It is another cold winter in Korea. Colder, if you are a graduating high school senior anxiously waiting for the college acceptance letter you crave so much. Unsurprisingly, arguments regarding the fairness of the college admissions system have arisen, with disputes especially focused on the ratio of Susi and Jeongsi applications for which universities admit applicants. This year, the debate has been particularly fierce, primarily due to scandals involving the questionable admission of children of high-ranking officials to top universities. In response, the Moon administration announced plans to increase the proportion of Jeongsi applications in order to instill fairness in the university admissions process.
Korean college admissions, in the simplest terms, consist of Jeongsi and Susi processes. Jeongsi is the process where students take the Suneung (College Scholastic Ability Test) and apply to universities solely based on the score they get. On the other hand, Susi examines all three years of a student’s high school education, including GPA, extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, and an interview or essay test. While Jeongsi is the traditional method of applying to college, more and more students are gaining admittance via Susi due to policy changes from previous administrations. This year, colleges are shaping 77.3% of their incoming freshman class with Susi applicants — a 1.1% increase from last year.
But many say that the Susi process is ambiguous and unfair. Students suffer from the immense information asymmetry inherent in the application process where universities admit applicants based on arguably subjective criteria. This nature of Susi therefore often allows wealthier students to embellish their application with exclusive elements — such as working in university laboratories or participating in international competitions — while average students have to fight with lowered chances, their applications having relatively common components. On the other hand, Jeongsi determines university acceptance based on one standardized exam, prompting the public opinion that Jeongsi is more straightforward and thus transparent.
"Education must concentrate on developing crucial skills to integrate students into an ever-changing society."
However, this argument of unfairness is one big hasty generalization. The very fact that Jeongsi ranks students based on the score of one standardized exam neglects the consideration of diverse backgrounds in which the students are raised. Wealthier students are advantaged by hagwons and private tutoring to boost their scores, just like in Susi. Students taking the same test at the same time does not entail equality. In a race where the runners start at different lines, it is unjust to rank them with the same final destination — Susi, when implemented correctly, fixes this dilemma. Different types of Susi applications for students from different backgrounds grant underprivileged students a chance to attend top universities.
Apart from the question of fairness, Suneung education itself is utterly imperfect. Education must concentrate on developing crucial skills to integrate students into an ever-changing society. Students should excel as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and adept communicators, not as test-takers solving multiple-choice questions; the introduction of Susi has developed an education system that emphasizes extra-curriculars, reading, and collaborative activities in addition to academics. Moreover, judging a student with a single test score is overly brutal and is an inept measure of his or her qualities. Luck plays too much of a role in Suneung. Various external factors affect a student’s performance, such as the yearly change in the difficulty of different subjects. This perhaps is the reason why so many students spend another year to study and retake the Suneung. In other countries such as the United States, a gap year usually entails valuable experiences unattainable within school. Jeongsi is a process that fails to follow the rapid progression of the world.
Repeatedly overhauling the admissions system only hurts the ones most important: the students. The Susi system is far from perfect, but with the right modifications, it will bring forth both fairness and effectiveness in the university admissions process. Motivations for short-term political gain should never be the reason for any important change, let alone regressing to a system that will not stand the test of time.