Do you want to apply to a university in South Korea? This might be a surprise to some, but did you know that there is only a small percentage of international students enrolled in prestigious Korean universities?

In 2015, the Korean government announced plans to triple the current number of international students to 200,000 by 2023. To make this possible, the Korean government is giving incentives for international students such as Korean Government Scholarships, decreased visa regulation, and increased funding for university scholarships for international students.

It is not just the Korean government that wants international students on their campuses, the universities themselves are looking for qualified international students. The primary reason is to increase the diversity of their student body which helps Korean students to adapt to the global society. Also, this increased diversity helps its worldwide global ranking because diversity is a huge factor in the college ranking system.

Since many international students are unfamiliar with the process of applying to Korean universities, this article will provide insightful information about the general admissions process. Keep in mind that universities have different procedures and specific required documents.

University Application Process at Korean Universities

Applying to Korean Universities is pretty straightforward. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to apply to Korean Universities.

Step 1. Create a List of Korean Universities You Would Like to Apply 

Even before you start worrying about the application process, the first step is to figure out which universities in South Korea look like a good fit for you. Look at the locations and the perks offered by Korean universities, and try to select the first few that come to mind. You can apply to as many universities as you want, as long as you are willing to pay the application fees. However, if you do not want to shell out a lot of money just for application fees, there are a few institutions in Korea where you can apply with no application fees.

Step 2. Read the Application Requirements for Each University

After choosing your preferred universities, the next step is to check the application requirements for prospective international applicants. Take a look at their list of required documents, eligibility criteria, and especially the application deadline for your preferred program.

We recommend checking all the necessary requirements and deadlines as early as possible. This will help you prepare and complete all the documents before the set deadline. Create a calendar and list all the deadlines and important details you need to accomplish.

Step 3. Divide the Universities into Categories

Divide the universities into reach, match, and safety schools. ‘Reach schools’ are schools that are difficult to get into, ‘Match schools’ are schools that you have a good chance of getting admitted, and ‘Safety schools’ are schools that you are almost 100% sure that you will get into.

By separating your preferred universities into these categories, you will know how much time you need to spend on each one. If you don’t have that much time, try to focus most of your hours on applications to ‘match and safety schools’, and the rest of your time must be spent preparing for your ‘reach schools’.

Step 4. Prepare Necessary Admissions Documents

We have created a list of required documents that you will need to prepare when applying to universities in South Korea. The list is all written in the section below. Take a closer look at each of the requirements since some may be optional in some cases.

Some requirements might take more time to complete than other documents, so make sure to begin your application process early so that you can get a lot done before the application deadline.

Step 5. Submit Your Admissions Application

After completing the admissions requirements, the next step is to upload them through an online admissions portal. When colleges first started, the documents must be sent by mail, but due to modern technology, most admissions applications are submitted online.

Check the method of application of your chosen university. Some universities will be required to submit the hard copies by mail or by simply submitting them through an online portal. Remember to submit your application on time to be considered as a prospective international applicant.

General Admission Documents

1. Application Form 

Some countries such as the United States have a standard application form for all universities. In Korea, however, every university uses a different application form that you will need to completely fill out. In addition, you might need to fill out a separate scholarship application if you are planning to apply for scholarships.

2. Standardized Test Scores

If you are applying to an undergraduate study, you need to take a standardized test for high school students such as the SAT and ACT used in the United States. The minimum score will depend on which country you are from, so we recommend aiming to get a high score.

If you want to have a better chance in applying for graduate programs, taking standardized tests such as the GRE and getting good scores in college will improve your chance of being admitted.

3. Language Proficiency Tests 

Korean Universities expect all international students to be somewhat proficient in English. Proficiency in Korean is not necessary, but you will have better opportunities to receive scholarships if you are proficient in Korean. Many universities require TOEFL or IELTS for English proficiency and TOPIK for Korean Proficiency.

