South Korea is set to witness a 28-year high in the percentage of high school graduate applicants in this year’s university entrance exam, accounting for 35.3 percent. Analysts note that the latest trend in the university exam is primarily attributed to the Ministry of Education’s decision to eliminate particularly challenging questions from the exam, combined with the growing demand for graduates seeking admission to medical schools across the nation.
According to the Korea Institute of Curriculum & Evaluation on Monday, the total number of applicants for this year’s university entrance exam was 504,588, a decrease of 3,442 applicants or 0.7 percent from the previous year. This marginal decline is primarily due to a significant increase in the number of adult applicants despite the drop in the school-age population. Among these applicants, current students numbered 326,646, a decrease of 23,593 from the previous year, but the number of high school graduates and high school diploma holders rose by 17,439 and 2,712 respectively.
Among all the applicants this year, the percentage of adults and high school diploma holders hit a 28-year high at 35.3 percent, the highest since 1996. The surge is primarily attributed to the popularity of medical schools, which has now reached a fervent level as the younger generation aim for stable, high-paying careers. Notably, Korean doctors are among the highest earners globally and, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Health Statistics 2023 released in July, salaried medical professionals in Korean hospitals and clinics earned an average annual wage income of $192,749, ranking first among the 28 member countries that provided relevant statistics.
In a tight job market where even those with degrees from prestigious universities struggle to find a job, the prospect of a lucrative income and job security well into their later years is highly appealing to young people. Some criticize this trend as a consequence of a long-standing distortion in the incentive system in the medical industry.
By Han Sang-heon, Shim Hee-jin, Choi Ye-bin, and Chang Iou-chung
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