Until now, academic excellence along with high family income levels have often determined a student's success in the country's highly competitive education environment. The job market has compounded that trend, with graduates of a select few prestigious universities dominating the senior and well-paying positions.
In an apparent bid to woo young voters ahead of December's presidential election, all three major candidates have vowed to overhaul the education system to allow equal opportunities for all students.
Ruling party presidential candidate Park Geun-hye (R) and independent presidential contender Ahn Cheol-soo shake hands at a forum in Seoul on Oct. 24, 2012. (Yonhap)
Ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye has already pledged to cut the burden of college tuition by half.
"Education is practically the only means to simultaneously tackle a slowdown in growth and the issue of growing inequalities," the 60-year-old standard-bearer of the conservative Saenuri Party said in a speech at a human resources forum in Seoul. "The government should take active measures to remove inequalities in attaining education."
Park also argued that tuition and interest on student loans should be lowered and repayment methods diversified to allow each student to develop their skills according to their own financial circumstances.
Speaking at the same forum, independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo called for structural reforms within society to ensure long-term reforms in education.
"By realizing educational welfare and educational justice, I will create a social atmosphere and system that helps and waits for late bloomers, not an education system that produces only prodigies," said the 50-year-old former software entrepreneur.
In his bestselling book published in July, the founder of South Korea's largest anti-virus software firm, AhnLab, listed justice, welfare and peace as the three core values to be sought.
"Over the past 60 years, we have achieved industrialization and democratization at an incredible speed, and although we may need child prodigies, it is time for us to change," he said, adding that what is needed now is an ability to communicate ideas and accept those of others.
Main opposition candidate Moon Jae-in met with a group of students at Seoul's Kookmin University and answered their questions about social inequalities, jobs and other issues.
The 59-year-old candidate of the liberal Democratic United Party has made job creation a top priority of his campaign.
"Creating proper jobs would resolve a lot of issues such as (high) college tuition, (students') futures, and excessive competition for university admission," Moon said. "If everyone was given the same opportunities (regardless of the university they graduated from), they would all be able to find employment according to their abilities."
Main opposition candidate Moon Jae-in (C) speaks to students at Kookmin University in Seoul on Oct. 24, 2012. (Yonhap)