April 3, 2024

Double-majoring at UNIST: An English-taught education in Korea with a full scholarship

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Zhaniya from Kazakhstan 🇰🇿

Campus Image of Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST)
Double-majoring at UNIST: An English-taught education in Korea with a full scholarship

Zhaniya is a senior student at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, which is located in Ulsan - a large metropolitan city in South Korea. UNIST stands out as the only university in Korea offering English-based instruction for both graduate and undergraduate programs.

Full-ride scholarship for international students at UNIST 

Regardless of any specific criteria, UNIST gives a scholarship to all accepted international students, which includes a free meal plan, a free tuition fee, and a monthly stipend. When Zhaniya was applying to UNIST, the admission rate for international students was quite big, with around 40-50 accepted international students. However, due to some changes in finance and policy for undergraduate students, now UNIST admits 15 international students per year. This is because UNIST wants to focus more on research and accepting more graduate students rather than undergraduates. But still, there are chances to get in as an undergraduate, because they welcome students with diverse backgrounds. There is a stereotype that the only students who get into UNIST are international Olympiads, but that’s not true.

Universities she has applied to

In total, Zhaniya applied to around 10 universities in USA, Canada and Hong-Kong, and got full scholarships at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and UNIST.

UNIST application and essay tips

When Zhaniya was applying to UNIST, it was required to send all the documents through the post, offline, but now the whole application process is online. The application period typically spans from January to February, and there is a straightforward online checklist outlining the requirements, without an application fee.

Zhaniya applied to UNIST without a SAT score. She had a 7.0 on the IELTS and has sent her predicted scores for A-level exams. Also, her GPA was perfect and she received a special award for students with a perfect GPA from Kazakhstan. However, she didn't have any national or international level Olympiads.

UNIST requires four essays, each with specific prompts and no set length. Thanks to this number of essays, applicants have a great chance to show various aspects of their profile - extracurriculars, academics, interests, experiences, background, skills, and so on. As far as Zhaniya remembers, the first question focused on overcoming a  problem when you were a high school student. It can be any problem - financial, social, or maybe some family circumstances. Here it is essential not to focus on the problem, but rather on the solution that you have come up with. How did you grow up as a person after encountering this problem? What skills have you learned? What kind of experience has it brought to you?

The second prompt was about describing an extracurricular or work experience. Here students can choose anything, but it would be very nice if it's something closely connected to the major they are choosing, so that they can highlight relevant background. Unlike U.S. universities using Common App, UNIST lacks a dedicated section for extracurricular details. Therefore, wisely utilizing the essays becomes crucial in presenting a comprehensive view of your extracurricular involvement.

Another essay is about describing your academic interests and your school. What is important here is focusing on your academic interests, not on extracurricular activities. As Zhaniya mentioned, UNIST loves students who are willing to do some research. Thus, maybe you can connect this topic to your essays. If you're interested in doing research at the university, then it would be great to mention some research projects that they conduct. Mostly, high school students don't have a lot of opportunities to do research, but still, maybe there are some projects that you have done during high school, some special knowledge or interests that you have and could later use in research projects at UNIST. Ensure that the essay maintains a strong connection to your background, experience, major, and prospective research areas at the university. Regarding the school’s description, some of the current students shared with Zhaniya their essays, and she has read different approaches to this question, coming to the conclusion that the most important thing here is just to be sincere about your school, about how you use opportunities that were given there, or what you appreciate most about your school. Some students have written about how their school gave them family and community, and how they learned to be part of the community.

The last essay focuses on what you're planning to learn at UNIST - a kind of “Why UNIST?” essay. It is strongly recommended to take some time to do great research before writing it. Do a thorough investigation of the courses offered within your chosen major, different professors, and the research projects in which you are interested. Explore the university's website, watch informative videos, and consider reaching out to current UNIST students on platforms like LinkedIn or Instagram for valuable insights. The most important thing is to connect everything to your goals, your future, and your background. Also, there is no such requirement that you are not bound to adhere strictly to the study area you initially mentioned upon entering UNIST. The university provides flexibility, allowing students to change their majors, even up until their senior year. Moreover, there is the opportunity to pursue a double major or a minor.

