Why Are Korea University and Yonsei University Rivals?

If someone asks, “What’s the best university in Korea?”,
what would you say?

Koreans would definitely say “Seoul National University.”

What about the second best university? What would Koreans say about that?

Interestingly, it is a rather controversial question (not a “serious” controversy though). Some will say Korea University and others will say Yonsei University. Korea University and Yonsei University have been renowned rivals among universities in Korea, fighting over the second-in-command.

What Are SKY Universities?

SKY is the acronym for
Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University,
the three best universities in Korea.

A Korean drama called “SKY Castle” well illustrates how desperate students and parents can become in order to enroll into one of the SKY universities. In the drama, the upper-class parents are willing to take whatever risks necessary to be accepted at SKY universities for their children’s success in future.

The Undisputed Number One: Seoul National University

서울대학교 (Seoul National University)

Seoul National University is the undisputed number one. But it isn’t just the best university for Koreans. It symbolizes authority, honor, and success. Enrolling at Seoul National University is many students’ goal and a reason for spending 12 years in front of a desk (9 years of elementary school + 3 years of middle school + 3 years of high school).

Fun Fact: Who graduated from Seoul National University?

  • Yoon Suk-yeol, the president of Korea
  • Ban Ki-moon, the former secretary-general of the United Nations
  • Bang Si-hyuk, the CEO of HYBE Entertainment (where BTS, TXT, LE SSERAFIM, New Jeans, etc. belongs)
  • Lee Soo-man, the founder of SM Entertainment (where H.O.T., BoA, TVXQ, SNSD, SHINee, etc. belongs)
  • Hwang Dong-hyuk, the producer who directed the Squid Game.

And many more!

The Rivalry: Korea University and Yonsei University

고려대학교 (Korea University)
연세대학교 (Yonsei University)

On the contrary, Korea University and Yonsei University always fight for second place and want their name to be placed before the other one. For example, Yonsei University would say that the top three universities should be SYK, not SKY. The tension between these two universities has created an intriguing culture: the ultimate rivalry.

What’s interesting is that they sometimes don’t even make it into the top three. But Koreans still consider them as the second and third highest universities. One of the reasons is their long, proud history and another reason is their prestige. Graduating from these universities guarantees students’ societal success and advantage to some extent.

(Check out their rankings below.)

CWUR ranking of best universities in Korea. Korea University is placed higher than Yonsei Univeresity.
Korea University and Yonsei University always fight for second place and want their name to be placed before the other one.
QS ranking of best universities in Korea. Yonsei University is placed higher than Korea University.
US Ranking of best universities in Korea. Korea University and Yonsei University are not included in the top three universities.

A History of Rivalry

The rivalry officially started way back in 1925 with a tennis competition between Boseong College (Korea University) and Yonhi College (Yonsei University). In the past, Korea University was called “Boseng College” and Yonsei University “Yonhi College.” The games between these two universities started to gain popularity with the public. The winner of the game marched through Jongno Intersection while singing the university anthem with the winning flag.

Korea-Yonsei Games or Yonsei-Korea Games

CRIMSON represents Korea University, ROYAL BLUE represents Yonsei University

Starting in 1965, the format of playing five games (baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey, and rugby) in two days has been established and it’s been going on so far. Although students no longer march through the center of the city, students eagerly cheer for their team to win.

When Korea University hosts the games in even years (2020, 2022…),
it’s called “Yonsei-Korea Games”, 연고전 in Korean.

When Yonsei University hosts the games in odd years (2021, 2023…),
it’s called “Korea-Yonsei Games”, 고연전 in Korean.

You can see how serious they are with the order of the name! Even with these rules, students from Korea University say “연전” and students from Yonsei University say “고전”, putting their university first.

“Korea University won thanks to Yonsei University. Yonsei University gave victory.”
“I’m going to kill all the people cheering for Korea University”

On the game days, each university’s streets are filled with banners dissing each others. ???? But after all, these are friendship games enhancing relationship between the two universities 🙂

Prior to the games in September, students from both universities join together to learn their cheering songs and gestures. They don’t want to lose in cheering as well.

???? Can you share the story of the ultimate rivals within your country?

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