University Entrance Exams Near, Netizens Share Education Jokes


With just a month to go before university entrance examinations (November 11th if you’ve never experienced it), the South Korean internet is currently awash with stories about university campus life for those facing the examination this year.

For successful candidates, life on campus is an orgasmic culmination of the Korean education system, usually celebrated by catching up on sex, alcohol, overseas travel, alba, and military service.

However, in a society strictly stratified by the hierarchy of university where admission to the SKY universities (i.e Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University) virtually guarantees a lifetime of prestige, influence and affluence, university students are often brutally classified into two categories: In-Seoul and Jijab-dae.


Translation of above: The guy my friend introduced me to… I’m sorry to say but he’s a bit of a twat. He’s not tall, he’s not good looking, but he’s from the US? What’s the big deal? And what’s up with that MIT thing? He’s so full of himself, I’ve never even heard of MIT. Isn’t it just a jijab-dae?

And that’s just the beginning. A myriad of further sub-categorisation of who-goes-to-which-university-and-why is a subject to endless debates and modifications. Having said that, SKY universities have undoubtedly dominated the top ranks. Reflective of this is the constant chatter surrounding the famed Yonsei-Korea University annual clash (videos here and here). And to this, we could probably also add the KAIST-Postech Science War, both of which thrill and intimidate in equal amount those facing the exams to get in to each university.


Are they the Ko-Yon or Yon-Ko Games?

Not surprisingly the so-called ‘winners’ of this extremely arduous process often let their journey to the top boastfully be known to the entire Korean internet.


A tower of a year’s worth of textbooks above and, below, a medical student boasts about his books:

Cram books piled up by the med-student in his pre-university days

Translation of above: The proud pile of cram books I read during my first year of high school.

Then there are issues with some students failing to focus on life’s more natural pursuits: (from TodayHumor):



Translation of above: “When I walk into his room, he suddenly hides what he’s reading from me. Typically, I should expect him to be reading a porn or comic book, right? But, in my son’s case, I catch him doing engineering maths.”

And the tear-inducing joke from a Seoul National University student pondering what it would be like to ‘downgrade’.


Translation of above: A friend of mine goes to Seoul National University. Now they’re doing those Yonsei-Korean University rival matches, right? Well, that must’ve looked like a lot of fun to him for some reason. So, he was watching those matches, when suddenly he said ‘Ah, I should’ve gone to Yonsei or Korea University – – ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke An SNU joke if you ever heard one…

Of course, for the ‘losers’ of the so-called Jijab-dae [glossory] students, makes an awkward, if unwelcome, presence at Chusoek.

However, a virtual tour of the pearly campus gates for those who will never (have to) walk through is always available and constantly updated on the South Korean internet.


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  • Snazzy_Brett

    Universities in Seoul are all a big hoax. I work closely with 7 schools in Seoul including one of the SKY schools. Found in all these Seoul schools: grade inflation (nearly half of SNU’s students have an A average, Sungkyunkwan is like 35% As), cheating, payoffs for higher grades, teacher-student relationships, classes ending early every day, misuse of funds by staffs, corruption, etc. Sound better than the 지잡대s? All the schools in Korea are similar, the difference being a Seoul diploma gets you more job opportunities in Seoul for little reason other than its physical location.

    In order for students to get into SKY, they essentially have to give up their childhoods. With few exceptions, many of the people who I met who graduated from a SKY school, though hard working, have odd personalities and the social awareness skills of a pine cone. Limiting your social interactions to Hagwon teachers and Starcraft doesn’t really prepare you for college life and after.

