Top Korean Universities
Deciding on which university to pursue your studies in Korea can be a bit daunting. With over 400 universities to choose from, it’s true that Korea has no shortage of institutions of higher learning. Thankfully, due to several domestic and international ranking systems (here used to build the methodology behind the following article), finding the right Korean university doesn’t necessarily have to be a challenge.
Several criteria were taken into account when narrowing down 10 universities from the initial 400 in this article, namely the school’s academic reputation (based on one domestic ranking, the Joongang Daily Newspaper and one international ranking system, the QS World University Rankings), as well as their English course offerings, general campus life, and other perks for exchange students. One exception was made for Pusan National University (PNU), which, while not scoring high on the two selected Korean ranking systems, still scored well on the QS domestic ranking system. Since nearly all of the featured universities are in Seoul, including PNU on the list gives readers the option of considering a school in a different city.
Socializing is a huge component of Korean university life. As such, the areas surrounding nearly all the universities on this list have many cafes, shops, restaurants, and drinking spots for students to pass time between classes. While the adjacent Sinchon and Hongdae student areas in western-central Seoul are particularly popular with students and other party-goers from around the city, the same basic amenities fill almost every college town in Korea: cheap takeout restaurants, romantic coffee shops for couples to flock to, bars serving up student-priced beer & fried chicken, and closet-sized boutiques with chic (yet affordable) fashions for the style-conscious student.
Nearly all of the schools on this list offer their own summer Korean language & culture program for foreign students, often lasting around a month. Usually consisting of guest lectures, field trips around Seoul, and various cultural activities, these programs are definitely worth attending prior to beginning a study abroad experience in Korea.
Seoul National University (SNU) 서울대학교
Seoul National University is Korea’s top university, being particularly strong in the fields of science, business, and politics. Many of this public university’s top graduates now dominate Korea’s courtrooms and top company offices. SNU is one of Korea’s larger universities, with over 27,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. SNU is also known for its scientific research, with several of its faculty having made world-renowned discoveries in the fields of Biology and Astronomy. For example, three of SNU’s Astronomy Department professors recently discovered a cluster of galaxies which other scientists believe is critical to revealing the early history of the universe. As well, the Biology Department’s Professor Narry Kim’s major discoveries in the human genome field have led her to win the UNESCO Women in Science Award (2008), among other honors. Many students like that while SNU is located in a big city, the campus itself is surrounded by nature, particularly the famous Gwanak Mountain.
Seoul National University Contact Info
Ms. Sunju Park: Partnership and Exchange Manager
Yonsei University (Yeon Dae) 연세대학교
Yonsei is Korea’s oldest private university. It currently holds a long-lived rivalry for the top private school in the country against Korea University. Yonsei also has over 600 partner schools around the world, offering affordable exchange options for students who want to experience Korean university life on a semester or year-long basis. Like SNU, Yonsei has received a lot of attention for its campus’s natural beauty; in its recent “Eye on South Korea” program, CNN recently described Yonsei as having “one of the most beautiful campuses in the world”.
Yonsei University Contact Info
Yang, Nai Gab: International Scholar and Student Services Team Leader
Korea University (KU) 고려대학교
Korea University is known for being an extremely selective university, accepting only around 6% of applicants into its prestigious programs. It’s also well-known for its Law school, which has produced some high-profile graduates. KU is famous for its historic rivalry with Yonsei, and each year the two schools host a series of “Friendship Games”, which feature competitions in basketball, ice hockey, soccer, and several other sports. KU also has a large international student population, hosting over 8,300 students from around the world.
Korea University Contact Info
Korea University Study Abroad
Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) 포항공과대학교
POSTECH is generally viewed as Korea’s top technical university, and its rivalry with KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) is similar to Yonsei and KU’s. POSTECH now offers all of its courses in English, making it an attractive option for foreign students. While the city of Pohang is by no means small by most standards (having a population of around 500,000), those wanting a more cosmopolitan study abroad experience would probably be better off at a school in Seoul. Otherwise, Pohang’s location near many beaches and cultural sites offer a slightly less-crowded experience, while still boasting the same basic student amenities found on nearly every street in Seoul (ie: cheap alcohol and lots of delivery fried chicken).
