Being a Full-time University Student in Seoul, South Korea

Info: My first article in almost a year ^^” I’ve been kinda busy with university, volunteering and enjoying life (I guess) and just didn’t feel like writing ^^” BUT I decided that there’s still a few things I really want to address as I frequently get questions on those topics (mostly on social media). For this article, I’ll answer all of the questions I got about life as a full-time university student in Korea.

Keep in mind that these are my personal experiences and that they might differ from what other people might have experienced!


When did you start studying, what is your major and what university do you go to?

I started my bachelor degree studies at Korea University in March 2016, so I’ve just completed my third semester.  I’m currently studying Media and Communication but was accepted into the double major program just last week which means that as of next semester International Studies will be my second major.

Is it hard to get into a Korean university?

I guess you could say it’s a lot easier for international students to get accepted than Korean students. That’s because they kind of want to internationalize universities here. They want to give them a certain “global image” to get a higher ranking position in international university rankings, receive more funds from the government etc. Out of all the foreigners I know that applied for a university in Korea, only around 2 got rejected at first but ended up getting accepted later on.

How do I apply for a university in Korea?

You should definitely check the website of the university or universities you want to apply for as most of them have an English version with pretty much all the information you need. For me, I simply filled out an online application during the application period, paid an application fee and sent in some documents (I guess it’s similar to universities in other countries).

How long does it take to get a bachelor’s/master’s degree?

Bachelor degree studies usually are 4 years and master degree studies take 2 years here in Korea.

When does the academic year begin/end?

The first semester usually starts right at the beginning of March and ends mid-June and the second semester runs from the beginning of September to mid-December. Midterms are in mid-April and mid-October and finals in mid-June and mid-December, which means that there’s no exams during the holidays (which is heaveeeeennnn).

Are your classes in Korean?

Yes and no. In Korea, you kind of choose most of your classes yourself. At Korea University, there’s quite a few classes in English so you could just focus on taking those. However, in that case you will always be left with a limited choice of classes. In addition to the courses you pick yourself, there are some mandatory classes. Now, that’s the tricky part. For my major, all mandatory classes are in Korean and there’s no way around them. For non-major mandatory classes, you have to take academic English classes in your first year, as well as Korean language classes. There are three levels for the Korean classes; beginner, intermediate and advanced and you will be placed based on your fluency in Korean. I actually took part in the Ewha Korean Language program for 1 year before I went to university so I had a certain grasp of the language. I definitely recommend you take language classes before actually attending a Korean university. The reason why is that, as I mentioned before, you will have to take classes in Korean eventually (except for the International Studies department, where all the classes are taught in English, although I’m pretty sure that they have to take Korean language classes at some point, too). Another reason is that in order to graduate, you have to get a Topik (Test of Korean Proficiency) level 4 or higher, which equals having intermediate language skills (again, the International Studies department seems to be exempt from that condition, but don’t quote me on that).

But, isn’t it difficult studying in Korean?

I would lie if I said no. However, it’s not impossible. If it’s something you really want to achieve then just go for it, work hard and you’ll eventually get that university diploma. Also, some professors (unfortunately not all) are actually really nice and will make certain exceptions for international students (such as letting you write your exam in English instead of Korean). If they see that you put a lot of effort into your work and always attend class (class attendance is very important here but I’ll talk about that later), they’ll most probably turn a blind eye on spelling mistakes etc.

Is there a lot of workload? And how many classes do you have per week?

It depends on the courses you choose. Almost every class has at least one big assignment and one exam, but for most of them, the workload is a bit more than that. You can actually choose how many classes you want to take yourself (as long as you meet the requirements for graduation before your last year is over). The average student here has about 13-15 hours of class per week.

Is studying in Korea expensive?

That depends on what you consider expensive. I am from Luxembourg, and universities around here are rather cheap compared to South Korea. However, if you’re e.g. from the US, studying in Korea is definitely much cheaper. If you want to know more about tuition fees, here’s what studying at Korea University will cost you.

How about living expenses?

That also depends on your current living situation. For me, personally, living in Korea is not expensive at all but considering that I’m from one of the richest countries in the world where prices tend to be rather high, I might have a different point of view. One of the only things that even I believe is expensive in Korea are fruits and vegetables. Here’s an interesting video on the average price of groceries if you want to know more.

What kind of housing options do I have as a foreign student?

A lot, actually. Here’s my article about long term accommodations in Korea, if you’re interested.

Are there any scholarships?

I’m sure that most universities have some sort of scholarship. For Korea University, there’s different scholarship types specifically for international students (more information here). And there’s also government scholarships (here). Or maybe you could ask the government in your country if they have some sort of scholarship program for overseas students.

Are you allowed to work on a student (D-2) visa?

Yes, you are. However, you are only allowed to work 20 hours during the week and an unlimited amount of time during the weekend and holidays. In order to receive a work permit, you have to report your job at the immigration office. There’s also some restrictions on the type of work you can do. For instance, without a teaching certificate, tutoring is an absolute no-go. For more information, check out the e-government for foreigners website. (I also don’t know how hard it is to find a job as a foreigner since I don’t have much experience with that).

Are there any student clubs and can foreigners join, too?

