Study in South Korea: Top Universities, Cities, Rankings, Fees, Entry Criteria & Visa Details | Top Universities

Having split from North Korea in 1948 into a separately governed country, South Korea has diverged considerably from its neighbor, developing into an internationally recognized Asian powerhouse in the fields of technology, education and tourism, to name but a few of its strengths. Embracing both tradition and modernity, this ‘Asian Tiger’ has much to offer international students, and ­­capital city Seoul is currently ranked among the world’s top 10 student cities.

Investment in education and research has been at the heart of the South Korea's growth into the world’s 11th largest economy and the fourth largest economy within Asia. It’s this investment and growth in innovation and technology that has meant the country is known as one of the four ‘Asian Tiger’ economies, alongside Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

More than 123,000 international students studied in South Korea in 2017 (more than half of whom were from China), and the government has set its sights even higher, with an aim of 200,000 international students by 2023. As part of this ongoing focus on internationalization, several universities in South Korea, including Yonsei University, are opening new international campuses to meet growing demand, while four universities have opened branch campuses at the Incheon Global Campus (IGC), including the State University of New York (SUNY).

Click on the tabs below to find out about universities in South Korea, student cities, tuition fees and more.

Universities in South Korea

With over 370 official higher education providers in total, South Korea has plenty to offer interested students. The country boasts no less than four top-20 entries and 88 representatives in total in the QS Asia University Rankings 2021, and 29 ranked institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2021®.

A closer look at the top universities in South Korea can be had using the new QS South Korea University Rankings, which showcases 50 of the country’s best institutions, based on the same methodology used to compile the Asian ranking.

Read on for info on five of the top South Korean universities.

Seoul National University 

 

Seoul National University

Seoul National University (SNU) is placed 37th and number one in South Korea in the QS World University Rankings 2021 and was second in the new QS South Korea University Rankings*. Founded in 1946 as South Korea’s first national university, Seoul National University is one of the three prestigious SKY universities and provides research-led liberal education to around 28,378 students from undergraduate to PhD level. According to data collected by the Korean Educational Development Institute, Seoul National University spends more on its students per capita than any other South Korean university with more than 10,000 students.

The school has two campuses in the city of Seoul – one in Gwanak on the southern side of the city and one within the city center in the district of Jongno, which is also the largest campus in the capital. Seoul National University also has an impressive portfolio of international partnerships, with as many as 289 universities in 58 countries collaborating with the school.

KAIST – Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology

 

KAIST

 

Situated in Daejeon, KAIST came first in the new QS South Korea University Rankings. A public research university with a current student population of just over 10,000, KAIST was established as the nation’s first research-led science and engineering institution. It ranks 40th in the QS World University Rankings and also comes third in the QS Top 50 Under 50, a ranking of the world’s leading universities under 50 years old. The majority of programs at KAIST are within STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, and the university ranks among the world’s top 100 institutions in 13 subjects.

Just over a two-hour train ride south of the capital, KAIST is part of the technology hub of the city of Daejeon, the fifth largest metropolis in South Korea and one of Asia’s closest equivalents to Silicon Valley in the US.

Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH)

Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH)

Another university offering a science and technology-focused curriculum, POSTECH is a private research university ranked joint 77th in the world, and sixth in both the South Korea ranking and the QS Top 50 Under 50. POSTECH’s vast 378-acre smart campus, located 20 minutes’ drive from downtown Pohang, includes not only all the usual facilities – student accommodation, cafés and so on – but also a digital library, a sports multiplex, 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 infamous “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.

POSTECH was the first South Korean university to be officially labeled a bilingual campus in 2010, with the majority of events and programs at junior, senior and graduate level taught in both Korean and English.

Korea University

 

Korea University

 

The third private research institution included in the SKY trio, Korea University has a long-held rivalry with Yonsei University which is reflected in the many competitive sporting events between the two. Ranked joint 69th in the world and third in the South Korea ranking, Korea University currently has a student body of around 37,000, and, of its faculty of 1,700, over 95 percent hold a PhD or equivalent within their field. The school’s college of law is reputed for offering one of the most prestigious undergraduate law programs in the country. The university, which boasts an Olympic-sized ice rink within its campus, also ranks highly for chemical engineering, social policy and administration, modern languages, politics and accounting and finance. 

Located in Seoul, Korea University is departmentally divided across the city, with its main Anam campus just minutes away from a popular selection of restaurants, bars, shops and cultural attractions, including a famous Buddhist temple.

