2018 University Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application

MEXT scholarship Japan university

MEXT has released guidelines for the ongoing 2018 University-recommended MEXT Scholarship Application – valuable for current applicants and those looking toward the future!

The 2018 University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application Guidelines are Out!

Most universities in Japan will have already started – and in some cases finished – their application process before MEXT released the official guidelines. To find out how and when each university accepts applications, you’ll have to contact them directly. However, here are the important changes and things to know for this year’s application, whether you’re starting now or already in the process.

University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship for Research Students (Graduate Students)

This article (and every article I have written about the MEXT scholarship to date) focuses on the scholarship for graduate students. There are only seven universities able to recommend undergraduate scholars for the MEXT scholarship in this year’s application process. You can find the list on page three of this document. If you’re interested, please follow up with those universities.

University-Recommended MEXT 2018: Overview

What’s changed this year?

Overall, the application process is very similar to what I have covered in previous articles. However there are a few significant changes. In the interest of getting this out in a timely fashion, I will cover the changes in depth in this article and refer to older posts for the details that have stayed the same. Sound good? OK, here we go.


I will cover each of these in detail below, but here’s an overview.

  • Eligibility Criteria: Key updates/clarifications in academic background, language proficiency, grades, residence in Japan, and nationality.
  • Slot Availability Calculation: Some variation from last year. See below for a complete description.
  • Priority Graduate Programs are Back: In 2017, MEXT selected a new group of priority graduate programs, which have a pre-determined slot allotment and a much higher chance of earning the scholarship, if you qualify.
  • Application Form: Like the application form for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship, the application form is now an excel file. It is mostly similar to the Embassy version, but there are several additional questions that I will cover below. I’ll also share a sample filled form.
  • Field of Study and Research Program Plan: The FSRPP format now matches the format for the Embassy-Recommended scholarship! That means there’s the additional question about your research in the past. For my tips on how to complete that document, please see the article on the Field of Study and Research Program Plan. I won’t rehash it here.
  • Other Required Documents: Clarification about the Letter of Recommendation and ambiguity about the medical form.

OK, now let’s get into the details.

First, What Hasn’t Changed

The award amount. The scholarship benefits are still as follows:

  • Exemption from paying tuition
  • Monthly stipend:
    • Research Students: JPY 143,000/month
    • Master’s Degree/ Professional Degree Students: JPY 144,000/month
    • PhD Students: JPY 145,000/month
    • (Undergraduate Students: JPY 117,000/month)
  • Cost of Living Adjustment: JPY 2,000 – 3,000 in selected areas
  • Round-trip flight ticket to Japan (covered by MEXT or the university). Note: only the international portion of the ticket is covered. You are responsible for all domestic travel costs in your home country and in Japan, plus the airport usage fees and fuel surcharges.

This is still one of the most generous scholarship packages I know of anywhere in the world.

Most of the Application Process has Not Changed

Most of the articles I have written on the University-recommended MEXT scholarship are still completely valid. I am only going to cover the changes below and refer you to older articles for the rest.

I will update the out-of-date portions of those old articles as soon as possible.

2018 University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship Eligibility

For most criteria, there are no changes from the eligibility criteria I described in the past. However, there are some key differences described below:

Birthdate: Update and Clarification

This changes every year, of course. But this year, there is a new exception possible.

The basic requirement is that you must have been born on or after 2 April 1983.

Exception 1: If you previously graduated from MEXT’s Young Leaders Program no more than 5 years prior to the start of your studies and are applying for a PhD, you are still eligible.

Exception 2: New If you were born before the date above but you were not able to apply while you would have been eligible due to one of the following reasons, as approved by MEXT, you may still apply.

  • Mandatory military service
  • Civil war or rebellion in your country
  • Suspension of higher education activities in your country

Note: Exceptions absolutely will not be granted for the following reasons: personal financial situation, family reasons, health reasons, previous education or employment-related reasons.

I think it would be a hard sell to qualify for this new exemption. It probably applies to about 0.001% of potential applicants. But it’s a nice gesture, I guess.

Academic Background: Simplified!

The previous academic background criteria were unnecessarily complex and resulted in thousands of inquiries about eligibility exemption. (I got hundreds, myself, and I don’t even work for MEXT!)

The criteria is now much simpler: You must be academically eligible to enroll in the Masters or PhD program you are applying to, as determined by the university.

This leaves the decision in the university’s hands and does not make them jump through hoops to meet a poorly-defined MEXT rule. Trust me, that’s a good thing!

To find out what the eligibility criteria is for your particular university, you’ll have to check their website directly.