I’m sure it’s the same at other universities as well but Korea University has a ton of clubs and as far as I know foreigners are allowed to join. There’s even some clubs designed specifically to integrate foreigners into Korean university life such as KUISA.

What do you like the most about studying in South Korea?

There’s definitely quite a few things I could mention here. I guess one of them is that I was able to learn a new language and using it in all kinds of everyday life situations. Or meeting people from not just Korea, but all around the globe. During my time here, I’ve learned so much about countries I didn’t know anything about before. Also, and I know that some people might disagree, but I actually like the fact that attendance is such a big part of your grade. Even if your exams don’t go as well as you would have wanted them to, if you simply show up for class, participate by speaking up during class discussions or just simply showing interest in the class, it’s actually pretty hard to fail a course. It seems like professors here sometimes appreciate your effort more than the actual content of your work. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should hand in just about anything to get a good grade. I think it goes without saying that you should still put as much effort as possible into your assignments and exams, but I believe that it does take a bit of pressure off you just knowing that they won’t be graded as harshly (keep in mind that there’s definitely some professors out there who are the complete opposite of what I just wrote, but I just haven’t met them yet.)

What do you hate the most about university in Korea?

There’s one thing that came to my mind immediately when I was asked that question: 수강신청 (or class registration). I don’t know if you’ve watched the drama “Cheese in the Trap” but if you did you probably remember the scene where the main characters (who also are university students) are sitting in front of the computers and getting ready to click for their lives once the alarm goes off. It’s exactly like that, or maybe even worse. Imagine students from Korea with high speed internet all sitting in front of the computer screen starring at the Navyism clock until 10am and then click as if their lives depended on it just to find out that they’re on the waiting list for more than half the classes they were trying to get into. It’s the worst.

But what should I do if I totally failed class registration?

There’s two options: wait until the second class registration at the beginning of the semester and hope that someone gave up their seat or beg the professor to let you in which might or might not work out. In case nothing works, you’ll just have to choose other classes.

Last question: Is it really worth studying in Korea?

Without a doubt, yes. I know so many people who aren’t sure whether they should study here because of the language barrier, the fear of not being able to make any friends etc. but I believe that you should definitely give it a try. If being a full-time student in a foreign country isn’t your thing, you should at least go as an exchange student and check this awesome place out ;).

Those were the most commonly asked question about my full-time studies in Korea. If you still have any questions left, feel free to message me on Instagram or here.

Till next time,

Julie

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10 comments

  1. Antonia Firnges · June 30, 2017

    What’s the best way to find Kpop concert tickets ? Are school supplies cheap there? should I bring supplies or just wait to buy them there?

    • howskorea · June 30, 2017

      Check out the international websites of Interpark, Yes24 and Melon ticket 🙂 School supplies are really cheap (and cute) here so don’t worry 😉

  2. Afifatul Mukaroh · June 30, 2017

    Very nice and complete writing. You just answered all questions coming up from my mind. Thanks a lot.
    Anyway, based on your story, I found that study culture in korea is almost similiar to my country, like the class registration, the flexible professor, etc. But I still wanna study there. 🙂

    • howskorea · June 30, 2017

      Thank you 🙂 I wish you good luck!

  3. Viki · June 30, 2017

    Thanks so much for this article, I was really looking for a blog post like this since none of the others answered all of my questions about studying in Korea! I also have one more question I don’t know if you have an answer to it, but here goes: Do you know whether grades or extracurrricular activities are more important in the application process? Thanks a lot! Love your blog!

    • howskorea · June 30, 2017

      Thank you 🙂
      I actually don’t know ^^” My grades were not the best but not bad either and I had a couple of extracurricular activities ^^ As I wrote in one of the questions I really don’t know any foreign student who didn’t get accepted (but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen once in a while ^^”) I guess you should just attach whatever you have to your application and hope for the best 🙂 Good luck!

  4. Karla Castillo · June 30, 2017

    This helped me get an insight but im still confused. I’m graduating HS in 2 years. I know that seems far away but I’ve been dreaming about college since I was seven. I really want to go to Korea University but the only information that comes up is for exchange students. Is there a certain section for students who want to study full time. I want to major in medicine (I want to be a neurosurgeon) but I cant find anything about foreign students applying for more than four years since it will take around six years for me to get my KML . Id just like to know how I can become a full time student. If you could answer this id be really grateful. Thank you

    • howskorea · June 30, 2017

      Becoming a university student in Korea is not that different from other countries, all you need to do is apply and submit the right documents (you can find a list of those documents on the university’s website). If you need more information, this website might be helpful: Study in Korea

  5. Laura · June 30, 2017

    Thank you very much for giving time to write such a complete article, it was really helpful ^ ^. But I still have some doubts about the workload. You mentioned that “Almost every class has at least one big assignment and one exam”, and the average student has “about 13-15 hours of class per week”. I was wondering how was that ‘one big assignment’ and how much time has to be dedicated to study and other assignments apart from class hours. Just wanted to get an idea of how I’d have to arrange my time.
    Sorry to disturb you and thanks again.

    • howskorea · June 30, 2017

      It really depends on the class. Sometimes it can be 5 pages, sometimes even more than 15. Also, it depends on you and how much time you are willing to dedicate to studying 🙂