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!

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.


Journey Back

In May I’ll be leaving Japan for Korea.

As part of the preparation for my next journey I needed to go back to the university where I spent my year abroad to get my transcript from that time.

I spent my year abroad at International Christian University in Mitaka, Tokyo.  It wasn’t my first time in Japan, but it was an important step in bringing me to where I am.

The main school building at ICU
The main school building at ICU

Choosing a place to study abroad can be a difficult decision, especially if your university is like mine and has multiple places to choose from.  At the time there were 5 or 6 choices just in Japan.

Waseda and Keio were definitely the most famous of the bunch, but I decided against attending them.  For me the primary reason was that Keio and Waseda had special programs for exchange students.  There were special English based classes about Japan in subjects like literature, history or economics that only exchange students could take, and of course special classes to teach Japanese.  I’m sure students with a very high level of Japanese would be able to participate in regular classes with Japanese students, but I wasn’t that confident in my Japanese level.

At ICU it was a different environment.  Foreign students entered as OYRs, or One Year Regular students.  The key point being that we were “regular” students.  ICU’s selling point is the quality of their English education, and as part of that, even Japanese students have to take a certain number of regular courses (not EFL) in English.  That meant there was a wide variety of classes offered in English, and they were not necessarily populated entirely by foreigners.  In addition, there are so-called JE or EJ classes that are offered in a variety of Japanese and English, so lectures might be in Japanese with English textbooks, or vice versa.  As foreigners, we could take any class offered as long as we felt up to the language requirements.

I went to summer school before the regular year started, and ended up finishing the Japanese language program in the second of the three trimesters.  For my third term I was able to take a couple of JE classes that were relevant to my major back at my home university.  It was a good opportunity to test my language abilities and get to know the regular Japanese students.

The other good thing about being a “regular” student was that there was no barrier between the foreign students and the Japanese students, and we were free to participate in any club or student activities we wanted to.  That was where I made most of my friends – friends who are still among my closest friends in Japan today.

Everyone has a different idea of what they want to get out of their time abroad.  Everyone goes into the experience with different levels of Japanese, and different academic interests, so different programs will appeal to people for different reasons.  But don’t overlook the importance of the social aspects and integration into the school and the country.  The most common complaint I heard from people in other programs was that they wished they had had more interaction with the regular students.

Whether you go to a school that makes it easier to integrate, or to a school that keeps you a little more removed, making an effort to get to know people in the country you are visiting is an integral part of the experience, and worth all the effort it takes!

The entryway to ICU with cherry trees... in February
The entryway to ICU with cherry trees… in February

**This was 13 years ago, so programs at all of the schools mentioned above may have changed.  If you are planning to study abroad, take sometime to really look into the kind of program it is, and get advice from people who have been there before if you can.