Update June 2022: I’ve recently created a 15-page guide including tons of practical information about studying in Korea and my experience at Korea University! You can get it here!
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’s degree studies at Korea University in March 2016, so I’ve just completed my third semester. I’m currently studying Journalism and Mass 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 to 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’s degree studies usually are 4 years and master’s 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 are 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 are 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 to 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.
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 are different scholarship types specifically for international students (more information here). And there are 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 25 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 to the immigration office. There are 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 are 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 are 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 use 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 show 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 universities 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 staring at the Navyism clock until 10 am 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 are 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, you can get my “Studying in Korea 101” guide here. If you can’t find the answer(s) to your question(s) in my guide, feel free to message me on Instagram or here.
Till next time,