What if I don’t live in my home country?

This was my biggest concern when I applied.

The official KGSP information includes a handy dandy FAQ… which either didn’t address, or didn’t fully answer most of the questions I had. Useful right? (To be fair it probably will clear up a lot of your questions, but may leave you with others.)

So there is one question in it that does address people who do not live in their home country.

16. I am Japanese but I am working in Vietnam. May I apply for the program through the Korean Embassy in Vietnam?

Perfect. I am American but I was working in Japan, so what do they say?

Sorry, but you can’t. You should apply for the program through the Korean Embassy in Japan. In addition, the Korean diplomatic missions of the countries where scholarships are not available are not empowered for selection of the candidates of the program.

That’s pretty good, and it is certainly the correct answer.

If you live in a country that is not your home country then you have two choices. You can apply through a designated university, or you can apply through the embassy in your home country. (So, basically the same two choices as everyone else…)

The basic assumption of the universities is that you aren’t in Korea (and all the better if you are in Korea), so beyond that the universities don’t care where you are. No matter what your country is or where you are in the world, you can apply through a designated university. (That is assuming your country has a “university quota” and you should check this.)

Regarding the embassy application, however, you should probably confirm with your embassy that it will be okay. Most things shouldn’t be a problem, but my concern was interviews.

I had found a lot of different experiences from past applicants about interviews. Some said they got called by the embassy. Some said they were never interviewed. Yet other people said they were forced to travel halfway across their country to go to an interview in person. This last one was the thing that worried me. If my country absolutely required an in person interview (and usually with very little notice) then that was not going to be possible.

This was when I called the Korean Embassy in Washington, DC. They said they couldn’t answer my question because I don’t live in Maryland, Virginia, or any other state in their jurisdiction. (For any country other than the USA you don’t have to worry about this issue. The embassy is the only place in your country that you can apply.)

So, I called the Korean Consulate in New York City (because my parents live there, and I have a New York driver’s license). They weren’t exactly sure what to do with someone living abroad (and told me to call NIIED), but by that time I had decided that if the Atlanta consulate was in charge of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, then an in person interview was probably not going to be an issue for USA candidates.

I ended up applying through the consulate in New York (if you are from the US and living abroad, go with whatever state your parents live in as your local residence, or if you have any other way to establish residence in the US). I also sent a copy of my New York license to show that I did in fact have a reason to be applying there. Overall, New York was pretty laid back. DC was less friendly…

But again, if you are from a country other than the USA  and are living abroad, you should check with the Korean Embassy in your own country yourself. There are embassies that have more strict policies regarding who can apply, and there is at least a possibility that they would require you to come for an interview in person. In this case, you would probably be forced to apply through a designated university if your country has a university quota.

NIIED cannot keep track of each country’s policies so I guess their answer in the FAQ is as complete as it can be. (Which brings up another important issue. Regarding application issues, you should contact a first selection institution (embassy or university) because NIIED will not answer most of those questions.)


背比べ (seikurabe) means to “compare heights” in Japanese. Every kid likes to check how much they’ve grown, or if they are taller than their friend. Even as adults, how many times have you stood back to back with someone to see who is taller.

As human beings, I think we have a natural tendency to compare and compete.

This is especially true when it comes to applying for school. It is natural for people to be curious about the profiles of other people who are applying, or people who have been accepted in the past. I have had several people ask me privately about my own profile (mostly people who wanted some explanation as to why they were not accepted and I was), and have seen many people posing general questions to the various groups and websites dedicated to the KGSP scholarship.

I do believe that such information is not without value (notice the double negative). Knowing approximately where you might rank can help you decide which universities might be good matches. In the United States there is extensive information about standardized test scores and university admissions. In Japan, they have mock exams that can tell you approximately what your chances will be of getting in to any given university. But with this scholarship there is very little information about successful candidates, or what kind of international students have gained acceptance to Korean universities.

I understand the urge to try to gather this data. Believe me. While I never actually asked the question, I certainly looked at the answers to other people who did.

But, I would warn against placing too much importance on whatever information you receive.

First of all, asking for a person’s GPA is a little like asking about their salary. Most people are reluctant to talk about it. Those that are willing to tell you are probably either really proud/confident about their stats, or were validated through success despite having little confidence in their stats (“My GPA was only 80% but I made it, so you can too”). You are likely to come away with a totally crushed spirit, or an inflated sense of confidence.

The reality is so much more complicated, which leads me to my next point.

Numbers can only tell you so much.

If you ask someone about their profile in a situation like this, they will probably tell you their GPA, their TOEFL or TOPIK score, maybe their class ranking, etc. They will tell you about the things they can express easily – the numbers. They probably will not tell you about all of the other important information that makes them unique, and got them accepted.

They probably won’t give you a context for understanding their GPA. For example, what university was it? How rigorous was the coursework? How many class hours did they complete? What is the grading system like at their university?

They might not tell you what their major was, or what department they applied for. Some departments are more competitive than others, and you really need to compare with people from your own department if you are going to compare at all. It also makes a difference whether your university major was related to what you want to study in graduate school.

