Studying in South Korea: The University System Explained

An increasing number of international students are choosing to study in South Korea for university. Here’s everything you need to know about why it's such a popular option and how to apply to Korean universities.

studying in south korea blog post featured image

Do you have students asking about how to apply to Korean universities? We're not surprised.

With one of the world’s highest-educated workforces and a top OECD ranking for scholastic achievement, South Korea is a country that has been globally recognised for its education system.

And in recent years, the country has become hugely popular with international students.

In 2014, fewer than 85,000 international students were studying at university in South Korea, a number which has been steadily increasing to meet a target of 200,000 by 2023: pre-COVID-19, South Korea had around 160,000 international students. That's almost twice as many students in just five years!

At BridgeU, we’ve seen this change first hand. In our recent report we found that amongst BridgeU students graduating in 2021, South Korea experienced an increase in popularity of 52% year-on-year.

But as a relatively new international destination, many students might not know where to start when it comes to how to apply to Korean universities, or what studying in South Korea is really like.

So, in this blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the South Korean education system, the benefits of studying there, and how you can help your students apply to Korean universities.

Free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Studying in Asia

To learn more about requirements, application procedures, student life and funding in South Korea and other popular international destinations in Asia, download our comprehensive guide.

What are the benefits of studying in South Korea?

World-renowned universities

South Korea is one of the top ranking study destinations in Asia, with 39 universities in this year’s QS World University Rankings. In particular, degrees from the prestigious “SKY” universities are well respected all over the world. These universities are all based in Korea’s capital, Seoul:

  • Seoul National University
  • Korea University
  • Yonsei University

But rankings aren't everything. South Korea has a number of different types of university, offering a variety of courses in both Korean and English. We'll go into more detail on these below.

A vibrant and welcoming home for international students

As we mentioned above, the South Korean government is actively trying to increase the number of international students in the country. Because of this, international students are given increased financial and employment support throughout their degrees.

What’s more, many South Korean universities offer a large number of English-taught programmes where proficiency in the Korean language is not required.

Plus, South Korea offers a brilliant quality of life for students. It even contains the third best student city in the entire world: Seoul. Daejeon also makes the top 100, at 78.

It's no surprise that students so love living in this country, given all the exciting leisure activities on offer: karaoke, impressive cinemas, theme parks, museums, skiing and more!


Tuition fees for international students in South Korea are quite affordable. In fact, in many institutions tuition fees are the same for international students as for domestic students, and there are a lot of scholarship options available. We’ll go into more detail on fees and scholarships a little later in this blog post.

As well as tuition fees, living costs in South Korea are also relatively low, with accommodation, food and transportation being much cheaper than in other countries. 

A culture of innovation

South Korea is Asia’s fourth largest economy (after China, Japan and India), and is home to some of the world’s biggest technology companies - Samsung, KPMG, and Hyundai, to name a few. The country’s expertise in IT and robotics makes it a great destination for any students interested in this sector.


Rich heritage and natural beauty

South Korea is bursting with variety, culture and intrigue as much in its landscape as in it history. 

During downtime, students can explore national parks and forests filled with wildlife, find tranquility in Buddhist temples or snow-capped mountain peaks, or even head out to a nearby island for a change of air and pace.


South Korean Academics

Of course, the principal reason for studying anywhere is to study. It's important that students know all about academic life in the destinations they're considering before they decide where to apply. Again, our Ultimate Guide to Studying in Asia can be really helpful with that, as can the free BridgeU platform

The academic culture in South Korea

While education in South Korea used to closely resemble China’s quite rigid, teacher-led approach, over the past couple of decades its system has modernised and loosened somewhat, allowing for more independent learning.

Nevertheless, South Korea’s reputation for academic excellence doesn’t come without work, so students should be prepared to take on a full workload and manage their time carefully.

It's also worth being aware that South Korean universities use the American credit system, which requires students to earn a minimum amount to graduate. Often, students can take on majors and minors, too, tailoring their degrees to their interests.

The academic calendar in South Korea

The academic year in South Korea is usually split into two semesters.

