Career prospects with a degree from Korean universities

Since I will become a senior in the coming fall semester, I guess this is one question I have become more informed about compared to my time as an innocent freshman. I do get quite some questions about this too, so I hope this post can help you a bit more in making your decision to come study in a Korean university.

Some basics you need to know about working in Korea before we start:

Local Korean companies vs Multi-National companies
For local Korean companies, they would definitely require Korean proficiency. And when I say Korean proficiency, it is not 반말 (the form of informal Korean you use with your friends), but formal, business Korean. So if your aim is to work in Korea, in a local company, you definitely have to be able to speak Korean well.
*Note: Korean multinationals like Samsung or LG are not really in this category

The number of multinational companies that choose to locate in Seoul has been increasing over the years, and Korean multinationals such as Samsung are becoming well-known brands worldwide. In this globalizing context, such companies have two tracks of employment. One would be the local track where they are looking for Koreans to work in local branches and contact with local clients, and the international track where they are looking to send employees overseas or back to their home countries, or deal with international clients. For the local track, it is the same as Korean companies – Korean proficiency is needed. Korean proficiency is not always needed for global track.

However the international track is becoming more and more competitive due to its better employee benefits and the opportunities for overseas posting. Also, working in the more global departments in multinationals gives one a higher chance of escaping from the strict hierarchy in local Korean companies, so many overseas Koreans are very interested and definitely well-qualified for this track as well. They are effectively bilingual in English and Korean, so they have an advantage over other applicants who only speak one language. So I cannot begin to stress the importance of Korean proficiency if you intend to work in Korea. Korean proficiency would also be an added bonus if you want to work in Korean multinationals as well, even if your aim is to be posted back to your home country.

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Korean Proficiency – why TOPIK Level 3 is not enough

So, I’ve decided to address this issue of Korean proficiency after getting many questions over these years.

First of all, to make a differentiation, most universities in Korea have various tracks for admissions. For instance, Yonsei University has an admission directly for Underwood International College (its all-English undergraduate programme), and another regular admission for the other colleges. So in this case, for admissions to UIC, you would not need Korean proficiency.

However, for the regular admission, you would definitely need Korean proficiency. Even if some of the classes offered in say, the College of Business is conducted in English, during admission to the College of Business itself, you need to have Korean proficiency. Even if you are planning to choose only English classes (if they even offer enough classes conducted in English that you are able to complete the number of credits to graduate, which is usually quite unlikely), you would still need Korean proficiency.

Of course, there are some universities that state that for some majors, Korean proficiency is not required. Most of the time, it would be probably the English majors, or some universities that have some global business programmes or international studies/global studies programme. If so, then good (or bad, depending on how much you want to learn Korean) for you (:

However, there are some universities that accept students conditionally. So for instance, the Korean proficiency requirement is actually TOPIK Level 4, but you only obtained Level 3. Since your Korean proficiency is below that of the requirement, technically you don’t fulfill the admissions requirement. However, some universities still accept you for admission, and have you take part-time Korean language classes as you simultaneously take your other major classes for the semester.

While it sounds like a good plan for the students who really want to enter the university, I personally do not agree with such policies. Neither do I think that universities that only require TOPIK Level 3 for majors that are conducted in Korean are fully aware of the consequences on the students. I say this on a personal level, based on my own experience and the experiences of people around me, and so I hope to share our stories so to help all of you hoping to come to Korea for your studies make a more informed decision.

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Application

Since speaking from experience is most accurate, most of this post would be based on my application to Yonsei University Underwood International College.

Based on experience (of my own), the application deadline for Fall Semester is late March to mid April. Except the Yonsei University Wonju campus that had a 8th March deadline. For us Singaporeans it means that we have about 1 month in general to apply for the university after the release of A Level results (usually on the first Friday of March).

Common documents required:

1. Application form with passport size photo attached

This is where you fill in your name, age, etc.

2. Results Slip

It can be your GCE A Level, IB, SAT I, SAT II, etc results, an exam that you have taken as a major exam at the end of 12 years of schooling. Some may require your GCE O Level/IP results as well.

3. High School (Junior College equivalent) and/or Middle School (Secondary School equivalent) transcript

In the Singaporean context, JC transcript would be your Prelim transcript. Secondary School transcript would be the O Level cert or IP Results Slip (remember to also submit the explanatory letter about IP issued by MOE as well!) Some may require you to submit your testimonial too!

4. Teacher’s Recommendation (1 or 2 depending on the school’s requirements)

Most universities would have a form for you to get your teacher to fill in. The teacher is expected to seal up the letter in an envelope and it is best if he/she signs on the flap to ensure that it has not been opened. If the confidentiality of the letter is compromised, the letter may be considered invalid. So even if you’re dying of curiosity to know what your teacher think of you, please refrain from opening the envelope and reading it! Universities would encourage the teachers to send out the letter once they’re done with it but as a student, you should either provide your teacher with the stamp or mail it out yourself. You owe your teachers a lot for their guidance, and now they’re helping you write recommendations, so it’s only right that you mail it out for them. Some schools may have their own set of protocols, so please also check with your school if you’re unsure. Also remember that your teachers are also busy with their own stuff and teaching your juniors, so please don’t expect them to be able to complete in a day! Give them about 2 weeks to complete it, if your teacher completes it beforehand I’m sure he/she will not hesitate to pass it to you or whatever your school protocol is ^^

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