South Korea’s hypermodern cities and reputation for technological innovation make it a great place to embark on PhD research. Education is valued very highly in South Korea and thousands of international students from across the world flock to the country’s renowned universities each year.
This page will cover everything you need to know about studying a PhD in South Korea, from funding opportunities and the application process through to student visas and the South Korean university system.
There’s a good chance you’re viewing this article on a display device designed and developed in South Korea. Korean expertise and ingenuity might also be responsible for your stereo, your mobile phone or even your car. And the universities that have helped drive South Korea’s burgeoning scientific and technological success offer some very compelling reasons to undertake postgraduate study there.
The same period that has witnessed the global successes of Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia has also seen South Korean higher education climb the world rankings. South Korea hosts some of the highest placed universities in Asia – and the world. Meanwhile, the city of Seoul has been chosen as one of Times Higher Education’s top university cities.
With the country’s government identifying international student recruitment as a key strategy for developing its higher education system even further, now is a great time to consider studying for a PhD in South Korea.
|Oldest University||Sungkyunkwan University (1398)|
|PhD Length||3 years|
|Representative Fees||₩2,700,000 ($2,320) - ₩4,250,000 ($3,650) per semester|
|Academic Year||March to February|
Want to know more about what it's like to live and study abroad in South Korea during a PhD? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.
Unsurprisingly, given its status as a world-leading producer of high-tech consumer and industrial products, many of South Korea’s universities specialise in science and technology fields. Other subjects are popular too though, including all major arts, humanities, social science and medical disciplines. South Korea is also keen to develop research into its own local and regional culture and history, with some funding available specifically for this work.
South Korean higher education follows a three-tiered system, similar to that used within the Bologna Process. Undergraduate degrees are followed by Masters and PhD level qualifications, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the length of study at each stage is comparatively long.
A PhD at a South Korean university will typically take a minimum of two to three years, but, depending on previous postgraduate experience in your field, you may require a longer period of enrolment in order to complete the necessary coursework and examination elements before producing a thesis.
Accreditation of South Korean universities is still developing to keep pace with the rapid expansion of its higher education sector. Currently the Korean Council for University Education operates as a private organisation evaluating and accrediting the performance of a large number of member institutions, including most of the country’s top universities.
Higher education institutions in South Korea fall into a number of categories and are further divided into private and public (or "national") institutions. This variety may appear confusing at first, but don’t worry: from your point of view as a prospective PhD student these universities will be primarily distinguished by their specialisms and by their provision in your desired field. Both private and public institutions can award doctorates and are well represented in domestic and international rankings.
The following are some of South Korea’s top internationally ranked institutions, all of which offer a variety of PhD programmes:
In recent years Korea’s domestic universities have been joined by a growing number of international campuses established by overseas institutions.
Many of these are hosted at the Incheon Global Campus, which includes branches of:
Take a look at our guide to international campuses for more information on this mode on studying abroad.
South Korea also offers a number of graduate schools, some of which are affiliated with larger universities while others are independent institutions, specialising in specific disciplines at an advanced level.
Some graduate schools are practice-based – focusing on Masters level training – and others are directed towards PhD research. Your choice between a specialist graduate school and a larger university will probably depend on the specific resources and expertise available in your subject area.
ecent years have seen universities in South Korea enjoying increasing levels of success in global university rankings (as well as regional rankings in Asia).
|University||THE 2020||QS 2020||ARWU 2019|
|Seoul National University||64||37||101-150|
|Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)||89||95||151-200|
|Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)||=110||41||201-300|
|Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH)||=146||87||401-500|
|Yonsei University (Seoul campus)||197||=104||201-300|
|Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST)||201-250||-||301-400|
|Kyung Hee University||301-350||=247||301-400|
|Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology||401-500||=322||901-1000|
|Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.|
University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.
The Korean academic year is divided into two semesters, with breaks from July to August and from December to February. This long winter break may be particularly attractive if you’re hoping to travel home and visit family during seasonal holidays – or just experience more of South Korea itself.
Studying for a PhD in South Korea will typically involve three stages:
Once submitted, at least five examiners will evaluate your thesis. An oral defence of your work may not actually be required, provided it passes the judgement of these examiners, but you should contact your prospective institution for specific information on the coursework requirements and examination procedures for its PhD programmes.
