KGSP University Quota – Regional Universities Revisited

**Disclaimer** I am not in any way affiliated with NIIED except to be a KGSP recipient. All opinions are based on my personal experience in Korea.

So, the Regional University quota versus the General University quota still seems to be a mystery to some (or many).

The Korean government’s apparent objective with the regional university quota is to attract talented people in STEM fields (specifically natural science and engineering) to universities outside the Seoul area. Keeping this goal in mind lets look at how that should affect your decision for your KGSP application.

Stage one: University selection

Say you are choosing between two universities that are roughly equal in prestige and are equally difficult to get into. One is a university in Seoul and one is designated as a “regional university.” There are 30 people applying to each of them. Based on their applications each person is ranked from 1 to 30 and the people at each rank are the same as each other (the first ranked people at each school got the same score as each other, the second rank people got the same score, and so on). Also, assume that all 30 are qualified for acceptance into the university, so the only thing that would prevent them from being accepted would be the quota that NIIED sets for university recommendations to KGSP.

You are an engineering major. If you apply to the school in Seoul then you must be one of the top 20 students, no matter what. (This is in a simplified universe where all majors are equally valued by the university. Obviously, in the real world, they may choose someone farther down the list because they want/need people from a particular major, or there is some personal relationship, or any number of random reasons.)

But, if you apply to the regional university then they get three extra spots specifically for natural science/engineering majors. (It used to be three, but it might be more or less now.) If you are in the top three students in one of these fields then you will be accepted, no matter what your overall rank is. For example, even if you are last in the ranking, if all 29 of the other people are majoring in history, psychology, business and philosophy then you can still be accepted. Also, even if you are not one of the top three  science/engineering students, then you just need to be in the top 20 out of 27 students instead of 20 out of 30 at the school in Seoul.

Stage two: NIIED selection

The exact same situation applies for the NIIED phase of the selection process. Now instead of being compared to people applying to one university, you are being compared to people from your own country.

Say that 10 people from your same country have been recommended by various universities. Your country has a quota of 2 people from regional universities and 3 general spots.

Again, if you have applied through a regional university in a science or engineering field, if you are one of the top two students who fit the regional quota, then you will be accepted, even if you are objectively ranked below everyone else.

But what if you aren’t one of those top 2 students? The quota for general applicants is bigger that the regional quota, so wouldn’t it be an advantage to apply just for a general spot? This is where you have to remember the original goal of creating regional university quotas in the first place. The whole idea is to attract smart people in STEM fields to non-Seoul universities. If, of the 10 students, the top five ranked people are all regional quota candidates does it make sense to reject 3 strong candidates in favor of people who don’t fit the regional quota? They are trying to bring people to these regional universities, so why would they turn them away?

The answer is that they wouldn’t. If all five of the best people applied through the regional quota then they will likely use the entire quota for that country for these five people. In other words, there is a maximum limit of three people that they will accept from outside the regional quota, but they may accept fewer if the regional candidates are strong. This works out in the following way:

General Candidates

Rank 1-3: Definitely accepted

Rank 4-5: Maybe accepted if one or more of the 1-3 ranked students were in the regional quota

Rank 6-10: No chance to be accepted

Regional Candidates

Rank 1-3: Definitely accepted

Rank 4-5: Definitely accepted

Rank 6-10: Maybe accepted if only one or fewer of the higher ranked students were in the regional quota

So you can see there is a definite advantage to choosing a regional university if you are in a natural science or engineering field. But, like all decisions in KGSP there is an element of uncertainty. If everyone decides to go this route then there will be more competition, but it is likely that the attraction of Seoul and its universities will balance against the attraction of a slight advantage in the admissions process. This is not a guaranteed process even for very weak students. You will still need to meet the standards of the KGSP program and for the university that you choose. Universities don’t necessarily have to fill every quota if there are not enough qualified students. But, if you think that you are a good candidate for the university, but worry about competing with others from your country who will be applying in Seoul, then the regional quota may be a good choice for you.

