It may not come as a surprise that college life in Korea isn’t just about dorm parties, fraternities and “figuring out” your major, but what exactly is different about being a student in America vs Korea?
It may shock you just what parts are different and why.
In America, college students have a lot more pathway options to get into college, and focus on creative essays and extracurricular activities to stand out to admissions offices.
They are also able to apply to a less popular degree or one that requires a lower grade in order to enter the university, and can change later to their preferred major.
Koreans have a lot less choice, however. In an academically competitive environment, students must have excellent grades to stand out in the admissions process. And once they’re in, students aren’t generally able to switch majors – even if they decide they aren’t interested in learning it anymore, they’re stuck with it.
But on the other hand, American textbooks are super expensive, with most students renting ebooks, buying secondhand or borrowing from a library. Korean textbooks are, in comparison, fairly inexpensive at under 100,000 KRW each (~$91), although there isn’t any rental system available like in America.
It’s fairly well-known that dorm rooms are a standard part of college life in the US, with most schools requiring a minimum of one year spent on-campus. After that, students can – and most often will – move to a nearby apartment with friends.
Most American college students have roommates even when living out of a dormitory.
But with dense populations in the cities, there isn’t room for student dorms near most campuses in Korea. Students usually compute to school from their parents’ house, or move out of home to live closer to school.
It’s common for students to rent one room (studio) apartments alone.
That means students in Korea are more likely to have a part-time job than American students, who have a higher minimum wage and usually don’t live close to locations that they can find work in (although, of course some do).
Korean college students work long hours to cover their rent due to the lower minimum wage.
And Koreans can’t turn up to class in pajamas or gym clothes – they have to look good. There is a lot of emphasis on appearance in Korea, so sweat pants, joggers and old t-shirts are a big no-no. Students wear trendy, fashion-conscious clothes to class.
For girls, that means heels and makeup, and guys are often seen in collared shirts with hair carefully styled.
Meanwhile, Americans value comfort while they study. Hoodies, leggings and university-branded clothes are completely acceptable.
Turning up fully decked out in heels, clubbing dress and a full face of makeup might even get strange looks.
Networking is important at all universities, no matter the country, but Americans have a lot more options here, too. As you’d expect, living with students your own age on the same floor as you, or even the same room, boosts your chances of making friends, and the fraternities and sororities help students meet people with similar interests.
Like American students, Korean students build relationships by hanging out and drinking together, but they have less opportunities for this. During orientation, students meet with their seniors and classmates for the first time, and membership training events throughout the year allow them to get to know each other better.
However, there are strict cultural rules for interaction at these events. The sunbae-hoobae relationship requires strict manners and a respectful distance, so when the drinking starts, it can be a lot for some to handle. But, it can also be exciting for new students, and they are also able to meet year-mates through clubs and associations within the school.
While these differences may seem small, they make up the entire cultural life of a university student – and these can even vary from school to school, so each experience is unique. Although Korean and American college students may seem very different, they are all working towards the same goal – a stable future.
Plus, they all understand the struggle of balancing study with a social life!