The first begins in mid-February and ends mid-June, while the second starts at the end of August or early September and lasts until mid-December when exams begin.

Degrees typically last four years. 

The different types of South Korean university

South Korea has a wide range of national and private, academic and vocational institutions:

Research universities

The most prestigious types of institution, research universities in South Korea are divided into:

  • Public universities, which are funded by central government
  • Local universities, which are funded by local government
  • Private universities, which are funded by private non-profit educational foundations

Industrial Universities

Industrial universities offer more vocational qualifications than research universities, but also award bachelor’s degrees. Tuition fees are invariably lower than research universities. Again, industrial universities are a combination of public and private institutions.

Junior Colleges

Junior colleges offer technical qualifications and many degree programmes at South Korean junior colleges last two to three years. The types of courses offered by junior colleges include early childhood education, nursing, home economics, agriculture, engineering and business administration.

Universities of Education

These are universities designed to provide teacher training, offering mainly four year degree qualifications.

Cyber Universities

These universities predominantly offer degrees online, and have been increasing in popularity since they were founded in 2004. Cyber universities offer a combination of bachelor's degrees and associate degrees.

International student accommodation 

Of course, where students can actually live will factor considerably into their higher education decisions. Luckily, in South Korea they have lots of great options!


The most popular student accommodation option in South Korea is the goshiwon, a shared accommodation which both domestic and international students tend to favour.

Rooms are usually single and quite tight, but other spaces (like the kitchen and sometimes bathroom) are shared between a group.

Essentially, it’s quite similar to dorms in the USA or halls in the UK, except it’s usually privately owned.

University accommodation

There are also other types of shared accommodation provided by both universities and private landlords, with rooms ranging from single to four people. University-owned options tend to be cheapest, although there’s quite a range in fees depending on students’ choices and the city.

However, both university-owned accommodation and goshiwons can have quite strict rules in place regarding things like guests, curfews or even whether students can eat/cook in their rooms.

Studio apartments and officetels

A roomier, slightly pricier option is to find a one-bedroom apartment or ‘officetel’. In this case, students won’t have extra rules to abide by, but they will have to make their own arrangements for electricity, WiFi and so on. Luckily, they’re usually at least partly if not fully furnished.

Shared houses

Students looking to save money without sacrificing on freedom can also look into shared houses, which are common in South Korea, and welcoming to international students.

How to apply to Korean universities

Unfortunately, there's not a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how to apply to Korean universities: students apply to each institution directly, and each one has slightly different application criteria.

How to apply to Korean universities: application deadlines

The South Korean academic year starts in March, but many universities admit new students twice a year, in March and September. Application deadlines vary, but are usually around 4-6 months before the start of the semester.

How to apply to Korean universities: required documents

As we mentioned above, each university sets its own requirements. Broadly speaking, students applying to study in South Korea will need the following:

  • University-specific application form (this can usually be done online)
  • Academic transcripts
  • Letter of recommendation
  • Proof of finances (showing they are able to support themselves financially throughout their studies)

Once they have been accepted to a South Korean university, international students will also need a D-2 visa. They can get this from a South Korean embassy or consulate in their home country.

How to apply to Korean universities: language requirements

A big consideration when guiding students on how to apply to Korean universities is the language proficiency procedures. Students are planning to take an English-taught course have to provide proof of their English-language proficiency when applying.

If they are applying for a course taught in Korean (or a mixture of English and Korean), they must also take a Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK).

How to apply to Korean universities: standardised tests

Depending on the country your students are applying from, they may be asked to take standardised tests such as the SAT or ACT. While some universities will only ask for grades and scores, others will also ask students to take interviews and extra aptitude tests.

Once again, students should check the requirements of their chosen institution(s) carefully before applying - we told you there wasn't one single answer on how to apply to Korean universities!

Studying in South Korea: expenses & funding

A big question when students are considering where to apply is how much their education, accommodation and living expenses will cost. If you have students considering studying in South Korea, these are some of the expenses they can expect. 

