Entering university in Korea

Most of you have probably already heard of the competition associated with entering a “good” university in Korea. But do you know how it really works? I used to think that hopeful highschool graduates had to sit a test and that was it, but it’s actually quite a process.

Korean universities have rolling acceptance from about October until January/February depending on how much you have to “endure” to get accepted.

The whole process is known as 수학능력시험, but in daily speech it is just called 수능, named after one part of the evaluation.

Fun fact: 수학 ~ mathematics so when my language partner was little she thought the exam was a test in purely mathematics.

So, here are the three stages:

1. Stage: 수시
This is the “early selection” based on yearly/term grades from highschool (known as 내신), the essay (논술) that all universities require and other qualifications such as language certificates depending on what university you apply for.
Each university has very different sets of requirements for the essay as well as which courses and grades the applicant should have in the 내신 so students have to figure out pretty early which university they want to apply for when they graduate so they can strategise in order to do as well as they possibly can while they are in highschool.
This stage is really competitive and very few are accepted at this point. The students who have not been accepted have to sit the 수능 and they have to sit one more 수시 after the 수능.

2. Stage: 수능
This is “the” entrance exam that makes the entire country hold its breath and the event which is sometimes covered by international media as well. It is held the second Thursday in November.
Airplanes are grounded to keep the noise down so students doing language tests are not disturbed!
This exam is super important for the future of students. Every year some students are running a bit late for one reason or another so seeing a police officer giving a distressed student a ride on the back of a motorcycle, zig-zagging in and out of traffic, to get them to the exam on time is not uncommon.
In order to sit the exam you have to bring a slip with your name and candidate number. On the day of the 수능 many shops give discounts to those who show their exam slips so some of the people who have actually already been accepted to university through 수시 and therefore don’t even have to take the test still choose to sit the 수능 to get the discounts afterwards.

3. Stage: 정시
This is the last chance who didn’t make the cut in the first two stages…

What if you want to change direction once you have been accepted into a degree?
This is possible, but then you have to sit the 수능 again… Yep, there is no short-cut just because you have already proven yourself worthy one time.


2 thoughts on “Entering university in Korea

  1. alodia

    Wow! WOW! I know it’s something big and important, but I never tried researching the entire process and asking my friends. I didn’t know that the process is this much! I was already amazed with it with the little knowledge I know of it and now… hahaha

    1. koreanlearner Post author

      That *is* pretty fierce! I had no clue either until my language partner told me during our education topic. It’s a very fascinating system, but I’m happy I didn’t have to go through it myself…


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