Want to Study Abroad in Korea? 14 Things to Expect


Studying abroad is a great experience, especially if you’re interested in a foreign culture and language. And Korea is an awesome destination for anyone looking to expand their horizons. If you’re thinking about studying abroad in Korea, here’s 14 things you can expect about universities in Korea!

1) Boy oh boy do schools want you!

Korean universities are becoming increasingly competitive when it comes to enrolling foreigner students in attempts to meet global standards. Foreign students are a good source of cash flow for universities and also can improve the university’s image on a global scale. Universities are also allowed to accept as many foreign students as they want, whereas the Ministry of Education sets quotas for how many Korean native students can be enrolled. This means that foreign students are unlimited cash cows; they want your money! However…

2) You gotta speak Korean

Unless you are wanting to attend an exchange program or are getting your masters, you will need to have a decent level of Korean proficiency. Most Korean universities will want you to have a TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) score of at least 4 or better (which is the equivalent to intermediate proficiency). For masters programs it’s pretty much the same, but some will give you a bit of wiggle room depending on your intended field of study (like if your major is going to have something to do with English, Korean Language, or English education). Even with that…

3) Between 25-30% of your classes will be taught in English

Yes, they’ll be taught in English, but they’ll be taught in English by Korean professors. This is true of every major you could possibly choose (Korean Language possibly being the only exception). These professors will be teaching in English, but might not have the best English, so Korean proficiency will still benefit you in the long-run when you ask your fellow students for help. The main motivation for many Korean students to learn English is to either obtain a good TOEIC score or to just be able to understand what the crap their teachers are saying in lectures. On the bright side…

4) Tuition and housing are, comparatively, cheap!

Especially if you are coming here from the United States. The average for one year’s tuition in a Korean university is 6.7 million won (approx. $6,000). For on campus housing it will only cost you about 700 thousand won ($625). Compared to an average tuition cost of $22,000 for one year of college in America and suddenly learning Korean and getting your butt to this side of the planet just became a LOT more reasonable!

5) Not all Korean universities are created equal

Every Korean high schooler goes to sleep thinking of three letters and three letters only: S.K.Y. These letters stand for the traditionally top three universities in Korea: Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University. Though for your major one of the SKY might not be the best, a degree from one of these three schools (especially SNU) will have you pretty much set for a successful life in Korea. These schools are also fierce rivals (particularly KU and YU, always the bridesmaid) while all other schools in Korea are constantly held up to their standard.

6) The freedom of college life.

Life as a Korean college student is an intense balancing act. Korean students have become extremely accustomed to a life of studying non-stop after high school. Come college time many of them are living outside of the house for the first time and/or suddenly have WAY less pressure on them to constantly be studying and taking classes. This means one thing: partying. Korean college students party just as hard and possibly more often than the students in your home country. But this partying system also leads to…

7) Peer pressure from upperclassmen

For the very first time in their entire lives some of these students are experiencing power. Korean high schools rarely mix the class levels but in university being an upperclassman comes with privileges and plenty of opportunities for mischief. Underclassmen see their upperclassmen as mentors and guides and will pretty much do whatever their seniors say they should. This includes drinking and partying until the wee hours. Conversely…

Margaret has been living and working in Seoul since 2011. Originally hailing from the United States (Maine and Tennessee, to be precise) she’s more than found a home amongst the wonders of Seoul. She eats more kimbap that could possibly be healthy for her and has a bad habit of bursting into KPop songs to which she does not know even 80% of the lyrics. Check out her blog at margarettriesbeing.com for more in-depth (that is to say, rambling) articles on Seoul How-To’s, Survival Tips, and excessive use of animated gifs.


  1. Justine says:

    I’m going to be a senior in the US and I was thinking of applying to a university in Korea directly instead of doing a study abroad program through a university here. This was a SUPER informative post. Thank you. You guys always give the best information.

  2. Andrea says:

    You guys are awesome. I was thinking about pursuing my Master’s degree in Korea and this post definitely put it all in perspective. Thanks so much ^_^

  3. Boon says:

    Isn’t SNU hard to get into as a foreigner because it’s like on of the top Korean universities? I also think that they only require you to get at least a TOPIK 3? I mean some get TOPIK 4 and that is not even easy at all, mind TOPIK 3 isn’t that easy either, although I don’t understand why you need this.

  4. TKQ says:

    You gotta speak Korean? Or you have to test well in Korean ^^
    Most of my friends in Korean universities don’t have the ability to understand the lectures in Korean, but since most textbooks are in English they don’t have difficulties with the content of the class. It probably depends on the program, but I know sometimes you are allowed to write papers and take tests in English as well.

  5. Anton says:

    While it probably isn’t possible to get a whole degree worths of classes in English, one or two semesters as an exchange student is not a problem if you dont speak Korean, especially if you study at any SKY university.

  6. Boon says:

    The TOPIK stuff is mainly for those who is studying a full course in Korea, if you’re doing a program to add onto your home university, you don’t need to do TOPIK

  7. Miguel says:

    My university has an agreement with SNU and I’ll be surely going there for an exchange in January!! However, when I applied for the exchange they told me that English would be enough (at least for the academical part). As I don’t speak any Korean at all, do you guys think I’m screwed?

    • Samantha says:

      Miguel, I would love to know how your exchange goes. I am looking into exchanging to Korea in 2015 and want to learn as much as I can about exchanging there and the experiences I will have.

  8. Margaret says:

    @Miguel Not at all! A lot of this article is specifically for people who are wanting to attend a Korean university as a full-time student. As an exchange student you’ll be fine with litte to no Korean, though it’s recommended that you learn a little bit as it will make life in Seoul a lot easier. Congratulations on the exchange acceptance!

