Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship 2018: How to Get Started

Embassy-recommended MEXT scholarship application tips 2018 to get into Japanese university

If you’re applying for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship, getting started with the right research and approach can give you a head start on the competition.

The Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship offers two significant advantages over the other, University Recommended path:

  1. Significantly more slots
  2. The chance to apply to up to three universities

So, if you’re going for the MEXT scholarship, it’s a good idea to start with this one. (Besides, if you don’t make it through the primary screening, you’ll still have time to apply for the University-recommended MEXT scholarship, too!)

While this article is about getting started on the 2018 Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship application, the same principles apply no matter what year or scholarship type you’re going for.

It’s (Past) Time to Start Your 2018 MEXT Scholarship Application!

Monbukagakusho has released the Embassy-Recommended Scholarship Application guidelines and forms for 2018. Really, if you’re only starting now, you’re already behind, but that’s OK. Hopefully, the tips below will help you catch up, and even pass a large majority of applicants.

In this article, I’ll cover:

  1. Choosing Your Field of Study and Targeting Professors
  2. When to Approach Universities and Professors (and How!)
  3. What’s Changed for This Year’s Application Process

But before we get to that, I just want to clarify what we’re talking about.

Summary: MEXT Scholarship for Research Students

I’m talking about the MEXT Scholarship for Research Students – not undergraduates (although those guidelines are available, too). The application process that starts now is for studies that will begin in April 2018 or September/October 2018.

Research Students: When MEXT says “Research Students”, they mean everyone who has already completed an undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree. That includes, Master’s Degree seekers, PhD Degree seekers, and non-degree-seeking students at the Master’s and PhD level.

However, when universities say “research students”, they mean only “non-degree seeking students.”

To be clear, you can apply for a degree using this scholarship!

1. Choosing Your MEXT Field of Study and Targeting a Professor

What Fields of Study are Available?

According to the scholarship guidelines, you can only apply for the scholarship to study the same major you studied in undergraduate or a related field. Furthermore, each Embassy has the ability to restrict the fields of study available in your country.

Before you get started, check with the Japanese Embassy or Consulate nearest you to find out what fields of study are available for your country. There’s no sense in preparing an application that’s going to be ineligible in the end.

I recommend checking their websites, first. If you can’t find the information there, then you can call, too. This is also a good way to find out when the application deadline is. That varies by country, so I can’t tell you what your deadline will be.

Narrowing Down Your Field

Ideally, you want to have a specific research question in mind before you even start your application. If your only idea now is that you want to study, say, International Relations, then take some time to sit down and think. What specific problem in international relations do you want to study? Why? How are you going to go about it?

Here are some things to consider as you determine your research question (in no particular order):

  • Can you study it in Japan? If you can’t find a Japanese professor who specializes in your narrow field, you might be setting yourself up for failure.
  • Does it make sense to study it in Japan? The purpose of the MEXT scholarship is “to foster human resources who will become bridges of friendship between the grantee’s country and Japan through study in Japan and who will contribute to the development of both countries and the wider world.” So, your research problem should relate to both countries and contribute in some way to bringing them closer together. That will help impress the Embassy staff.
  • Does it require fieldwork in another country? That can disqualify you. Make sure any fieldwork focuses on Japan. If you have to do research abroad, it should be relatively minor and not take much time.
  • Know Your Field This goes without saying, but you want to make sure you’re not replicating existing research. Do a literature review in your field.

Targeting a Specific Professor

Once you know what you want to research and why, it’s time to start looking for a professor in Japan who could advise you.

It’s going to be easier to reach out to professors if you have some kind of connection, like an agreement between your school and theirs to use as an introduction, or personal connections between faculty members that you can leverage. (Bonus: That will also help you find out more about your target professor’s field so you can approach them more easily.)

If you don’t have a connection to leverage, then it’s research time. That literature review you did to narrow down your field should help. Did you find any papers by Japanese authors? How about papers citing work by Japanese professors? If you did, start by researching those faculty, first. Google their names and keywords from your research field.

