South Korea - Country Commercial Guide
Education Services

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2022-03-30


Capital:  Seoul

Population:  51.7 million (July 2021 est.)

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity):  $2.188 trillion (2020 est., in 2017 dollars)

Currency:  South Korean won (KRW)

Language:  Korean


UNESCO Student Mobility Number

South Korea has 101,493 students studying abroad according to UNESCO.


CIA World Factbook:

22.77% of the Korean population is under 25 years of age. 



In South Korea, education is a high priority for Korean families.  Success in education is important culturally and seen as an important pathway to greater achievements.  Korea represents the third largest source of foreign students matriculating at U.S. universities, comprising 4.3 percent of total international students in the U.S.  The Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) indicates that a total of 39,491 Korean students were enrolled in U.S. institutions for academic year 2020-2021.  On a per capita basis, Korea sends the third-most students to the U.S. from Asia.  In 2020-2021, Korean students in the U.S. studied engineering (21%), STEM majors (20%), business management (16%), fine and applied arts (5.6%), and social studies (8.4%).

A degree from a well-known institution is a status symbol in Korea and essential to finding the “right job at the right company.”  Coveted spaces in Korea’s top schools are open to competition from all students, but attainable by only a few.  Many talented students instead opt for the best schools outside of the country and obtain a diploma from an accredited overseas school.  Japan is the second popular destination from Korea, followed by Australia, Canada, and the U.K.

A decade ago, Korean students with U.S. degrees enjoyed advantages in the Korean job market; however, this is no longer the case.  Korean universities have grown in prestige and students are opting to stay in-country to build connections.  U.S. schools are competing with the top Korean schools.  However, English language skills, internship experience, vocational training, or a degree from a mid-ranked state university in the U.S. is still seen as providing a competitive advantage to secure full-time employment.  This translates into opportunities for U.S. schools to recruit some of Korea’s most talented students.  Koreans remain willing to spend a substantial portion of their income on education.

While this market is very attractive to a wide swath of U.S. education service providers, it has become, over the last few years, an increasingly challenging market.  The number of Korean students studying in the U.S. has trended slightly downward in the last five years, and it significantly decreased by 21 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.  While the U.S. remains by far one of the most preferred overseas destinations, especially for undergraduate studies, fewer Korean students are going to the U.S. because there are simply fewer younger people and partially because of the rising number international schools in Korea attracting students who otherwise might have gone abroad.  Korea is a rapidly aging society, with one of the world’s lowest birth rates at 0.8 children per family.  In addition to this demographic change, the recent economic slowdown at home is also contributing, to some degree, to the declining number of Korean students studying in the U.S.

Although a university’s reputation is still a key element for Korean students seeking degree programs, recently more Korean students are employing strategies to lower the costs of their education by studying at community colleges before transferring to four-year schools or state universities with less expensive living costs.  Korea’s dynamic and constantly evolving education market is best accessed via the speed and power of referrals and information that flow by word-of-mouth.  Good opportunities do exist, albeit with decreasing numbers of U.S.-bound Korean students, when U.S. educational entities are prepared to compete in a highly sophisticated, demanding, and brand-oriented market.


Total Korean Students Studying in the United States







South Korea’s Rank






Korean Students






% Percentage Change






No. of New International Student Enrollment






(Source: IIE Open Doors Report)



Undergraduate and Graduate Programs:  According to Open Doors 2021, 44.9% of Korean students studying in the U.S. are enrolled in undergraduate courses and 36.1% are enrolled in graduate courses.  The best prospects for attracting Korean students are in higher education programs of undergraduate and graduate level study.  The perception and prestige of U.S. universities, academic research, and the chance to gain English proficiency remain strong draws for Koreans, despite challenges, such as the declining Korean population and the growing appeal of China as a study abroad destination.

Intensive English Programs:  Korea is the fifth-leading country of origin for students studying in intensive English programs in the U.S.  Korean students take intensive English programs to improve their English language skills for academic and professional reasons.  The numbers have declined over the years due to the increased availability of English language training programs by native English speakers in Korea.  However, Korean students continue to opt to study in the U.S. because most Korean parents view English education as a top priority and prefer immersion in an English-language speaking environment.

Education Technology:  The education technology market is advancing in Korea and is a growing sector with potential for advanced education technology suppliers.  Korea is among the world’s most digitally connected countries and developments are progressing in EdTech areas, including mobile learning environments, online learning analytics for instructional design, and artificial intelligence for science research.  EdTech has been strongly supported by the government for decades and forms a significant part of government strategy to reform the education system to focus on developing students’ skills and using the latest cutting-edge technology.


Korean Students Studying in the United States


Academic Level






Number of South Korean Students by Academic Level

























Total No. of South Korean Students







(Source: IIE Open Doors Report)

Korea is known for having one of the fastest Internet networks in the world and the Internet penetration numbers reach 96 percent.  In 2020, the number of mobile connections was equivalent to 118 percent of the total population and social media penetration stood at 87 percent.  The proliferation of Internet use has contributed to the increased usage of social media channels.  The country’s search traffic is dominated by local search engine platforms such as Naver and Daum, which control 93 percent of the market.  Unlike the U.S., Google is not an often-used search engine.  The most popular social media sites for students in Korea are Kakao, Naver, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  Kakao Talk is the most popular messaging app and social network that Korean students use to interact.  The increasingly hyper-connected student population uses mobile devices during the exploration phase of seeking out education programs and the majority make their first visits to websites on their mobile devices.

U.S. schools should create new channels of engagement with Korean students by utilizing the popular local platforms and social media channels to share valuable information on their programs and increase their visibility to this audience.  Digital marketing is very relevant for the higher education sector since students have the highest Internet consumption rate of any other group.



To attract Korean students and penetrate the dynamic and highly competitive Korean education market, U.S. education institutions should take an approach based on a more permanent, consistent, and profound commitment to the market.  Korean parents are increasingly savvy about how they acquire information on educational opportunities for their children.  Traditional ways of recruiting students, such as hosting school information sessions and participating in trade fairs are less effective than they were in the past.  Education recruitment agents or local representatives are utilized less.  U.S. education institutions should consider employing a combination of online and off-line promotional campaigns.  Building people-to-people networks through alumni advocacy, as well as developing and broadening exchange programs, which could, in turn, raise the profile of the U.S. institution, and help U.S. schools attract Korean students to the United States.






Ms. Song Oh, Commercial Specialist 

U.S. Commercial Service – Seoul, South Korea

Phone: +82-2-397-4396