GPA: Change of Evaluation for Applicants Without a GPA

If you earned grades or marks during your last degree, this does not affect you, but MEXT finally clarified how to evaluate applicants who did not earn grades in their previous program.

If you do not have any grades earned in your previous program, then your Letter of Recommendation (more on that below) must state that you are/were in the top 30% in order of merit of the graduating class of your university (or of your college/faculty in cases where this is determined on a faculty level).

Note that the GPA takes precedence. If your GPA is under 2.30 on the MEXT 3.00 scale but you are within the top 30% of your graduating class, you are not eligible.

Proof of Language Ability: Key Clarification

Universities are now required to collect formal language proficiency test scores from all nominees. This means that you have to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores for English or JLPT scores for Japanese. Other official tests may be accepted on a university-by-university basis, but these are the tests pre-approved by MEXT, so if you have a choice, target one of those!

Informal tests, such as TOEFL prediction tests, university course records or exam scores, TOEFL ITP (institutional test), etc., are not going to be accepted and universities do not have the leeway to make exceptions.

However, there is no minimum score. You just have to have a score.

Residency in Japan: Clarification

Another of the most common questions I have seen is, “If I’m living in Japan now, can I apply?”

The criteria for this used to be vague, but this year MEXT has made it clear at last! The newly clarified criteria is (Note: translation is my own):

“You must apply for a student visa at a Japanese embassy or consulate outside of Japan (in principle, in your country of nationality) and arrive in Japan with a student residence status. Applicants who already hold a residence in Japan such as Permanent Resident, Long-term resident, etc., must surrender that residence status and return to Japan with a student visa. There is no guarantee that persons in such cases will be able to re-obtain permanent residency or long-term residency again after their period of study.”

Furthermore, in principle you must leave Japan and return to your home country at least 2 months before the start of your scholarship and not return until the date designated by MEXT. Universities are obliged to confirm at the time of your application that you have a definite plan to return home by that date, regardless of the outcome of the scholarship application.


The application guidelines are only going to say that you must have citizenship in a country with formal diplomatic relations with Japan and that you may not have Japanese citizenship.

But there is something else you should be aware of on the back end: Universities are required to have at least 75% of their nominees come from designated priority countries. So, if your country is not on the list below, you have a much lower chance of getting the scholarship.

Priority Countries

Algeria Angola Benin
Botswana Burkina Faso Burundi
Cabo Verde Cameroon Central African Republic
Chad Comoros Cote D’Ivoire
Democratic Republic of the Congo Djibouti Egypt
Equatorial Guinea Eritria Ethiopia
Gabon Gambia Ghana
Guinea Guinea-Bissau Kenya
Lesotho Liberia Libya
Madagascar Malawi Mali
Mauritania Mauritas Morocco
Mozambique Namibia Niger
Nigeria Republic of the Congo Rwanda
Sao Tome and Principe Senegal Seychelles
Sierra Leone Somalia South Africa
South Sudan Sudan Swaziland
Tanzania Togo Tunisia
Uganda Zambia Zimbabwe
Argentina Bolivia Brazil
Chile Colombia Ecuador
Guyana Paraguay Peru
Suriname Uruguay USA
Bangladesh Bhutan Brunei
Cambodia India Indonesia
Laos Malaysia Maldives
Mongolia Myanmar Nepal
Pakistan Philippines Singapore
Sri Lanka Thailand Vietnam
CIS and Russia
Armenia Azerbaijan Belarus
Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Moldova
Russia Tajikistan Turkmenistan
Albania Austria Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bulgaria Croatia Cyprus
Czech Republic Greece Hungary
Kosovo Liechtenstein Macedonia
Montenegro Poland Romania
Serbia Slovakia Slovenia
Switzerland Ukaraine  
Middle East
Afghanistan Bahrain Iran
Iraq Israel Jordan
Kuwait Lebanon Oman
Palestine Qatar Saudi Arabia
Syria Turkey UAE

You can find the original list in Japanese here.

There are several notable countries not on that list, including (but not limited to): China, South Korea, all of North and Central America (except the US), all of Oceania, all of Scandinavia, the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain.

Students from China and South Korea make up nearly 48% of all international students in Japan, but they are not on the list. So if you’re from either of those two countries or from another country not listed above, you’ll be facing an uphill battle to get a slot.

All Other Eligibility Criteria

For all other eligibility criteria, please refer to my previous article on the subject!

Now, speaking of slots. . .

Slot Calculation: How Many Nominees Each University Can Select

The number of nominees any university can submit is based on the number of international graduate students enrolled as of May 1, 2017, multiplied by the percentage change in self-financed international graduate students from 2016 to 2017.

