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. With its high-tech consumer goods changing the way people travel, communicate and consume information whilst 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. The country's universities have also risen up the international rankings and the success of South Korea's various exports has lead it to seek out more overseas students to help drive future innovation.
All of this means that 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 fed back into highly specialised taught programmes at postgraduate level. At the same time, South Korea is taking on the challenges of a rapidly developing society whilst continuing to be proud of its cultural heritage - meaning that innovative programmes of study are also available in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences fields.
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. You don't need to be confused though: the majority offer foundation level diplomas or undergraduate degrees. As a Masters level student you will primarily be interested in general research universities (the more specialised technical colleges, industrial universities and universities of education primarily offer undergraduate or equivalent qualifications).
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.
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.
The following are some of South Korea's top internationally ranked institutions:
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. By the end of 2014 Songdo is expected to include branches of The State University of New York, Ghent University, George Mason University and Saint Petersburg State University, amongst others. Take a look at our article on international campuses for more information on this mode of studying abroad.
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, whilst 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 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.
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 preparedness for further research.
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. Applications may be made 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.
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:
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 some 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 C.V. whilst studying a Masters abroad. Should you wish 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.
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.
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:
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. Here you will apply for an Alien Registration Card, which you will be required to carry at all times during your stay. The fee for this is ₩10,000 (roughly $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 program of study. In such cases you will require confirmation from a relevant member of faculty.
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 a number of scholarships and funding programmes specifically for foreign postgraduates.
Exact fees vary between different institutions, but courses in subjects such as medicine are typically the most costly (and take the longest to complete) whilst humanities programmes usually incur lower fees. The following figures are a rough guide to fees for postgraduate study in South Korea:
Be aware that fees are often given in amounts per semester - the cost for a full academic year will be twice these amounts.
Application fees are usually between ₩50,000 and ₩160,000 ($50-150) and National Health Insurance (NHI) is mandatory, costing around ₩21,000 ($20) per month. A language course will typically cost around ₩850,000 ($800) for an intensive three week course or ₩1,500,000 ($1,400) for a ten week programme. For information on accomodation prices and the cost of living for Masters students in South Korea, see our article on living in South Korea as a postgraduate student.
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 if you wish to apply successfully.
The South Korean government also runs its own scholarship schemes for international students. The Ministry of Education offers the Korean Government Scholarship Program for Graduate Students . This pays fees as well as some travel and living costs and will cover the entire period of a Masters degree. The National Institute of Education offers a smaller scholarship for the purpose of Supporting Excellent Self-Supporting Foreign Students . This covers a limited amount of living expenses per month, for one year. Information on these and other scholarship programmes is available on the Korean Government's StudyinKorea website.
Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a Masters in South Korea, or elsewhere.
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.