They won’t tell you about all of their work experience or volunteer experience or talents. They may have less than stellar numbers, but practical life experience that gives them an edge.

They won’t show you their application essays and how well they express themselves and sell themselves to the admissions committee.

The list goes on and on…

For a real world example, there was one person who messaged me privately with this question. This person was asking because I was accepted at K University’s GSIS and they were not (the majors were different, but similar). As it turned out, their GPA was higher (by 0.07) with other similar numbers, but somehow I made it and they didn’t. You just never know.

So my personal advice to you is…

  • Sit back and be realistic about your own numbers. You probably know in your heart whether they are outstanding or just okay. And just for some perspective, remember 80% is the minimum cutoff for the scholarship. The closer you are to 80, the greater the chance that other people will be stronger than you, and the less likely it is that you will be accepted at one of the top Korean universities. But don’t just give up…
  • Try to figure out the best way to present your numbers. If your GPA looks low, does your ranking look better? Can you put focus on how advanced your coursework was? Try asking the professor writing your recommendation to help put some perspective on the numbers.
  • Really put a lot of focus on the things that aren’t numbers. Perfect your essays. Have other people check them for grammar and clarity (if you can find a native speaker, do it). Think long and hard about what you want to tell them, and what will make you stand out. Think about how to present work and volunteer experiences to strengthen your profile. If you still have time before your application is due, try to find things you can do to add experience. If your numbers are weak then these extra things can bring you ahead. If your numbers are strong, then you are probably also aiming high, so you still need to think about all of these plus alphas that will bring you up and above all those people who also have strong numbers.

And for the record, I am going to practice what I preach and not tell you what my numbers were. I’ll just say that despite all of the worrying I did because that’s who I am, deep down I was confident about getting the scholarship and getting in to the universities I applied to.

KGSP Application ~ Required Documents (Part Two)

There is a word in Japanese 職業病 (shokugyoubyou). Shokugyou means “profession/occupation” and byou means disease. Originally it is a disease or affliction that people in certain professions are particularly susceptible to. These days, however, it is commonly used to refer to quirks or habits acquired due to one’s profession that overflow into private life and may seem odd to people outside of that profession. For example, soldiers walking in line and in step when going home drunk from a night on the town.

In my case, I used to be a coordinator for international exchange programs, so now, even when I’ve switched to the student side, I see things from the coordinator’s perspective, and feel the need to explain and be helpful. I’m sure I can be rather wordy, but hopefully some people will find it helpful.

So without further ado… here are the remaining documents you will need for your application. See my previous post for information on the forms that are included with the application. The following are additional documents that you will have to prepare on your own.

But first a general note about notarization. For the following documents, there will be ones that you need to have officially notarized. In the application information it says “confirmation of collation should be indicated in the photocopied documents.” I, personally, had never heard “collation” used in this particular way, but maybe that’s just me. In any case, it means that if there are documents you cannot send an original of (like your diploma or passport), you should have the photocopy notarized. You will also need notarization for translations of documents not in English or Korean. It is best to get an official Apostille (or the equivalent). An Apostille is the international form of notary, but it will only be available in countries that have joined the Hague Convention of 1961. You can find information about Apostilles at the official site for Apostille along with the list of contracting states. If your country is NOT a member of the convention, then I would try to contact the Korean Embassy in your country. Sometimes they can authenticate your documents, and if they can’t they can probably tell you where else to go. Before getting an Apostille or Embassy authentication, you may need to get your document notarized locally, according to the laws of your country. Please check about this process, and the process for Apostille/Authentication in your own country.

7. Diploma or Certificate of Graduation from Undergraduate Institution
If you will have already graduated by the application deadline then you should send an official copy of your diploma. DO NOT send your actual diploma unless you are specifically requested to by your embassy, and they have specifically stated that they will return it. The general guidelines do state that no documents will be returned, and you do not want to give away the one and only original copy of your diploma. There are two possible solutions. The first is to get an official copy of your diploma from your university. Many will provide a substitute document for this purpose. The other is to have a photocopy officially notarized (see above). Make sure that you submit a “certificate” form of proof. For a variety of reasons, I originally submitted a letter from my university stating when I had graduated, but was told to resubmit a “certificate.” However, if you have not graduated yet (but will do so before August 31 of your applying year) then you may submit a letter from your university that states your expected date of graduation. If any of these documents are not available in English or Korean, you will need a translation. (Despite going to a university in the USA, my diploma was in Latin (“old school” you could say) and I did include a translation.)

8. Official Transcripts and Student Records from Undergraduate Institution
If you are a current student, request a transcript after the last term to finish before the deadline. For example, if you have grades that will be available in February then wait for those. My university gave me my transcripts in a sealed envelope, with a signature (or stamp) across the seal. I did not open the envelope, and submitted it just like that. They seem to be quite concerned with tampering and faked credentials, so anything you can do to alleviate these fears will help. In my case, transcripts were free so I just asked for four copies (one for each set of documents you are asked to submit), but you can also include just one with the original set of documents and ask the embassy/university to copy that part for you. As mentioned in my previous post, if your university does not grade on a 4.0-5.0 scale, then you should also have your transcript officially converted. If your university provides this service, that is probably easiest, but if not you should ask around for suitable services. (I’m sorry, this is not something I dealt with, but if I learn anything I will update you.) You should also ask for an English version of your transcript, or have it translated.

