What were these K-drama actors like in university? Before Netflix’s Space Sweepers, Song Joong-ki was a school magazine cover star and Kim Tae-ri’s student photos went viral

Gang Dong-woo, Song Joong-ki and Kim Tae-hee’s graduation photos. Photos: @v2pN9eJYc9hy0YU; @runrunhaha1; @jasminetheaz/Twitter, MBC

When you see actors in K-dramas and K-movies completely immersed in their roles, it might be difficult to picture them off screen, or even before their rise to fame.

Yet before they made names for themselves, many Korean celebrities went to prestigious universities, majoring in subjects completely irrelevant to acting. Here are five K-stars with impressive degrees, as well as stories from their lives on campus.

Song Joong-ki: business administration

Song Joong-ki in his university days. Photo: @mrsong0919/Twitter
Song Joong-ki, currently starring as a charismatic lawyer and mafia member in Netflix-distributed drama Vincenzo, must have made a charming university student. The actor got his business administration degree from Seoul’s Sungkyunkwan University after receiving a score of 380 out of 400 in Korea’s College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT).
Song Joong-ki featured on the cover of his university’s magazine, Kingo. Photo: @mrsong0919/Twitter

He was also featured on the cover of the university’s magazine Kingo several times between 2008 to 2013, and even spent some time as an anchor for the campus broadcaster – a job he once considered making his future career.

Song Joong-ki. Photo: @mrsong0919/Twitter

Kim Tae-ri: journalism and communications

K-movie star Kim Tae-ri. Photo: @kimtaeri_1/Instagram

Song’s co-star in Space Sweepers Kim Tae-ri went to Seoul’s famous Kyung Hee University and studied journalism and communications.

Kim Tae-ri before her acting debut. Photo: @taerienthusiast/Twitter

In an interview with NewsCulture in February, she said that she originally aimed to be a news anchor, but changed her mind after taking her courses. It was after joining her university’s theatre club that she realised she’d be happy with a career in acting.

Kim Tae-ri during her university days. Photo: @taeri_useless_/Twitter

Her most well-known university tale? A photo of her – perched atop a lion statue when she was a student – went viral online. She eventually explained the story behind the snap in a V Live session in January, saying that, according to university legend, if someone successfully climbed onto the statue, they would be able to start dating someone on campus. But she said that wasn’t her motivation – she made the climb simply because she could.

Kim Tae-hee: fashion design

Kim Tae-hee at her graduation ceremony, getting interviewed by MBC Section TV. Photo: MBC

A well-known fact about actress Kim Tae-hee is that she studied at Korea’s top university, Seoul National University. Many other celebrities and university alumni still mention her as someone they find inspirational.

Fitting, then, that she made her acting debut as a university student, appearing in commercials after she caught the eye of a casting manager. In fact, in a 2011 interview with MBC, she recalled that she used to get business cards from talent scouts every time she went out. 

Although she was busy with her budding celebrity career, she continued to attend all her classes and even got straight As, her classmate Lee Hanee – who later also debuted as an actress – said on the show Win Win in 2010. Lee added that students would also often change their classes to the ones Kim took.

Kim was also the president of the women’s ski club. One freezing cold winter, she hitch-hiked for her club members, who were tired from carrying their heavy ski equipment, to get them a ride back to where they were based.

Yoon So-hee: chemical and bimolecular engineering

Yoon So-hee. Photo: @sh_ovel_y/Instagram

Yoon So-hee is one actress who was inspired to study harder after her mum showed her a K-drama starring Kim Tae-hee. Her hard work apparently paid off, since now she’s nicknamed the “engineering goddess”. She graduated early from a high school specialising in mathematics and science for gifted students, then attended research university KAIST (the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology).

As an actress, she has appeared in Exo’s music videos and in the K-drama series After The Show Ends. She got scouted after finishing university admissions while she was working out at a gym. Later, she unfortunately had to drop out of school because she was too busy with her work schedule.

So what’s her secret to getting good grades? She shared in Live Talk Show Taxi in 2015 that she always focused in class and memorised everything – even the teacher’s jokes.

Gang Dong-won: mechanical engineering

Gang Dong-won. Photo: @GDW_NEWS_/Twitter

An online survey once ranked Korean stars according to who made the dreamiest engineering student, and Gang Dong-won won first place with 664 votes out of 2,693. Other stars on the list included actors Ha-Seok jin and Namkoong Min, as well as actor-singer Im Si-wan of the group ZE:A.

Gang actually started working as a model while studying at Hanyang University. One well-known story about his university days is how, when he took part in his department’s booth at the university’s festival, his presence was so strong that he attracted visitors away from all the other booths.

Im Si-wan as Ki Seon-gyeom in Run On. Photo: Netflix

In an interview with JoongAng Ilbo last year about his zombie movie Peninsula, Gang said that he draws on his engineering background when he acts, thinking deeply about the situation and simplifying the solution. In his words, “drawing an infinite graph, laying out the options and then starting from zero to work on it”. Definitely sounds like an engineering student to us.

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  • Kim Tae-hee and Gang Dong-woo both juggled budding modelling and acting careers with their classes at Seoul National University and Hanyang University
  • ‘Engineering goddess’ Yoon So-hee dropped out of KAIST when she got more roles – like appearing in Exo MVs