Sungkyunkwan University 

Sungkyunkwan University

Ranked 88th this year in the global rankings and fourth in the South Korea ranking, Sungkyunkwan University is another private institution which has two main campuses, a Humanities and Social Sciences campus in Seoul and a Natural Sciences campus further south in Suwon. The university has a long history dating back to its founding in 1398 by the Joseon Dynasty, and today has around 34,700 students enrolled. Sungkyunkwan is considered to have one of the best medical schools in the country (ranked 101-150 globally in the subject rankings and third in South Korea), which is affiliated with the world-famous Samsung Medical Center. The university appears among the world’s best for a further 29 subjects, including the top 50 for mechanical engineering, library and information management, and materials sciences.

Other universities in South Korea

Also placing within the global top 300 are Yonsei University (85th in the world rankings and fifth in the South Korea ranking), Hanyang University (146th in the world; seventh in South Korea), Kyung Hee University (joint 236th in the world; 33rd in South Korea), and Ewha Womans University (joint 333rd in the world; ninth in South Korea). All – with the exception of Kyung Hee University – are located in the capital, proving that Seoul really is a higher education hub. 

*The differences between universities’ positions in the different rankings are due to the different methodologies used to compile them. Find out more here.

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Life in South Korea 

Study in South Korea student cities

Even outside of the densely packed capital city, those who opt to study in South Korea may well experience some degree of culture shock, as they get to know this unique and multifaceted culture. Especially in the cities, the pace of life is fast and competitive, and the hot temperatures can also be relentless. You’ll even have to cope with finding yourself suddenly a year older – age is counted differently here!

But fear not, because peace and relaxation are also to be found – atop mountain peaks, amidst the dense forests of South Korea’s famous national parks, in a traditional steam-filled jjimjilbang (public bathhouse), or on a Buddhist temple retreat where the day starts with meditation and pre-dawn chanting. Off the coast, a number of tranquil islands are also well within reach, offering local hospitality, fresh air and fresh fish.

You’ll need to seek out as much serenity as you can get in between term times, as education is taken very seriously in South Korea. It’s even been known for flight schedules to be changed and the stock market to be opened late in order to minimize noise for students during school exams. Don’t let this high-pressured environment put you off, however, as universities in South Korea offer some of the best educational facilities in the world, combined with relatively affordable tuition fees.

Discover some of South Korea's major student cities...

Seoul 

Seoul

One of the world’s ‘megacities’, with a population of over 9.8 million (25.6 million in its metropolitan area), the South Korean capital is home to around 40 universities, including the prestigious “SKY” trio – Seoul National UniversityKorea University and Yonsei University. Having established itself as an economic leader in just 50 years of rapid growth, Seoul is now attracting attention as a site of education, technology, 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. Seoul has also been ranked the 10th best student city in the world, according to the QS Best Student Cities 2018.

Transport in Seoul is brilliant, food is colorful, cheap and varied, and K-pop girl groups are everywhere. As in many South Korean cities, Seoulites like to “work hard and play hard”; the working day may finish late, while socializing and partying will often go on into the early hours, with the streets of Gangnam, Hongdae and Dongdaemun offering 24-hour venues for everything, including eating, drinking, shopping, partying and internet surfing.

Daejeon 

Known for its focus on research and innovation, Daejeon is home to several of the leading universities in South Korea, including KAIST – Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology,Chungnam National UniversityWoosong University, and Korea University of Science and Technology. As well as more research labs than you can shake a test tube at, Daejeon is home to Expo Park, a science and technology theme 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. Daejeon is currently ranked 86th in the Best Student Cities index, receiving its best score for employer activity.

Pohang

A seaport on the east coast, Pohang deserves a mention as the home of Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), Korea’s third-highest ranked university in the world rankings. The city center itself, although largely industrial, offers a lively atmosphere, with Bukbu Beach on the north side of the town a popular site for locals and tourists. Cultural and recreational attractions include many museums and parks, along with a famous fireworks festival in Bukbu every summer.

Busan

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 traditional side of life in South 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.

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Applying to universities in South Korea 

Applying to universities in South Korea

The admissions process differs from school to school but, in general, you can apply directly to your chosen university by post or online. Be aware that the South Korean academic year begins in March, although many schools take on new students twice a year – in March and September. Deadlines for March applications are typically set between September and November, while for September entry, deadlines are often between May to June. Most universities in South Korea have just two terms, with a summer break from July to August and a winter break from December to February.

