Should I teach English in Korea in a public school or in a hagwon? If you're not sure which one then this is for you.

In Korea you can teach in a public school, a private institute (hagwon) or possibly in a university or private school (variation of public school) if you are experienced or qualified. This post will focus on public schools and hagwons the two most common positions teaching in Korea.

Here's a video by someone who has taught in both.



You may be wondering.

Is EPIK perfect? And what about hagwons? I've heard some horror stories

Both of them have some ups and downs and I wouldn't generalize and say one is necessarily better than the other. It really depends on you and on the school. 

33% had an average experience in (EPIK) public school

epik poll

This poll is older (started in 2013) received 134 votes. You can see the poll results here.

In Korea to teach in a public school you usually need to go through a program. 

  • EPIK is the popular one which places teaches throughout Korea.
  • JLP is the Jeollanamdo province language program in southwest Korea.
  • GEPIK is Gyeonggi province English program in Korea.
  • SMOE is the Seoul metropolitan city program.
  • TALK is a language program that is a bit more part time that accepts teachers with associates degrees and above.

I taught in a public school in Korea, but did not go through a program. I went through a recruiter.

39% had an average experience in hagwons

hagwon poll

This poll is more recent (started in Dec. 2017) received 33 votes. You can see the current poll results here. If you see that these numbers have gone up considerably send me an email ;-).

Although a hagwon is often referred to as a private school it's a bit more precise to refer to it as an private academy or institute. These classes are usually held after regular school hours. Although adult classes can sometimes be held in the early morning hours.

Usually longer working hours in a public school

In a public school you'll work from around 8:30-4:30. A public after school position (not common) is around 12-5 pm. In a private school you could work from 9-6 (kindergarten & elementary), 2-8, 2-10 or maybe 3-10 teaching elementary, middle or high school students.

Overall work hours are often less in a private school (hagwon). I worked in one that had a lighter schedule that was about 2:45-8:30 or so.

Public school jobs can offer vacation time which can range from school to school. Sometimes they have "camps" during the breaks where you will have to come in and teach.

Vacation times in hagwons are around 10 days a year. You'll have to negotiate that time though.

More teaching hours in a hagwon

Public school is usually around 22 hours a week and hagwons are around 30 hours a week. In most situations you will be teaching more in a hagwon.

This is a public elementary school classroom

Korean public school classroom

I think those students were mostly 4th graders. Public school is probably more similar in appearance to a public school in your own country. 

This is a hagwon classroom

hagwon classroom in Busan, Korea

Hagwons have typically smaller classrooms and fewer students. Some can be quite nice and have very modern facilities. 

Larger classes in a public school

Public schools tend to have larger classes that are over 30 students. Private schools tend to have much smaller classes. Some may only have a few students per class and go up to 20 or more.

Differences with the students

The students that attend hagwons generally have better English. Many of the public school kids cannot speak much English.

Different kinds of hagwons:

  • kindergarten & elementary
  • elementary & middle school
  • Adults (fewer in numbers)

Different public schools:

  • elementary (most positions)
  • middle school
  • high school


You'll have a co-teacher in a public school and you most likely will not have one in a private school. There will be other teachers around though, Korean and possibly other foreigner teachers (in a hagwon), and they may teach some of the same classes as you at a different time.

In a public school you will most likely be the only foreign teacher there.

More responsibility in a hagwon

In a public school you will share work with your co-teacher, but your co-teacher is usually the lead teacher. You are basically just an assistant. Your work may be less here and this can be easier for beginners.

In a private school you will usually be responsible for planning lessons by yourself.

More freedom in a hagwon

You'll usually have more autonomy and independence in how you teach in a private school. As mentioned before in a public school you'll work with a co-teacher. Work is shared.

Read why you shouldn't teach in a public school.

Maybe more money in a hagwon

You may make a higher salary teaching in a hagwon than you would in a public school. Often more, but not much more. Public schools typically have a set pay scale that's based on experience and other qualifications.

In a hagwon you may be able to negotiate a higher pay if you have experience, qualifications, charm or good looks.

Usually better materials in a hagwon

In a public school you will use the public school books which are used all over Korea. From my point of view these books are not very good. I heard that they were going to change, so they may have improved since then.

Each private school will have different books. Some of the large chains may have their own books and others will use commercially available ESL books.

Most of the private academies that I worked in had good books.

Maybe more stability in a public school

Most people would say that public schools are considered more stable. Since they are government operated there is not much of a chance that they will shut down due to poor business. However, in Korea many public school jobs have been cut.

Private schools are privately operated so that there is some chance that they could close down if business is unsuccessful.

I personally never had a problem with receiving money from a private institute in Korea, Taiwan or China. I have worked at quite a few too. I did however have problems with money and a recruiter who worked together with my public school in Korea.

Which is more competive to get into?

Getting into public school jobs through programs like EPIK are more competitive. They only hire twice a year whereas hagwons hire year round.

In my experience neither one is perfect. I had more problems with the public school position and my co-teacher than I did at private schools. I prefer the autonomy which usually comes with working in a private institute.

Are you more clear on this hagwon vs. public school thing? Is there something missing here that you want to know. Send me an email below.