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The SAT Drama for Korean International Students Continues

This past weekend further developments unfolded in the Korean SAT debacle. As you may recall widespread cheating caused ETS to cancel the May 2013 SAT exam in Korea. For background information read our recent blog post: May SAT Cancelled- Will It Hurt International Student Recruitment? Earlier in May there was some debate whether the SAT would be given in Korea in June. In the last few days there seem to be some answers coming out of Korea. A Korean colleague notified me that several students were banned from taking the SAT in any country in June. The Korea JoongAng Daily confirmed my colleague's report. Read the article Test Maker Bans Some From Taking June 1 SAT. And the follow-up article: Missing The SATs Can Be Worse Than Taking Them. Even the Wall Street Journal is reporting on the Korean debacle: South Korean SAT Cheating Scandal Continues.

Several hagwons (study centers) have allegedly leaked and sold test questions. ETS and the College Board have taken this security breach seriously, first by cancelling the May test date, then cancelling the May SAT Subject Test in Biology and most recently banning certain students from taking the exam in June. 

What does all of this mean for Korean prospective international students? What might this mean for institutions that rely on international student recruitment? 

Among countries that send international students to the US, Korea currently ranks third. The number of Korean students studying in the US at the undergraduate and graduate levels have steadily risen in the last few years. Thousands of Korean students aspire to study in the US. The process that we require for admission (standardized testing, essays, extracurricular resumes) require a great deal of advanced planning on the part of the students. Given the competitive nature of college admissions and the intense desire of Koreans to study in the US, it's no wonder that shady test prep establishments and unscrupulous advisors have found traction.

A few bad apples shouldn't ruin the bushel. There are honest hogwans run by honest advisors. There are honest agents who work with students. Most importantly we must remember that the students stand to be the biggest losers in this debacle.

Korean students are already commenting on their fear of being penalized in the admission process. Korean advisors and agents are also concerned about how their students will fare in the 2013-14 admission cycle. It would be wise for institutions that are invested in Korean student recruitment to contact their prospective students to let them know that they are aware of the ongoing drama and that they still welcome applications from Korean students. Those institutions that get ahead of this SAT drama and contact students will likely benefit from the proactive response.

Furthermore perhaps it's time to consider ways to minimize the intense stress that students, parents and test center employees face. The hagwons aren't going away given how enmeshed they've become in Korean society. Students and parents rely upon the test preparation and advice that the hagwons provide. In an effort to curb the cheating and cut-throat competition in Korea it may be time to look for other solutions. Greater emphasis on Skype interviews of prospective students may allow admission counselors to engage with prospects in an alternate and more compelling manner.

There are ways to look at this Korean SAT drama from multiple angles. Rather than focusing on unscrupulous hogwan directors, who are already being investigated by the Korean government, let's focus our energies on evolving the process and better serving the prospective students.