Often referred to as an “educational powerhouse,” Korea places a distinct value on education linked to early recognition of its importance in economic mobility and development throughout Korea’s history, and particularly its history since the Korean War in the early 1950s. As with the rest of the country, Korea’s higher education system has seen rapid growth since the end of the Korean War. Today, Korea boasts over 400 higher education institutions, primarily categorized as junior/community colleges (2-3 years), universities (4 years), and graduate schools.
A high percentage of Korean professors have earned PhDs from U.S. institutions, with over half of all professors on a nationwide basis, and an even higher percentage of professors at top universities, holding U.S. degrees. Relatedly, course offerings in English have also increased, with around 30% of courses at Korean colleges and universities now taught in English. Some colleges and universities may also include departments or programs in which all courses are taught in English. In keeping with globalization and Korea’s current status as an advanced economy, such programs have ambitious international goals. (For more information on higher education in Korea, visit the Korean Ministry of Education's Study in Korea website.)
According to the 2021 Open Doors report, published by the Institute for International Education (IIE), during the 2019-2020 academic year, South Korea ranked 17th among the top 25 destinations of U.S. study abroad students. The U.S. also remains a popular study abroad destination of Korean students, with Korea consistently ranking as the third-largest origin of international students after China and India (a fact particularly significant considering the difference in population size between Korea and these two countries). Thus, the Korean higher education system is uniquely placed to influence the future of international education, while fostering educational and cultural exchange between the United States and Korea. This emphasis on strong academics is matched by a strong interest in research and development (R&D) as, per the OECD, Korea has one of the world’s highest levels of R&D expenditure.
More generally, with the spread in popularity of Korean culture, language, and arts worldwide, popularly known as the “Hallyu Wave,” South Korea has taken its place on the world stage as a major influencer of global culture and trends. The vibrancy of Korea’s growing music and film scenes, reflected in the worldwide fame of BTS, Parasite, and Squid Game, are equally matched by a vibrancy and uniqueness of history extending back to the mythical foundation of Korea with the Gojoseon Dynasty in 2333 BC. South Korea boasts 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including monasteries, temples, and tombs; palaces, villages, and fortress complexes. The cultural atmosphere of these sites is reflected in the traditions of dress, dwelling, and daily living still seen in the gracefulness of Hanbok and Hanok, tasted in the savoriness of Kimchi and Korean barbeque, and heard in the strains of Pansori and Samul Nori.
General Information about the Korean Academic Year
The academic year for higher education institutions in Korea officially starts from March 1 with the opening of the spring semester. The spring semester closes with a final exam period in mid- to late June.
Summer break is approximately two months long, with the fall semester starting the end of August or beginning of September. The fall semester closes with a final exam period in mid-December.
The largest holidays in Korea are Chuseok (fall harvest) and Seollal (lunar new year). The dates of both holidays vary from year to year according to the lunar calendar, with Chuseok falling in September/October and Seollal falling in January/February. Most institutions in Korea go on a short break (typically a five-day weekend) in observance of these holidays.