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More university students opting to retake CSAT

With standards eased, many hope to change their educational path

Sept 19,2015
Mr. Kim, a freshman in the College of Education at Korea University, took time off after finishing his first semester and is once again studying for the college entrance exam at a private cram school.

The 19-year-old already paid a million won ($860) for university registration and another 3.5 million won for the first semester, but if possible, he’d like to transfer to another school.

“I applied for several universities in the early admissions season, and I was admitted here even though I didn’t mean to become a teacher,” Kim said. “I’ll take another college entrance exam to major in economics at Seoul National University, and I’ll come back if I fail.

“Many of my friends are doing the same thing,” he continued, “because the entrance exam has become increasingly easier in recent years. They’re not convinced by the results and they think they can get into better universities if they’re lucky.”

Since the standards for the College Scholastic Aptitude Test (CSAT) were eased, more college freshmen have quit or taken leaves of absence in their first year to retake the test, believing they missed getting into their first-choice school by a question or two.

According to data the Ministry of Education submitted to the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Rep. An Min-suk, 50,779 out of 294,855 college freshmen in 2014 - or 17.2 percent - took time off or dropped out of school in their first year.

Of 153 universities on the list, the situation was worst at Dankook University, with 1,116 of its 2,604 freshmen, or 42.8 percent, taking leave or quitting last year. Kangwon National University, Dong-a University, Yeungnam University, Keimyung University and Kyungpook National University also had more than 1,000 students leave or take time off.

“Some are taking time off for military service, but most applications for leave are because students want to retake the entrance exam,” said a local university official.

As a result, most universities are banning students from taking time off in their first year unless its for military or medical purposes. Seoul National University is an exception, though 447 freshmen still applied for leave in the 2014 spring semester, and 425 others in the fall.

“Many students at Seoul National University are leaving as an option and transferring to the College of Medicine or better departments,” said Lim Seong-ho, the president of the Jongno School of Haneul Education.

The trend has enormous social costs.

“Supposing a college dropout paid 3 million won for a semester, it adds up to about 500 billion won a year,” said Rep. An. “After paying for their children’s private education during high school, parents then have to pay university tuition fees, and then again for cram schools.”

The primary reason for the increase in student leave stems from the fact that the CSAT has become much easier in recent years. Last year, the mathematics exam for those planning to major in natural science or engineering was so easy that test takers had to receive a perfect score to stay in the top bracket, or top 4 percent; the ratio of test takers with perfect scores was the highest ever.

“The CSAT should be hard enough so that it can be determined who studied hard, but we’re often not convinced because we’re rejected from universities if we make a mistake or two in easy subjects,” said Lee, 20, who’s also taking time off to prepare for the next CSAT. “Most of us are taking the test again because we might get better scores this year if we are lucky.”

Another reason is that students aren’t seriously choosing their majors.

“I wanted to major in public administration or education and I soon lost interest in business administration,” said one student, surnamed Ahn, 21, who majored in business administration for a semester at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

Many students are registering to universities as a sort of insurance plan, going for another shot due to high youth unemployment.

“Because there are six early admissions seasons now, more students are registering with a university and then taking the CSAT again,” Lim said. “Because unemployment is more serious among humanities majors, average students majoring in the humanities are preparing for the CSAT to get into universities in Seoul or departments with relatively higher employment rates.”

Experts argue that the education system for teenaged students must be overhauled. “If these students go to universities that admit them, they often come to regret their choices later,” said Kim Jong-wu, operational committee chairman of the Korean Society for Career and Entrance Education. “Teenagers should be guided and encouraged to find their own individual aptitudes.”

BY KIM SUNG-TAK [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]


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