That means, if a university somehow doubled its number of self-financed (i.e. non-MEXT scholarship) international graduate students over the past year, they could get double the slots. Of course, if they lost half of their self-financed international graduate students, they would lose half of their slots, too.

I have not been able to find any data reporting specific enough to determine the number of self-financed international graduate students, so I cannot tell you what that percentage change will be. But if you make the assumption that it is only going to be a few percentage points, you can more or less rely on the chart below, which shows the base slots available.

I have checked the number of international graduate students enrolled as best as possible for several top universities in Japan, so I will list those in the table, as well.

Base Slots

Number of International Graduate Students Enrolled Number of MEXT Scholarship Slots Universities in the Category
1001+ 9 University of Tokyo, Waseda, Tohoku University, University of Tsukuba, Osaka University, Kyushu University, Kyoto University, Hokkaido University, Nagoya University*, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Hiroshima University
801 – 1000 8 Kobe University
601 – 800 7 Ritsumeikan University, Keio, Chiba University
501 – 600 6 Sophia University
401 – 500 5 Meiji University, Yokohama National University, Kansai University
301 – 400 4 Doshisha University, Josai International University
201 – 300 3 Takushoku University, Hosei University
101 – 200 2 Ritsumeikan APU, Chuo University
0 – 100 1 Japan University of Economics, Osaka Sangyo University

*Reporting was not sufficiently detailed for this university, but this is my best guess based on data available.

Additional Slots

Each University may recommend up to two additional nominees if the university is willing to cover their travel expenses.

Maximum Number of Slots

If you combine the figures above, the universities with the highest number of international graduate students are able to recommend up to 11 total students for general category slots. That’s out of all of the applicants, across all graduate schools.

To give you an idea about the competition level, I was responsible for MEXT applications at a mid-high ranked private university several years ago, and we got up to 400 applications per year for the University-recommended MEXT scholarship. So, the competition is intense and you need to be doing everything you can to make your application shine!

Please don’t take this as discouragement. Take it as inspiration to take your application seriously and do everything you can to be one of those 11!

Note for Non-Priority Countries: If you’re going the math, a maximum of 11 slots means that university can recommend a maximum of 2 students from non-priority countries. 3 would be more than 25%. Only universities with 6 slots or more on that chart above can recommend as many as 2, (6 + 2 additional slots = 8), so you are probably best off choosing one of those universities.

Slots Are Not Guaranteed

MEXT does not guarantee that they will accept all nominees, even if they are within the maximum slot number. This is really beyond your control, but here are the things MEXT will consider when determining whether to accept all nominees from a particular university.

  1. The overall nomination situation across all universities
  2. MEXT’s budget
  3. The students’ Field of Study and Research Program Plan contents
  4. Key university internationalization data, including international partnership activities, number of privately financed students enrolled, number of foreign students earning degrees, ratio of foreign faculty, etc.
  5. Whether the university has been responsible for students who became illegal overstays in the past
  6. Priority Graduate Programs are Back!

    This year, MEXT revived the Priority Graduate Program Scheme, which could be great news for you!

    Priority Graduate Programs are programs that have passed a screening by MEXT and are appproved to receive a specific number of slots each year for a three-year period.

    The good news is that if your application falls under one of these programs (listed at the link above) then there is a significantly greater chance of getting selected. Instead of a competing for a maximum of 11 slots to be spread out across the university, you’d be competing for slots that are earmarked for a specific degree program.

    The downside is that these programs often have more specific eligibility criteria that are not always public. For example, I know of programs in the past that were only available to Master’s level students who were taking the degree in Japanese, or were only open to nationals of two select countries (Note: These are both programs that no longer exist). Some universities may publish this information publicly. If so, great! But there’s a good chance it will not be available, as well, so it’s a gamble.

    Even if you are targeting a Priority Graduate Program, you should be prepared to fall back on a general category slot (university-wide competition) if you don’t meet the eligibility criteria, so you need to focus on making your application as powerful as possible.

    The Application Form Has Changed

    The Application Form for the University-recommended MEXT scholarship has changed significantly from last year. If you’ve already applied this year for the scholarship, the university probably had you use last year’s form, so they’re going to need to ask you to resubmit this year’s form, instead.

    Most universities, though, won’t ask you to resubmit this year’s form unless there’s a decent chance that they are going to select you as a nominee for the scholarship. So if you get that request, it could be good news.

    OK, on to what’s changed.

    The new form is similar to the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application Form, which I wrote about in detail earlier this year.

