10 Secrets to Landing a Korean University Job Teaching English

Kim Yu-na, the famous figure skater, at her class at Korea University.


Teaching English at a Korean university is one of the best ESL jobs on the planet. With almost 400 colleges in the country, why aren’t you working at one?

 

Do you want to teach at a Korean university?

Find work at Profs Abroad!

 

If you’ve spent any time at all in Korea then you know that teaching at a university is the Holy Grail of ESL jobs. Why? How does 4 months or more of paid vacation sound to you? Not enough? Most university lecturers teach around 14 hours per week and get one or two days off per week, and you don’t have to desk-warm between classes.

Having loads of free time isn’t the only thing university jobs have going for them. The students are pretty cool to work with as well. Yes, it’s true that many Korean university students kick back and relax once they’ve made it into college. However, they are easier to deal with and more respectful than a class of 40 screaming primary school students.

Next, you won’t have a co-teacher. The class is yours. Yes, you will have a director or foreign teacher supervisor to answer to, but generally you are left alone to run your class as you like.

The best part is you can use your extra free time to pursue a hobby, further your education, or make some extra money. Many university teachers double or even triple their salary by teaching private classes on the side. Of course this is illegal in Korea (unless you marry a Korean) but everyone does it.

Job Description

Keep in mind that all university jobs are different. There is no standard. In general you can expect the following:

Teaching hours: 10-20 per week (the standard is around 14-16).

Salary: 1.8 to 2.8 million per month (around $25k or more after taxes), which varies depending on qualifications, experience, and school location.

Housing: many universities provide housing or a stipend of around 300,000 won per month.

Bonus: public universities provide an end-of-year bonus equivalent to one month’s salary, private universities usually don’t.

Pension & Health Care: all universities are required by law to provide a pension (about 10% of your yearly salary) and health care.

Contract Duration: usually for one year but sometimes 2. A few universities will force you out after 3 years.

Airfare reimbursement: occasionally a university will pay for your roundtrip airfare but it is rare.

Requirements

Don’t you need an MA to teach at a university? No. Korean universities ask for a minimum of 2-years teaching experience if you have a Master’s degree (in any subject – does not have to be in TESOL or English related) or 4 years teaching experience if you don’t have a MA.

You also need to have a passport from either the UK, US, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand or Australia. You can’t have a criminal record.

You’re Hired

As you can imagine these jobs are highly competitive. Just look at anyone who has lived in Korea for some time. You’ll see that almost every “lifer” works at a university. So how do you get one of these jobs? Here are a few tips:

1. Know the Right People

The number one key to getting a job at a Korean university is to know someone on the inside. Korean culture is all about circles: personal relationships are key.

The best university jobs are rarely advertised on the Internet job boards. For every university job posting there are 100 public school or academy job offers. Why? When a position opens up the university usually knows about it far in advance. Instead of posting an ad on the Internet, the university will ask the foreign teachers at that school to recommend their friends.

One university I worked at had almost 30 foreign teachers. If each teacher recommends the job to 10 of their friends that means the school already has 300 applicants. Why should the school advertise on an Internet job board?

2. Join Professional Associations

So how do you network in Korea? First, get to know as many university teachers as possible. Anytime you meet a university teacher you should “friend” them on Facebook. Ask them questions about where they teach and what it is like. Let them know you are looking for a job.

Next, join a teaching association. The largest in Korea is KOTESOL. Find your local chapter. Join it. Go to the meetings and conferences. This is your number one place in Korea to network with English teachers. More importantly, it is a fantastic resource for your own professional development…and it looks good on your résumé. Another association for English teachers in Korea is ATEK.

3. Be Proactive in Your Job Hunt

You have to go after these jobs. You won’t find them on Korean university job boards like Profs Abroad. First, decide what city you want to live in. For example, if you want to live in Busan, then visit the city and grab a tourist map. You will see there are over 20 universities in Busan alone. Next, look up the schools on the Internet or get a Korean friend to find the phone number of the English department. Call and ask who is in charge of hiring new teachers. Introduce yourself, find out if they are hiring, and send your résumé.

4. Get Some Experience In Korea

Although it is possible to get a university job before you come to Korea, it’s quite difficult. Most employers want to see that you have at least one year of teaching experience (it doesn’t have to be at a university) in Korea. It can be at a public school or private academy.

5. Know the Hiring Seasons

The Korean school year starts with the spring semester in March. More teachers tend to get hired during the spring semester. The fall semester starts in September. Therefore, there are two main hiring seasons: November-December and May-June.

It is true that some universities do things at the last-minute and hire teachers a few weeks before the semester starts. However, you want to get your job search going in full swing during those prime hiring months.

