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!

37th TOPIK Result

So I’m not sure what it was, but I was so nervous about this result that I’ve literally had trouble sleeping the past three or four nights.

It’s probably partially the fact that this time means something.

I’ve taken TOPIK three times before (the beginner level once, and intermediate twice), but it was always just a personal progress thing. For my own satisfaction. This time passing level 5 means the difference between staying in Chuncheon for another 9 months, or returning home to my hubby in Seoul at the end of February and starting my Master’s program in March.

It’s partly that this is the first time I’ve taken a TOPIK class before the TOPIK.

My teachers are awesome and so kind, but that’s also what increases the pressure. I want to do well for them too.

It’s partly that this is the first time I’ve taken TOPIK with other people.

For me it’s always been an individual thing. No one in my classes (mostly older Japanese women) was ever that concerned with it, and I never shared the experience or the results with them.

This time 75% of my class is KGSP, so they’re in the same boat as me. And everyone in my class took TOPIK. It’s understood that we will report to the teachers about how we did, and it will be discussed amongst us. As a naturally competitive person there’s some pressure there…

It’s also partially that I’m still in a state of disbelief.

I just passed level 4 in April, but I still don’t feel confident about my Korean skills. Not in all areas anyway. I didn’t expect level 5 to even be a possibility at this point. I honestly expected to place into the level 3 class, or maybe 4 if I was lucky, so level 5 was a major surprise. Before starting Korean classes here I was seriously considering throwing the January TOPIK in order to stay in language classes for the full year, but that was when I thought I might just barely pass by luck. Then I started to gain confidence that passing was more than a slight possibility, and began to entertain the idea that level 6 might be within reach soon. When I told my teacher what I thought I’d gotten in listening and reading, she said “Oh, 6 might be a possibility” And honestly, that’s probably what made me so nervous now.

So I was literally counting down till 3:00 pm today.


And the result is in………..

Writing 66
Listening 86
Reading 84
Total 236

Which means… level 6!

Back in April when I took the intermediate test, I seriously wouldn’t have imagined passing level 6 anytime soon. With the old test, I’m not sure if I would have honestly… Although because I was convinced I was not even close to ready, I never actually looked at the advanced test.

But here we are, and I’m pretty ecstatic. Not the least because it means I can go back to Seoul in February.

The moral of the story: Having a good teacher who knows the test well can work wonders!

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. 🙂

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.