Studying in South Korea
Universities in South Korea are divided into:
- national (established and run by the Korean government)
- public (established and run by local governments)
There are more than 370 South Korean higher education providers. This includes just under 180 private universities and 43 national universities.
Some of the universities have graduate schools, providing study at postgraduate level and can be either 'generalist' (centred on academic research) or 'specialist' (practice-orientated).
The structure of postgraduate education is similar to that in the UK. Masters degrees are available in a broad range of subjects and take around two years to complete. PhDs are also widely available and take three years or more to complete. Postdoctoral courses provide continuing research opportunities after completion of a PhD.
What courses can you study?
There are many universities in South Korea offering postgraduate study. Courses are available in a wide range of subjects and are usually taught in Korean, although some universities conduct some of their classes in English, while others have international faculties in which all courses are taught in English.
Full details of courses and institutions can be found on the Study in Korea website. The QS University Rankings: Asia highlights the top 300 universities in Asia. The top universities include the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Seoul National University, and Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH).
Korean language courses are taught at several of the main Korean universities, including Yonsei, Ewha, Sogang, Korea, Seoul National and Kyunghee University.
How do you apply for postgraduate study?
You'll usually need an undergraduate degree to undertake a masters degree, and a masters degree if you wish to pursue a PhD.
Although the academic year generally starts in March, many universities admit students twice a year – March and September. The study year is usually split into two semesters and there is a break in summer (July to August) and winter (December to February).
There is no centralised application process so contact the institution you're interested in directly. Applications are usually made online.
Institutions have slightly different requirements but usually expect some or all of the following:
- completed application form
- personal statement (information about yourself and your skills that weren't covered in the application form) and study plan (academic goals and career plans)
- two references or letters of recommendation from professors
- proof of graduation and transcript of modules studied
- proof of Korean language ability
- financial certification – list of financial resources you have available to pay tuition/living fees (if admitted, you'll need to provide proof)
- a copy of your passport (and your parents' passports)
- a portfolio or video illustrating your practical competence (for those undertaking an arts or physical education programme).
All documents should be in English or Korean. You must also pay your registration fee for admission to the programme. Make sure that all documents reach the university in time for the deadline.
There are two main kinds of language proficiency test in Korea. The TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) is generally used for international students wanting to study in Korea.
Fees and scholarships
Fees at private universities are generally higher than those at national ones. Fees also vary between institutions.
The Study in Korea website provides estimates of costs in US dollars. These include:
- tuition: national university, $2,000 to $5,100 per semester; private university, $3,000 to $7,000 per semester – fees depend on the course and level studied
- application fee: $50 to $150
- Korean language course: $1,000 to $1,400 (for ten weeks)
- meal costs: about $300 per month (if eating on campus)
- monthly rent: about $300 (although a deposit of $3,000 to $5,000 is required)
- medical insurance: $20 a month.
Many universities have a range of scholarship programmes for foreign students. Some operate tuition fee scholarships, which cover 30% to 100% of tuition fees, depending on your academic results. Check with individual institutions for full details.
Various ministries of the Korean government also run scholarship programmes available to international students at postgraduate level. These include the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Many of the scholarships are listed on the Study in Korea website.
Are there any exchange programmes?
Some Korean universities have exchange agreements with universities in the UK, allowing students to study in South Korea for a certain period. Contact the international office at your university to see if they've an exchange programme. In addition, many South Korean universities run courses in the vacation period for international students.
Will your qualifications be recognised in the UK?
Check with the university or higher education institution where you're hoping to study to see if their qualification is recognised or has an equivalent in the UK.
Do you need a visa to study in South Korea?
Once you've been accepted on to a course, you must apply for a student visa. If you're studying for an undergraduate degree, masters or PhD, you'll need a D-2 visa. Those studying Korean at a university-run language school will need a D-4 visa.
In order to speed the process up, the Korean immigration office can issue a Certificate of Confirmation of Visa Issuance at the request of a sponsor (the university you've applied to) in Korea. You can then submit the certificate to the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to receive your visa. The certificate is valid for three months and can be used for a single visa application.
To get a visa you'll need to submit the following documents:
- passport (valid until after the end of your intended period of study)
- visa application form or Certificate of Confirmation of Visa Issuance
- admission fee
- formal letter of acceptance from the Korean university confirming your academic ability and financial resources
- copy of your degree certificate
- proof that you have more than $12,000 in a current bank account
- two passport-sized photos.
If you're not a UK national, contact the South Korean embassy in the country where you're currently living to find out how to get a visa for study.
Written by AGCAS editors, November 2016