University Ranking – South Korea’s Top Universities


University Ranking – South Korea’s Top Universities


The most prominent and highest internationally ranked universities in South Korea are POSTECH (Pohang University of Science and Technology, KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Technology and SNU (Seoul National University). These 3 particular schools are considered “extremely competitive” by South Korea’s general public in terms of getting accepted for attendance, and are consistently ranked within the World’s Top 100 Universities each year.

The following category of “highly competitive” universities in South Korea are Yonsei University, Sungkyunkwan University and Korea University. Next in order are “competitive” universities which are all generally accepted as being great schools in South Korea.


♦ Valued Added Insight 

Amongst those schools ranked as “extremely competitive” only SNU is what Korea technically considers as being a “comprehensive” university. The other 2 schools – specifically POSTECH & KAIST – are considered special universities geared toward Science, Engineering & Technology. Thus, these 2 universities are often left-out when “universities” in South Korea are mentioned.

As far as comprehensive universities are concerned, there is a local street term called SKY. This means “S”eoul National University, “K”orea University and “Y”onsei University which were traditionally the Top 3 schools in South Korea.

Recently, however, Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) has joined the ranks of these 3 “highly competitive” universities. In fact, the Joongang Daily Newspaper recently ranked Sungkyunkwan University as the overall best “comprehensive” university in South Korea in their 2013 assessment even though Seoul National University still maintained their No. 1 position in terms of social reputation.

Moreover, the Global MBA Program at Sungkyunkwan University GSB (Graduate School of Business) is now the only Korean graduate business school to rank within the FT (Financial Times) Top 50 MBA schools in world ranking (2014).

The secret behind Sungkyunkwan University’s — the oldest university in East Asia (established in 1398, over 600 years ago) — rise through the ranks is the strength of the Samsung Group which runs the university. For instance, Samsung has made SKKU’s Medical School one of the best in East Asia.

POSTECH, on the other hand, was established in 1986 by the POSCO (f.k.a. Pohang Iron & Steel Company) – one of the world’s leading steel companies, and in 1998 was ranked by Asiaweek as the best science and technology university in Asia. It would as be worthwhile to mention that the Doosan Group – another Korean conglomerate group – in South Korea runs Chung-Ang University; and the Hanjin Group (Korean Air) runs Inha University. These two conglomerates, however, were not (and are not) as successful as Samsung and POSCO in terms of making notable improvements to their schools’ educational programs and international reputation.

As an honorary mention, the SolBridge International School of Business (Woosong University) is a school to watch and attractive to international students.

Even though their names do not appear as often on international university rankings, schools such as Hongik University, Dongguk University, Dangkook University and Sookmyung Women’s University are also considered “competitive” universities by South Koreans.

Furthermore, the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (or simply HUFS) is a “competitive” university and is one of a few schools in South Korea that places strong and comprehensive emphasis on learning foreign languages and culture. At last check, the school was teaching 45 foreign languages.

BUFS (or Busan University of Foreign Studies) is another respected school which places emphasis on foreign languages. For example, their school homepage is presented in 16 languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Uzbek and Vietnamese).

To a large extent, graduates of HUFS and BUFS are pioneers who travel and go overseas to help South Korea become more internationalized (globalized) with their language skills and knowledge. This important role that they play is especially true when applied to non-English speaking nations.

Lastly, it should be noted that the Catholic University of Korea has an “extremely” competitive medical school program. The Department of English Literature at Ewha Womans University traditionally falls under the “highly” competitive category; and Hanyang University’s College of Engineering is also “highly” competitive in terms of its categorization.


 Food For Thought 

Under the GSU (Global Songdo University) program the following new breed of universities have either already opened-up (or are planning to open-up) a campus in South Korea to offer higher education and academic degrees.

  • State University of New York at Stony Brook (started – March 2012)
  • George Mason University (started – March 10, 2014)
  • University of Utah (planned – September 2014))
  • Ghent University (planned – September 2014)
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (discussions are ongoing – TBD)
  • Saint Petersburg State University (discussion are ongoing – TBD)

Many eyes are on these six-schools with respect to how the success of their East Asian campus in Songdo will unfold. It will be interesting to see how the academic programs of these schools are accepted by South Korean and other Asian students. In addition, and as the number of high-school graduating students continue to decline owing to low-birth rates, non-competitive South Korean universities will soon have to undergo severe restructuring just to survive. Thus, downsizing (in every sense of the word), school mergers, school reputation improvements (academic programs and job success for graduating students) and proactive marketing will become critical survival factors for South Korea’s less competitive schools.

♦ Language Footnote 

  • Comprehensive University // 종합대학 (綜合大學)
  • SNU (Seoul National University) // 서울대학교
  • KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology ) // 카이스트 (韓國科學技術院)
  • POSTECH (Pohang University of Science & Technology) // 포항공과대학교 (浦項工科大學校)
  • Yonsei University // 연세대학교 (延世大學校)
  • Korea University // 고려대하교 (高麗大學校)
  • Sungkyunkwan University  (SKKU) // 성균관대학교 (成均館大學校)
  • Kyunghee University // 경희대학교 (慶熙大學校)
  • Hanyang University // 한양대학교 (漢陽大學校)
  • Ewha Womens University // 이화여자대학교 (梨花女子大學校)
  • Sogang University // 서강대학교 (西江大學校)
  • Pusan National University (PNU) // 부산대학교 (釜山大學校)
  • Chung-Ang University // 중앙대학교 (中央大學校)
  • Kyungpook University // 경북대학교 (慶北大學校)
  • University of Seoul // 서울시립대학교 (서울시립대학교)
  • Inha University // 인하대학교 (仁荷大學校)
  • Konkuk University // 건국대학교 (建國大學校)
  • Chonbuk National University (CBNU) // 전북대학교 (全北大學校)
  • The Catholic University of Korea // 카톨릭대학교

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