Nearly 1 million university students have taken sabbaticals from their studies or a year off, according to figures released by the Korean Educational Development Institute.
KEDI said a total of 932,703 students had taken an extended leave of absence as of April 1. This represents one in three university students nationwide (2.98 million).
Sabbaticals are becoming increasingly commonplace as students either attempt to get a leg-up in a ferociously competitive and over-saturated job market by getting certificates related to their future jobs and seeking work experience or internships, or to save money to pay for exorbitant tuition fees.
Since the number exceeded 900,000 for the first time in 2001 it has not retreated back below this level.
A survey by the Chosun Ilbo of 8,069 department in 216 four-year universities over the past month also found that 95 of the schools, or 44 percent, see more than 30 percent of their students take a leave of absence.
In in-depth interview with 100 students who are taking time off from college, an overwhelming 90 percent said that taking leave is now "inevitable" to build up their skills and experience or to make money to pay for tuition.
Experts are concerned about social problems the trend can trigger.
Chae Chang-kyun at the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training said, "This trend delays young people's entry into the labor market, which in turn means they get married and have kids later and have difficulty preparing for life after retirement as well. In a word, it will cause harm to society as a whole."