TheKoreanGuide is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission.

How to Study in South Korea: University as a Foreigner

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Last updated:

Over the last decade, Korea has become an incredibly popular student destination. With more global attention on Korean skincare, fashion, K-pop and K-dramas, it’s a trendy and modern place to earn a degree. 

What’s more, the educational system in South Korea is top-notch and one can get a reputable degree to open opportunities not easily obtained in the West.

We’ll discuss all the details on how to study in South Korea. This will involve everything from discovering your reasons for studying there along with the application process, fees, testing and so much more. 

It’s important to understand right away that this is a far more rigorous and demanding pursuit than most other places in the world.

Even still, studying in South Korea can be a monumental experience. 

You’ll get to see a special corner of the world, what Korean people are like and learn invaluable lessons you’ll take with you throughout your life. 

It’s exciting and intense yet also charming and enriching.

Checklist for How to Study in South Korea

While the article below will get into each checklist item individually, review and then write them down in order of importance. 

Some items will be optional, whereas others are going to be compulsory, no matter what your situation is.

  • Define Your Goals
  • Understanding Korea’s Educational System
  • Learn the Korean Language
    • The Basics
    • How to Learn Korean
    • TOPIK Test & Entrance Requisites
  • Locating an Appropriate Educational Institution
  • Finding a Way to Get There
    • Study Abroad Agencies  
  • Applications & Admissions
  • Acquiring Adequate Housing
  • Costs, Finance & Budget
    • Tuition & Other Fees
    • Scholarships
    • Foreign Student Insurance
    • Living Expenses
    • Devising the Budget
  • What to Pack

Define Your Goals

The most important part about studying in South Korea is defining your goals for going. These must be clear, concise and solid. 

This means understanding what South Korean schools specialize in and being honest with yourself about how it suits you.

For instance, if you want to be a fashion designer, go to the best school that will cater to your ambitions. 

Certainly, there are excellent fashion programs in South Korea, but you may also want to look at schools in Paris or Milan, for example.

Then you should consider how long you want to be in South Korea. Do you want an entire degree or a brief stint? 

This will heavily influence the cost, type of school, admissions requirements and other pertinent living arrangements.

Understanding South Korea’s Educational System

The basis of Korea’s educational system is memorization and testing. So, you will have to have excellent exam scores, complete 12 years of formative schooling (elementary, middle and high schools) and have several letters of recommendation. 

These letters should be a mix from teachers, schools, and any companies/businesses related to your field of study.

There are also several kinds of schools in South Korea and you will have to consider which one will be best for you. 

There are vocational schools, universities, junior colleges, elite schools and international educational institutions. Which one you choose will rely on your grades, budget, industry and how long it takes to complete.

A typical academic year in South Korea has two 15-week semesters: spring (March to June/July) and winter (September to December). 

Your tuition will be due once or twice per year.

Learning the Korean Language

If you don’t know how to speak Korean, life will be difficult there. Ergo, it’s imperative you know how to not only speak and read the language, but also have a grasp on cultural norms and morals. 

If you are looking to go to a college or university there, it will be a prerequisite to know Korean.

The Basics

In Korea, they speak Kugo and is the prime tongue spoken in both North and South Korea as well as ethnic Koreans living in northeast China. 

They call their alphabet “Hangul” and is one of the most logical and scientific alphabets ever devised, coming about in the 15th century. There are 10 vowels and 14 consonants, totaling 24 letters in all.

However, it is a pictographic language, which means both vowels and consonants compose several groups of syllables. 

Even though this sounds somewhat complicated, it’s actually quite easy to learn. Once you grasp the alphabet, you’ll be able to understand Korean words even if you don’t know what they are.

How to Learn Korean

You have many options in which to learn Korean. You can learn it at home or alongside your studies there. 

However, it’s better to know something before you go so you aren’t lost. This will impinge upon how long you plan to be in South Korea and what you’re going to study.

For instance, if you are only doing a semester or two, then you can go to the Korean Language Institute (KLI). 

These programs occur in 10-week quarters (spring, summer, autumn and winter) and run for around four hours every day five days per week.

