Brief Background: South Korea, officially known as
the Republic of Korea, has seen a rapid increase in international
students in recent years. In 2018 there were nearly 142,205
international students enrolled in Korean institutions, a 14.6 percent
increase from 2017. The Korean government is actively working to
internationalize universities and develop international student support
systems with the aim of increasing that number to 200,000 by 2023. In
2018, there were 2,746 American students in South Korea, making the US
the fifth leading country of origin within Korea’s international student
Higher education institutions in Korea are largely divided into
junior colleges (two- to three-year programs), universities (four-year
programs), and graduate schools. The majority of institutions are
private, with only 58 public institutions out of 430 nationwide. The International Education Quality Assurance System
(IEQAS)—a national structure—ensures Korean universities offer global
competitiveness and desirable conditions for international students.
Under the system, a joint delegation from the Ministry of Education and
the Ministry of Justice monitor and assess universities’ educational
responsibilities to international students, with IEQAS certification
awarded to those meeting the required standards. In 2018, the number of
IEQAS-certified institutions in South Korea was 134, comprising 107
universities, 20 junior colleges, and six graduate schools.
Good to Know: South Korean university degrees
generally take at least four years to complete, with some variation
depending on the field of study. Most universities offer English-taught
programs, the number of which is steadily increasing.
International students may pursue associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or
doctoral degrees in diverse academic fields by enrolling at a Korean
university or college as a full-time student. Classes are often
conducted in Korean, but reading materials are generally in English and
coursework can usually be written and submitted in English. There is
also an increasing number of programs that are offered entirely in
Many South Korean universities have an affiliated Korean language
center that provides intensive training to prospective international
students and others interested in learning the language. Programs last
from 10 to 12 weeks, but some universities also offer short-term
programs of two to six weeks.
Universities generally require students to have achieved at least a
level 3 on the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) before enrolling in
a degree-seeking program, with level 2 being permissible for science
and engineering programs. Universities offer Korean language training
courses to help enrolling students bring their language proficiency to
the required standard, however this requirement can be waived for
students applying to programs delivered entirely in English, or for
certain programs with separate entry requirements for native English
Nonetheless, a basic command of the Korean language is recommended to
get the most out of student life in South Korea. For more information
visit the TOPIK website.
Academic Calendar: An academic year in South Korea
is split over two semesters. The first semester of the academic year is
in spring (March through June) followed by one in fall (September
The long vacations offer an ideal opportunity to make the most of the
seasonal leisure. Ski trips in winter and beach holidays in summer are
common activities for students studying in South Korea, which boasts an
abundance of both mountains and coastline.
Search: More information on studying in South Korea can be found on the Study in Korea website, run by the National Institute for International Education (NIIED), a division of the Ministry of Education.
The site contains detailed information about South Korean
universities, international student admission, a list of IEQAS-certified
universities, and a calendar of local Overseas Study in Korea Fairs,
virtual fairs, as well as a guide to the Global Korea Scholarship (GKS).
Students can look up institutions based on criteria such as university
classification, courses, region of the country, and whether scholarship
support, English lectures, and dormitories are offered.
Apply: Applications can be made directly through
university websites. Alternatively, some universities also accept online
applications through the Study in Korea portal.
The academic year starts with the spring semester. It’s more common
for students to apply for admission in the spring semester, however many
universities also allow students to first enroll in the fall.
Because the application requirements and selection process (including
interviews and document submission) are different for each university,
it is vital to confirm them prior to application, either via the
university’s website or by contacting its international admission
department. In particular, the visa issuance requirements for
international students are subject to the guidance and procedures of the
university sponsoring the visa.
A professional degree can be obtained as part of an undergraduate
program, but the number of universities offering them is limited. In the
case of specialist programs (e.g., medicine), support for international
students is not universal. Before applying, check with each university
and program as to whether it can accommodate international students.
Deadlines: Applications to begin studying in the
spring semester are accepted from September to October; fall semester
applications are open from April to May.
As the deadline for admission is different for the spring and fall
semesters, and there are differences in the admission schedules of each
university, check the application deadlines with each university.
Application Fees: Though it varies from one
university to another, application fees generally range from 100,000 to
200,000 won. Other minor administrative fees, such as those assessed
when obtaining and submitting the required documents, may also apply.
