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! The vast majority of applicants do not make it that far.
In fact, almost all applicants who pass the Primary Screening and obtain at least one Letter of Acceptance from one university in Japan, end up receiving the MEXT Scholarship. The good news is that the screening to get a Letter of Acceptance is significantly less severe than the Embassy’s Primary Screening and, as long as you avoid the major causes for rejection that I discuss below, you should have no problems at this stage.
Note: In the 2019/2020 application cycle, there was a situation where several applicants were rejected even after passing the Primary Screening and obtaining a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. This was the first year I had heard of that happening in the 9 years that I have been working with this scholarship. I suspect it was because of MEXT budget constraints (that was the year that higher education became free in Japan for low-income families) and a late notification about reduced slot numbers that year and do not expect it to happen again, but I can no longer say that your scholarship is practically guaranteed, like I used to.
(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.
Note: This Article is About the Application Process in 2020
If you are applying in 2020 for the MEXT Scholarship to begin in 2021, then this article is for you.
If you are applying in a later year, please understand that the entire Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship was thrown off schedule by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, so there were significant changes to the dates and some other parts of the process. I suspect that most of these changes are a one-time issue, to account for the pandemic and the late start this year. So, I would also recommend reading my article from last year that covers the “normal” application, just in case.
Three Ways to FAIL to Get a Letter of Provisional Acceptance
Let’s get this out of the way first. There are three, completely avoidable ways to get rejected by a university. Almost every Letter of Provisional Acceptance (LoA) rejection I ever processed was for one of these three causes:
- Missing the Deadline: As of the 2020/2021 Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application Cycle (which occurs in 2020), the deadline to apply to universities for an LoA is Friday, November 20, 2019 (Japan time). If you do not have your application completely submitted by that time, you’re out. Be aware of time differences and don’t wait until the last minute. An application that hits the Japanese university’s inbox at 1:00 am on November 21 is not going to be accepted, even if it was still November 20 where you are.
You also want to avoid the possibility that your email isn’t delivered at all because it is too large or the university’s inbox is full. Submit it as early as you can!
- Not Having the Language Ability: For some reason, every year I saw applicants to programs that were taught only in Japanese who had no Japanese language ability. Of course, they were all rejected. You need to have the requisite language ability as of the time you apply for the LoA or you don’t have a chance. (No, the one semester of Japanese language training that is offered will not improve your language ability that much. It’s not even intended to be academic Japanese in the first place, it is to help you develop enough ability for day-to-day interactions, only.)
This is an easily avoidable problem if you followed my advice in my article about how to find universities and professors in Japan.
- Applying to a University Where No Professor Can Supervise Your Research: This was probably the single-most common reason for rejections at my former university. The rejection letters would say, “Great student, great research plan, but we don’t have any doing research in that field that can supervise you.”
This is mostly avoidable if you follow the advice in the article I listed above. The only part that is beyond your control is retirements and personnel changes. That’s one of the strongest arguments for trying to get in touch with prospective professors in advance.
If you can avoid those three pitfalls, you should have no problems securing two Letters of Provisional Acceptance. Here is the process you need to follow to make sure you get everything done.
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 respond at all until after you have passed the Primary Screening – it’s nothing personal. In fact, it might just be university policy!
Changing the Universities on your Placement Preference Form
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. This might be the case if you found a better university/professor after submitting your Placement Preference Form, or if the universities on your list reject your application and you need an alternative.
To find out for sure about changing the universities on your list, you should contact the Japanese embassy or consulate in Japan for more details on their policies. Usually, you will have to submit the Placement Preference Form again after acquiring the Letters of Provisional Acceptance and, at that time, you will have to make sure that the universities on that list are all universities that have offered you a Letter of Acceptance (or are still processing your request, but have not rejected your request outright). So, most applicants have to change the list on their form.
Applying to Universities for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance
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 Provisional Acceptance for the 2021 scholarship application cycle is Friday, November 20, 2020 Japan Time. MEXT has instructed all universities in Japan that they are to refuse any applicant that contacts them on or after November 21. Keep in mind that Japan is ahead of most countries in terms of time zones. Do not wait until the last day! An emailed application sent on the 20th in your time zone that arrives after midnight in Japan will not be accepted.
Since you are sending your application by email, and that message is likely to have several large attachments, there is a chance that your application email might not be delivered. It could look like spam, be filtered because it is too large, or it could be rejected because the recipient’s email inbox is too full to accept it. If that happens, you might never know that your application didn’t arrive. I recommend sending two emails: The first one with no attachments that states your intent to apply and informs the university/professor that you will send a follow-up email immediately with the attachments. That way, even if the attachment email doesn’t get through for some reason, the first message should arrive and they will know that you have tried to apply.
How Long it Takes to Get a Letter of Provisional Acceptance
November 20, 2020 is your deadline to contact the universities. It is not the deadline for universities to issue the Letter of Provisional Acceptance.
