Masters Study in South Korea - A Guide for 2020 |
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Masters Study in South Korea - A Guide for 2020

Studying a Masters in South Korea offers a fantastic opportunity to get involved with one of the most vibrant and fast-moving higher education sectors in the modern world.

The country's universities have risen up the international rankings and the success of South Korea's various exports has led it to seek out more overseas students to help drive future innovation.

This page will cover all the essential information you need to know about postgraduate study in South Korea, from tuition fees and scholarship programmes to university rankings and visa requirements.

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Postgraduate opportunities in South Korea – what’s on offer for 2020?

With its high-tech consumer goods changing the way people travel, communicate and consume information while its pop music conquers old and new media platforms, it's fair to say that South Korea has taken a central place in the modern world.

As such, a Masters in South Korea is well worth considering for postgraduates looking for exciting and rewarding study abroad experiences. South Korean universities have helped conduct the research that has driven the country's advances in high-tech fields and this expertise has in turn meant highly specialised taught programmes at postgraduate level.

Here are a few of the reasons why you should think about studying a Masters in South Korea this year:

  • International outlook – Around 30% of courses at Korean universities are delivered in English, reflecting the country’s drives towards internationalisation.
  • Academic performance – South Korea takes great pride in its education system, and a Masters gives you the chance to experience this first-hand.
  • Funding opportunities – The Korean government provides financial support to around 2,000 international students each year.

Masters Study in South Korea - Key Details
Universities 381
Oldest University Sungkyunkwan University (1398)
International Students 70,796
Course Length 1-3 years
Average Fees ₩5,600,000-15,760,000 (USD $4,820-13,540)
Academic Year March to February

South Korean universities

South Korea's higher education system has expanded rapidly over the last 50 years and there are now several different types of institution offering post-secondary qualifications in the country. As a Masters student you will primarily be interested in general research universities (the more specialised technical colleges, industrial universities and universities of education generally offer undergraduate or equivalent qualifications).

Domestic universities

South Korea's universities are either private institutions or public ('national') universities administered by the government or its local representatives. Private universities tend to charge higher fees, but both types of institution offer high quality postgraduate programmes and are well represented in domestic and international rankings.

International universities

In recent years Korea's domestic universities have been joined by a growing number of international campuses established by overseas institutions. Many of these are hosted at the Songdo Global University Campus, run by Yonsei University in Seoul. Songdo includes branches of the State University of New York (SUNY), Ghent University, George Mason University and the University of Utah. Take a look at our article on international campuses for more information on this mode of studying abroad.

Graduate schools

As a Masters student in South Korea you are also likely to find yourself based in one of the country's graduate schools. Some of these are affiliated with larger universities, while others operate independently. A large number focus primarily on Masters-level training in specialised fields, though some also offer the opportunity to proceed on to PhD level research.


The accreditation of South Korean universities is still developing to keep pace with the rapid expansion of its higher education sector. Currently the Korean Council for University Education operates as a private organisation evaluating and accrediting the performance of a large number of member institutions, including most of the country's top universities.

University rankings

South Korea’s reputation for academic excellence is reflected by the performance of its universities in the three main global rankings. Several Korean institutions appear in the top 200 of each league table.

Find out more in our guide to South Korean postgraduate rankings.

Top 5 South Korean Universities in 2020
University THE 2020 QS 2020 ARWU 2019
Seoul National University 64 37 101-150
Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) 89 95 151-200
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) =110 41 201-300
Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) =146 87 401-500
Korea University =179 83 201-300
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for Masters degrees?

International rankings use all sorts of metrics to assess universities and they aren't all equally relevant to postgraduate study. That's why we've put together a guide to university rankings for Masters students.

Course types

A Masters degree in South Korea will usually require at least two years of study. Course content will vary between institutions and across different fields, but you should generally expect to complete coursework to the value of 24 credits (roughly equivalent to 48 of the ECTS credits used by universities following the Bologna system) before passing a final examination.

You will then be required to research and submit a thesis which must satisfy the evaluation of three or more examiners before your degree can be awarded. These relatively long periods of enrolment and multiple modes of assessment can make a South Korean Masters degree comparatively demanding, but you will come away with a qualification that demonstrates wide-ranging competence in your field as well as preparation for further research.

Academic year

The Korean academic year is divided into two semesters, with breaks from July to August and from December to February. This long winter break may be particularly attractive if you're hoping to travel home and visit family during seasonal holidays – or travel and explore within South Korea itself.

Be prepared though, South Korean weather can be as exciting as its landscapes and attractions: hot summers are accompanied by a short monsoon season and temperatures drop significantly in winter.

Fees and funding for Masters degrees in South Korea

University study in South Korea can appear relatively expensive, but you should balance this with the fact that no additional fees are charged to international students. The South Korean government is also keen to attract overseas students and offers several scholarships and funding programmes specifically for foreign postgraduates.

Exact fees vary between different institutions, but courses in subjects such as Medicine are typically more expensive (and take the longest to complete) while humanities programmes usually incur lower fees. The following figures are a rough guide to fees for postgraduate study in South Korea:

  • National universities (per semester): ₩2,800,000 (USD $2,400) - ₩5,740,000 (USD $4,950)
  • Private universities (per semester): ₩4,280,000 (USD $3,680) - ₩7,880,000 (USD $6,770)

Remember that fees are often given in amounts per semester – the cost for a full academic year will be twice these amounts.

Other costs

Application fees are usually between ₩70,000 and ₩170,000 (USD $60-150) and National Health Insurance (NHI) is mandatory, costing around ₩21,000 (USD $20) per month. A language course will typically cost around ₩850,000 (USD $800) for an intensive three-week course or ₩1,500,000 (USD $1,400) for a ten-week programme.