9. Diploma or Certificate of Graduation from Graduate Institution
This is only for people who are applying for a PhD, or perhaps if you have received a Master’s degree in another subject and are applying for a second Master’s. The instructions are the same as for the undergraduate degree above. (And note, if you are applying for a PhD then you will need to submit both undergraduate and graduate documents.)

10. Official Transcripts and Student Record from Graduate Institution
Again, just for PhD/additional Master’s candidates.

11. Certificate of Korean Language Proficiency (original copy of TOPIK), if applicable
Like the diploma, do not send the score certificate you received in the mail. You can request official copies from the organization that administers the TOPIK in your country.

12. Certificate of TOEFL or IELTS (original copy), if applicable
I have no experience of these exams, so I am not sure what is available. When possible order an official report to send with your application.

13. Published papers, if applicable
If you listed papers in your personal information, then include copies.

14. Awards, if applicable
If you listed awards in your personal information, then include copies. For me, I did not have award certificates from my awards, only the program from the award ceremony. I just included copies of those, and didn’t actually bother to have them notarized. I figured the awards were just a “plus alpha” and if they trusted that then great, and if not then hopefully the rest of my application would speak for itself. Of course, the more official you can be, the better.

15. Copy of Passport
I personally didn’t have this notarized either, but if you are getting notarizations for other things, then definitely do it. (And even if you aren’t. I took a chance that worked out, but it’s better not to risk it.)

16. Certificate of Citizenship for applicant and parents
I also included a copy of my birth certificate, and copies of my parents’ passports. They want to make sure that you cannot claim Korean citizenship because Korean citizens are not eligible for the scholarship. Anything that shows your parents citizenship (birth certificate/national ID card/passport/etc) will do. Your birth certificate will show that your parents are your parents. If one or both of your parents were Korean citizens you may need to show proof of expatriation (proof they gave up Korean citizenship).

17. Adoption documents
This is for Korean adoptees only. (Although I suppose if you were an adoptee from elsewhere, you might want to show proof that your parents are legally your parents as part of the above proof of citizenship.)

** Possible Additional Documents **

There may be other things you need to submit depending on your particular situation.

1. Study abroad related
As mentioned in my previous post, the current KGSP guidelines state that people who have studied in Korea on a D-2 visa previously are ineligible for the scholarship. (This seems to exclude people who did language study on a D-4 or tourist visa.) But, there is the exception for situations where such study abroad was a requirement of their degree at their home university. If this exception applies to you, then I would include proof of this from your university.

2. Additional University specific documents
You should read the KGSP application instructions carefully for the universities that you choose. Some may require additional documents, such as an additional recommendation or the online application. If you are applying through a designated university, you should include these documents with your original application. If you are applying through a Korean embassy, then you may be requested by the university to send these documents later (after NIIED has selected you and sent your application to the three universities). At this point, there will not be much time to prepare these documents, so you should prepare them ahead of time. The only university I have noticed that does this is Yonsei (online application and 1 additional recommendation), but read the university information carefully to make sure whether it applies to you or not.

I have not noted it everywhere, but remember to have everything translated into either Korean or English if they are in another language, and have the translations notarized.

You will need to send one set of original documents (or original notarized documents), and three sets of photocopied documents. This is true whether you apply through a university or an embassy.

Make sure you send your application with a tracking number so that you can confirm it has arrived. And make sure that you send it with plenty of time to arrive before the deadline. It is a good idea to research ahead of time how long mail will take to your first selection institution. The deadline is the deadline for arrival, not for sending (as is often the case with universities in the US).

And good luck with your application!

KGSP Application ~ Required Documents

**UPDATE** This blog post is from 2014. While much of the advice may still be valid, NIIED has changed some of the guidelines and requirements. For 2017 updates see this new blog post. And always be sure to read each year’s new guidelines thoroughly before preparing your application.

Okay, so in the 2014 facebook group for KGSP, a lot of people have asked about the required documents for the application.

(I say “a lot,” but it is probably less than 10. It just seems like more when they all ask the same question.)

First of all, you can find past and current year application information at the Study In Korea website. They publish the new graduate info at the beginning of February each year (and undergraduate at the beginning of September – be careful not to confuse the two). If they haven’t released the information for the year in which you plan to apply, then you can look back at previous years. The basic process has not changed all that much.

In the graduate program guidelines you will find a handy checklist of all of the documents that you will need to submit, so I really could just stop here, but I will try to add a few pointers regarding each one.


1. Personal Data (Attachment #1)
You will find this in the same file, right after the checklist. There is one set of forms for University applicants, and one set for Embassy applicants. The majority is the same, but some parts are different (for example the Embassy application has space to write your three chosen universities, but the University application does not).