However, when planning to be there for much longer, you must find a university that will sponsor a student visa. 

This means you have to pass the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) and show proof of success via the application process.

TOPIK Test & Entrance Requisites

TOPIK is an all-inclusive language immersion exam that will incorporate listening, reading and writing in Korean. 

It measures the language capacity of a foreigner in how it directly applies to academic and professional pursuits.

For foreign students, undergraduates must get a level 3 or higher and postgraduates must have a level 4 or higher. 

When doing this through a language school, it takes about nine months (or three quarters) to achieve a level 3. South Korea offers these tests about six times per year.

Locating an Appropriate Educational Institution

Aside from signing onto language and culture courses in South Korea, you have to locate the right school for your goals and purposes. 

While it will be ideal to take language classes at your school of choice, that’s not always going to be a feasible option.

Understand that no school in the world is perfect for any one person in every way. But, you can find one amenable to your needs. 

You will have to take the following factors into your decision (organize them according to personal preference and importance):

  • Price
  • Location
  • Facilities
  • Courses
  • Admission Procedure
  • School Status/Credibility

Finding a Way to Get There

A lot of this article centers on getting to South Korea on your own.

This is a good option because you can arrange everything to suit your preferences, controlling all conditions, circumstances and environments. But, there are other ways to get there as well.

You could go as an exchange student for a semester through your current educational institution. 

This will take a lot of the problems, guesswork and expenses out of the equation. Your housing and schooling will come with the program too. 

However, choices are limited and not everyone qualifies.

Study Abroad Agencies

There are also study abroad agencies. They will know the ins and outs of the requirements, helping you locate a school and housing along with the application process. 

This will include all the necessary testing, documentation and other such items

But there is often a fee involved and it may not be doable if you’re budget is tight. Also, each agency only contracts with a finite number of institutions. So, this will also whittle down your options.

Applications & Admissions

Your acceptance will determine how the rest of your process will go. So, ensure you read all instructions and carefully prepare all requested information. 

While it’s often simple to gain acceptance into a language school or junior college, prestigious universities and private elite schools are more challenging.

Each school has different times and requirements for when and how to apply. 

Universities and language schools usually accept applications about four months before the semester or quarter begins. 

The table below details the general procedures for language schools versus universities.

Obtaining a Student Visa

You’ll notice in the table above, no matter what kind of school you attend, you must have a student visa. 

Any time you plan to spend in South Korea beyond three months means you must get one. The only exception is using a tourist visa for language courses with a very short duration. 

In the event you do not obtain the proper type of visa from your home country, your educational dreams will curtail at the Korean airport.

In most cases, you will have to have a school acceptance letter before you can apply for your student visa. 

Once enrolled with all tuition (and other fees) paid, the school will provide you with the necessary documents for your visa. 

After you apply, you must send a copy of this to your prospective school.

Acquiring Adequate Housing

Where you live during your time in South Korea will rely on what method you’re using to get there. 

If you’re doing a foreign exchange program, chances are you’ll be staying with a Korean family. In the case of a study abroad agency, then they will either have connections to student housing or help you locate living arrangements.

But, if you’re doing this solo, then you must find living quarters. Universities often have dormitories or other such spaces for students. 

There are organizations in Seoul that help international students locate a home for when they arrive.

Costs, Finance & Budget

Naturally, none of your educational dreams will happen without money. So, you will have to configure your expenses in accordance with how much money you can reasonably afford.

Tuition & Other Fees

Different schools have varying price ranges. Private schools are far more costly than public universities, for example. 

The type of program will also influence tuition and the price of class materials. Engineering, medicine, and technology will cost more than programs involving language, art, or music.

For the average undergrad, it will cost anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000 USD per semester. Some Korean schools will allow you to set up an installment arrangement. 

However, the Korean language programs cost between $1,300 and $1,600 every quarter.

Scholarships

While the scholarship process is far more involved than the space available here, it’s an imperative aspect to discuss. 

These are not easy to get, especially at public universities and language schools where many people are vying to get one.

