Update: See the New Version for the 2020 Scholarship Application!
This article is based on the application process from 2018 (for the scholarship beginning in 2019). I have updated it based on the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application Guidelines for 2020 and you can find that new article here!
Congratulations on Passing the Embassy’s Primary Screening!
If you are reading this article, I assume you have passed the primary screening (or are preparing to pass in the near future). That’s a tremendous step!
Once you have passed the Primary Screening, all you need is one Letter of Acceptance from one university in Japan and you will be practically guaranteed to receive the MEXT Scholarship!
(If you are not yet at that stage, you can find my guides to applying for the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship, the Embassy Interview, and identifying professors and universities in Japan on the MEXT Scholarship Information Page!)
So, what do you need to know about getting that letter of acceptance? Let’s get started.
Choosing Your Universities
By this point, you should already have selected up to three universities and professors that you want to apply to. If not, I have another guide to help you locate universities and professors in your field of study.
If you have already been in contact with the professors for networking, that is to your advantage, but even if you have tried to contact the professors and gotten no response, do not let that hold you back. Many universities will not give you the time of day until after you have passed the Primary Screening.
If you have a list of universities and professors but want to change it from the information you entered on the Placement Preference Form, that should still be possible. You should contact the Japanese embassy or consulate in Japan for more details on their policies.
How Many Universities to Contact
According to the application guidelines, you may contact a maximum of four universities at one time to request a Letter of Acceptance.
Even though there are only three places on the Placement Preference Form that you may have already submitted to the embassy, ultimately, you are only able to write the names of universities that have not refused your request for a Letter of Acceptance on that form, so there is a good chance that you will need to contact more than three universities in order to obtain three letters of acceptance.
If one of the four universities that you have contacted rejects your request for a Letter of Acceptance, you may open contact with another university in its place, as long as it is before the contact deadline of August 24.
After you have passed the primary screening and received your documents back, as well as the Passing Certificate of the Primary Screening from the Japanese Embassy or Consulate, you should contact the universities in Japan that you want to apply to immediately!
The deadline to contact universities to request a Letter of Acceptance for the 2019 scholarship application cycle is August 24, 2018 Japan Time. MEXT has instructed all universities in Japan that they are to refuse any applicant that contacts them on or after August 25. Keep in mind that Japan is ahead of most countries in terms of time zones. Do not wait until the last day!
MEXT has instructed universities to reply to applicants with the final results within approximately one month of receiving the request. In general, the deadline for universities to give you a final answer is September 25, 2018. If you are getting close to that deadline and have not heard back from the university, then it is OK to contact them and politely ask if there will be a delay.
Keep in mind that August is summer vacation week and many universities close completely for a week in the middle of August for the O-Bon holidays. Universities may be slower to respond during this time, so contacting them as early as possible will be to your benefit. As with any other application, the universities will be very busy around the time of the deadline, so the earlier you contact them, the more time they will have to answer your questions in a timely fashion.
Each embassy or consulate will set the deadline for you to submit your Letters of Acceptance and final Placement Preference Form, so please refer to the embassy or consulate where you have applied for their submission deadlines.
Applying for a Letter of Acceptance: Who To Contact
Your embassy or consulate should have a list of staff members responsible for accepting MEXT scholarship applications at various Japanese universities. If you already know which universities you want to contact (see my article on how to identify the best Japanese universities and professors for your field of study, then the embassy staff may be able to help you.
If you cannot get the information from the embassy or consulate, you will need to find it on the universities’ websites. The best way I have found to do this is to search Google for your university name and the words “embassy mext”. For example “University of Tokyo Embassy MEXT.”
I tried this with 7 different universities and in every case, the top result was the page with the instructions on how to apply for a letter of acceptance.
I also tried to go to each university’s website and use the search functions there. That worked too, in all but one case (Keio). Google is still king of searches.
Four of the seven universities said to contact their international office, one said to contact the administrative office of the graduate school, and only two instructed applicants to contact professors directly.
Just for reference, the universities I tried and their results were as follows:
- University of Tokyo: Contact the administrative office of the graduate school where the professor works
- Tohoku University: Contact the professor directly
- Kyoto University: Contact the professor directly
- Osaka University: Contact the professor to get their approval, but apply to the international office
- Waseda University: Contact the international office
- Keio University: Contact the international office for most graduate schools
- Ritsumeikan University: Contact the international office
Applying for a Letter of Acceptance: What to Send
If you found the website with the Letter of Acceptance application procedures for your university, you should have seen a list of required documents there. Follow those guidelines over the instructions below, as they may contain additional requirements that you do not want to miss. The information I have provided below is from the MEXT guidelines, so it is more general.
You will be sending all of your application documents by email attachment to the university.
I recommend that you do not attach them all in your first email. Your application document scans may have a very large file size and many university email accounts in Japan have size limits. If your attachments exceed the limit, your mail will not be delivered. So, you want to contact the university first to let them know to expect your application. A text-only email should not have any problems with size limit filters!
Before sending your documents, you should reach out to the office or professor you have identified, let them know that you plan to apply and that you will send your application documents in a subsequent email. If you got the name and contact information from one of the sources I mentioned above, then there is nothing rude about sending your application documents to that person without waiting for their reply.