4. Recommendation Letters

To apply to Korean universities as an undergraduate, you need two recommendation letters at a minimum. Each school has different recommendation letters asking different questions about the student, so you might not want to ask the same teachers to complete all of the recommendation letters.

As for prospective graduate students, you need different types and varying quantities of recommendation letters for different universities, so it would be wise to first check the requirements of your preferred institutions.

5. Counselor Reference (Undergraduate Only) 

This reference is written by your high school counselor. If you attend a school that doesn’t have a school counselor, your principal can submit the reference instead.

The counselor’s reference contains information about your high school career such as your GPA, the level of your courses, and extracurricular activities. Sometimes, the counselor can submit an optional recommendation letter vouching for your character qualities.

6. School Report (Undergraduate Only) 

A school report contains information about your high school such as the students’ average standardized scores, the rigor of the high school compared to other high schools, courses offered, universities that their graduates have attended, and other relevant information. Every school should have a school report available, and you can ask your school counselor or principal to submit the school report for you.

7. Transcript of Records

Transcripts contain your courses throughout high school, grades for each course, and overall GPA. If you are applying as an undergraduate, many Korean universities only consider grades from the 10th~12th year of high school, but some universities consider grades from the 9th~12th year as well.

On the other hand, if you are applying as a graduate student, you need the transcript containing your GPA and all of your courses taken as an undergraduate student. If you have attended multiple universities as an undergraduate student, you need to include the transcripts from all the universities that you have previously attended.

8. Personal Statement 

Personal statements ask you different questions regarding your personal life, career goals, and extracurricular activities. Since universities use different application forms, the questions will not be the same from university to university.

Since personal statements are an important part of your application, you need to take time to write each one. Applying to a few universities will help you to focus your time on each application which will make you a successful applicant.

Students who are applying as graduate students need to write a personal statement regarding their interests and the field of study. Some universities might ask you specific questions about yourself and your accomplishments. Since the requirements are different for each university, check with individual universities for specific details.

9. Copy of Your Passport and Parents’ Passports

The parents of prospective international students cannot be citizens of Korea. To confirm this fact, many universities require you to submit a scanned copy of your passport along with your parents’ passports.

If one or both of your parents are Korean citizens, you need to apply through a separate application called International Application II. This application applies to students who have studied in a foreign country for twelve years and to international students whose one or both parents are Korean citizens.

10. Supplementary Materials 

If you are applying as a music or art major, many universities require you to submit a portfolio featuring your best work.

If you are a graduate student, certain universities require a summary of the thesis of your research as an undergraduate student (if you have conducted one). Also, if you have published any papers, you have the option to submit one as this will greatly affect your chances of getting accepted.

Optional Materials / Documents to Consider

The following materials are optional but will greatly strengthen your application. Do not worry if you don’t possess any of these documents because only a few students will have them. However, if you still have time to participate in these programs and take the corresponding tests, you should definitely consider taking them.

1. International Baccalaureate (Undergraduate Only) 

International Baccalaureate is a worldwide program known for its rigorous assessment. IB is offered in over 3,000 schools in over 140 different countries. It is a very rigorous program, but it is definitely worth it if you do well. If you have a high IB score, you can go to almost any elite Korean university and other renowned Asian universities since they are extremely impressed with students who have a high IB score.

2. Advanced Placement (Undergraduate Only) 

Advanced Placement offers college-level classes in high school. After you have finished the class, you need to take standardized AP tests to receive a score from 1-5. If you do well in AP classes and receive a score of 4 or 5, you can be admitted to elite universities. Also, the advantage of AP classes is you can receive college credits for certain classes.

Remember that these are just the general documents you need to obtain when applying to a Korean university. Students applying for bachelor’s has a different set of requirements to students applying for master’s, or Ph.D. programs.

Key Facts for Applying to Universities in South Korea

1. Easy Admission for International Students in Korean Universities than Korean Nationals

To get into an elite Korean university or even universities that are located in Seoul, many Koreans spend thousands of hours studying for a Korean standardized test called the Suneung. Many subjects of this brutal test are graded on a curve, which means that student scores are determined by everyone else’s scores.