University fees in South Korea can be relatively expensive, but the government and individual universities offer a number of scholarships and other funding options to attract students from overseas. Also, unlike many other options for foreign study, South Korea imposes no additional tuition fees on international students.
Fees vary between individual universities and between private and national institutions. Courses in subjects such as Engineering and Medicine are typically the most expensive (and take the longest to complete) while courses in humanities disciplines usually have lower fees. In general, graduate programmes at South Korean universities could cost anywhere between ₩1,290,000 (USD $1,100) and ₩25,600,000 (USD $22,000).
When looking at fees and costs it is worth bearing in mind that these are usually given per semester: the cost for a full academic year will be twice these amounts.
Depending on your institution, you may need to pay an application fee of between ₩50,000 and ₩160,000 (USD $40-140).
Language courses will typically cost around ₩850,000 (USD $730) for an intensive three-week course or ₩1,500,000 (USD $1,290) for a ten-week programme.
National Health Insurance (NHI) is required as a condition of residency and will cost you around ₩21,000 ($20) per month. For information on the cost of accommodation and other general living expenses for PhD students in South Korea, see our guide to living in South Korea as a PhD student.
Many universities will offer a full or partial fee waiver (typically between 30% and 100% of tuition costs) to suitably qualified international students. As you would expect, these are often awarded on a competitive basis so it is worth checking with your institution to see what kind of support is available to you and what the application process for it is.
In addition to the scholarships available at individual universities, there are general schemes established by the South Korean government for the purpose of encouraging and supporting foreign students. These include:
Information on these and other scholarship programmes is available on the Korean Government’s StudyinKorea website.
Postgraduate courses at South Korean universities may start in either of the spring and autumn semesters that make up the South Korean academic year:
Applications may be made directly to your chosen university, but the Korean government also offers an online service for overseas students who register at its StudyinKorea website.
Qualification requirements for entry onto a PhD programme in South Korea will vary between institutions. You should generally expect to hold or receive a Masters degree (or its equivalent) in a relevant discipline, but a good undergraduate degree may be sufficient.
The South Korean government stipulates some basic admission standards for all universities, but individual institutions are free to develop their own specific requirements. As a general rule you will need to submit the following:
You will need to demonstrate that you have enough financial means to cover the cost of your course fees and maintenance whilst studying in South Korea and may be required to sign a personal pledge to this effect. You may also need to verify that you or your financial sponsor possess sufficient funds to support you – the Korean Government asks for evidence of a bank balance of USD $10,000.
Practical courses (such as those in creative arts or physical education disciplines) may also require a portfolio or other proof of your competence.
Over a third of classes in South Korean universities are taught in English (this proportion is higher in graduate schools). If your course requires some knowledge of Korean you may be asked to take a Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK). The normal requirement in these cases is a score of Level 3 or above.
South Korea itself has a strong Anglophone tradition and English is a requirement of its education system from an early stage. This means that many of the Koreans you’ll meet during your PhD will already be able speak English, but there will also be opportunities for you to return the favour.
Whether prompted by curiosity or the requirements of your course, you should be able to enrol in Korean language classes through your university. These are typically offered in two formats: intensive three-week courses and more relaxed ten-week programmes.
If you want to study a PhD in South Korea, you’ll need to visit the Korean embassy or consulate in your home country to apply for a student visa.
As an international PhD student, you should apply for a Visa for Regular Educational Program (D-2). During your application, you’ll need the following documents:
There’s also an application fee of USD $60 for single-entry visas and USD $90 for multiple-entry visas.
Once you’ve arrived in South Korea, you’ll need to register with your local immigration office within 90 days in order to apply for a Certificate of Alien Registration. The fee for this is ₩10,000 (USD $9). You’ll receive an Alien Registration Card that you should carry with you at all times during your stay in South Korea.
A PhD from a South Korean university will equip you particularly well for those technical and engineering fields in which South Korean expertise and innovation is world-renowned.
If your aim is to seek a career in South Korea itself after graduation your PhD will be particularly valuable. A large number of foreign academics are already employed in the South Korean higher education system and there is some evidence to suggest that a domestic PhD may be advantageous to promotion and advancement within its universities.
You’ll first need to change your D-2 student visa to a D-10 Job Seeker visa. Once you’ve found a job, you can begin the process of acquiring a professional visa in South Korea.
Last updated - 22/01/2020