Fun fact: Each year, POSTECH and KAIST hold a “Science War”, which pits students against each other in the areas of artificial intelligence design, computer hacking, and yes, even Starcraft.
POSTECH Contact Info
POSTECH International Office
Ewha Womans University (E-Dae) 이화여자대학교
Ewha Women’s University is Korea’s top women’s university. However, male students from foreign partner universities are permitted to study here. Ewha (commonly referred to as “Edae”), offers many activities and clubs for that exchange students are encouraged to join. However, some might say a less popular feature of Ewha’s campus life is their dorm’s strict curfew of 11:00pm. So, for those looking to have more of a party lifestyle during their Korean university experience, Ewha may not be the best choice.
Ewha Contact Info
Esther Han: Inbound Student Exchange Program Coordinator
Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) 성균관 대학교
Sungkyunkwan (also known as “Seongdae” and commonly abbreviated at “SKKU”), is one of Korea’s oldest schools. With its humanities & social science campus located in Hyewha, in Seoul’s central Jongno district, and its natural sciences campus located in Suwon (a city just outside of Seoul), Sungkyunkwan has come a long way since its days in the 14th century, when it first operated as a school for Confucian thought. Nowadays, SKKU is growing in its reputation as a top school, especially since its recent sponsorship by Samsung.
SKKU Contact Info
Kyuseok (Mick) Kim, Exchange Program Manager: Inbound
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) 한국과학기술연구원
One of Korea’s leading universities, like POSTECH, KAIST is known for its strength in the technical academic areas. KAIST is also recognized around the world for its strengths in scientific research. Also like POSTECH, KAIST’s main campus is located outside of Seoul, in Daejeon, a city in central Korea. Its campuses in Daejeon are located in Daedeok “Science Town”, an area filled with private and public research institutes and three other universities. Most students like to get around by bicycle. Several mountains are also nearby the Daejeon campuses, giving students the option of getting some quality fresh air once they’re finished in the lab.
Mr. Yoon S. Kim, Team Leader: Office of Advising and Support International Students
Pusan National University (PNU) 부산대학교
Pusan National University is one of Korea’s top universities located outside of Seoul. Located in the nation’s biggest port city, PNU has special programs in shipbuilding and construction. Also notable is its Global Studies program, which provides a variety of English language courses, ranging from “Applied Quantitative Economics” to “Human Rights and Overseas Development Aid”. For those looking for a big city experience, and are willing to look outside of Seoul to find it, Busan is a much sunnier alternative and still offers many of the same entertainment options. Especially notable is the annual Busan International Film Festival. Held every fall, BIFF attracts some of Korea’s biggest stars.
Office of International Affairs
Hanyang University 한양대학교
With over 100 exchange partner universities, Hanyang is trying to increase its profile as a global university. Several scholarships are available for international students, with benefits ranging from 50% to 100% of the tuition being waved. Hanyang has also produced several notable figures in Korea’s entertainment and business industries, with many of LG and Samsung’s Vice-Chairmen having been graduates of this university.
Mr. Boykyung Kim
Sogang University 서강대학교
Sogang is a Catholic University located in the Mapo area of Seoul. It’s known mainly for its programs in the fields of Business and Economics. Sogang also runs an internship program for business students, placing them in positions at some of Korea’s top companies, including Samsung, LG, and Hyundai. A 1,700USD scholarship for travel or living expenses is also available for students who take at least one Business and Economics course during their studies. Third and fourth-year foreign undergraduate students may also take classes at Sogang’s Graduate School of International Studies, as long as they gain permission from the instructor beforehand.
Office of International Affairs
Gabrielle interned as a Content Creator for Work'n'Play during her exchange trip to Chung-Ang University in 2012-2013. She graduated from Vancouver Island University in May 2014 with her BA in Global Studies. She is now a Master's student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, Canada. The things she misses most about her year in Korea are: going for makgeolli + jeon with friends, exploring Seoul's new and old hidden treasures and getting to practice Korean every day. You can connect with her on Twitter at @MsGabrielle or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.