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…