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Higher education is taken very seriously in South Korea. If you want to study abroad there, then what better place to start than our guide?
Investment in education and research has been at the heart of the nation's growth into the world’s 13th largest economy, and the third largest in Asia.
In fact, it’s difficult to think of a country that takes education more seriously – where else would flight schedules be changed and the stock market open late in order to minimize noise during school exams?
With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that Korea is fast becoming one of the world’s top student destinations, boasting no less than nine top-50 universities in the 2012/13 QS University Rankings: Asia.
In 2004 Korea set the target of having 100,000 foreign students by 2012, and by 2010 had enrolled 83,842 foreign students from 171 different countries.
Several universities, including Yonsei University, are opening new international campuses to meet growing demand, and five US universities are also set to open branches at the new Songdo Global University Campus.
Currently there are more than 370 official South Korean higher education providers, including 179 private universities and 43 national universities. Highest ranked is Seoul National University, which is placed at 37 in the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings, and fourth in the QS University Rankings: Asia.
South Korean undergraduate programs typically last four years, or six years for subjects like medicine and dentistry. The academic year starts in March, but many universities admit new students twice a year, in March and September. The Korean study year is divided into two semesters, with a summer break from July to August, and winter break from December to February.
Discover South Korea's major student cities...
One of the world’s ‘megacities’, with a population of more than 10 million, the South Korean capital is home to around 40 universities, including the prestigious 'SKY' trio – Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University. Having already established itself as an economic leader, Seoul is now attracting attention as a site of education, culture, history and design. It was named 2010’s World Design Capital, and a series of restoration and development projects are transforming the city’s historic sites and the public parks along the banks of the Han River. Be warned though: you may not find much time to spend relaxing on the riverbanks – as in most Korean cities, the motto in Seoul is “work hard, play hard.”
See where Seoul ranks in this year's QS Best Student Cities >
Known for its focus on research and innovation, Daejeon is home to a number of major universities, including the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Woosong University, Chungnam National University and Korea University of Science and Technology. KAIST is Korea’s second-highest ranked university, at 63 in the QS World University Rankings 2012/13. As well as more research labs than you can shake a test tube at, Daejeon lays claim to Expo Park, a science and technology-themed park which includes various simulations and exhibitions and an IMAX dome cinema nearly 90 feet high. Nearby are the National Science Museum and Daedeok Science Town – a site devoted to research and development which is known as the ‘brain’ of South Korea.
Pohang, a seaport on the east coast, deserves a mention as the home of Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), Korea’s third-highest ranked university. However, students at POSTECH could be forgiven for rarely leaving the campus; its 378 acres include not only all the usual facilities – student accommodation, cafes and so on – but also beautiful gardens and water features, a sculpture park and a pub called the Log Cabin, which, true to its name, is built entirely from logs. There are also the so-called “78 stairs of horror”, which must be climbed to get from the dormitories to the lecture rooms – rather a daunting prospect if you’re running late for class.
A busy port city known for its distinctive local dialect and rugged character, Busan is the place to go to get to know a more authentic side of studying in Korea. Slightly off the well-trodden tourist trail, Busan is the country’s second most populous city after Seoul, and is full of hidden charms: the famously fresh local seafood (live squid is a local delicacy!), a buzzing nightlife, historic temples, an idyllic surrounding coastline and a vibrant student population due to the local Pusan National University and Dong-A University.
Admissions, fees and visa requirements
Typically foreign applicants to South Korean universities will be asked to provide details of most recent or predicted grades, a letter of recommendation, proof of nationality, proof of sufficient finances, and proof of proficiency in either Korean or English – depending on which language the course will be conducted in.
If you’re applying for an undergraduate course, you’ll need the D-2 visa, which you can apply for through your nearest embassy or consulate. As well as your passport, you’ll need to submit a certificate of your most recent school record, confirmation of your acceptance at a South Korean university, details of your account balance, and a processing fee of about US$30 (for single entry) or US$50 (for multiple entry).
Tuition fees vary depending on the course and university. According to government guidelines for international students, an undergraduate course at a public university costs from US$2,000 to $4,400 per semester (with humanities subjects at the lower end and medicine at the top). At a South Korean private university, fees are estimated between US$3,000 and US$6,000 per semester – but remember there are only two semesters each year.
Many universities offer scholarships for foreign students, covering between 30% and 100% of tuition fees. Scholarships are also available from the government, which may also cover air fares and living expenses.
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