Being an International Exchange Coordinator at a private high school in Japan, I had a number of students ask for advice about studying abroad.
Choosing to go abroad in the first place is hard enough, but choosing a university in a foreign country is even more difficult. The “best” universities are easy to find – people love ranking things. Unfortunately, “best” doesn’t necessarily make a good match for every person.
I personally am happy with the choices I made, but if I were a different person and doing it again, there are some things I would do differently.
1. Be realistic about your chances
Not everyone can go to SKY. (Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University) Or POSTECH and KAIST. That’s just the way it is. If you are not really confident look at other schools too.
2. Start with the lists of people accepted in past years
The NIIED information includes each university and the available majors, but not much else. It’s a fine place to start, but there are just so many choices!
In the same place where you got the NIIED scholarship information, you should be able to download at least the most recent list of scholarship grantees. Use the search function in your pdf reader and look for people planning to study in your major. Not only can you find the schools they chose, but you can find the schools that chose them. This second part is actually really important, as I will explain later.
3. Use the wealth of info on the internet
Once you’ve got a list of schools you might be interested in start researching them. Look at rankings to find out approximately how competitive they’ll be. Then look at the universities’ websites.
Along with being realistic about your chances regarding your academic history, you need to be realistic about your abilities linguistically. Do you speak Korean already? How well? Do you have experience with Asian languages? How much Korean do you think you’ll be comfortable using after one year of language study?
One thing you should look for on the university website is the language of instruction. This is Korea, so Korean is the default and English is the exception. Still, there will be programs that are all in English (especially GSIS, or Graduate School of International Studies, programs if that is what you are interested in), and some programs will use a combination of both. If it’s not clear on the website then contact them.
The KGSP scholarship provides for one year of intensive Korean study here in Korea, which gives many people the impression that they can apply for any of the programs listed in the NIIED documents, and learn enough Korean to be successful, but if you come to Korea not knowing any Korean and apply for an all Korean program it will be challenging to say the least. Other KGSP scholars already on the program have attested to this. An important part of graduate programs is making connections, getting good advisors and internships, etc, so if you are constantly struggling just to keep up with the day to day, this will be harder. This is not to say you shouldn’t try, just know what you are getting into, and think about it carefully.
That said, there are also programs that will not admit foreigners (or at least foreigners who don’t speak Korean already prior to applying for the scholarship). If you are applying to a program that is not obviously in English you should check to make sure they will even consider your application. Unfortunately, there have been people who have essentially thrown away a choice on a school that never even considered their other qualifications. (If you have started with programs that past KGSP scholars were accepted to, then you can be reasonably sure that they admit foreigners, but ask if you’re unsure.)
Going back to my previous post about starting early, it is best to contact the universities in between their application periods. Once applications start coming in, and other people start contacting them about urgent matters, they will get slower at responding.
Another thing to look at is class descriptions and professors. Some people may think this is just common sense, but I find people who haven’t really thought about it. Are there 48 credits of classses (or however many are necessary) that you want to take in your department? What about the professors’ research interests? Do they match yours enough that you’d want them to advise you?
Armed with all of this information, and other things like location, size, campus environment, etc, and you should be able to narrow things down significantly.
See what I mean about starting early?
More next time about whether to apply through one of the universities or through the embassy. 🙂