  9. Miguel says:

    @Margaret Thanks for the info! I was also thinking of learning some Korean of course, to at least be able to read and understand the basics before I get to Seoul so that I’m not completely lost! haha. Cheers.

  10. Daniel says:

    Just to add: The best scholarship opportunity to study in Korea is probably the Korean Government Scholarship Program (KGSP) offering full tuition + stipend!

  11. Titi says:

    Oh My GOD! University life is really expensive for me who is getting free education here in my country! Just three universities with branches ( somewhat chain university 😕 ) have tuition! 😐 I mus work to get some money before moving to Korea to study! Anyway, thanks for your helpful article :)

  12. Sara says:

    This is really awesome guys! Thank you so much. I’ve been thinking about pursuing my Masters degree there and this article helped a lot.

  13. Keith says:

    My school’s 2011~2012 graduate cohorts haven’t accepted in Korean university and it means I won’t be accepted in Seoul university, nor an any other universities in Asia. Nevertheless, I may be registrable for universities in America or Canada because I am enrolled in Canadian International School (short for CIS).

  14. Kevin Han says:

    Awesome post Keith! Do you know much about which school has a better mechanical engineering masters program? Also if you want to eventually work for a Korean company, is there more of an advantage getting your degree form a Korean university or US University? Thanks, keep up the good work on this awesome site!

  15. Julie says:

    Is it common for Korean-Americans to enroll in Korean universities for their degree? If yes, is it more common for undergraduate, graduate, or PHD program?

    • Margaret says:

      Hey Julie, good question!

      We do see many foreigners of Korean decent around the campuses of universities here in Seoul; however, I think most of them are here on a study-abroad rather than being full-time students. I would say there are probably more Korean-American students in pursuing post-graduate degrees, but I say this mainly because there are just, in general, more foreign students in general in those programs.

      Keep in mind, the acceptance process varies greatly depending on whether you are considered to be Korean (born in Korea and lived her in your younger years), qualify for an F4 visa (your parents and/or grandparents were Korean nationals) or as just American (4th generation Korean-American). Make sure you do your research, and good luck!

  16. austin says:

    This is ke-studyinkorea. We are offical Korea study agency. We support students to study in korea. If you need a help or information, please visit our website, http://www.ke-studyinkorea.com

  17. hanan says:

    Im 17 years old after 7 month ill finish my school si my dream is to study in korea and im trying really hard to ..i need sm to help me beacuse i dont think i can live on my own (:

  18. Jocylin 조슬린 says:

    This is really informative thank you!! I was looking at Yonsei University tuition and was flabbergasted that it could be so cheap! I thought to myself, “no this can’t be..” and went on to check with extension websites whether it was as cheap as they wrote it was. I mean that is absolutely amazing… and I thought the college I wanted to go to was cheap! (Hawaii Pacific University- small private university with an annual tuition {including housing} of 30,000 USD) Honestly Yonsei is probably my first choice, as Underwood International College looks really good! Plus I want to be an International Relations major so this honestly seems like the best fit :) However, I am definitely going to check out other Korean universities, as well as some in France. Do you think that having an IB diploma can be helpful in admission to a university such as Yonsei? Thank you so much, and I really hope I can get into a Korean university! 화이팅!!!

  19. Vin says:

    Hi, I heard that if you’re studying in Korea you must go to Chapel or religious activities is that true? and what happen if the student isn’t Christian?

  20. Valerie says:

    I have a question, is that difficult to get accepted to Korean University?and how expensive it might be for a year?tuition

  21. Hedye says:

    I plan on going to do a exchange program to YU in August 2015. However, with the current events around the world(war related stuff), do you think it would affect my chances of being accepted or not being able to go at all? I always plan to teach English there once I finish my BA here(US). I really want to study there and teach there.

  22. Gail says:

    Hi. I’m still a highschool student, and Im planning to attend college there (I mean..if my parents permits me to) and I’m really wondering if I can make it. I just wanted to know how high the standards are in Korea? I mean, is it really hard to get into an uni there? I don’t know if I can meet up with their standards. But I wont be taking law or medical sciences or anything. It’s either communications or just fine arts. Also, WHAT do the entrance exam in korea look like? Are they all written in somewhat hangul context? I’m not joining any exchange programs of some sort. (I’ll doubt there’s any in my country) I’ll be flying there then take the exam and live there if I pass the exams.

    So to sum this all up, I’m just really worried if I can make it and probably survive there. Koreans tend to their studies more than anything, and they’re pretty obliged to it. If I party and do all the fun, I might fail. So… what’s really your point of view? Is it a nice idea to study there in korea?

  23. Madi says:

    Hi I am interested in getting a degree at one of those three korean universities. i dont speak any korean but i am currently being tutored once a week to get better. I was interested in teaching english in korea after i graduate but i read somewhere that you need to have a 4 year degree from a college in an english speaking country. does that apply to international students who get their degrees in korea? if anyone knows please let me know! thanks!

  24. James says:

    Hey everyone, this article was really helpful for me when I applied for school in Korea recently, but I just thought I’d let you guys know about this site I came across through my Chinese friend who is also studying here. it’s http://www.dreamingkorea.com but there is an English version of the site as well. Hope it’s helpful!

  25. Fidan says:

    hey guys.Can someone please tell me that whether i must know korean language when i apply to the universities in korea or only english language is enough for bachelor degree? thanks a lot

  26. korean girls says:

    wanna see some pattaya girl?