Most of it is self explanatory, but…

  • English Proficiency/Korean Proficiency – If you have IELTS/TOEFL or TOPIK scores you can write them here. For me, under English proficiency I wrote “Native Speaker” just to make it obvious. NIIED says that these are optional, but if you are not a native speaker of either English or Korean, I would include at least one of them if you can. It’s important to show them and the universities that you will be able to study in either English or Korean.
  • Published papers – If you are applying for a PhD then you likely have some papers published from your Master’s Degree. I recommend including one or two of your best. More is not necessarily better, they only have time to read so much. If you are applying for a Master’s degree, then you may not have any published papers, and that’s okay. Don’t stress about it. But if you have published then go ahead and list them.
  • Awards – If you received academic awards, public service awards, etc then list them here. I recommend choosing recent awards (don’t go back to high school). Ultimately the choice is yours as to what you want to present to the selection committees.
  • University choice(s) – The application asks for University/Faculty/Department/Major, but the university information lists University/Division/Department/Field of Study. These are the same things, so you can write it as you see it in the university information. (For example “Ajou University/College of Engineering/Molecular Science and Technology/Medical Science”)
  • Grades/GPA – If your university grades on a 4.0/4.3/4.5/5.0 scale, then you are good to go. Input your term averages as listed in your transcript, then look at the table provided in the application materials to convert to a percentage. If your university uses a different scale (like 20), you will probably want to have your grades officially converted to one of the scales above. The problem is mostly that you also have to convert to a percentage (out of 100) and this is not always easy with different grading systems. (Simple division may lead to a much lower percentage than you actually deserve.) If your university will do the conversion, that is easiest and best. If not, you will probably need to submit your transcript to a grade conversion service.
  • Previous visits to Korea – Write down the dates of previous visits and why you were there. If you have ever come to Korea on a student visa (specifically D-2), you are theoretically ineligible for a scholarship (unless that rule changes). There are two exceptions. If you studied in Korea as a mandatory part of your degree program, and can get a letter from your university indicating that, then you will be eligible. Also, if you are a current or past KGSP scholar (undergrad or Master’s) and have at least TOPIK 4 you may apply again for a higher degree.

2. Self Introduction (Attachment #2)
This is pretty self explanatory. You’ll want to give them an idea of who you are and what makes you tick. Illustrate the things that lead you to your field of study, relevant academic, work or volunteer experience, and what is bringing you to Korea. The space is limited (only one page), so try to stay away from things they can find easily in other parts of your application. For example, stay away from listing every related course you took in university – they can find those in your transcript. Talk instead about particular aspects that really interest and inspire you. Leave your specific study plan and future plans for the next attachment below. Also, if you got into Korea because of dramas and k-pop, you can mention that (as something you know about Korea), but try to find something else you admire about the country, something with more substance. And if you have traveled or lived abroad, you might want to discuss what these experiences meant to you. And finally, if there are any question marks in your background (a particularly bad semester, and unfinished class, etc) that might need explaining, then you should explain them here. Short and sweet, don’t dwell and give them more importance than they deserve.

3. Study Plan (Attachment #3)
There are actually two sections here, with a half page for each. They are “Goal of Study & Study Plan” and “Future Plan After Study.” Be as detailed as you need to be about your study and future plans. You want to show knowledge of issues in your field, and how they can be applied to the real world.

4. Letter of Recommendation (Attachment #4)
You only need to submit one of these with your application. It should be an academic reference, not a work reference… Even if you graduated ten years ago (like me). Some people recommend getting high status people (like the school president or department head) to write your recommendation, but personally I would recommend having someone who knows you well (like an advisor or someone you took multiple courses with). Sometimes you can get the best of both worlds, an advisor to write it and the president to sign it. But, unless you went to a very small school where the president knows everyone, or you are the most standout student ever then don’t just have the president (or more likely some random person in an administrative office) write it. They’ll just create a nice form letter with generalities gleaned from your transcript. It should go without saying that you should choose someone you got along well with, and who can say good things about you.

Your recommendation should be in a sealed envelope with your professors signature or stamp over the seal. Do not open the recommendation to make copies. You can either ask your professor to give you four sealed copies of the recommendation (one for each set of documents you need to send), or you can ask your first selection institution (university or embassy) to copy it for you. (I put a post-it on the outside just to remind them.) This also means that you will not be able to have your professor email you their letter of recommendation. If you are not currently at your university, you should allow enough time for your professor to send you the recommendation, and then for you to send the application. Make sure your professor knows that the recommendation should be printed out and sealed, and that they know when you plan to send your application.

5. Pledge (Attachment #5)
Read and sign.

6. Personal Medical Assessment (Attachment #6)
You do not need to go to a doctor because this is a self-reported medical assessment. But, be honest because there will be actual medical exams later on. Primarily, they are looking that you are not involved in illegal activity (drugs), that you are physically able to complete a degree (which does not discount physical disabilities as long as they don’t severely inhibit your studies), and that you will not bring infectious diseases into Korea (or if you do that they are recorded and controlled). Korea has had travel bans for persons with HIV/AIDS, which apparently have been eased for some, but I am not sure of the current policies regarding students. For your sake (regardless of the scholarship) I hope this is not an issue for you.

