The harshness of the sentence is likely to deepen divisions in a country still wrestling with the aftermath of the most serious political turmoil in years.
Park did not appear in the courtroom on Friday, as she has been boycotting her hearings for the past year, but hundreds of her supporters protested her innocence outside, insisting that she was being persecuted in an act of "political revenge".
The heads of conglomerates involved in the scandal have also been jailed.
Of the 18 charges of corruption and power abuse the prosecution had levied against Park, who did not attend the sentencing, the court found her guilty of 16. "The responsibility lies with the defendant who has abandoned her constitutional duties", Judge Kim Se-yun told the court.
The court found Park guilty of forcing SK to fund 8.9 billion won for one of Choi's firms, though it was never paid.
Shin Dong-bin, chairman of Lotte Group, stepped down as co-CEO of Lotte Holdings, a Japan-based holding company of the Korean conglomerate, in February after he was convicted of bribing Park to win a lucrative duty-free deal.
The scandal has already led to the arrests, indictments and convictions of dozens of high-profile government officials and business leaders.
Choi was convicted and sentenced on Feb 13 to 20 years in jail.
Park has a small group of fierce supporters - majority middle aged and older - who regularly stage rallies calling for her release and after the verdict was broadcast, thousands of them marched near the Seoul court to protest the ruling.
Some of their placards read: "Reinstate President Park immediately" and "Release the most innocent President Park Geun-hye immediately". There were no immediate reports of major clashes or injuries. Prosecutors call her in for questioning.
The scandal "exposed what has always been widely suspected in South Korea: the entangled web of government and sprawling business conglomerates that dominate the country's economy", say The Guardian.
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According to records, Park is the third South Korean leader to be put on trial for corruption but the first democratically elected one. She says she is a victim of politics.
The liberal Democratic Party's Moon Jae-in swept to power in the presidential election last May, with 41% of the vote, while the candidate from Park's Liberty Korea Party lagged behind with 24%.
In 1974, Park's mother was assassinated by a North Korean sympathizer who was trying to kill her father.
Park was accused of being unduly influenced by Choi. But her relations with the Choi family have long haunted her political career.
Former leaders Chun and Roh received presidential pardons after each spent around two years in jail - a privilege that may elude Park for many years, said Jeong Han-wool, an analyst at the Seoul Hankook Research think-tank.
Park has previously insisted that she only got help from Choi on public relations and to edit some presidential speeches.
She was arrested three weeks later.
Moon's office said Park's fate was "heartbreaking" not only for herself but for the country, and added that history that was not remembered would be repeated.
Park's presidential predecessor Lee Myung-bak is now in custody as prosecutors investigate multiple corruption charges involving him and his relatives.
"It's an act of arrogance for Park not to be present in a series of trials, which is clearly an act to disregard the people of the Republic of Korea".