Admission Requirements: Applications are open to
international candidates who have graduated (or are expected to
graduate) high school in their home country and whose parents are not
Korean nationals. An applicant’s TOPIK score must be level 3 or above
(level 2 for science and engineering programs) to be eligible. However,
requirements can vary by institution, so it is important to check before
applying. In some cases, applicants without the required TOPIK score
can take a Korean language course to bring them up to the required level
before beginning their academic program. In the case of universities
that have separate entry criteria for native English speakers and for
programs delivered entirely in English, the Korean proficiency
requirement can be waived.
As admission criteria may differ, check the specific requirements and
other information provided on the website of each university to which
you plan to apply.
Upon Acceptance: Once a student’s acceptance is
confirmed, the university will provide specific details and instructions
for admission and visa applications. The institution will guide
students in applying for a D-2 visa. Students will receive a Certificate
of Admission that they will need to take, along with other relevant
documents, to the Korean consulate in order to be issued the D-2 visa.
Tuition and Fees: Generally, the fees for private
universities are 3 to 5 million won per semester, while those of
national universities are 2 to 3 million won. Some private universities
also charge a one-time admission fee of 800,000 won.
There is some variation depending on university and program, so it is
important to check the university website or contact the institution’s
admission office before applying.
There is a range of excellent scholarship opportunities available for
international students, including GKS scholarships, which pay all
tuition fees and provide a living allowance for the duration of study,
including a year of fully-funded Korean language tuition. Visit Study in Korea for more details.
“The best part of being a student in Korea, in my opinion at
least, is the opportunity to develop a more globalized mindset and gain
experiences that would be impossible to have while living in my home
country. I have found that Korean students are very kind and open to
foreigners and I have gained a number of sincere friendships during my
time in university.”
—Alexis Fox, Wisconsin, Hanyang University
Housing: According to a 2017 survey by NIIED, 58
percent of international students make use of the dormitory facilities
available on university campuses.
Most universities have on-campus dormitories available for
international students. The fees vary, but are generally between 200,000
and 500,000 won per month. Both dormitory fees and non-university
housing prices vary from area to area, with downtown Seoul being notably
more expensive for non-university housing.
Check directly with universities for information about dormitory fees
and availability. Detailed information about the cost of living, and
other aspects of life in South Korea, can be found through Study in Korea.
Visa and Other Permits: International students must
obtain the relevant visa–D-2 for academic programs; D-4 for language
training programs–before entering the country. Any non-Korean staying in
the country for more than 90 days is issued an Alien Registration Card
(ARC), which they must keep with them at all times.
International students are able to take part-time jobs working up to
20-25 hours per week (dependent on their course of study), provided they
obtain prior approval from their university and make a formal
application at the Immigration Office.
Due to the strictness of immigration law, it is advisable to check
the proper procedures with the international student advisory department
of the university in all visa-related matters, including part-time
A range of programs offering career advice and support are available to international students after graduation.
“The most difficult thing I have experienced is fully understanding the requirements for graduation due to language barriers. There are times when notices are given in Korean without translation, or with a hurried translation that is a bit difficult to understand. The office staff at my university have been very kind and helpful in this regard and are always willing to answer questions.”
Advice from the Field: South Korea is a very
comfortable and convenient place to live, boasting very low crime rates;
world-leading information and communications technology and internet
speed; highly efficient and affordable public transportation; and a host
of public conveniences and facilities, not to mention internationally
renowned pop culture.
One of the greatest advantages international students in South Korea
enjoy is the financial manageability compared with studying in other
developed countries. In recent years the government has invested heavily
in developing policies to maximize both the safety and meaningfulness
of the international student experience. Studying in South Korea offers
students the chance to broaden their horizons, discovering
simultaneously the mysteries of the East and the world of academia,
living in a creative and dynamic culture blending 5,000 years of history
with cutting-edge modern technology.
A guide to South Korean universities and international admission can be found on the Study in Korea website. Refer to the Guidebook for International Students for detailed information about each university’s admission policies and procedures.
Korean universities have developed alumni networks locally and
abroad. NIIED also runs GKS Alumni associations in various countries.