An insight on the new South Korean university admission policy – will it work?

by Irene Jay-Shin


A new South Korean admissions policy which attempts to give consideration to an applicant’s extracurricular activities does not seem to be compatible with the general temperament of Korean society which may not accept variety and/or differences between individuals. The society sets a series of ‘correct’ answers for the lives of individuals e.g. a ‘proper’ age to get married, an ‘appropriate’ age to study in a university, expected roles for women and men, etc. These sets of answers do not enable the individuals to pursue their own lives; furthermore, they end up following a standard path followed by their seniors, believing that such a way would be right and correct.

The new South Korean admission policy will first affect the top universities. Eventually, the new policy might contribute to stereotyping once again a ‘right’ way to be successful in the Korean society, which is inflexible in accepting changes as described above. For example, people can be socially successful by becoming the graduates of top universities in Korea as alumni form strong social networks and may tend to recruit graduates from their own universities.

Also, the new policy can be potentially incompatible with the Korean society where the value system pursued by its members is different from the US society. For instance, extracurricular activities are sometimes considered as ‘evil’ in the Korean society for university candidates. Right after I became a senior year high school student, I remember that I had to quit all the extracurricular activities such as sports, music lessons, and other foreign language classes. All the activities apart from preparing for the university entrance exam were considered as unnecessary, and as something to be postponed in favour of university entrance exam.

Likewise, the new admission policy will put more pressure on candidates by accelerating competition against each other and by forcing them to be ‘supermen’, expected to perform perfectly at studies and now also at sports, music, etc. in order to secure places in top universities. What is more, a lot of resources will be wasted in order to afford expensive private education fees for those extracurricular activities. It might widen the gap again between students who come from privileged and underprivileged backgrounds.

In conclusion, the intention of the new admission policy to take extracurricular activities into more consideration seems to be regarding the university candidates as a guinea pig and trying to experiment with the effectiveness of such a policy. A substantial period of time is required in order for an educational policy to be successfully stabilised and to maintain its continuous effectiveness, However, such a period of time has been rarely secured in the history of Korean educational policies, considering the reality that the head of the Ministry of Education changes often whenever there comes a new administration, or even in one single political term there has been so many changes in the past.

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