    Good luck to the students, but sorry you couldn’t enjoy your childhood :(

    • Kate

      Really cool post Brett. I’ve heard the same thing about schools in Korea, and actually when I worked at a hagwon in Seoul, we were asked to do many of the same things. I could never give students less then an A, if I did, I had to explain myself to the director and the parents a million times. Students got away with whatever they wanted, could be as lazy as they wanted, most never did homework, most cheated as much as they could, but we, as teachers, had little power to stop it, why? Because their parents paid the school a lot of money. In the end, I just ended up telling all the parents their children were smart, talented, hard working, beautiful children who were perfect with sunshine and rainbows………………I was yelled at if I said differently. As a legit, licensed, trained REAL teacher, this was horrible. It went against everything I ever learned about teaching in the USA. I will never ever work as a teacher in Korea again for the sheer fact I was asked so often to go against what I personally believed was right.

    • Web_of_Lies

      Brett, how’s that different from universities that bell curve elsewhere in the world? Just wondering, because at the university I go to in Canada they tend to bell curve class averages up or down to meet their target ratio.

      • Snazzy_Brett

        Bell curves are tricky. They depend on if the school has fixed the intervals before the semester starts or not. A bell curve system would show that the best 10-15% get As, next 20% get Bs, and the rest would get Cs. I think that in Korea, its more like, top 25-50% get As, next 25% get Bs, and lowest students get Cs. The fail rate in Korea is like 4%, whereas top schools in America show from 10-35% fail.

        Also, bell curves are unfair. Actually, I think all curves are unfair, but that says something about the flaws in the current state of education, worldwide. I prefer individual teachers’ systems that take into account attendance, participation, how much help you seek, and grades, together. This awards students on how hard they try and not on a number. Some students just aren’t good test takers (me), but try really hard. *Sidestory- I was a poor performer in my Statistics classes at uni. No matter how hard I studied, I got high Cs and low Bs on exams. But I went to office hours, dressed professionally, was in class at 08:45 before the teacher every morning, and asked for more in-depth explanations during lectures. I got an A in all of my Statistics courses. My professor, brilliant guy came over from India, knew that computer programs can do all the proofs correctly, but as long as I showed him that I understood the application of the formulas he was satisfied. Now, if he didn’t know my name, or how much I cared and how hard I tried, he probably would have given me my C and not thought twice about it. Knowledge and smarts isn’t always about correct answers.*

        Back to the topic at hand- Not that the Seoul system is different from anywhere else in the world, but I wanted to say that the schools in Seoul really aren’t any better than schools in other Korean cities. Actually, I work with a total of 24 Korean universities and sat in on classes in most. The teaching styles and content are all similar, its the caliber of student that differs.

        I actually think that the students outside of SKY are brighter because they have more common sense and people skills. Granted, tradeoffs would have to be made (work ethic and devotion to office before family/social life), but just because you are an Ivy Leaguer doesn’t mean you can do the job better than a State graduate.

        • Web_of_Lies

          Interesting you pointed out your Stats class as an example because I currently preparing for my Statistics midterm now. Bloody hell!

          However, I do agree grade averages or GPA is never an all-inclusive way to measure a person’s potential. There are just too many variables it leaves out that is otherwise needed in real work situations. Not sure if you ever read Freakonomics, but in the first chapter it writes about when standardized testing was introduced in America not only did it promote better teaching, it also promoted teachers and even schools to cheat through grade inflation. So, I`m just running the parallels with your post, what I`ve read, and through my own experience at university. It`s interesting to see that SK is going through this symptom as well, albeit, perhaps to a much greater extent.

    • Angie Kwon

      I go to Korea University, and honestly I feel I am wasting my time. -_- Sigh. Job opportunities are not a cake for Korea University students either. I should have just gone overseas, where education would have been worth the money I’m paying..

  • Adrianojapan


  • Commander-in-chief

    The serious side effect of the Korean education which has focused less understanding and creativity than memorization due to, in many cases, poorly qualified teachers, is that students who get free from massive pressure of the college entrance exam grow to be less interested about academics or whatever they are supposed to dream of.

    So, they choose their major at universities based on their scores from the exam, not by their dreams or aptitude. Only after entering universities do they begin to consider what kind of work they will do best, as if they have never thought about the question for a single moment.