KGSP Updates – 2017

I’ve been responding to people’s comments, but I haven’t written in a long time. There have been some significant changes, so I do want to update some of the things I’ve said in the past. If you are applying to KGSP yourself, you should make sure you read the instructions for the year in which you are applying carefully and thoroughly yourself before sending in your application.

  1. There is still a regional university option for people in Natural Science and Engineering fields from certain countries. For more on this option see my 2015 post here.
  2. Always double check the available universities. They change slightly each year. (For example, this year Ajou University appears not to be on the list.) The same goes for countries and their quotas.
  3. Good news for people who have studied abroad in Korea! While there used to be a rule that people who studied abroad in Korea were not able to apply for KGSP, that rule no longer applies. If you were an exchange student at a Korean university you will be able to apply to KGSP (page 7 of 2017 guidelines). If you did a full degree in Korea (Bachelor, Master, or PhD) then you are still unable to apply, unless you were a KGSP scholar at that time. For former KGSP scholars, you may apply again for a higher degree program, but only through the Embassy quota.
  4. They seem to have strengthened the language on GPA. Those with GPAs under 80% or the equivalent will be automatically disqualified. They also require an official explanation from your university describing the “university’s evaluation system as well as the applicant’s academic achievement” (page 7) if either A) your transcript doesn’t include GPA info or B) your grades cannot be easily converted to a 4.0, 4.3, 4.5, 5.0 or percentage scale. This would seem to mean that you can’t use third-party conversion services, it must come from your uni.
  5. They specifically disallow use of the TOEFL ITP to show English proficiency. The ITP has always been for internal evaluation purposes and not for outside certification purposes. If you want to submit English test scores you will need to take the IBT (or PBT/CBT if those are what is available) or the TOEIC or IELTS.
  6. Other people who might get preference include the following. Remember, “preference” most likely means a couple points added to your score. (For example, the self-intro and statement of purpose are worth 10 points each. The other parts of the application are likely also worth some undetermined number of points.) So if you are an extremely strong candidate in a field that doesn’t get any preference then you still have a chance over a weaker candidate from a “preferred” field. Don’t give up just because you may have less “preference.”
    1. Applicants in natural science, technology and engineering
    2. Applicants for majors included in the Industrial Professionals Training Project of the Korean Government. This is a slightly more specific version of the STEM fields above and includes various high-tech fields like biotech, semiconductors and LED technology.
    3. Faculty from higher education institutions in countries to which Korea gives ODA.
    4. Descendants of Korean War vets.
  7. Changes to required documents:
    1. They give very specific requirements for the length of the Self-Introduction (or personal statement) and Statement of Purpose (including study plan and future plan). You must use Times New Roman size 10 font. Your self-introduction letter must be one page or less. Your Statement of Purpose should use the same font type and be two pages or less (including both study plan and future plan).
    2. You need TWO recommendation letters. (It used to be just one.) They should be able to comment on your academic abilities.
    3. You need an “original copy” of all diplomas or transcripts. That is kind of an oxymoron – it can’t be both original and a copy, can it? Remember never send your actual diploma, you will not get it back. You should get an official copy from your university (from my experience it should be in the form of a certificate, the closer to your actual diploma the better), or if that is not possible, have a copy of the original notarized or apostilled.
    4. Certificate of Korean Citizenship Renunciation and Adoption documents are “optional” in the sense that not everyone has to submit them, but they are a “must” if they apply to you (i.e. if your parents or yourself ever had Korean citizenship, or if you are a Korean adoptee).
    5. Notarize ALL photocopies. Including passport, etc.
    6. If you are applying through the University track, you only need to submit ONE set of original documents. If you are applying through the Embassy track, you still need one set of originals, and THREE sets of photocopies. You must get four sets of all sealed documents. This means that you should ask your professors or other recommenders to make three copies of their recommendation and seal each one, plus the original in four separate envelopes. Transcripts should also be in sealed envelopes and you should get four copies from your university.
  8. They have gone back to explicitly stating that students who get TOPIK 5 or 6 in the first six months may start their degree program in March. This was always the case, though they stopped talking about it briefly in the 2015 application guidelines.
  9. For the language year, they state that you can live off campus (outside the dormitories) if you have TOPIK level 3 or above.