And this is the end of the forms (attachments) included in the application packet. As this has gotten quite long, I will continue with the other documents you should gather at a later time.

Learning Korean ~ General Info

First I should tell you how I learned Korean.

I started with self-study, then took a weekly class for a year to increase conversation practice (but continued with the self-study), then went to Yonsei KLI’s three week summer course, then started doing classes twice a week (with self study) for about 9 months, and then went back to only self-study. In September 2014 I will be starting full time language study at a Korean university.

The one important constant through all of this is that all of my textbooks were (are) in Japanese (except for the Yonsei one, which was all Korean), and my teachers were all Korean/Japanese bilinguals (except at Yonsei, where they only used Korean).

So, if you want to know what English language resources I used, the answer is basically zero. I do have one English book I bought early on, “Korean For Beginners” from Tuttle. It has a good appendix about grammar terms in Korean (although I feel like it has too many terms that you’d only need to talk about English grammar. Useful I guess if you are learning Korean because you are teaching English in Korea.) It also has some interesting stories and culture facts, and is humorously written. Other than that, I haven’t really used it. I think I bought it in the beginning for an English speaker’s perspective on pronunciation (the one limitation of Japanese when learning Korean is pronunciation).

Why did I do this despite the fact that English is my native language?

Because I am also fluent in Japanese, and the parallels between Japanese and Korean are significantly greater than between English and Korean. It’s just easier to think of Korean in terms of what I already know about Japanese, than to try to understand it in terms of English.

So, if you also speak Japanese and would like some good Japanese resources for Korean, then please ask away!

For a great run down of Korean language resources (both internet and hardcopy) look at Hangukdrama and Korean. It’s all out there just waiting to be discovered!

If you are planning on coming to Korea to study Korean for whatever reason, I do recommend getting a headstart. One of the major reasons (aside from the already stated ones for KGSP people) is that in Korea, you will find that the instruction is primarily in Korean. Your classmates will be from a lot of countries and not all fluent in English. Depending on the school, however, you may find that they do provide beginner textbooks with versions for several languages (English, Chinese and Japanese with possible others). Still, it will probably be helpful in following the classes at the beginning if you have some background. And you can use the resources above (at Hangukdrama) to supplement your classes even in Korea.

Some random facts about the Korean language…

  1. It’s most commonly considered an Altaic language, which means it most closely resembles languages such as Japanese, Mongolian and Turkish (yes, Turkish). If you already speak one of these then it could be easier for you to learn.
  2. The other major influence on the Korean language is Chinese. About 60% of Korean vocabulary is considered “Sino-Korean,” or in other words it comes from Chinese (though with “Koreanization” of the pronunciation). Sino-Korean vocabulary is more prevalent in writing and formal speech, than in everyday conversation. Japanese also includes a similar percentage of words from Chinese. This means that speaking a dialect of Chinese or Japanese will give you a leg up on vocabulary. The nice thing about Korean, for those who already speak Japanese, is that every kanji character (or hanja as they are called in Korean) only has one pronunciation to remember in Korean (sometimes two for syllables starting with certain sounds). The disadvantage for Chinese or Japanese speakers, is that Korea doesn’t use many of the actual hanja characters in modern writing, so you have to figure out the connections on your own. But once you do catch on you’ll be able to work out more and more vocabulary on your own.
  3. Korean is considered a “Class 3” language by the US Foreign Service Institute, which means that it theoretically is one of the most difficult to master for native speakers of English (and presumably for native speakers of languages closely related to English). Difficulty is measured in the typical time it takes for US foreign service members to achieve “general proficiency” in the language. Class 3 means the estimate is about 88 weeks at 25 hours a week (about 2200 hours total, with half being in the country). Of course there will always be individual variation, and difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Other C3 languages include Japanese, the many dialects of “Chinese” and Arabic. (Just because Arabic is also dfficult fr English speakers doesn’t mean Korean is easy for Arabic speakers
  4. That said, Korean has one of the most logical writing systems in the world. Hangeul, as it is usually called in South Korea today, was deliberately and carefully constructed to make it easy for the general population to learn. At first glance it may look similar to Chinese or Japanese, but the characters are not pictographs, they are phonetic (sound based) like English. Unlike English, there aren’t as many spelling rules and exceptions. And the best part, the letters are actually modeled after the way your mouth moves to pronounce them.

I will do another post about Hangeul, phonetics, and my system for remembering them later.

Language Issues and KGSP

The native language in Korea is Korean.

I know that is pretty obvious to most, but I think it cannot be emphasized enough.

According to worlduniversitynews.com about 20 to 40 percent of courses at all Korean universities are taught in English. I take course in this context to mean class not major subject, but I could be wrong. That means the rest are taught in a language other than English (probably primarily Korean, with some language and area studies courses taught in another foreign language).

