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ISSN : 2233-6710(Print)
ISSN : 2384-2121(Online)
Journal of Asia Pacific Counseling Vol.7 No.2 pp.105-121

The Meaning of Hakbeol Within the Context
of Educational Meritocracy and Prestige Among South Korean College Students

Yunkyoung Loh Garrison, William Ming Liu, Chi W. Yeung, Soeun Park, Ethan Sahker, Mandy Conrad
The University of Iowa
Corresponding Author :


A belief of educational meritocracy is prevalent in most industrialized societies. However, culturally specific forms of educational meritocracy have received little attention from counseling researchers. This study explores hakbeol, a South Korean social construct that emphasizes social rankings based on one’s educational success, and its impact on students attending elite colleges in Korea. This qualitative study used concept mapping to explore the ways in which South Koreans with educational prestige view themselves, others, and society within their social class worldviews. The results suggested nine themes related to prestigious hakbeol: desire for upward mobility, uncertainty, stereotyping, modesty, partitioning, entitlement, pressure and expectation, legacy, and justification. Implications for counseling and research are discussed.