Study in South Korea


South Korea is one of the top Asian countries for study, with 13 South Korean institutions in Time Higher Education Rankings of the top 100 Asian universities in 2015. Such positive statistics has just filtered out to foreigners recently, but myths of the dark side of the HE system in South Korea have long been perpetuated in the West. Our imagination of South Korean education seems fixated on ultracompetitive university entrance exams, overachieving students and tiger moms. For many British students looking into educational opportunities in South Korea, the concern over fierce competition and intense workload overrides the excitement of going abroad.

We all know the major difficulties facing international students in South Korea. There's no doubt that you need to work hard from day 1 because the first year counts toward your degree. It also takes a lot of effort to thrive in a cohort of Korean classmates who are so used to pressure and high expectations. Moreover, while it’s possible to only English-taught courses at university, you can’t enjoy the life outside of university without speaking the local language. Learning Korean could be very challenging if you never learnt a language with a different alphabet before.

It’s important to be aware of these issues, but they shouldn’t be the sole factors that affect your decision of whether to study abroad in South Korea. As in any other country, the HE system in South Korea has problems but also opportunities. So what are the opportunities for British students?

South Korean universities offer over 70 English-taught undergraduate programmes where Korean proficiency is not required.

South Korea has a diversified educational system with many types of institutions, but English-taught degrees are only available at three national universities and nine private universities. National universities are established and run by the Korean Government. Private universities are established and run by incorporated educational institutions, some of which are associated with religions such as Confucianism (Sungkyunkwan University) and Christianity (Chung Ang University and Yonsei University). There is no substantial difference between these two types of institutions in terms of quality of education and facilities. However, national universities are most well-known for research activities, while private institutions are recognised for strong connections with the industry. Therefore, your choice of university should be based on your career ambitions

South Korean universities are strong in Engineering and Computing Science.

40% of English-taught undergraduate programmes at South Korean universities are in engineering and computing Science. This reflects the structure of the South Korean economy where automobile and construction are among the strongest sectors. The majority of engineering and computing science courses are on offer at UNIST and KAIST, two of the four public universities in South Korea which are dedicated to research in science and technology. Especially, KAIST is placed 148 in The Times Higher Education World University Ranking 2015-16.

For English-speakers, the best options are likely to be Liberal Arts & Sciences degrees that have more in common with US education.

At this moment in time, the only Korean universities with genuinely international programmes that require no knowledge of the language, at undergraduate level, are offered at Korea University, Yonsei University and EWHA women’s university.

Two of these three make up the K and Y of SKY, the Korean “Ivy League”. The S is Seoul National University.

The programmes at Korea University and EWHA are in international studies, a broad social sciences degree covering politics, economics, history, culture and language. This is also possibly at Yonsei but their Underwood International College offers 17 different majors within a broadly US-liberal arts style education.

The academic year in Korea runs from March until December with a long holiday during the winter. The international programs at Korea University and Underwood International College are accessible in both March and September starts although the regular academic year starts in March so this would be the most logical time for international students to commence if convenient.

Tuition fees are modest, estimated at US$4,000 US per semester at Korea University and US$6,000 at Underwood International College and EWHA. These prices are typical for private universities in Korea. Scholarships are available at all institutions. These are entirely merit-based and given the standard of applicants they have domestically and in other Asian countries, a UK student is going to need A*A*A*, 42 on the IB or close to even stand a chance.

Application deadline for March 2020 was 17th October 2019. The deadline is always roughly six months before enrolment.

An application will usually be assessed based on grades, motivation letter and references. There is no requirement for work experience or volunteering. An informal Skype interview will often be part of the process to ensure students know what they are letting themselves in for.

Korean universities have a little flexibility to choose the number and quality of international students but are extremely heavily regulated. Both Korea University  and Yonsei admit only the top 1% or so of Korean students. Therefore the biggest issue is usually whether international students can keep up, particularly in maths and sciences where high school students are generally considered to be two or three years ahead of the UK or US, rather than whether they can meet the entry requirements.

Education is based on the US credit system with degrees taking 4 years to complete and 18 credits per semester being a typical load.

Korea University has full scholarships for all 8 semesters and some at 50% for 8 semesters (tuition fees only). No means-based awards or living cost support at UG level. Students will have to fund their living costs from their own resources.

Universities in South Korea

About A Star Future

A Star Future provides information and guidance to British students looking to pursue their undergraduate studies abroad.

Through our presentations in schools and our websites we aim to ensure that British-educated students are well informed about their choices.