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Key facts for international students in Seoul

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Seoul is one of the most vibrant megacities in Asia. The city is hip, fashionable, fast-moving and always changing and a popular destination for anyone wanting to discover South Korea and what it has to offer. Seoul has been South Korea’s educational hub for decades and has also caught on with international students in recent years. Those choosing to study in Seoul are drawn by the first-class education, an abundance of cultural and historic sites paired with the continuous futuristic changes of the cityscape and lifestyle.

Why study in Seoul?

Continuous Change

Even though Seoul has been the capital of Korea for centuries and is home to not one, but five Grand Palaces, Seoul is amongst the trendiest cities in the world. This modern and fast-paced lifestyle is what young people find so intriguing in Seoul. You’ll get the chance to study under the same conditions as the locals and immerse you

Even though Seoul has been the capital of Korea for centuries and is home to not one, but five rself into the Korean way of student life. Two Seoul universities – Seoul National University and Korea University – rank among the top 100 universities worldwide. At the same time, Yonsei University makes it in the top 120 and offers generous tuition scholarships for international students covering tuition and accommodation.

Great employment prospects and starting salaries

Most of Korea’s 15 Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Seoul and are always looking for motivated international employees who understand the local and international markets. Companies like Hyundai, Samsung and Kia prefer to hire from top Seoul universities and offer attractive career development programs to anyone joining their firms.

Seoul is a student city

As a great student city, Seoul has a lot to offer to attract foreign students. All over the city, foreigners have the chance to dive into local Korean culture by visiting folk villages, taking part in tea ceremonies or stay at a Buddhist temple for a night or two. Seoul is also one of the most modern and quickly developing cities in the world with a passion for architecture and fashion. Seoul is where the long Korean traditions mix with the colorful Korean wave of K-Dramas and K-Pop. It’s exciting and thrilling!

The academic environment

Seoul is home to more foreign students than ever before. The Korean government has put forth plans to increase its foreign student enrollment from currently 85,000 to around 200,000 by 2023. To achieve this, the government introduced policies, such as easing visa restrictions, increasing employment support, and expanding the number of programs taught in English.

Most international students in Seoul universities come from other Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Mongolia or Vietnam. However, there are increasingly more international students coming to Korea from Europe and North America.

The Teaching culture

The education system is rather hierarchical, and you’ll always address the teachers formally using ‘professor or in Korean ‘교수님’ (gyosunim). Depending on your type of studies, you will either be part of a group with a common timetable or attend your classes individually. Before enrolling in classes, you can check the professor’s plan for the semester. This will tell you whether the professor wants you to deliver papers, hold presentations or do exams and tests. That means each professor can structure his class and can decide how to grade the students. Note that attendance is always mandatory.

The teaching language

Some classes may be held in English, but for most programs, you’ll need to have an acceptable level of fluency in Korean to enroll at public universities. Most universities offer six months or a full year of Korean language classes to foreign students before taking other university courses. This is the best option for anyone who does not have any background in Korean. Should you already have some Korean language knowledge and wish to attend regular classes without a full-time Korean language course, you need to have at least Level 3 of the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korea).

Seoul’s main universities

Seoul is home to a variety of universities, as well as the majority of South Korea's most prestigious schools, 18 of which are listed on the QS World University Rankings. Moreover, Seoul has continued to climb the QS Best Student Cities index reaching 4th place in its 2017 edition. Lastly, Seoul claims the third-highest score in the University Rankings category, beaten only by Paris and London, making it a great addition to any educational career.

Seoul National University (SNU)

Founded in 1946, the SNU is a Korean university of excellence renowned for very strong research opportunities in fields such as advanced and bio information technology. The university was established as the first piece of the educational foundation for the new nation after Korea regained its independence from colonial Japan. However, only a few years later, the campus had to be abandoned due to the Korean War in 1950. Because of passionate professors and eager students, classes were held in refugee camps, which kept the school alive throughout the war. As per QS University Ranking of the world’s top universities, it ranks 35th.

There are three campuses, with the main campus in Gwanak (Seoul) and two additional campuses in Daehangno and Pyeongchang with a total of 16 colleges, 1 graduate school and 10 professional schools. The 16,511 undergraduate students and 12,119 graduate students can choose between 82 departments for undergraduates and 99 programs for graduate students. SNU is a top university in terms of research with six intercollegiate research institutes. You can find more information regarding admissions at the SNU website.

Seoul National University is affiliated with over 700 academic institutions in 40 countries, as well as the World Bank. There are also options for dual master’s degrees with Duke University, ESSEC Business School and Peking University, as well as double-degree options with the MIT Sloan School of Management and Yale School of Management.

Korea University

Korea University is a private research university and was established in 1905. The university is one of Korea’s prestigious SKY universities and has a student body of over 20,000 undergrads and 10,000 graduate students. As per QS University Ranking, it is placed 98 in the world’s top universities. Approximately 95% of the school's professors and instructors hold a Ph.D. in their fields adding to the prestige of the school.