These are just some of these changes. For other advice and requirements see my other blog entries and the comments. Good luck with your applications or future applications!

Long time no see… Yonsei GSIS

So I’ve been seriously remiss in updating this…

It’s been two semesters already since I started at Yonsei, which means I am halfway through my Master’s program, and more than halfway through this KGSP experience.

I had some requests (last summer… sorry!!!) to talk more about my experience at Yonsei, so here it is.

From talking to friends at other GSIS around Seoul (Korea U., SNU, Sogang) I can say that Yonsei is one of the bigger ones (300+/- students), if not by far the biggest. This has its advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, there is a fairly large selection of classes, comparatively speaking and the large number of students means that it is fairly easy to hold events such as academic conferences and social/sports events because there is always someone interested in participating.

On the minus side, more students and a higher student:teacher ratio means less individual attention. That means fewer TA opportunities and more difficulty in finding thesis advisors, for those who choose to go that route. (Indeed, at Yonsei it is not required to write a thesis, and the number of people eligible to write one is highly restricted to those with a 3.7/4.3 GPA. That’s an A- and the relative grading scheme limits the number of students who can receive any grade in the A range to between 40 and 60% of any given class.) This is not to say that professors are unwilling to help students, but you do need to make a concerted effort to approach them.

So far I’ve taken three core courses (required of most students regardless of major), one required course (of all Korean Studies majors, which I’m not, but everyone is allowed to take them), and four electives.

The core courses are all big lecture style classes. There were around 70 students in International Relations and Introduction to International Economics, and 30-50 students in Statistics and Data Analysis and Research Design and Methods (RDM). The professors for these classes vary a bit from term to term, and there are changes to the course content accordingly. Basically the grading is based on exams (often partly or totally multiple choice, sometimes with essays) and group presentations. Some have essay style take home finals, and RDM has a final research proposal.

The required class had around 25-30 people in it and was also lecture style. There are two required courses for Korean Studies, whereas other majors do not have required courses other than the core courses. In exchange, Korean Studies majors only have to take two core courses (IR or Economics and Statistics or RDM). This particular course may just be particularly popular with the general student body, in part because of the professor (it’s the one offered in the fall), and that accounts for the relatively high enrollment. This class had a midterm and final (identifications and essays for both) and a final paper.

The elective courses tend to be smaller with around 10-20 people (some may have even less). Of the three that I have taken, one was basically lecture style, two were seminar style with a large degree of student lead discussion, and the last one was kind of half and half. These mostly had midterm exams and final papers. Some classes have research proposals for these final papers due sometime midterm, but mine didn’t. Some classes have take home exams where you are given 24-48 hours to write essays on the assigned topics. All of these classes also had presentations (sometimes small group and sometimes individual), which factored into the grading.

For the most part I have found the professors to be not only knowledgeable in their fields, but to also to be active and respected beyond the university. Visiting professors can be a bit of a gamble, but the full time professors live up to the Yonsei name in reputation, and many of the visiting professors are quite good as well. Teaching skill can be another issue entirely, but how much you get out of a course depends on how much you put in. Even in my “worst” class, I feel like I gained valuable information and resources for future exploration. Whatever class you take there will probably be a lot of reading (anywhere from 50 to 150 pages a week per class), so the professor’s insight is important, but not everything.

There is a blog for Yonsei students to write professor evaluations (search for Yonsei GSIS faculty evaluations), so you can check out what people say there. It is for faculty evaluations, not questions, so don’t go there with questions. If you do have questions there is a facebook group for Yonsei GSIS, but try doing your own research online and in the past group posts first. Many questions have already been answered.