This article does not give a breakdown for undergraduate versus graduate level courses. I would guess that the percentage of English classes in undergraduate programs is slightly lower and the percentage in graduate programs slightly higher (for any given university).

So what does this mean for you as a potential scholar in Korea?

First, it means that you have a decent chance of selecting a course that is either entirely or partially in Korean.

Next, this article, indirectly, brings up an interesting issue. While some of the programs taught exclusively in English are taught by Korean professors educated abroad, or foreign professors proficient in English, there are also some programs (or courses) taught by native Korean professors who are not as proficient in English, and only using English as a medium of instruction with reluctance.

One of the consequences of this is that while classroom instruction in English may be mandatory, the professors still may prefer Korean outside the classroom. This can affect things such as a professor’s willingness to advise you.

From the letter sent to all students selected for a KGSP scholarship:

“Though a few grantees will take their classes mostly in English throughout their degree course, each one must possess adequate Korean proficiency to join various meetings and seminars, to participate in various research projects, and to live a fulfilling academic and social life in Korea.”

Korean will most likely be necessary or useful at some point in your academic career in Korea, and for those who don’t find an all English program (or aren’t confident in English either) it will be an absolute neccessity.

So NIIED provides a whole year of language study for exactly that purpose, right?

Well yes, that’s true.

BUT, by NIIED’s own admission, prior to 2012 only 60% of participants passed TOPIK level 3 after one year and were able to start their degree programs on time. Of the 40% forced to do an extra six months “a lot” were still unable to achieve level 3 and ultimately had to give up the scholarship.

Now as these language schools get more experience in teaching, and with NIIED’s encouragement making people take the language courses more seriously hopefully the percentage moving on after one year (or less) is increasing, as is the overall level achieved. Hopefully.

Still, I can say from personal experience that TOPIK level 3 is a bare minimum of what you will need to hold a (semi-intelligent) conversation, let alone study for an advanced degree. Even with a level of 5 or 6 (depending on how you got there) you will be at a disadvantage compared to native Korean classmates (in the Korean classes anyway). Things will just take longer and more effort. And, given the curriculum at most language schools, if you start from zero you won’t get as high as 5, unless you put in some serious self study.

So what am I saying?

I’m certainly not saying not to apply for the scholarship, not definitively anyway.

I am saying to consider it very carefully, and take the language issue seriously.

As I have mentioned before, know what you are getting into. Research the language of instruction for your program, but more than that research the professors. Where did they study? How comfortable are they likely to be with English? Pay specific attention to professors you might want to ask to advise you.

And, whether you have decided to take a gamble on a program with courses in Korean or not, don’t wait until you arrive in Korea to start learning the language. If you have found this blog then you have the resources to start learning Korean (the internet). Make use of them! More on that another time…

KGSP Medical Exam

After you’ve passed the first an second stages of the KGSP application process (ie been approved by a university or embassy and also by NIIED), you will be required to get a medical examination.

There was mucho confusion regarding this medical exam amongst the 2014 acceptee pool, so I would like to clarify some things.

First of all, it seems very detailed (asking about teeth, mental state, etc), but that doesn’t mean you need to go to a hundred different specialists.

I, conveniently, had my exam done in Korea, and they checked eyes, height/weight, chest xray (for tuberculosis), blood pressure, and they took blood, urine and stool samples (lovely right?). Other than that they appear to have just looked at me generally and decided everything else was okay.

Now unfortunately, each country has a different medical system and requirements. A lot of doctors may not be willing to sign off so quickly without an actual exam. You will definitely need to find someplace that can at least perform the tests above.

You do not need to send xrays or specific exam results along with the form. [**EDIT** As of 2015 they did ask for specific exam results as well. Check the instructions carefully.] You just need to have your doctor fill in the relevant spaces on the form NIIED provides, and sign it.

The exception to this rule may be the drug test, and largest source of confusion in 2014.

In 2014, although there was some fine print saying a drug test was required, it was not included in the official form for the doctor to fill out. This meant that the doctors didn’t know about it, and many applicants did not have one done – until they were requested to submit one much later by NIIED.

So, make sure you specifically request that a drug test be done, especially if you think it may not be included in the form.

The second problem with the drug test is that NIIED specifically asks for a test called TBPE. Unfortunately, however, TBPE seems to only be available in Korea, and maybe a few other countries. They do mention that if TBPE is not available then you can get another equivalent drug test, but not what drugs the test is designed to detect. The main drugs they are looking for are opiates, marijuana (THC), cocaine, and methamphetamines. If you can get tested for all of these then that is best, but drug testing is not as widely available in some countries. If you can get some combination of these tests, then get what you can (and it wouldn’t hurt to include a note from your doctor about it). If you cannot find any drug tests then contact the Korean embassy in your country. They may be able to tell you where tests are available, or that there are none available and you are therefore exempt from taking the drug test. Make sure you confirm with them though because if someone else from your country is successful at getting tested (inside your country) then not knowing will probably not be an excuse.