I recommend that you scan all of your documents together in a single pdf file. This is easy enough to do if you have a scanner available and you can even scan documents as a pdf from a smartphone using the free Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Scan apps. (Download Adobe Acrobat Reader and it will guide you through setting up the Adobe Scan app). There is no excuse for sending your documents as individual jpeg files for each page. Don’t do it!
In order to request a Letter of Acceptance from a university, you are required to send the university the following documents. These should be the documents that you submitted to the embassy and had returned to you after the primary screening
- Application Form
- Field of Study and Research Program Plan
- Certified grade transcript for each academic year
- Graduation certificate or degree certificate of the last university attended
- Recommendation letter from the president/dean or the advisor of the last university attended or the university currently attending
- Abstracts of theses (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Certificate of language proficiency (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Recommendation letter from the present employer (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Photograph(s) showing applicant’s own works of art or a digitally recorded media of musical performance (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Copy of a passing Certificate of the First Screening issued by the diplomatic mission
Notice that the Placement Preference Form and Medical Certificate are not on that list! Per the application guidelines, you are not to send those documents to the universities. Furthermore, universities have been instructed that they cannot request those documents from you.
If a university requests that you send either of those documents, politely tell them that your instructions from MEXT were that you are not allowed to submit them to universities. You can send them a link to the application guidelines in Japanese saying so as well. Here is that link:
The university may also ask you to submit additional documentation. As long as it is not the Placement Preference Form or Medical Certificate, then you are required to submit it. That includes submitting language proficiency certificates, other test scores, etc., regardless of whether you had previously submitted them to the embassy or consulate.
Caution: Arrival Date in Japan and Status in the Letter of Acceptance
There are a few things you will want to pay particular attention to in your Letter of Acceptance. The first is your arrival date in Japan. Regardless of what you wrote in your application form for your desired arrival date in Japan, the date specified in your Letter of Acceptance is going to be final. In general, it cannot be changed once you have been placed at that university.
Another thing to check is your status. In your application form, you had the opportunity to fill in whether you wanted to arrive as a research student or a degree-seeking student (in the master’s doctoral, or professional program).
In order for the university to issue you a letter of acceptance as a degree-seeking student, you would have had to have passed their entrance examination prior to them issuing the letter. Unless the university considers a screening of your application documents to be a sufficient entrance exam, the chances are high that you would not have passed it yet. In that case, the university would issue you a letter of an acceptance as a research student.
This can change!
The university will have 2 opportunities later to “upgrade” you to a degree-seeking student before your arrival:
- During the placement phase: After you submit your letters of acceptance and final placement preference form to the Embassy, MEXT will conduct a secondary screening of your application. Essentially, it is just a double-check, not a competitive screening. After that secondary screening, MEXT will contact the universities on your Placement Preference Form one-by-one to ask them to accept you. If you have passed the university’s entrance exam in the meantime, then when the university replies to MEXT to confirm that they will accept you, they can change your category at that time to degree-seeking student.
- Upon arrival in Japan: If the university agrees to accept your placement as a research student, but you then pass their entrance exam prior to arriving in Japan, then the university can send a notice of change of status and change of scholarship payment period to MEXT and you would be able to start as a degree-seeking student immediately on arrival in Japan.
If you do end up arriving in Japan and starting as a research student, there is no problem with that course of action, either. You will have the opportunity to take the entrance exam while in Japan and apply for an extension of your scholarship to cover the full degree program.
Submitting Your Letters of Acceptance and Placement Preference Form to the Embassy
Each embassy or consulate controls its own deadline for when you should submit Letters of Acceptance, so be sure to consult with them. MEXT has given universities the deadline of September 25 to issue Letters of Acceptance, so the embassies’ deadlines should not be earlier than that, but there are always miscommunications between the two. There is no substitute for checking directly on your own!
At this point the Embassy has already selected you as its candidate from the Primary Screening. They are not going to revoke that selection because you “annoy” them with too many questions.
When you submit your Letters of Acceptance, you will also likely have to submit an updated Placement Preference Form. You are not allowed to list universities on your final Placement Preference Form that refused to issue you a Letter of Acceptance. You are, however, allowed to list universities that have not yet replied to you as well as those that have issued you a Letter of Acceptance (even if the hardcopy of that document has not yet arrived). You should also be able to re-order your university preferences at this point, but that is also something you should confirm with the embassy.
Secondary Screening and University Placement
Once you have submitted the Letters of Acceptance and the final Placement Preference Form, the application process is essentially over for you. All you have left to do is wait for your placement assignment, sometime between November to February.
At this point, the competitive screening is over. As long as you have passed the Primary Screening and obtained at least one Letter of Acceptance, your scholarship award is practically guaranteed. I have never heard of an applicant getting rejected after this stage of the application!
It will take a long time to the embassies to confirm that you have passed the Secondary Screening and to announce your university placement, but do not let that bother you. That is just normal, slow bureaucracy, not a reflection on your application.
In some cases, you may end up hearing from the universities even before the embassy gives you the final approval. If you hear from your professor or housing office at one of the universities on your list, you can consider that an unofficial confirmation.
Once you have your final confirmation, you should reach out to the other universities that issued you letters of acceptance to let them know that you were placed in another university and thank them for their support. You never know when you might end up interacting with them after arriving in Japan!
Let me know in the comments below!
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