If you are choosing between GSIS, I highly recommend looking through course catalogs. At Yonsei, look under the notices section for the classes that have been offered each semester in the most recent semesters. There is also a place to find class descriptions, but I don’t know how recently it has been updated. Class schedules are also available for past semesters at the Yonsei Portal. These should be available without logging in (for non-students). Some classes will even have syllabi on record (though you will need to log-in to access a syllabus uploaded as a separate file). You can find similar lists and databases for the other schools as well. The most important thing is that there are enough classes that you are actually interested in taking. In a pinch you will be able to take a certain number of classes through another GSIS and transfer the credits (4 classes or 12 credits if you are at Yonsei).

Finally, about that relative grading thing…

Basically, Yonsei grades on a kind of curve, but how it works may vary by professor. “A” grades (A+, A0, A-) are limited to 40% of students in core classes (the biggest classes), 50% of students in other classes bigger than 10 students, and 60% of students in classes fewer than 10 students. An A+ can only be given to the top 10% of students. This is just a rough guideline limiting the maximum number of students who can get As. Some professors may choose to give a smaller number of students As, some might choose not to give any A+s, and in some cases it may depend on the ultimate distribution. For those who do not get As, there are no other rules or limitations, so everyone else could conceivably get a B-/B0/B+, or professors can choose to go lower. I haven’t found there to be a great degree of transparency in terms of distribution or curves or any of that (some professors do give that kind of information for the midterm exams, but not all, and after finals you’d have to ask directly for any kind of feedback).

For me, this system has worked out… So I’m not really sure what happens to the other half of the class…



An end in sight

So the waiting is almost over.

After my mild panic attack back in New Zealand about diplomas, I have made it through most of the gates, and barring any other disaster will be starting Korean language study in the fall, with a Master’s degree to follow in 2015.

The program that was sending me through all of these hoops is the Korean Government Scholarship Program (KGSP) run by the National Institute for International Education (NIIED). It’s the major scholarship for study in Korea in terms of numbers of people and countries, and the amount offered. And consequently, the hoops are major as well.

For more info on the exact details check out NIIED’s website or the Study in Korea Website.

The information is all under GKS (Global Korean Scholarship).

If you are interested in applying LolaLovesKorea has a great series of videos on YouTube explaining about applying and her experiences in Korea. She is doing the language year now (2013-2014) and hopefully will keep updating as she starts her Master’s in the fall (2014).

But, as a fresh applicant going through the process almost as I write, I thought I would give my advice based on my own experience, and the experiences of those around me.

This series will probably extend beyond this post…

First, and foremost, start early. If it continues as it has in past years, NIIED will release the official application information for the graduate programs in the first week of February (at Study in Korea->GKS->Notice), and the info will also be available later via the Korean Embassies and Universities through which you apply.

BUT, you should look at the previous year’s information and start assembling your application package NOW (whenever it is you read this 😉 ), or at least well before that. Recommendations can take longer than you expect them to, and you may find that your diploma is lost in the chaos that is your parents’ home and you need to order a replacement that will take 4-6 weeks till delivery (or maybe that’s just me).

Of course if you are still a student now, you probably want to wait until the last grades before the deadline are in before you ask for a transcript, and there are various other timing issues to consider, but figure those out and give yourself plenty of time.

Second, join the Facebook group. On the one hand it was incredibly nerve-wracking. Every problem someone has makes you worry if it applies to you too, and every day that goes by as you still wait for results while those around you gradually get their results will drive you crazy. On the other hand, you can get your own questions answered, learn about your fellow applicants, and find out that no, SNU really hasn’t released their acceptances yet.

I’d also go look at the archives of past groups, so you can try to avoid many of the mistakes that we made.

In the next post I’ll talk about choosing universities, and how to apply based on my personal observations of these experiences.

Starting a new journey

Sometimes timing is not on your side.

Along with moving to a new country, I decided to embark on a new journey of another kind.  After almost 11 years in Japan, nearly 8 of them as an “international exchange coordinator” at a private high school, I have decided to try to go back to school as a student myself.  So I am applying to graduate school in Korea, my new adopted country.  First, I am applying for a fairly well known scholarship there (which shall remain nameless for the time being).

