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KAIST Vs Seoul National University: Similarities and differences

We at Cybernews Academy have compared major universities with many similarities and differences: ETH Zurich vs. EPFL, Oxford vs. Cambridge, and MIT vs. Carnegie Mellon. This time, we will explore two South Korean universities, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Seoul National University (SNU.) Like the universities we’ve assessed previously, KAIST and SNU are excellent options for computer science and information technology degrees, as both universities rank highly in the QS World University Rankings (WUR) by Subject. Let’s examine these two universities and highlight their unique characteristics.


The Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is a national research university in Daedeok Innopolis, Daejeon, South Korea. This university was established in 1971 by the Korean government as the nation’s first public research-oriented science and engineering university. According to KAIST’s website, the institute is Korea's first and top science and technology university. It is known as a “gateway to advanced science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. KAIST’s mission and vision are to educate, research, and take the lead in innovations to serve the happiness and prosperity of humanity.” According to their website, KAIST “fosters talents who exhibit creativity, embrace challenges, and possess caring minds in creating knowledge and translating it into transformative innovation.” The university comprises five colleges, seven schools, 13 graduate schools, and 27 departments. The university hosts 11,059 students, 69,388 alumni, and 1,574 faculty and staff. The university has a sizeable international population comprised of 137 faculty members and 929 students.


The main KAIST campus is located in Daejeon, 160km south of Seoul, Korea's capital city. Daejeon is the capital of South Chungcheong province, with a population of 1.5 million, and serves as a hub of science and innovation. The university is primarily located in the Daedeok Science Town in Daejeon.


The university was founded in 1971 as the Korea Advanced Institute of Science (KAIS) through a $6 million loan from the United States Agency for International Development. The institute's academic structure was designed by Fredrick E. Terman, the former vice president of Stanford University, and Chung Geum-mo, a professor at the Polytechnic Institution of Brooklyn. The university's main focus was to train advanced scientists and engineers to develop graduate education in Korea. Studies officially began in 1973 and started with research, and undergraduate studies for bachelor’s degrees started in 1984. The Korean government merged KAIS and the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) to form KAIST. Both universities split off in 1989 due to differences in philosophy, and the Korea Institute of Technology (KIT) and KAIST combined and moved from Seoul to the Daedeok Science Town in Daejeon.

Notable alumni

A few notable alumni have been produced from KAIST. Yi So-Yeon was the first Korean man to fly into space. Sung-Kyun Na, the founder and CEO of Neowiz, Korea’s first internet supplier. Jungju Kim, the CEO of NEXON, a video game publisher. Chang-Han Kim is the CEO of PUBG Battlegrounds, a battle royale game developed by PUBG studios.

Seoul National University

Seoul National University is a flagship Korean National University in Seoul, South Korea. The university is known as one of the top universities in Korea by reputation, ranking, and output. The institution has five campuses: the Gwanak, Yeongeon, Suwon, Pyeongchang, and Siheung. The institution has various university schools, laboratories, research forests, and research institutions. The institution fosters converged global talent, builds an innovative knowledge ecosystem, establishes a foundation for sustainable university development, and creates knowledge-based social values. According to the Seoul National University website, the university claims to have “various academic opportunities to introduce a convergent L-shaped education system to break down barriers between the different majors, engaging in interdisciplinary exploration of life's core themes, fostering critical and creative thinking, deep discussions, and cultivating collaborative, practical skills.” The university has 1,580 professors, 480 associate professors, and 243 assistant professors in full-time employment. Seoul National University has 13 adjunct professors, 395 visiting professors, and 1,340 lecturers. The university hosts 16,662 undergraduate students, 6,699 graduate students in Master’s programs, and 5,704 graduate students in Doctoral programs.


Seoul National University (SNU) is located in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. The main campus of Seoul National University, known as the Gwanak Campus, is in the southern part of Seoul. This campus is the largest and most well-known of SNU's campuses and is where many of the university's academic and administrative buildings are located. However, Seoul National University has several other campuses and facilities throughout the city.


The establishment of Seoul National University came to fruition in 1946 by merging ten higher education institutions around the Seoul Area. Seoul National University became the first comprehensive university of independent Korea, founded to produce intellectual elites who would lead the newly liberated country. After the Korean War, the university rapidly recovered, propelled by the Korean people’s collective desire for education aimed toward the next generation. 1961-1974, SNU established itself as Korea’s flagship university by recruiting young, promising professors and exceptional students. In 1975-1986, SNU merged multiple campuses into three central locations: Gwanak, the main campus, the Yeongeon Medical campus, and the Suwom Agricultural campus. In 2000-2010, SNU put forward a long-term plan to strengthen its undergraduate education, which paved the way to become a research-oriented university. In 2011, the university moved away from the government and became an autonomous corporation.

Notable alumni

A few familiar faces have come from Seoul National University. Kim Young-Sam, the 7th president of Korea, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. Ban Ki-Moon was the 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international relations. Yoon Suk-Yeol was the 13th president of Korea. He studied law at SNU. Lee Jae-Yong, the chairman of Samsung Electronics, graduated from SNU with a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian history.


Much like our previous articles, we at Cybernews Academy want to identify the similarities between KAIST and Seoul National University. Let’s take a look at some of the things that connect these universities and what attributes they share.


KAIST and Seoul National University are well-respected institutions in South Korea. They are world-renowned universities often ranked among the top universities in Asia and the world. In the QS WUR by Subject (computer science and information technology), KAIST ranks #29, and Seoul National University ranks #32. In the QS World University Rankings, KAIST ranks #56, while Seoul National University ranks #41. In addition, Seoul National University is #7 in Asia, while KAIST ranks #13 in the continent for computer science and information technology. Both are esteemed, well-established universities in South Korea and are known for their excellent research facilities and research output.

