleagues with the same education as you, so it helps if you bond with people at your class. They might be the only ones who get you when you are talking about service design.

The most important thing in order to survive the Masters Program is to do everything that you are told in the given time. I will make myself clear, that everything you leave behind will haunt your mind all year around. Do yourself the favor of not letting tasks deadlines pass a day. Your mentors are more forgiving to you than you will be on yourself. There are people at my class who have had to redo some courses because they didn´t do their project on time or at all. Mark every deadline to your calendar and make a schedule for every task you have to do. I once had about 65 pages to write to a few courses, but luckily I had one month time to do them. If I would have waited a week before getting my hands on the tasks some projects would have definitely slipped my fingers.  I showed my study schedule to my wife at times to keep her informed that I would not be looking after the family at these times.

At class do some notes. I chose to take my laptop with me at every class, tough you have to make a lot of summaries what you have learned during the courses. It helps if you have some notes you can easily convert to understandable paragraphs and where you make notes of your own thoughts about the subject.  You might also need the notes when starting to do a project work for the course.

Don´t be alarmed about the amount of pages you have to write. When you use Laurea´s writing principles you have one page for cover, an index page, abstract page, and sources page. Before you have written anything you have four pages already! If you write one page with Times 8 pt font it equals almost three pages in Laurea settings. So don´t concentrate on the number of pages.  You will easily make up 10-20 pages. Just concentrate on the quality of your writing. Note your references correctly and try to discuss about the subject more than copy-paste nice quotes. There are no exams at Laurea MBA program, the pages you write will make up most of your grade.

An important thing is to sell this at the office and at home. You need backup to get this degree done. Ask if you can get the session days paid as education days.  Also make sure your boss knows what service design is and what you are able to do with it. Inform what courses you are taking right now. At home you need about 6-10 hours a week to do the given tasks. This means you might have to skip some hobbies and do some night-time studying, but it´s easier if your spouse can take care of the kids or walk the dog when you read and write.  I explained my dream of an MBA to my wife and she totally got it. I have dropped photography for a while to concentrate on my studies.

I hope you are not only here to get the diploma.  I hope you are curious and will use the skills you learn here. There is no point of acquiring this kind of competence, if you do not use it. I suggest you start using the methods you learn at lectures on Monday at work. Don´t wait until your thesis is ready or when you get your diploma. At Aalto University a 3 day course of service design costs 2750 euros (+ vad). The people who go there will definitely need to use the methods to get their money’s worth. You need to do the same, even though the lectures cost nothing to you. Know that you are privileged. Know that your schooling costs a lot to society and people at Laurea expect you to transform your organization to a service-oriented from inside-out.

How to survive the Laurea Masters program

  • Start by reading a service design book
  • Get support at work and at home
  • Decide your thesis subject before school starts
  • Get to know your fellow students and teachers
  • Do your tasks on time. Make a study calendar. Stick to it.
  • Take notes at class
  • Concentrate on quality of your writing
  • Enjoy the ride

Best wishes to good luck to you on your Laurea service journey.

Tuomas Suominen
Soon to be ex-student in Laurea Service Innovation & Design Masters Program

8 thoughts on “Survival guide to Laurea Masters Program

  1. THANK YOU Tuomas.
    I really enjoyed your post and got a lot of wonderful tips to help me continue this exciting degree smoothly and I’ll try to use all the tips 🙂
    I liked the note of ready four pages Laurea’s document 🙂

    Thanks again and good luck in becoming ex-student


  2. Hi again,

    I propose everyone reading the article could add some tips and tricks how to (as Abdalla said) smoothen the way :).

    One tip to add to this writing: read what other students have written to the course assignments if possible. This can help to get you started on your own writing. Getting your own appendix written down first helps alot. Then you just write some clever things below the headers.

    Another tip if you are a fast and usually the first one to finish your projects: don´t get yourself a fellow student to drag along. Some people like to finish the project essays just before the deadline (or after it) and they wait until the last minute to send their part of the writings to you. I have two kids and I don´t have the luxury of reading and writing 12 hours straight. I also need my sleep. So either get people on your team who are willing to finish early or ask if you can do the task by yourself.


  3. Hi!

    I also want to thank you for your very good tips. It was really useful to hear the insights of a father of two. As a mum of two (2+4yrs), I cannot “step out” from the family life as freely in order to share the writing on many days: the outcome is that I already have 1 report that I didn’t return in time. The lack of organizing prevents me from staying on schedule. The mummy’s studies come second to a child getting sick etc. which cleares the table everytime. I have been able to survive with the help of my own parents, who can take the kids to stay with them for a couple of nights to give me the chance to write without being interrupted.

    You’re tips are extremely valuable, because they reminded me about the actual value of these studies and how important it is to me to be able to “sell” them to my surroundings. I also can afford to have a paid babysitter etc. in respect of the real costs of these courses.

    Tiia Silva

  4. Great post! I guess your shared experiences are really valuable for us. Both, getting started with a topic for the thesis and trying to work ahead and focused really makes sense. I also started to print out and highlight all our deadlines and have them next to my agenda – so easy to loose track otherwise. Just almost broke my shoulder and wwwwpps, I am behind. And it is surely always a balancing act between family and other work routines and challenges… but worth it! I am really happy I got in. And now, after reading your post,
    I quickly want to decide on the thesis topic ;D

  5. Thanks for sharing your experiences! Unfortunately I had one month too little work experience to start the program last year but I’m planning to apply again this year. Deciding early on a thesis topic really seems to make sense.

    Could you share a bit about the entrance exam, what are you required to do and how many of those who try pass the exam?


    • Hi Katrin,
      Great, we are looking forward to your application!
      In the previous three application rounds, we have had 100-200 applicants. Based on the entrance exam results, 25 of them have been selected each year.
      The entrance examinantion consist of a written exam (3 hours) + a group discussion (1 hour). See information about the pre-reading material in the “Applying” site. We mainly focus on testing the motivation to study this subject and complete a Master’s degree + communication skills. And it’s good if you know the pre-reading material very well 🙂
      Best regards,

  6. Hi Katrin and Katri,

    Thank you Katri for laying out the facts. I prepared for the entrance exam by over-learning in detail the exam book. Also, because there was a group situation where we had to work together, I practised my english a bit and prepared a small “Why me” speech. I really do no know how I did with the exam and group discussion, but enough to get in.

    I would suggest a few things to you. First youcould read one book about service design (besides the entrance exam book) and think thoroughly WHY you want to study this subject. Prepare a short speech and memorize it. If you can find things more than “a diploma”, its all good. Then, read the exam book and learn the theory by heart. There may be a group situation in the exam where you should make people see that you can take on responsibility. Be active, ask questions, think out of the box, get everyone to participate.

    …and one thing more; know your thesis subject before entering the entrance exam 😉

    Hope this helps and you will get to participate in this amazing journey. I wish you all the best. And I hope the teachers are also ok with this advice 🙂


    • Thanks Katri and Tuomas for your helpful advice. I guess having read anything on service design I could get my fingers on over the past years and organizing a Service Jam is not the worst preparation though 100 – 200 applicants for 25 spaces seems tough. I just ordered the book and will do my very best in May since I don’t really have a Plan B – all other options are not as quite as appealing.


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