Over 30,000 students are enrolled in eighteen colleges and divisions and eighteen graduate schools. 3,365 international students also attend Korea University, 81% as undergrads and 19% as postgrads. The school is highly competitive for its modern language subjects, such as language and literature majors in Korean, English, German, French, Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Spanish. Don’t hesitate to find out more directly on the university's website.

Yonsei University

Yonsei University is one of Korea's three SKY universities, the most prestigious in the country. The university was established in 1885 and is also the oldest in South Korea. With a student body of around 40,000, it is among the largest in Seoul with leading programs in both Korean and English.

According to the QS World University Rankings, Yonsei University was ranked 112th overall and 30th in the field of Social Policy & Administration in 2016. Thus it offers excellent employability opportunities in administration. The alumni list includes Chung Mong-hun, former chairman of the Hyundai Group, as well as Han Seung-see, the former President of the 56th United National General Assembly and Prime Minister of South Korea. If this catches your interest, check out the Yonsei University website.

Hanyang University

Hanyang University is a private university in Seoul focusing on engineering and technology. The university also has a large hospital where medical technology is developed. Over 2,000 international students are enrolled each year. The university also has partnerships with 647 universities in 68 countries worldwide and sends 3,000 students to study abroad each year. Check out the Hanyang website for more information.

Entry conditions

There are many universities to choose from in Seoul, making it easy to secure a spot. Luckily, most schools have a very high quota on foreign enrolment and getting into a desirable university might be a lot less difficult than for a Korean applicant. Keep in mind that Korean universities hold their entrance exams only once a year. That’s why it is essential to prepare yourself before the deadline (usually in October).

Admission requirements differ from school to school and some require Korean language skills. In general, you will need your high school transcripts as well as a few letters of recommendation in order to apply. However, every university has other requirements so be sure to do your research and find out exactly what you will need.

A great way to find out which school is the best fit is attending a university fair. Every single year, there are multiple university fairs in Seoul where you can speak with representatives face to face and ask about admission requirements, programs and more. These are big fairs where different universities attend with their own booths. I recommend foreign students to visit the university, attend the fairs and speak with people from various universities there before making any decision.

Scholarships

Korea has some scholarships in place for international students. These are either offered by the individual universities or the Korean government. A lot of universities have scholarships covering between 30% and 100% of the tuition fees depending on academic achievements. The Korean government has been increasing the quotas for scholarships for international students in recent years.

A popular option is the NIIED (National Institute for International Education) supporting undergraduate students of all fields. Students under the scholarship receive round-trip airfare, tuition fees, medical insurance plus KRW 800,000 per month for a period of 5 years (4 years of undergraduate studies plus 1 year Korean language study). Find more information here.

Living in South Korea

The costs of living in Seoul have risen in recent years with housing being the largest monthly expense. However, most scholarships cover the cost of staying in a dormitory on campus. If you’d like to share an apartment with other students near the school, you’ll pay between 300,000-500,000 KRW per month. Food, especially eating out, is cheaper than in France.

Health insurance is usually included in the scholarship or provided with any student visa.

Foreign students enrolled in a regular course of study get an Alien Registration Card (ARC) which is their visa ID. With this card according to the Ministry of Justice, students can work part-time (less than 20 hours a week) during semester time, and work for unlimited hours during vacation time.

Night life, Karaoke, festivals

Seoul is a city that seems to be never sleeping. Every month of the year, there is another festival happening. Extremely popular is, for example, the cherry blossom festival in the spring, the ULTRA music festival in June or the Fireworks Festival in October. Check out the Seoul Magazine for news and events in English.

On regular nights, Koreans love to go out eating and drinking at several restaurants and pubs on one night. The last ‘station’ is usually Noraebang, or music room, the Korean version of karaoke. You don’t need to worry, unlike in Europe, Korean karaoke establishments have their private rooms for every group of guests.

Local meals every student should taste once in their life


Korean cuisine has unique flavours due to its isolation by natural borders. Over centuries, Koreans have perfected their own way of preparing and cooking food that is unlike anywhere else in the world. You’ll find a lot of fermented food, used in ancient times to keep food fresh over the harsh winter months.
Be sure to try the popular mixed rice and vegetable dish Bibimbap, as well as the very popular Korean BBQ, and many soup and stew dishes that are often served on the side. Of course, you’ll also learn that there’s more than one type of Kimchi – a fermented side dish that is always present on a Korean table.

Student housing

Most students live on campus in dorms, as it is the cheapest option. Lucky for international students on a scholarship, dormitory housing is covered for the full duration of the program. Shared housing in Seoul off campus will cost you between 300,000-500,000 KRW per month. A great way to find affordable housing off campus is through stayes.com. Their agents can find long and short-term housing for any budget and take care of the paperwork for you. Another way to find student housing in Seoul is through Facebook groups. There are several big international student groups where members always look for someone to take over their room in a shared apartment.

General advice

The Korean education system is tough and doesn’t make too many exceptions for foreigners. You’ll not run into any problems if you deliver your work, are on time and attend your lectures.

 Useful links:

Study in Korea run by the Korean Government
Korean Immigration and Integration Program
Korean Government Scholarship Program

Content written by Linda Dunsmore

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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