    By contrast, I think for many western students, the universities are the place where they are thrilled to do what they want to do after deciding upon career they choose for their life. Their Korean counterparts consider universitied they attend a kind of social place they never experienced like booze, dating and so on while spending little time in figuring out what they want to be, and commtting themselves to the realization of their dreams.

    South Korean studnets’ indulgence in what will later prove to be a waste of time is attributable to the widespread public perception that the only goal of high school education is to go to the presitigious univerisities with high scores. As a result, exams at high schools are given easily in order of difficulty becasue scores of students will determine their future–a farcical idea because exam is considered a tool to send students to colleges of the first order.

    This bizarre practice is repeating at universities when students are bent on taking courses for which they easily get higher marks, as Brett pointed out exactly.

    During this week, the winners of the Nobel Prize are to be announced. The prestigious award, though it is not absolute measure of accomplishment of an indivioual or a nation, is often mentioned by South Koreans when they talk about the gloomy future of the nation because no one has so far honored with the award.

    However, the abense of Korean awardees is quite natural considering education is given to students not for ther stimulation of imagination, creativity, but for exam scores.

    • Kate

      I agree that Korean education does not promote creativity or originality and heavily based in rote memorization, the lowest form of learning. Students like to be told exactly what they are suppose to know for a test, memorize it, and that’s it. Whenever I asked my students to do creative writing samples for me, it was like pulling teeth from a lion. I would have students break down crying because they were so frustrated with having to come up with something original, because I wouldn’t let them use other people’s work. Teaching styles are different between the west and Korea……….Korean teachers “Here is how you get to point B from point A, You do this, this, this, and this. Now memorize this” Western Teacher ” I’m not going to tell you have to solve this problem Use what you know, make a guess, if it fails, try again. Use your brain to get through it.”

      And I’m not so sure you’re right about the “western students using college as a place of learning” while Koreans use it to party. Have you ever been to an American university? I would say the majority of students party and a small percent actually take it seriously and I would easily say that out of 10 students who go to college, only 2 will actually graduate in their program. There is a very high drop out rate. Very few people I graduated high school with actually went to college and fewer graduated. Only the smart ones. I think ALL kids that age party, no matter whether they Korean or American. It’s a time in their life when they look great, feel great, are super young, and want to experience the world.

      Didn’t a South Korean just get a Nobel Prize with another western scientist recently? South Koreans have made some big advancements in science.

      • Commander-in-chief

        Most students, except for few inquisitive minds, are unable to distinguish what they don’t know and do know–a serious problem because it is impossible to tackle a problem when one don’t know there is a problem.  The power of thought in Korean students is neutered when they are taught in a top-down way. They hate to be given questions during class like what do you think the cause is. Plus, there is no writing classes in middle and high schools in Korea–a factor lowering already poor ability of thought to the bottom level. I have never been to the State (and my Enlighs is largely acquired from reading Enlighs magazines and newspapers, which is why I am relatively poor at colloquial Enlighs, compared to writing in Enligs), but my wild guess is that top-class western students often committ themselves more to what they study than their Korean opposite numbers. Anyway, even students of high ability often feel that they are less prepared to take college courses, which require students to make an independent research about subjects and topics, unaided by others.Presenting one’s own ideas is possible after reading relevant facts, theories and others’ opinions and weighing up pros and cons against what he set as critical criteria. In short, Korea’s public education is in a crisis. The Asian of co-winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine is a Japanese, not a Korean. Although South Korea recently come into international spotlight more often than before, there is not a single Korean awardee.

        • hiu

          Actually a South Korean president won the Peace Prize.
          But, yeah, South Korea never won anything for science for Nobel Prizes.

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  • Nani

    I’ve seen a little of this in highschool dramas, but reading about it is certainly scarier…
    In my country, I learned that the korean educational system is one of the best. Guess they were wrong.

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