6. Get Qualified

If you have an MA in TESOL or Linguistics then you shouldn’t have much trouble finding work. There are no guarantees but more and more university teachers are getting their MA these days.

A second cheaper and quicker option is to get a CELTA or TEFL certification.  CELTA courses take about one month and cost around $2,000. There are also many TEFL certification courses online that will certify you for under $300. Just be sure your course is at least 100 hours and that it states the number of hours on your certificate.

7. Make Your MA Work For You

When most people think of teaching abroad they assume they can only teach English. This is absolutely not the case in Korea. There is a huge demand for university professors with Masters degrees that can teach major subjects in English. This is a trend that is not going away and will only continue to get bigger in the future.

For instance, if you have an MBA you can teach business – in English of course – to Korean university students. Try contacting the department related to your area of study and ask them if they are hiring. These jobs often pay double or more of what you would make teaching English.

8. Look the Part

Koreans are highly image conscious. Got gray hair? Dye it. Is your suit a little old or out of style? Buy a new one. Was your photo on your resume taken at home on your couch? Get photo taken professionally and have it photoshopped. If you don’t wear a suit and tie or your best dress to your interview you might as well not show up.

9. Pay Your Dues

Korea has 4 tiers of universities according to competitiveness. At the top-tier you have the SKY universities (Seoul National, Korea Univ., and Yonsei Univ.). They are like American Ivy league universities. The 4th tier universities are the least competitive and similar to community colleges in the US.

The secret to getting your first uni job in, especially if you don’t have any university teaching experience, is to aim for the lower tier universities. More importantly, look for universities outside of major cities.

Most people who have been in Korea for some time prefer to live in the major cities like Seoul, Busan, or Daegu. As a result, universities that are far from major cities have a more difficult time finding qualified applicants.

For instance, there are only a handful of universities left in Seoul that don’t require an MA. However, there are plenty of universities in other parts of the country that will hire you with just a BA.

10. Beware of the Unigwan

Usually the want ad says you will teach 20-30 hours per week and have 2 weeks or less of vacation. You will probably be working in the university’s private language academy and teach everything from primary school kids to adults. The only university students you teach are the ones who come after class for extra help.

These are by no means bad jobs, and can actually lead to full time work in another university or department. However, if you have the qualifications to get a true university gig then don’t waste your time at a unigwan.

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  1. GPS says:

    I stumbled upon this post today, and as one of the “lifers” who works at a university, I thought I would comment. I cannot disagree with most of this post, but I would like to stress that the image of university teaching described here is not necessarily accurate for all schools. I have been working at one of the SKY universities for 8 years and we work really hard here. Yes, sometimes we can take 2 seperate vacations of 2 months each (although I usually work extra vacation classes for extra pay), and yes, we may spend only 14-18 hours in the classroom, but we who teach credit courses also have piles of homework to grade, tests to mark, curriculum materials to create, committees to sit on and students to counsel. I regularly spend 40 hours a week or more on job-related work.

    One thing I can totally agree with. Working with university students can be really fun and rewarding. Although I work hard, I love my job. But I would just like your readers to know that it isn’t always a free-for-all holiday working in a uni., but maybe compared to a zoo-like hagwon it might seem like it (yes I started out in a hagwon centuries ago^^).

    • sebucan says:

      Thanks GPS for your comment. You are right that all universities are not the same. More importantly, a university job is not a cake walk by any means. I hope anyone who reads this article understands that it is a serious job that entails quite a bit of work, just like any job…but with more vacation.

  2. Vertigo says:

    I agree with GPS that most people at universities work much longer hours than 14-18 hours in the classroom. As a rule, you should be spending at least 1-2 hours in prep for each class hour. And that’s conservatively speaking. Also, as someone who has been a part of the hiring process for native English teachers I can tell you that I do not even consider people without MAs in TESL/TEFL (and exclude people who don’t know the difference between these two disciplines). A lot of people apply but the calibre of competition has gotten much more intense in the last 3 years. Far more people with Second Language degrees are applying and those people who are just looking for a cushy ride while doing the bare minimum of work are finding it increasingly difficult to get hired. And if those people have uni jobs right now, they’re starting to get weeded out.
    My advice for people looking to get into university teaching would be start looking for distance MA programs in TESL/TEFL while at a hagwon. Distance MAs are fantastic if you find the right one and really separate those people who are just camping in Korean and those who are really serious about being an educator.
    The time of falling ass-backwards into good jobs in Korea is slowly coming to an end. Get educated now and cash in on the rewards later.

  3. JT says:

    Excellent post and excellent article. I am in the process of applying to some universities around my area and this helped immensely. The comments as well are extremely helpful!