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KAIST New Admission System Emphasizes Personality

Posted April. 27, 2007 07:30,   


“What I’m seeing is by no means a school. This is brutality; a concentration camp.”

Seo Nam-pyo, president of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), heaved a deep sigh while he was visiting a science high school and being briefed by its principal.

“Our students take classes and study by themselves from five in the morning until midnight. To make sure of this, we keep the door of the dormitory locked until twelve at night,” the principal announced proudly.

After witnessing similar absurdities in other special purpose high schools, president Seo issued an order to his university staff to expedite introducing admission procedures that take more of the students’ personalities into account.

KAIST, as a result, announced their plans for the “2008 Admission Process Reform,” which puts more emphasis on applicants’ personality, on April 26. According to the new measures, the first stage, based on documents such as transcripts and candidates’ written applications, will filter out those who seriously lack scholastic aptitude to narrow the pool to an amount between 1,400 and 1,750. Among them, some 700 students are to be finally qualified after the second stage which will be the most important step for qualification. Applicants will have interviews designed to judge the quality of their personality.

The university has thus far chosen only about 1,050 students, or 1.5 times the total amount to be admitted, from the first stage filtering, through examination of transcripts, school records, and letters of recommendation. In the second stage, it has assessed the expertise and personalities of the candidates, but the latter accounted for little. Demonstrating efficiency in solving math- and science-related questions was more important for selection.

The KAIST president took part in a general assembly of science high school principals held late last month, and said, “(Regarding the transcripts,) it is fine to state students’ score, but please exclude their standings since universities could be prejudiced as they examine them.” Among science high school applicants to KAIST, small difference in scores could result in larger gaps in rankings.

The new personality tests will set much value on subjective evaluations. Elements such as creativity, investigative skills, logic, social relations, self-management skills, genius in certain fields, and presentation skills are to be assessed.

“Interviewers can either qualify or disqualify a candidate if they show excellence or underperformance in a particular category,” said Kwon Dong-soo, head of the university’s Office of Admissions.

The university has also drawn up plans to prevent their applicants from resorting to ‘private lessons to prepare for tests.’ It will ask questions of which answers cannot be prepared in advance, such as those about their thoughts on certain issues, their own lives, and opinions on books they’ve read. These interview questions will be altered every year. KAIST also intends to visit schools with high application rates, in order to check their status on personality education.