In order to go to universities that are located in Seoul, students need to be in the top 10 percent of all test takers. This competitive atmosphere is unfortunate, but it is a common reality for high school students in South Korea.

The good news is that admissions for international students are much easier compared to Korean students. As we have mentioned earlier, Korean universities want international students on their campuses because of diversity and rankings. You can use these facts to your advantage and receive top-level education in one of the best schools in Asia.

2. Excellent Education Lectured By Experts and Professionals in Korean Universities

Korean universities provide a well-rounded and excellent education in all areas of study. Also, their professors are among the best professors in the world and studied at elite universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. Just take a look at chemistry professors at KAIST and Seoul National University.

These faculty members have studied in prestigious universities around the world and are now researching at the forefront of discovery. If you study at a Korean university, you can be under the provisions of these excellent professors and experts!

3. English Taught to the Majority of the Courses in Top Universities

In top universities, many of the classes are taught in English mainly because of two reasons. First, most of the textbooks that the professors use are written in English, especially in the fields of math and sciences. Since English is a global language and is used by scholars around the world to write dissertations and scholarly papers, many science and math textbooks are written in English.

Second, the percentage of English classes compared to Korean classes affects the college rankings significantly. The Korean government wants Korean students to be able to communicate with scholars around the world and are also able to work globally.

To accomplish this, they encouraged ranking systems to factor in the percentage of English classes compared to the percentage of Korean classes. As a result, top universities offer many English classes, and some even offer all of their classes in English (e.g. KAIST).

You do not need to worry about the language barrier in your classes. Many Koreans speak English so you will be able to communicate with many locals. It might be difficult at first to do simple tasks such as buying groceries, but you will learn basic Korean quickly while staying in South Korea.

4. International Students Admitted in Both Spring and Fall Semesters

In Korea, the academic year starts in March and ends in January. Most Korean students will be admitted in the spring semester while few will be admitted in the fall semester.

For international students, however, there will be about the same number of students admitted in each semester because academic years of high schools in various countries end differently. So, you will have an equal chance of admission in either semester.

5. Numerous Scholarships Available for International Students

Since the Korean government wants international students to study in South Korea, it offers many government scholarships just for international students. There are several of these, but the biggest scholarship is the Korean Government Scholarship which offers tuition and a monthly stipend.

International students can also apply for numerous university-specific scholarships in Korea. Some of which can cover from partial tuition up to full funding.

FAQs: University Applications in South Korea

Can International Students Apply to a University in South Korea?

International students can apply and submit their applications through the International Track category.  Prospective applicants must provide academic records, recommendation letters, and proof of language proficiency exams needed in Korea.

To help you get started, we have listed the steps in preparing for the application process. We have also included a set of necessary documents that you need to submit to institutions in South Korea.

Check Also: Available Programs for International Students

What Are the Entry Requirements to Study in South Korea?

If you want to study in South Korea, you need to get accepted to one of the institutions in South Korea. After receiving the letter of acceptance, decide whether you want to attend the university or not, after confirmation, the academic committee in charge will handle the documents needed to process your student visa.

After receiving your student visa, your next step is to buy a plane ticket, look for accommodation, and settle in Korea. To ensure that you will obtain a degree in South Korea, you need to do well in class by passing all your courses every semester or term.


There you have it! We hope that this comprehensive guide on how to apply to Korean universities has helped you plan your applications ahead of time. Visit our Study in Korea page for more insightful articles regarding applications, deadlines, and tips! And if you are still unsure of what study program to take, check out our Available Programs for International Students!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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  1. Malika July 27, 2023 10:37 pm - Reply

    It was so helpful for me. For a long time i have been searching that kind of information but i wasn’t able to find. I got a lot of useful information. Kamsahabnida

    • Hyun Lee August 5, 2023 1:38 pm - Reply

      You are welcome! I’m glad that this article helped

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