Research excellence

Both universities strongly focus on research and are known for their contributions to science, engineering, technology, and social sciences. They have extensive research facilities and often collaborate with various institutions across the globe. According to the KAIST website, its research has acted as a gateway to innovations in Korea. “Basic and applied research at KAIST drove industrialization of Korea and led the nation to emerge as one of the global economic powers.” KAIST is still demonstrating its innovation and technological advance through its students, as three Ph.D. students at the KAIST School of Electrical Engineering won a Presidential Award for their work on the “ultra-low noise signal chip” for 6G communications. SNU conducts its own independent research with over 4,000 research projects and over 3,000 research papers.

STEM focus

KAIST and SNU strongly emphasize their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs. They are known for their engineering, computer science, and natural sciences degrees. However, KAIST has adopted dual degrees that allow students to study STEM subjects alongside other disciplines. The university website states that KAIST educates its “students whose creative ideas and extensive knowledge will be the solid basis for creating new value in research, startups, and technology commercialization.” KAIST has introduced transdisciplinary curricula to create “a convergence research environment” to boost entrepreneurship and start-up education.” In essence, KAIST aims to create the next generation of global IT giants by focusing on STEM subjects and entrepreneurship. SNU, on the other hand, is a comprehensive university with different programs but still strongly emphasizes STEM subjects. SNU has a good relationship with the tech industry, boasting an industrial connection program with Samsung Electronics and Hynix. They have various research institutions and are ranked 10-20 in the world by the world's great scholar assessment.

Low acceptance rate

Both institutions boast a low acceptance rate, making these universities some of the most competitive institutions in Asia. The acceptance rate of SNU is 17%, which is lower than some of the world's leading universities, such as the coveted Ivy League.

Low tuition fees

KAIST and SNU have low tuition fees compared to other universities we have compared. Seoul National University tuition fees average about $6,000 per semester. However, please note that tuition fees will vary according to the student’s major and the number of credits taken. KAIST’s tuition fees range depending on the degree type, bachelor’s degrees are approximately $7,200 per semester.



The primary language of study at SNU is Korean. However, each college or department offers a range of courses taught in English to accommodate international students and researchers. In contrast, KAIST’s primary language of instruction is English, though some courses are taught in Korean.


KAIST's main campus is located in Daejeon, a city in central South Korea. It is known for its modern, aesthetic, and well-designed campus, which has a broad range of science and technology facilities. Seoul National University's primary campus is located in the Gwanak-gu district of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. Its location in the South Korean capital provides students with various cultural and professional opportunities.

Focus and specialization

KAIST is well known for its strong emphasis on science and technology programs and is often regarded as Korea’s leading engineering, computer science, and natural sciences university. This university has an excellent reputation for its cutting-edge research and innovation in the computer science and information technology field. Seoul National University, on the other hand, is a more broad institution that covers a wide array of academic disciplines such as humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering. While SNU does focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), it is less specialized than KAIST.

Admission process

KAIST’s admission process is highly competitive as the university focuses primarily on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. KAIST conducts its own entrance exam, the KAIST College Scholastic Ability Test or CSAT, alongside the regular South Korean College Scholastic Ability test. Seoul National University is another highly competitive institution. Admission to SNU is based on a combination of the South Korean College Scholastic Ability Test and a separate university-administered exam for specific programs. You will need other documentation as an international student, such as your academic qualifications and an English language proficiency test. Additional documents may be required, for example, a letter of recommendation or a motivational letter.

Programs structure

KAIST and SNU follow a similar structure to U.S. and Canadian universities' use of majors and electives. However, the way the course is structured is slightly different. According to the Seoul National University website, “the academic curriculum is divided into undergraduate and graduate study and organized into departments and/or majors. Students can take general electives and courses for their majors at the undergraduate level, while at the graduate level, courses are offered jointly at the Master's and Doctoral levels.” In contrast, the courses at KAIST are divided into subject and research courses. Subject courses for undergraduate programs are divided into general basic and major courses. These introductory courses include mandatory topics, elective major courses, and research courses, including B.S. thesis research, internship program and research, individual study, and seminars.

Computing departments

KAIST specializes in STEM-based courses, whereas SNU is a comprehensive university offering majors in humanities, arts, and social sciences.


KAIST’s courses are divided into separate departments. The Department of Computer Science offers undergraduate and graduate programs in computer science. These programs cover algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer graphics. KAIST also has a graduate school of AI which focuses on research and education in artificial intelligence. In addition, KAIST has a graduate school of information security specializing in research and education surrounding information security.

Seoul National University

Similar to KAIST, the university also has a department specifically for computing. The Computer Science and Engineering Department offers undergraduate and graduate computer science and engineering programs. SNU also has a graduate school of data science, focusing primarily on data science and analytics. The institution has an electrical and computer engineering department that covers various aspects of the discipline.

Cybernews Academy Note: There are a lot of electives and courses to choose from within each department. We suggest visiting KAIST and SNU’s website for further information.

Both KAIST and Seoul National University are exceptional educational institutions that excel in their commitment to innovation and technological transformation. Both universities have illustrious histories formed on the backdrop of the Korean War. Each university has built itself from the ground up and continued to develop its stellar international reputation. KAIST specializes in technology degrees, while SNU is more comprehensive and offers various degree programs. Both institutions have low tuition fees and admission rates, making them some of the most alluring universities in the world. KAIST and SNU have beautiful campuses that demonstrate the rich culture present in South Korea. The research focuses in both universities are immense, showing the institution's commitment to education. We at Cybernews Academy hope this comparison has illuminated KAIST and Seoul National University and demonstrated these institutions' value.