[Letters] Students having it both ways

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[Letters] Students having it both ways

Some Korean students are trying to kill two birds with one stone by applying to both Korean and American universities. When accepted, these students usually spend a semester in a Korean university, drop out and then fly to universities abroad for their undergraduate education. This phenomenon takes place mostly in departments of international studies at major universities in Korea. Although the practice has been around for years, many universities have effectively kept it under the carpet for fear of being labeled as institutions that provide unsatisfactory education.

This phenomenon came into being due to a combination of two factors: Korea’s changing admissions system and the different schedules for Korean and foreign universities. This was not a common scene a decade ago, when the most prevalent path into a Korean university was simply to take Korea’s College Scholastic Aptitude Test (CSAT).

With the increasing recognition of globalization, the path into Korean schools widened and diversified. One after another, universities began establishing divisions of international studies and devised a new American-style admissions system that allowed students with special language abilities and other specialties to get in without taking the CSAT.

The advent of a new college admissions system means Korea’s system is expected to become even more Americanized. Such changes have opened new doors for high school students hoping to attend American universities. They often excel in English and other extracurricular activities considered essential for globalized and well-rounded individuals that Korean universities are increasingly hoping to foster.

Along with such a shift of focus, different entrance schedules between Korean and American universities have also contributed to facilitating this phenomenon. Since U.S. schools start in September as opposed to March for Korean schools, students who are accepted to American universities have about a semester-long break during which they can attend Korean universities.

Although dropping out of one university to get into another is generally frowned upon, these students have their reasons. The biggest is the importance of the “old boy networks” in Korea. Getting a job in the United States, ideal as it sounds, can be difficult for non-mainstream Asians. Racial discrimination may still exist, and with the economic downturn, American companies are probably less inclined to hire foreigners with insecure social statuses.

This is why many Koreans who have finished their post-secondary education abroad, educated yet unemployed, often come back home for jobs. In that case, records that show their connection to prestigious domestic universities can be helpful in pursuing their future careers.

Although school authorities find the situation problematic, there doesn’t appear to be any clear solution to the issue. It may be difficult to legally punish students since they have freedom of choice. And universities may be hard pressed to discipline students who cite financial reasons to drop out of schools.

Regardless of what the two sides may feel, students will continue to spend time at schools on both sides of the pond. What matters now seems to be not whether we can kill two birds with one stone, but whether it is right to do so.

Sohn Seo-hee,

Ewha Girls’ Foreign Language High School student
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