In her application, Zhaniya especially emphasized a potential business administration major, trying to show her strong background for this field. Regarding extracurriculars, she has participated in a Technovation project, being a team leader. This was her main extracurricular involvement because it was connected to IT, entrepreneurship, and business. Despite the absence of economics or business courses in her high school curriculum, Zhaniya enrolled in supplementary courses out of curiosity. Additionally, she participated in some regional and national Olympiads, namely the Finance Olympiads. Further enhancing her practical skills, she organized and conducted business training sessions while actively engaging in volunteer activities at her high school, where she was a representative at various events and a tour guide.

Double-major in a science and technology university 

Zhaniya’s major is Business administration and Industrial Engineering. Although the second major is called Industrial Engineering, it mainly consists of data science. What students learn there is statistics, applied linear algebra, coding, AI, machine learning, and AI application to business and finance problems. So, at the Industrial Engineering Department, the focus is to understand how machines work and how to integrate statistics and machine learning into business problems.

Her main major is Business Administration, which is a very broad major because at UNIST there are courses in marketing, entrepreneurship, HR, finance, and economics. Zhaniya is specifically interested in finance, and, therefore, she chose the courses that are connected to this field. According to her opinion, the Business Administration Department at UNIST offers very good courses and there are very good professors, who have great English proficiency. Also, the university started offering many AI-connected subjects. Even for finance, students have lots of courses like Financial Market Analysis using AI. 

When Zhaniya chose to double major, at the beginning, she was worried that the learning material in both areas was too broad. But once she talked to her professors, they said that what students should understand is just how machines work and how little knowledge in every area can be very good. Later, for your master's degree, you may choose one specific area. For Zhaniya, this path which involves learning a little bit from different areas is very convenient, because the Industrial Engineering Department offers many different courses so that later graduates can choose to work or study in areas like data science, data analytics, supply and chain management, operations research, machine learning engineering, financial engineering, and so on.

Research, work opportunities, and the requirement of learning Korean

Mostly, UNIST students work at research labs and also they can work as teaching assistants for professors. Zhaniya worked at both. She was a teaching assistant at a math course once, checking homework, and monitoring students during finals and midterms. Since UNIST is a science and technology university, the students have lots of research opportunities. She has been researching in three different labs and currently, she is at a Data Analytics Lab, researching the Machine Learning area, specifically Data Classification.

What Zhaniya can say from her experience is that even though UNIST is a Korean university with only English courses, learning Korean is still essential if you want more opportunities in Korea. Unfortunately, she hasn't learned it and because of that, she can't use all the opportunities that we have. For example, business labs collaborate with major companies like Samsung or LG, but Zhaniya I couldn't apply to some of their programs because she lacked Korean language knowledge. 

Balancing academics and extracurriculars. Integration in the new cultural community of Korea

In Korea, there is a relative grading system, which means that your grade depends on the average score of the class. Generally, Koreans are very hardworking people. You can always meet some students studying at night at the library. Since they are so hardworking, the society you're living in becomes very competitive, and that pushes you to also follow this path. Regarding the academic workload and the study-life balance, it depends on the perception of the student and on how much priority the student gives to studies and grades. If you study well, attend lectures, study after the lecture, and then do all the extra tasks, then it is not that hard to get good grades.

When Zhaniya was a sophomore, she became the president of the UNIST International Students Organization. Other students choose to have some extra jobs in their free time. Also, the university offers different sports activities, like tennis, Korean archery, and rowing. Her advice would be to have as many extracurriculars as you can in your freshman and sophomore years.

As she spent some time studying remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, when moving to Korea she was so excited that she didn't have a very time adapting to the university and to the new culture. Moreover, there were lots of Central Asian students, especially from Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, and now they have a united Kazakhstan community, hosting different events. Since Zhaniya feels at home when she is surrounded by these people, it wasn't difficult to adapt. As she is a COVID-era student, at the beginning of the studies, they didn't have lots of entertaining events. However, Zhaniya said that last semester, they started having so many different activities and now it's getting more interesting and lively on campus.

Final piece of advice

Zhaniya would like to advise prospective applicants to decide wisely when they get into some schools and always have different options by applying to safety schools. Before making a final decision, you should make a thorough investigation of all the parts of each university. Instead of thinking if you fit into this university, you should rather spend some time researching if that specific university fits you, based on their programs, community, opportunities, location, and even some detailed aspects such as food or medical support. All those details shouldn’t be underestimated when you choose the institution you are going to attend. Also, don’t forget to learn Korean if you're going to come to Korea.

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from Kazakhstan 🇰🇿

Duration of Study

Sep 2020 — Feb 2025


Business Administration & Data Science

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Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST)

Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST)

Ulsan, South Korea🇰🇷


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