    For the most part, I recommend following the instructions in that article. I am only going to talk about the changes here.

    Biggest Change: Increased Emphasis on Avoiding Dual Awards

    I think this has been the most significant mentality shift by MEXT for this year’s process. They are putting a lot more emphasis on making sure that universities do not recommend students who have earned MEXT scholarships in the past three years and are not applying for multiple scholarships.

    MEXT is making universities ensure that their nominees are not applying simultaneously for the Embassy-recommended MEXT scholarship or for the University-recommended MEXT scholarship at another university.

    There is a whole page in the application form dedicated to making sure you are not applying for two scholarships at once!

    Past Japanese Government Scholarship Receipt

    In the Embassy Form, MEXT asked about previous scholarship receipt, but they’ve made that question easier to answer this time around. Instead of making you fill in the type of scholarship you earned, you now get to select from a series of checkboxes. (By the way, click here to find out how to insert checkboxes in Microsoft Excel).

    If you have received a scholarship in the past (other than Japanese Studies Students or Korea Joint Government Scholarship Program for The Students in Science and Engineering Departments), there is a section to fill in your education/research background since the end of your last scholarship. Although that will apply to a very small number of applicants, it should make it easier for those applicants to figure out if they’re eligible or not.

    Most of you will be able to skip that chart!

    Applying for Multiple Scholarships

    Questions 9 and 10 ask if you are applying for another MEXT scholarship or a scholarship from any other organization, including your home country government.

    You are not allowed to apply simultaneously for multiple MEXT scholarships – including university and embassy recommendation, so if you check “Yes” in question 9, consider yourself out of the running. The university will likely contact you to tell you that you have to choose only one.

    Obviously, you have to be honest here (any falsehood on your application is cause for disqualification and, if discovered after your arrival in Japan, may require you to pay back any scholarship money already received). So, you have to make a choice.

    If you’re applying for the Embassy recommended scholarship and you’re waiting on the results of the secondary screening, know that at this point of the application, your scholarship is practically guaranteed, so there is no reason you should be applying for the university-recommended scholarship, as well.

    If you’re applying at two different universities for the MEXT scholarship – even if one is a general category and the other is a PGP – you have to choose just one.

    Scholarships from other organizations: If you’re applying for other scholarships as a back-up plan, for example a government scholarship from your country or a scholarship at a university in another country, that’s not a problem. You just have to check the box acknowledging that you will immediately cancel that application and award if you are selected for MEXT.

    Other Minor Changes to the Application Form

    They added a section to the educational background to ask what degree you earned at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Fill that in with your degree type (e.g. BA, MS, BBA, etc.) and field, as shown on your diploma/graduation certificate.

    Unlike the Embassy-recommended application process, there is no option to choose what month you want to arrive in Japan. University-recommended MEXT scholarships always start in the fall, except for some PGP programs with a spring start. In either case, the start date is pre-determined and out of your hands.

    Sample Application Form

    If you’re already a member of my mailing list, I have sent you a copy of the sample application form, so check your email.

    If you have not yet joined, they I will send you a sample copy of the University-recommended MEXT application form and the Embassy-recommended application form when you sign up!

    Note: This is a pdf sample form for the application for graduate students showing you how to fill in the answers. You should get the fillable form from the university where you’re applying, since they may have additional instructions or requirements.

    Other Required Documents

    There are no changes to the other required documents, but I have a few clarifications about some of the documents that cause a lot of confusion.

    Letter of Recommendation

    This only applies to the University-recommended MEXT scholarship application process. The requirements for the Embassy-recommended application process are significantly different.

    The letter of recommendation is a free-form letter and I have written about it extensively in the article above. But I have a clarification about who needs to write the letter: It depends on the relationship between your current/most recent university and the university in Japan.

    1. If your universities have a formal partnership agreement: Any formal letter of recommendation will do! (Note: the Japanese university may still ask you to meet the criteria for #2 below, since they don’t know the relationship when you apply. If they ask in their application guidelines, you should be prepared to follow through.)
    2. If your universities do not have a formal relationship, but have a history of academic cooperation: The letter must come from the President of your home university or a Dean or higher.
    3. If there is no relationship or history of cooperation between your universities: You must obtain a letter of recommendation from the president of your home university.
    4. Remember to check the other requirements in the article above.

      Those are all the changes for this year.

      be sure to sign up for my mailing list to download the sample form and get updates whenever I have new information or guides about the MEXT scholarship.

      If you have any questions, please ask in the comments, below. I can not answer questions sent by email.

      Good luck with your applicataion!

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