Although proficiency in the Korean language is advantageous, around 30 percent of courses at South Korean universities are taught in English. This, along with the fact that English proficiency is growing nationwide, helps to break down the language barrier for international students. However, a desire to learn the basics of the Korean language will certainly be helpful, paving the way for fuller integration into South Korean society and culture. In either case, foreign students must prove their proficiency in the language their course will be conducted in.

Visas to study in South Korea 

Visas to study in South Korea

To study in South Korea as an international student, you will require a ‘D-2 visa’, which can be gained from a South Korean embassy or consulate in your home country. Typically, as well as proficiency in English or Korean, you will be asked to provide your passport, a completed application form, a certificate of your most recent school record, confirmation of your acceptance at a South Korean university and proof of sufficient finances. For your D-2 visa you will be required to pay a processing fee of about US$50 (for single entry) or US$80 (for multiple entry). The visa allows you to stay for up to two years. Engineering students can apply for the D-2-7 visa, which allows government-invited international students to stay in South Korea after they graduate and find work.

You’ll also need to purchase health insurance from the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS), which will entitle you to access treatment at all hospitals in the country and costs around US$20 per month.

Fees and funding 

Fees and funding South Korea

One of the good things about studying in South Korea is that tuition fees are the same for domestic and international students, as part of the national plan to bring more international students to the country. These fees will vary depending on the course and university.

An undergraduate course at a public university costs around US$4,350 per semester (with humanities subjects at the lower end and medicine at the top). At a South Korean private university, fees are estimated at US$5,800 per semester. And at Seoul’s 16 internationally ranked universities, the average annual tuition fee for undergraduate students is US$6,500.

To calculate the total cost, bear in mind that there are two semesters in each academic year, and South Korean undergraduate programs typically last four years (or six years for subjects like medicine and dentistry).

Scholarships for international students are widely available from individual universities, covering between 30 to 100 percent of tuition fees. In addition, a number of governmental scholarships are available, which may also cover air fares and living expenses. One such governmental program is the Global Korea Scholarship (GKS). More scholarships to study in South Korea are listed here.

Recent government deregulations of scholarships, dormitories, part-time jobs and employment after graduation aim to make studying in South Korea more accessible for international students – by making it easier to cover the costs, and also to stay and seek work in the country after graduation.

Accommodation and living costs 

Accommodation

University dormitories are usually the cheapest options for accommodation, costing around US$280 to US$1,300 per semester, with the costs varying depending on how many students you’ll be sharing with, and whether catering is included. Private accommodation costs can vary considerably, at anywhere between US$280 and US$700 per month. Most universities offer affordable catering on campus, and if you take advantage of this you’ll likely only spend around US$260 on food a month. In Seoul (South Korea’s most expensive city), a one-way public transport ticket costs around one US dollar, or alternatively a monthly pass would be US$50.

Once you’ve been enrolled for six months (one semester) you’ll be eligible for applying for part-time work to help supplement your income. You can work up to 20 hours per week during term time and full time during semester breaks, and will need to supply employers with your student visa and a letter of recommendation from your university.

Explore the top universities in South Korea

Fast Facts

  • Officially named the Republic of Korea, but widely known as South Korea or just Korea.
  • Capital city is Seoul, classed as a ‘megacity’ due to its population of more than 10 million.
  • Undergraduate tuition fees in Seoul typically cost US$6,500 per year.
  • Students can work part-time for up to 20 hours a week during their studies.
  • The country has an area of 99,313 square kilometers, with 2,413 kilometers of coastline.
  • Located on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea shares its only land border with North Korea. To the west, across the Yellow Sea, is China; to the East, across the East Sea, is Japan.
  • Nicknamed the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’ for its stunning natural beauty of mountains and clear waters.
  • Currency: South Korean won (₩/ KRW)
  • Population: 51.5 million people
  • International companies based in South Korea include Hyundai and Samsung.
  • South Korea was one of the few developed countries able to avoid a recession during the global financial crisis of 2008.
  • Korea launched its first space rocket into orbit in 2009. This has since been labeled a “partial success” as the intended orbit was not achieved; a second rocket, launched in 2010, exploded seconds after take-off. However, it was a case of ‘third time lucky’ as the 2013 attempt was successful.
  • Traditionally the national sport is taekwondo, but many claim the country’s biggest obsession is now StarCraft, a computer game that attracts huge Korean audiences when professional competitions are broadcast on television.
  • International dialing code is +82 and internet domain is .kr.
  • Over three million people, including 22,000 foreigners, flock to the Boryeong Mud Festival on the west coast each year.
  • In 2012, a prison in Pohang began a trial of the world’s first robotic prison guards.