Considering Language Requirements

If you don’t have N1 or N2 level Japanese language ability, you’re going to need to find a program taught in English. That limits your options, but limited options can be a good thing when it comes to searching. Here are some resources from my previous article on Choosing a University for your Embassy MEXT Scholarship:

Find out which universities teach your field of study in English, then check their websites directly for a list of professors who teach in your field. Review their publications and bios, if they’re available. Otherwise, you can google them and your research keywords together to try to find more.

2. When to Approach Universities and Professors (and How!)

Once you’ve researched universities and professors in your field and narrowed it down to a few top choices, it’s time to start phase 1 of reaching out to them.

(In my previous article on the Embassy MEXT scholarship, I recommended that you don’t do this, but that was because so many applicants do it all wrong and hurt themselves. If you don’t it right, then this can really help you!)

What not to do:

  • Mention in your first email that you want an LoA to apply for the MEXT scholarship.
  • Ask the professor to help you write your field of study and research program plan.
  • Send one email to multiple professors/universities.

How to Approach Universities & Professors Professionally and Respectfully

  • Take the time to write a custom email for each university.
    You want them to take the time to review your application, write you a Letter of Acceptance, and agree to spend 2-3 years supervising you. If someone asked you to do all that, but did it with a 1-paragraph email that looked like it was sent to 50 different universities at once, would you say yes? Take your time and be thoughtful.
  • Start by offering value to them.
    That’s how you build a relationship, and for now, that’s all you’re doing. You can’t ask them for a Letter of Acceptance, anyway, until after you pass the Primary Screening at the Embassy. Right now, you want to show interest in their research and propose ways your own research interests could complement theirs. Build your relationship on academic interest, not on you begging for free school.
  • Respect their time.
    If someone I don’t know sends me a 2-page email (or even a 1-page one), writes everything as one solid block of text or sends any other kind of message that takes me more than a minute or two to understand, I’m going to ignore it or file it to “deal with later.” Keep your messages short and to the point, especially the first one. Break up your message into paragraphs, not long blocks of text (like this).
  • Get it proofread.
    English is not the professor’s first language. Sure, they’re going to be very competent in it, but it’s a lot harder to understand an error-filled message in a foreign language. Plus, poor writing sends a bad impression of your own language ability (and even intelligence).

Remember, at this stage, you’re building a relationship and looking for mutual interest. You want to narrow down your list to the professor you think you will best be able to work with.

Writing Your Field of Study and Research Program Plan

Once you know what you want to study and why and have a list of the top one to three professors you would want to study under, it’s time to write your Field of Study and Research Program Plan.

My advice is to write your plan like you were appealing to your first choice professor. Keep it relevant to their research so that they’re more likely to want to accept you.

If you’ve already started communicating, this is going to be easier, of course.

You also want to make sure it isn’t all jargon! The Embassy staff might not be experts in your field, and they need to be able to understand what you want to do and why. For the Embassy, make sure you hit the “why.” Why do you want to study this field? What impact do you plan to make with the results of your research and degree?

The application guidelines specifically state that the Embassy is to look for applicants with: “a clear sense of purpose relating to his/her study in Japan and has gathered information about Japanese universities.” This is important in the interview, yes, but you also want to tease it in the Field of Study.

3. What’s Changed for This Year’s Application Process

The birth date in the eligibility criteria, but that changes every year. For the 2018 scholarship, you must have been born on or after April 2, 1983.

One of the most obvious changes is that MEXT has changed the application form and placement preference form from a Microsoft Word document to an Excel file. The application form has changed significantly from previous years. You can find my review and instructions for the form here and download a sample filled form by entering your email address below.


Before asking any questions in the comments below, please read through the MEXT Scholarship Application FAQ top page and specific FAQ pages to see what I’ve answered already and to find tips about how to get your questions answered faster.

You can ask your questions in the comments here, on the FAQ page, or by email and I will answer them by updating the FAQ and letting you know when the answers are available.

I’d also recommend signing up for my mailing list to get notified whenever I have updates to any of the FAQs or new articles about the MEXT scholarship!

Stay Up-to-Date on the MEXT Scholarship

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