I would recommend looking into the availability of drug testing early (even before acceptance if you can without an actual exam) because there is only about one month to complete the exam and these communications can take some time. (You might want to wait about contacting the embassy until after you are officially accepted though.)

If marijuana is legal in your country/state/area (or even if it isn’t) and you do occasionally indulge, I would recommend stopping as soon as you decide to apply for KGSP. A positive result will disqualify you for the scholarship and marijuana (THC) is most definitely illegal in Korea. If you are caught with marijuana in the country, you will be deported, so get used to not using it now.

I am hopeful that NIIED will try to revise some of their forms in order to avoid repeating this year’s confusion, but just in case you should be informed.

Pet peeve

So I mentioned in another post that the KGSP facebook groups are a great resource when you are applying for the scholarship.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the basic leg work by yourself.

I am pretty sure many of the other bloggers or video bloggers would say the same thing (but don’t presume to spea for them, just myself).

I see a lot of people asking questions that have been answered elsewhere, often in that same person’s blog or videos. There are also a lot of people asking for very basic information about the scholarship that is fully answered in the guidelines for the scholarship on sites run by NIIED.

Now I will admit that the guidelines are not 100% clear, and that the bulletin for the scholarship is at the Study in Korea website, and not at the NIIED website, where one might expect it. BUT with simple google searches you should be able to get there. I did.

I am happy to answer questions, here and on facebook, but try to do your own research first. Think of it as the first step toward your advanced degree. If you can’t research a simple scolarship, how can you expect to produce original research in your major field?

I’d greatly prefer to answer questions about my own experience, than basic questions about the mechanics of the scholarship.

I’m not blaming, just reminding. We’re all busy people, so we need to take control of our own lives!

And finally good luck! There are so many wonderful opportunities available out there, and I hope that everyone finds one that is perfect for them!

Embassy or University?

So you’ve decided to apply for KGSP, and even have some schools you’re interested in. Now you have to decide whether to apply via a Korean embassy in your country or directly through the university in Korea.

There are some advantages and disadvantages to each, but first the basic process for each.

Designated University

Early February – Download the application instructions from NIIED, and check with the university for the application deadline

Mid March – Application deadline. Make sure you send your application materials so that they will arrive BEFORE the deadline. Remember, your application is going to Korea, so especially for some countries you will need lots of time. Make sure you send it express, and it’s best to have a tracking number.

Late March – Deadline for universities to report their decisions TO NIIED. They may or may not inform you at this time. (This is the “first selection.”)

May 1 – NIIED chooses candidates based on the country quotas. (This is the “second selection.”)

If you apply through a designated university then you are guaranteed a scholarship at this point UNLESS you do not return your completed medical exam results by the deadline, or fail it for some reason.

Rest easy until mid-June when the final list is posted with language school assignments.

Korean Embassy

Early February – Download the application instructions from the NIIED website, and check your local Korean Embassy for the application deadline. You must apply through the Korean embassy in the country of which you are a citizen. Check the NIIED guidelines for the location of the appropriate embassy, especially if there is no Korean embassy in your country. If you are American you will apply through the consulate in charge of your state of residence. You can check at the Korean Education Center in DC for the list of which embassies cover which states. If you are an American living abroad then apply through the embassy that has jurisdiction over the state where your parents live. (Confusing right?)

Mid March – Application deadline. Again make sure you send your application with enough time to arrive before the deadline. Usually, the embassy will be in your own country, so it will probably take less time than sending your application to Korea, but still leave plenty of time, and again get a tracking number.

Mid April – Deadline for the embassy to send their choices TO NIIED. Again, you may or may not be informed at this time.

May 1 – NIIED publishes the list of “second selection” candidates, and sends those applications on to the three universities each person has chosen in their application.

You may be contacted by your universities for extra materials or interviews at this time. (Look in the university information and on their kgsp info website ahead of time so you aren’t surprised by a request for another recommendation, or something equally difficult to get in a pinch.)

Late May – The universities will tell you if you are accepted or not. (This is the “third selection” which only applies to embassy candidates. If you are not accepted by any of your three universities then you cannot get the scholarship.)

Early June – You will tell NIIED which university you choose. As long as you also return and pass the medical exam by the deadline, you now have a scholarship.

June 17 – NIIED will post the list of all scholarship recipients and the language institute they will attend.

The differences are:

1.) The number of schools you can apply to (only one by university but three by embassy).

2.) The timeline (university applicants are basically done after the second selection, but embassy applicants have to wait for the third).

3.) The quotas (each country has a different number of places for embassy versus university. Some countries have only one or the other, so those people don’t need to decide.)

So, if you do come from a country with both university and embassy quotas, which method should you choose?

I personally don’t think there is a one-size fits all, simple answer to that question, but I will talk about what I think are the major considerations.

First, regarding difference (1)…

If you have one school that you are really interested in, and you are reasonably confident about getting in, then university may be the way to go.

As mentioned in an earlier post, you should research this school, and your desired department thoroughly to see if you really are a match (specifically regarding language ability, undergraduate experience, etc.)

