The stage of Seoul's biggest indoor arena is flanked by two giant video screens to ensure that even folks in the nosebleed seats won't miss a thing. As the performers take the stage, the crowd of 10,000 breaks into thunderous applause. But the stars of the Nov. 25 show aren't a pop band or a rap group. They're instructors from Megastudy, the biggest of Koreas 28,000 "cram schools" that help students get ahead in everything from physics to French. "With his signature, I feel his energy," 18-year-old Yang Hae Jin beams after scoring an autograph from one of the celebrity teachers.
Koreans will endure just about any hardship to make sure they get into a top university. A degree from a leading school isn't just the key to a good job--it's a prerequisite for finding the right spouse and establishing high-powered connections that can last a lifetime. That has fueled rapid growth in the cramming industry, which takes in some $15 billion annually. The best schools charge upwards of $1,000 a month per subject--a small fortune in a country where the average annual income is $16,000. "I spend about half of my income on after-school cramming for my kids, and I'm no exception," says Kim Hyon Chol, the father of two high school students, after attending the Megastudy event, an information session designed to give parents tips on college admissions--and woo new students.