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Education abroad is still the most sought after

Feb 09,2013

Reflecting the rising demand for competitive degree programs in the globalizing world and a more diverse college experience, more and more Korean students choose overseas options for college education.

Some 164,169 high schoolers went abroad in 2011, a 30 percent increase compared to 2006, according to a data by the Korean Educational Development Institute, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the National Institute for International Education, and the Bank of Korea.

With Korean students making up a greater share of applicants to foreign universities, admissions standards have gotten stringent as well.

The change is certainly reflected in the greater emphasis put on GPA, SAT scores AP classes and extracurricular activities as well as foreign languages not including Korean and English.

Despite the significant roles the SAT, AP and GPA play in college admissions in the United States, currently Korean schools lack up-to-date information.

“Throughout high school, I took 12 AP courses and the university [only] qualified 10 out of 12 [to count toward the degree],” said Woo Jong-yu, a student at Daewon Foreign Language High School who was recently admitted to Johns Hopkins University. “I studied at private academies to pass the exams. It was a good way to impress the colleges. But some of my friends took more [AP classes] than me.”

As if the process wasn’t competitive enough, other skill sets or extracurricular activities are also taken into consideration.


Being fluent in foreign languages is a great boost in the admissions process. Some middle school students have already begun preparations by taking up second foreign languages in school.

“Being fluent in Spanish or other languages is helpful in getting admitted to prestigious universities like Yale,” said Lee Seong-bum, a 7th grader currently studying Spanish.

Some extracurricular activities like cooking, in addition to being helpful in admissions, can lead to unique college options like the so-called further education or continuing education. Westminster Kingsway College in London offers renowned culinary courses. It can offer great vocational training opportunities for students who desire a more practical education.

“I foresee that the world is only going to get smaller. I mean, just look at the global sensation rapper Psy!” said Kim Ji-hoon, a 10th grade student at Cheongshim International Academy.

Kim said that studying abroad is much more future oriented as it will enable him to understand other nations better in the context of a globalizing world.

To attract students looking to get a more international education, some colleges in Korea have created departments emulating foreign universities, dubbed the Division of International Studies (DIS).

“Adroit language skills, especially English, naturally lead to broader opportunities and a variety of career options,” said Kim Mun-ja, an official at the DIS of Hanyang University. “This certainly is a merit for the students, and I think students prefer the DIS and going abroad to study because of this benefit.”

But setbacks do exist. The cost involved is a substantial financial burden for parents.

Yoon Jeong-hwa, the mother of a child who wants to attend a university in New York, said she’s been saving up to prepare for the responsibility. “Even though my husband and I both work, the costs are a heavy burden. On average, my husband and I would have to send $50,000 to my child annually,” she said.



By Min Yoo-jeong, Kwon Hyuk-bin [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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