Why Are Korean Students Dropping Out of Top American Universities?
Share this on

Why Are Korean Students Dropping Out of Top American Universities?

The Chosun Ilbo recently looked at research finding that Korean students at top American colleges and universities have shockingly high drop-out rates. For the usual bracing commentary see The Metropolitician. Note that the numbers cited appear to conflate Koreans and Korean-Americans.


Korean students at a fair for studying abroad.

A study has found that for every 10 Koreans who enter top American universities 4.4 will drop out. The results of 39-year old gyopo Kim Seung-gi’s doctoral thesis at Columbia University, titled “Research on Korean Students at Distinguished Universities,” [actual title “First and Second Generation Conflict in Education of the Asian American Community”] found the drop-out rate among 1,400 Korean students analyzed from 1998 to 2007 at 14 top universities including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and Columbia, was 44%.

According to Mr. Kim’s thesis, American students’ likelihood of quitting over the same time period was 34%, or ten percentage points less than Koreans. Jewish (12.5%), Indian (21.5%), and Chinese (15%) students also had lower drop-out rates. The study examined why Koreans have a high drop-out rate.

Mr. Kim stated that, “Korean parents’ excessive emphasis on high university entrance exam scores is one reason given for quitting, as well as the obstacles inherent in fitting into academic life and American society.”

Korean students grow up in a fiercely competitive war to gain admission into schools. Even during middle school students spend part of their day at school or at hagwons. It is even said that third year senior high school students see the stars when they come out to go to school in the morning, and see them again when they are going home at night. Because of this environment, there are many cases where Korean students are satisfied just to be in a university that allows them plenty of freedom and to be getting better grades than the other students.

However, society wants students who have a spirit of giving to others, self-sacrifice, and leadership. One of chiefs of admission at an Ivy League school says, “students who are academically great but lacking in social skills or general enlightenment are not welcome,” and “when students who are always happy are selected over those who are just academically successful, the campus community itself becomes a happier place.”

As the number of entrants at distinguished schools in America rises, different negative aspects of this are appearing. A, who studied for three years in senior high school enveloped in his parents’ concern, and who after entering university stopped to take a lengthening break says he has fallen into ‘leisure activity.’ This is because for Korean high school students who have led an entirely controlled life, being dropped into the middle of an American university campus is akin to the attainment of ‘limitless freedom.’

Here is what B, who now works at Morgan Stanley and attended the University of Virginia, has to say about ‘limitless freedom.’ “There are lectures that have hundreds of students in attendance. There are over 13,000 students, and the school was so big it was scary. It’s a lonely place where I have to know and do everything, isn’t it.”

He went on to say, “without any kind of controls on me I secretly thought about getting lost in my freedom, and started to let off my stress. Nobody would have known even if I’d never gone to class at all.”

What’s the best way to deal with this serious situation? Through common interests it is possible to become close to American students, and by joining a club and doing extracurricular activities, balance in emotional stability and mental growth can be realized. These are exactly the things in which Korean students are deficient.

The results of Mr. Kim’s research state as well that, to gain admission to university, Korean students invest 75% of their time and effort on study and spare only 25% on volunteer work and special activities. But American students generally split their time 50/50 for work and play.