MEXT has instructed universities to reply to applicants with the final results within approximately one month of receiving the request. This is not an immediate process and you should not expect instant results. Make sure you submit your application to the university and give them enough time (at least a month) to process it, make their decision, and issue the letter.
Do not start insistently contacting the university if they don’t send you a letter right away. That is not going to get you a positive response. However, if a month has passed since you contacted the university and you have not heard back from them, then it is OK to contact them and politely ask about the status.
Keep in mind that it might take a few days before universities can get to your email. Universities will also be extremely busy processing applications right around the deadline, so expect delays in replies at that time, too. In some cases, I have also heard of universities that do not acknowledge receipt of your application email and do not send any reply until they have made their final decision.
Submitting Letters of Provisional Acceptance to Your Embassy/Consulate
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.
How Many Universities to Contact
According to the application guidelines, you may contact a maximum of two universities at one time to request a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. This is a change from last year, when you allowed to have three applications/Letters of Acceptance, so if you see any articles (including on this site) saying that three or four letters is OK, it’s old!
Even though you might have three universities in your Placement Preference Form, you can still only contact two at once. (In past years, it was three, but this has changed in 2020!) If one of the two universities you contact rejects your application and it is still before the deadline, then you can contact an alternate, but you should never have more than two active applications at any time and you should not obtain more than two Letters of Provisional Acceptance.
Applying for a Letter of Acceptance: Who To Contact
Per MEXT’s instructions, you should reach out to the International Office at the university where you intend to apply, not directly to a faculty member. (Though if you are already in touch with a faculty member, you can let them know that you are submitting the application at the same time.)
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.”
You may find that the universities do ask you to contact a faculty member as part of your application. In that case follow the university’s instructions.
I tried this researching the application process at 7 different universities using the Google method above and in almost every case, the top result was the page with the instructions on how to apply for a letter of acceptance.
Despite MEXT’s instructions that applicants should contact the international offices at their target universities, you can see from the list below that the actual practice can vary significantly from university to university.
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 you want to enroll
- Tohoku University: Contact the professor, directly
- Kyoto University: Contact the professor, directly, or the administrative office of the professor’s graduate school
- Osaka University: Contact the address listed on the website. You can also contact professors to talk about your research plan
- Waseda University: Complete their online form and upload the documents directly
- Keio University: Complete their online form and upload the documents directly
*Note: Apparently, their online application includes a question about whether or not you have contacted your desired advisor for informal acceptance, and if you have not, they will not issue the Letter of Acceptance.
- 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 or uploading them directly, depending on the instructions.
As mentioned above, 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 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 Provisional Acceptance
There are a few things you will want to pay particular attention to in your Letter of Provisional Acceptance. The first 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. 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.
The second thing to check is whether or not the university plans to assign you to the Japanese language program. In general, they will send you to that program if you are studying in English and need to learn some basic Japanese to survive daily life. If your Japanese is already good enough that you can study for a degree in Japanese, you will most likely not be sent to the Japanese language program.
Submitting Your Letters of Provisional Acceptance and Placement Preference Form to the Embassy
MEXT requires that you turn in every Letter of Provisional Acceptance that you receive to the Embassy and that you list those universities in your placement preference form. It used to not be mandatory, so you might see comments from past students that they applied for more Letters than they turned in at the end. That is no longer allowed. Submitting fewer letters would constitute lying on your application and could result in your being rejected.
Each embassy or consulate controls its own deadline for when you should submit Letters of Provisional Acceptance, so be sure to consult with them. MEXT has asked universities to return letters of acceptance within one month of the application, 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!
*In the past, MEXT required universities to produce Letters of Acceptance within a month. This is no longer a requirement, but your local Embassy might think that it is and set their deadline accordingly. If your embassy has given you a deadline, it is not rude to provide that information to the university, provided you are not demanding when you address them.
When you submit your Letters of Provisional 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 Provisional 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 Provisional 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.
As of the 2020 Scholarship application process, it is now mandatory to list all universities that have issued you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. The old tactic of acquiring emergency back-up Letters of Acceptance but only submitting the one letter from your first-choice school is no longer allowed.
Secondary Screening and University Placement
Once you have submitted the Letters of Provisional 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.
Prior to 2019, I had never heard of an applicant getting rejected for the scholarship after passing the Primary Screening and submitting at least one Letter of Provisional Acceptance. However, in 2019, it did happen to several people that I heard from. In that year, it seems that MEXT reduced the number of places available to each country during the Primary Screening. Some countries seemed to have gotten the information in time and reduced the number of students who passed that screening, but others did not, so the applicants were eliminated during the Secondary Screening to get down to the required number.
Once thing that all of the applicants I heard from had in common was that they had all left the Japanese Language Proficiency Test blank during the Primary Screening!
2019 was the first, and so far only, time I have heard of this happening. I do not anticipate it happening again, but I can no longer be sure.
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. For the 2020/2021 application cycle, the final results and placement information is expected in June 2021.
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 university that issued you a letter of provisional 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!
For more about what to expect from the secondary screening and placement, I have another article entirely about that process.
Let me know in the comments below!
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