Tuition fees while studying in South Korea

As we mentioned, international students often pay the same fees as domestic students in South Korea. Amounts vary between institutions and even within them, with certain subjects costing more. Still, they're all relatively affordable: yearly tuition fees tend to fall between 2,500 - 4,000 USD. This is much cheaper than countries like the USA, which can cost up to 50,000 USD per year!

Scholarship options when studying in South Korea

There are a lot of financial aid options for international students who plan on studying in South Korea.

South Korean scholarships comprise a mix of government funding, and scholarships provided by the universities themselves. We can’t share them all in this post, but here are some notable scholarships offered by some of the most well-known universities in South Korea.

The Global Korea Scholarship

This is a scholarship offered by the Korean government for international students who are interested in studying in South Korea. The scholarship covers tuition fees and living expenses, including flight tickets to South Korea. The scholarship is applicable for students studying at any university affiliated with the program. The application dates for this scholarship are October-November.

Seoul National University

Seoul National University offers the Overseas Koreans Scholarship for overseas Korean students who wish to take undergraduate degrees at SNU. It covers tuition fees and living expenses, medical insurance, and the cost of one economy flight round trip to South Korea.

Students must submit their applications between February and March and must apply through the Korean embassy in their country in the first instance (Korean embassies review the first round of applications).

Yonsei University

Yonsei University is another institution based in Seoul and offers a number of merit and need-based scholarships for international students. The university offers scholarships as a whole, and its subsidiaries - Underwood International College and Global Leaders College - also give their own scholarships.

Korea University

Korea University has a range of scholarships in a range of disciplines. Students have two windows to apply for financial aid, August-October and February-April.

KAIST University

A leading science and technology university, KAIST offers several scholarships for students, based on different factors including income and academic excellence. Some include full tuition fee and contributions towards living expenses of 350 KRW per month, and national health insurance coverage. Again, there are two application windows, one running from September to October, and November to January.

Kyung Hee University

This university is very well known for its medical school. It offers a number of scholarships that cover 30%, 50% & 70% of tuition fees.

Hanyang University

Hanyang University has three scholarships for international students, each covering about 70% of the cost of tuition fees. Students can apply online through the university’s website, and there are two application windows - one in September and one in April.

Inha University

Inha University is well known for its Engineering undergraduate degree program and offers fully-funded scholarships for undergraduate students.

Help your students research and apply to university in South Korea

To make sure your students have all the essential knowledge about studying in South Korea, as well as four of the other most popular internationals study destinations in Asia, make sure you download your free copy of The Ultimate Guide to Studying in Asia

It outlines key areas including academic culture, student life, entry requirements and processes, fees and funding and accommodation so that students can make informed decisions, and create the best possible applications. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


I have no comment but I really want to study in Korea it is my dream

Abdurakhimova Nilufar
Saturday 30th January 2021

I am turning 18 soon can I apply for Inha University .

Hafsa K
Monday 15th February 2021

I want to about some business universities in korea which provides a good amount of scholarship to the international students

Sadia islam mim
Sunday 7th March 2021

I am planning to do MBA in zeol university.Could you tell me the details.I am BBA second semester student.

Sherin Thomas
Sunday 4th April 2021

I am first year GNM student and I want know about post bsc course

Ann Teresa Chacko
Monday 5th April 2021

I love South Korea. And I also want to go there for my studies

Emad bin mustafiz
Wednesday 7th April 2021

Can i apply after 12th grade in seoul or Korea university and how to apply online please tell me i need your help

Sunday 16th May 2021

I really tried applying to several Universities in Korea but I can’t seem to win… I really wanna study there
And this blog really helped

Monday 17th May 2021

I want to know about which university is best for studying aerospace or aeronautical engineering in South Korea especially in Seoul and also please help how to apply for those universities I will be waiting for your response thank you.

Saturday 17th July 2021

I want to complete my MBBS in
any south korean University. Is there any scholarship in medicine??

Nusrat Jarin
Sunday 29th August 2021

Please assign me to an agent for more understanding on what I should to proceed with the application.

Abu Boakai Gowah
Thursday 16th December 2021