I thought I was all prepared.  My transcripts were ordered last year, along with proof of graduation from my university.  I asked my former professor for a recommendation.  I finished filling out the forms based on last year’s application before this year’s application package was even available.  I got my TOPIK scores and even my JLPT scores for good measure.

And then I waited… and waited… and waited.

The recommendation did not come.

I emailed my professor more than once, and she assured me it would be fine.

But it still didn’t come.

I eventually realized that she was planning a big international conference set to take place the weekend before my deadline.  Bad timing.

And I was leaving to take students to New Zealand 10 days before my deadline, so I really needed to get that recommendation before leaving home for three weeks.  Bad, bad timing.

It didn’t come, but being the resourceful person I am, I sent my whole application to my parents, and had the professor do the same.  They put the whole thing together and sent it off to New York, and the first selection committee.  Better than having everything sent once to Japan, and then sending it back to America.  Crisis one averted.

I got confirmation that the application had arrived on the Friday before the Tuesday deadline.  Phew!

This was quickly followed by an email saying that the proof of graduation I had requested from my university was not suitable because it was in “letter form” and not “certificate form.”  Something about making sure the credentials aren’t fake and all that.  Not that certificates can’t be faked.  And I submitted a signed, sealed transcript from the university as well.

But if they want a certificate then I should send a certificate, right?  Only one problem… I’m in New Zealand.  And I have no idea where my diploma is.  (Okay, two problems.)  My first best guess is that the diploma is still at my parents’ house, where it was sent after I graduated.  This is also the best case scenario because, well, I’m in New Zealand, so if it’s at my house in Japan then there is no way to look for it until the end of the month.  I send my parents on a search of their house to look for the diploma.  And they come up with nothing.

My mom has no recollection of the diploma being sent to them (it was) and asks, “Didn’t you get your diploma at graduation?”  To which I reply, “No, I just got a translation at graduation.  They sent the real ones later.”  Wait, what?  Translation?  Sh**!  My diploma is in Latin!!  So I have to get a copy of my diploma, which has gone AWOL, and I have to get it translated?  And I’m in New Zealand.  And as if this all wasn’t bad enough I am leaving to take the kids to the wilderness, with no phone or internet for a week.  Bad, bad, bad timing.

A replacement diploma will take 4-6 weeks, and still be in Latin.  Now it’s the weekend and I can’t get any answers until Monday, and by that time I’ll be incommunicado.  So I send email to my uni about the translation, and email to the scholarship committee explaining the situation, and I leave for a week.  (Though fortunately for me, with the time difference it’s actually still Friday in New York when I get back.)

When I do get back I find a pdf of a nice notarized translation sitting in my inbox, and an email from the selection committee saying that they’ll send my application to the main selection committee in Korea, and if they need more they’ll contact me.  Just in case, I ask my uni if there is anything more certificate-y than the letter, but not quite as work intensive (or Latin-y) as a true copy of my diploma, and they agree to make a certificate for me.  (Thank you, GU!  Though I feel like that will look just as fake as the letter… really frustrating because it’s real…)

All I can say is that so far this experience has been more frustrating than anything else.  The instructions were in English, but not overly clear (am I the only native speaker who has no idea what “confirmation of collation” is?  Collating is something my printer or copier does, putting pages in order…)  It said “documents should be presented in their original form,” so rather than trying to locate and copy my diploma, I sent an original document from my uni… and that turned out to bite me in the butt. I tried to ask questions early to avoid just such a situation.  When I emailed Korea they said ask the US.  When I asked the US they said email Korea.  I called DC once and they said call New York.  I called New York and they said call Korea.

But if it all works out it should be more than worth it, and at the moment I’m still hopeful.

And just in case the scholarship doesn’t work out, I am trying to prepare my applications for the individual universities, and I’ll hope for private scholarships from them.  I’ll find out about the scholarship the day after I move to Korea, and then have another two weeks to make their deadlines.  Hopefully timing is on my side from here on.

The pictures are from New Zealand.  This is my seventh and last time bringing kids here, and I have to admit I will miss it.