If you want to apply to a top-ranked university (SKY, POSTECH, PNU, KAIST, etc), you should either be very, very confident, or consider applying via embassy.

On the other hand, if you are undecided about your first choice, or want to go somewhere that might be more difficult to get in (for you), then embassy might be a better choice. You can apply to a high-risk school (or two) along with a less risky choice. You can also delay your final decision until later.

Second, about the timeline…

This is not as big an issue for most people, but if timing is an issue, here are some considerations…

If you apply via embassy and are accepted in the first selection, you have a reasonably good chance of going all the way (if you have chosen your three universities wisely), whereas the guarantee is less for university applicants (for reasons I will discuss later).

On the other hand if you apply via university and make the second cut, then you are guaranteed the scholarship (as long as the medical check goes well), whereas embassy candidates still have to wait for their university acceptance.

If you are considering going to Korea even without a scholarship from NIIED (and there are numerous other scholarship programs, along with money available from the universities themselves specifically for foreign students) then you should consider which timing will work with your backup plans, and how much you want to risk.

This would also apply if you have other things such as job opportunities waiting for you.

By far the biggest concern, however, is quotas, and it is a complicated one.

The advantage of applying through university is that you may have a better chance of making it through to the second round, especially if your embassy quota is small.

If you apply through your embassy then the embassy will choose 1.5 times their quota to send to NIIED. That is 3 people if the quota is 2, or 12 if the quota is 8. If you are not one of those people NIIED will never even see your application, and if there are spaces left empty because other countries do not fill their quotas then you will not be considered.

On the otherhand, each university can choose up to 3 people from any one country (and 20 people total), and there are 60 universities. This means that in theory, up to 180 people from your country could go on to the second round, and at least have their application read by NIIED.

SO, university candidates are possibly more likely to go from round 1 to round 2, BUT embassy candidates are potentially more likely to make it through round 2.

The odds for embassy candidates in round 2 will never be less than 66% because the embassies can’t choose more than 1.5 times the quota, and as there are currently a number of countries that don’t fill their quota, the chances are actually much better. There were 63 countries in 2014 that exceeded their embassy quota after the second selection.

University candidates, on the other hand, will be faced with the same issue embassy candidates faced in the first round, small quotas and an abundance of candidates.

Ultimately, you are probably facing very similar odds either way, and these will vary significantly depending on the country you are applying from. This is not an easy scholarship to get, and if your CV is not strong, you should consider other back-up plans. BUT in as much as you increase the chance of your application going to NIIED, the university option may be better for those less confident about their chances.

If, however, your application is pretty strong and you are looking to go to SNU, Korea University or Yonsei (along with other popular choices), applying through the embassy is a better option.

Annually over 50 KGSP students (each) end up choosing SNU, Yonsei or KU.

If they all chose to apply through the university, they would be caught by the university quota of 20 students each (and no more than 3 from any one country).

Through university, you are also limited to choosing just one school. At top schools like these, where most of the candidates will be strong, there is an element of randomness to the selection, so if it is important to you to attend one of them, it is better to apply to multiple schools, as you can by applying through the embassy.

Of course if you have some connection with the university, or great confidence in the strength of your profile, then university still may be the way to go. (But if you are that awesome it probably doesn’t matter how you apply…)

In the end, as much as you may analyze and agonize there is a large element of chance. The country you’re from, the number of people who choose one method or the other, the other people who choose the same universities, etc. Try to maximize your chances and find the method that fits your situation, but also stay realistic and consider your backup plan as well.

Some numbers…

10 Most popular schools (2014 Final selection)
SCHOOL 2014# (2013#)
1. SNU 76 (86)
2. Yonsei 59 (50)
3. Hanyang 45 (38)
4. Korea U. 44 (48)
5. HUFS 35 (19)
6. Dongguk 32 (13)
7. Kyunghee 31 (30)
8. Ehwa Women’s 28 (21)
9. Pusan Nat. 27 (21)
10. Kyungpook 21 (23)

As you can see, the most popular schools all have more than 20 students each. Ultimately, no school admitted more than 12 people from the university selection (KU only had 3, Yonsei only 8).

There are several possible reasons for this. 1) Few people applied to popular schools via university because of the competition. 2) People were cut in the second selection by NIIED (although if someone is strong enough to be accepted at one of these, I find it unlikely they would be cut). 3) The schools only selected the strongest candidates at this early stage to leave room in their programs. I personally think it is a combination of 1) and 3).

4 = The number of people missing from the university quota between the 2nd and 3rd selection.

67 = The number of people missing from the embassy quota between the 2nd and 3rd selection.

The people who did not make the final cut for the university quota probably either decided not to take the scholarship and pursue other plans, or possibly had some problem with the medical exam.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people missing from the embassy quota were not accepted at any of their three choices. This emphasizes the importance of making wise choices in your university selection. These were all people who had been selected as representatives of their countries, and should have been worthy of selection at one of the 60 universities.


KGSP Advice ~ Choosing a University

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.

But where?

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. 🙂