For information on accommodation prices and the cost of living for Masters students in South Korea, see our article on living in South Korea as a postgraduate student.

Scholarships and funding

South Korean universities are generally keen to encourage high-quality international students and may offer full or partial fee-waivers. However, in keeping with South Korea's approach to education these may still be very competitive and you should enquire early.

The South Korean government also runs its own scholarship schemes for international students:

Information on these and other scholarship programmes is available on the Korean government's StudyinKorea website.

Applying for a Masters in South Korea

Postgraduate courses at South Korean universities may commence in either of the spring and autumn semesters that make up the South Korean academic year.

For entry onto a course commencing in March, you will need to apply between September and November; for entry onto a course commencing in September the application period runs from May to June.

You can usually apply directly to your chosen university, but the Korean government also offers an online service for overseas students who register at its StudyinKorea website.


The requirements of individual institutions may vary, but you should hold a good undergraduate degree or expect to receive one prior to the commencement of your Masters programme.

South Korea's education culture is highly competitive and admission to some courses (particularly those at top domestic universities) may require you to have received first class honours (or equivalent) with your undergraduate degree.

Additional admission requirements

Basic admission standards for all universities are set up by the South Korean government, but individual institutions have a lot of freedom to evaluate candidates according to their own criteria. Most institutions will require you to submit the following materials as part of your application:

  • A completed copy of your institution's application form.
  • A personal introduction and outline of your study plan.
  • A letter of recommendation, typically provided by a member of faculty at the institution where your undergraduate or degree was awarded.
  • Documentation of your existing academic record, confirming (if necessary) that you are expected to receive a Bachelors degree (or equivalent) of the required standard.
  • Proof of your nationality (a photocopy of your passport will usually suffice).
  • Proof of proficiency in English and / or Korean (as required by your course).

You’ll also need to provide proof of financial capability, demonstrating that you have enough money to bear the cost of your course fees and maintenance while studying in South Korea. The Korean government stipulates evidence of a bank balance of ₩17,465,000 (USD $15,000). If you will be supported by a sponsor, you may need to provide evidence of their employment or other means.

Practical courses (such as those in creative arts or physical education disciplines) may also require a portfolio or other proof of your competence.

Language requirements

South Korea is keen to internationalise its higher education provision and many courses are now taught wholly or partly in English. This is especially likely to be the case in graduate schools. However, some courses may still require knowledge of Korean and you should confirm in advance what (if any) the language requirements for your Masters programme are. Where necessary you may be asked to take a Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK). The normal requirement in these cases is a score of Level 3 or above.

South Korea itself has a strong Anglophone tradition, with English being taught as a compulsory secondary language in its education system. You will therefore find that many of the people you meet speak English at some level. However, gaining experience with a new language is a particularly valuable opportunity to enhance your CV while studying a Masters abroad.

If you want to take advantage of this or simply need to brush up on the Korean required for your course, you will probably find that your university offers language education for international students. These usually take the form of intensive three-week courses or longer ten-week programmes.

Visas and immigration for Masters students in South Korea

South Korea is keen to attract international Masters students, but its visa system has some very specific requirements and you'll need to make sure you have various documents prepared when you apply. Certain stages of South Korea's immigration system may benefit from sponsorship or representation by a resident national and your university's international office may be able to assist with this if relevant in your case.

Visa requirements

As an international student studying a Masters in South Korea you will usually need to acquire a Visa for Regular Educational Program (D-2). You should begin your application by contacting a South Korean embassy in your home country, with the following documents ready to submit:

  • A passport, valid for the duration of your intended stay in South Korea.
  • A completed visa application form.
  • A processing fee, equivalent to USD $60 for single-entry or USD $90 for a multiple-entry visa.
  • Confirmation of admission to your programme of study, provided by your institution and recognising your aptitude and financial capability.
  • Certification of your educational record and qualifications.
  • Financial verification, demonstrating that you have resources equivalent to at least ₩17,465,000 (USD $15,000) available for your studies. This can take the form of a current bank balance and / or confirmation of funding or other financial support.

In some cases you may be able to apply for a Certificate for Confirmation of Visa Issuance to simplify and speed up your application process. This can be submitted in place of documents confirming admission, educational record and financial verification, but requires sponsorship by someone within South Korea. Certificates are issued by Korean immigration offices and are valid for three months.


You (or an approved representative from your university) will need to visit the immigration office that oversees your region within 90 days of arriving in South Korea.

There you can apply for an Alien Registration Card, which you’ll need to carry at all times during your stay. The fee for this is ₩10,000 (roughly USD $10) and you will need to present a certificate of enrolment at your university, your passport and a passport-sized photo as part of your application. You should also notify your country's embassy in South Korea of your arrival.

If you wish to leave and re-enter South Korea during your studies you will need to submit a report form through your university, confirming your temporary departure. Absence during the period of your visa should not normally exceed 30 days, but exceptions will be made for travel required by your programme of study. In these cases you will require confirmation from a relevant member of faculty.

Next steps

A Masters degree from a South Korean university will allow you to go on to PhD level study at a South Korean university or elsewhere and will equip you particularly well for work in the hi-tech fields for which the country is internationally renowned.

Regardless of your specialism, your experiences as a postgraduate student studying abroad will demonstrate your adaptability and may be especially attractive to employers doing business in Asia.

Find your perfect Masters now

Ready to start looking for your Masters? Begin your search with us or take a look at our guide to life in South Korea.

Last updated - 22/01/2020

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