Regardless, it’s in your best interest to try. Any financial support from outside sources will only make things easier and more enjoyable. 

Some schools offer scholarships based on your TOPIK score. Others come directly from the Korean government and yet some connect to outstanding skills in your field of study.

Foreign Student Insurance

Because you are so far away from home, it’s imperative that you stay safe and cover yourself in the case of injury, accident or some other unforeseen tragedy. 

This should cover you medically as well as any other kind of liabilities. Some schools and universities may require proof of this.

Living Expenses

What makes going to school in South Korea so practical is the fact that cost of living is low. If you’re not getting housing attached to your school, then you’ll have to rent. 

In this case, utilities like phone, internet, water, electricity, gas, and such will come into the picture.

In regards to eating, many schools have very healthy and affordable food programs. But, groceries don’t cost very much, and budgeting $300 USD per month on food should be more than enough.

You’ll also have to consider transportation, which is also very affordable and impressively impeccable. This is especially true in bigger cities like Busan and Seoul. It costs only a few dollars each day to get to and from your studies.

Devising the Budget

Once you have a plan of action in place, it’s time to devise a budget. 

You may need to create two of them: one for your trip to South Korea and another for your regular weekly/monthly expenses. 

They should include things like:

  • Tuition (if on a payment plan)
  • Other Education Fees (insurance, application, testing and etc.)
  • Course Materials
  • Housing (rent, utilities, food, phone, transportation and other living costs)
  • Accommodations (hotel stays, transportation and food)
  • Flights & Visa

Once you have an idea about cost, estimate 10% more. This way you will cover any unexpected surprises. So, you have to configure your funding for this. 

While scholarships are helpful, you may need to find a job. This means applying for permission from South Korea’s immigration service.

If you’re going to a language school, you can’t get this until you’ve completed six months of study. 

Otherwise, your school must approve before you can apply and you must be proficient in Korean. 

Once you have the permit, undergrads cannot work more than 20 hours per week and 30 hours per week for postgraduates.

What to Pack

It’s imperative you keep your luggage light. Of course, this will depend on how long you’re going to stay in Korea. 

But, it may be better to purchase things like clothing, toiletries, furniture and housewares after you get settled. Regardless, review the following items:

  • School Documents: Enrollment, paid tuition receipts, study abroad insurance, check-in information and other similar paperwork.
  • Medical Information: Be sure you have a note from your doctor detailing all your medications and current vaccination status.
  • Identification: Ensure you have your passport and student visa along with several high-quality copies of each. Leave one at home with someone you trust and bring two along with you. If your original gets lost or stolen, you will at least have a copy.
  • Tickets & Boarding Passes: Keep your flight documentation handy and easily accessible.
  • Electrical Accessories: Bring chargers, outlet adapters, cords and any other things you’ll need for cell phones, computers and similar electronics.
  • Money: Make sure you bring physical currency onto the plane so you can exchange it once you arrive in Korea. Keep physical money and credit cards in different locations on your person.

Conclusion

Even though this guide on how to study in South Korea goes through many details, it’s important that you devise your own plan of action. 

Each school will have various requirements and some will be more stringent than others are. Regardless, ensure you follow all instructions and directions to the letter.

Understand that learning in Korea will be a demanding and intense experience but a very fulfilling one. 

As long as you ensure a solid place to live along with reliable financial support, your time there will be much easier. Then all you have to worry about is paying bills on time and attending to your studies.

FAQ Study Abroad in South Korea

Q. Is it cheap to study in Korea?

Compared to the United States, it’s quite cheap to study in Korea. On average, it’ll cost you $2600 to $3500 a year in tuition fees, unlike in the United States, where you have to pay $100,000+ over the course of 4-years.

Q. Can you study for free in South Korea?

Unless you get a scholarship, unfortunately, there are no ways to study for free in South Korea. If you want to attend universities like Seoul National University, it won’t be free.

Q. Can you study in Korea without knowing any Korean?

Technically, you can study in Korea without speaking Korean. However, this means that you need to follow an English program instead of a Korean one, which most people follow.

About The Author

Photo of author

Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

You May Also Like