How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship: University Recommendation 2019 Application Cycle

How to apply for the 2019 University Recommended MEXT Scholarship

The most important step in applying for the University Recommended MEXT scholarship is selecting the university to apply to!


The University Recommendation MEXT Scholarship is the more complicated and competitive way to apply for the scholarship, but with careful preparation, you can stand out from the other applicants and earn the scholarship. Most applicants knock themselves out of the competition by failing to prepare their applications or research their universities.

In this article, I will explain the scholarship, how to choose a university, and how to apply. You can also find links below to my articles on how to fill out the application form, how to write your Field of Study and Research Program Plan (the most important document in your application) and how to maximize your chances of winning the scholarship.

Ready? Let’s get started.

University Recommendation MEXT Scholarship:

Eligibility

I have written extensively about the eligibility requirements in the past and updated them when last year’s University Recommendation application guidelines came out. I have also written a separate article on how to calculate your GPA for the MEXT scholarship.

Those three articles cover all of the details you need to know about the eligibility criteria for now.

However, one of the unique challenges of the University Recommendation MEXT scholarship is that MEXT releases the official application guidelines (sometimes with revised eligibility criteria) around December, which is generally after the application deadline has closed at universities. So, the information in the articles above is accurate for now, but subject to change. If you sign up for my mailing list (see the link at the bottom of this post), I will let you know as soon as the guidelines are released if there are any changes.

One change I anticipate this year is that MEXT will require all applicants to have language proficiency scores from an official test, such as TOEFL or IELTS. Last year, for the first time, MEXT said that applicants should have scores “to the maximum degree possible”. Because of the timing issue I mentioned above, this seems like a warning to universities that those scores will be mandatory in future years. I do not think that there will be any mandatory minimum score, but universities will be required to show applicants scores. Tests like prediction tests, institutional tests, etc., will not be accepted.

Again, that is only my prediction, but here’s the bottom line: You absolutely cannot hurt yourself by having those scores. You could, however, eliminate yourself from competition by not having them.

Benefits

The scholarship benefits are unchanged from last year:

  • 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.

Benefits for the Top Global University Category Scholarship

There is a sort of sub-category of the University Recommendation MEXT Scholarship for universities that were selected for MEXT’s Top Global University Program. It’s a little too complicated to explain in this article (I will write a separate article on the subject later), but in some cases, those scholarship slots may be awarded through the same process as the University Recommendation application.

For the Top Global University scholarship slots, scholarship winners do not receive the round-trip flight ticket to Japan.

When to Start Your Application

You should start now!

Obviously, I don’t know when you are reading this or if the application process is open at the moment, but that doesn’t matter. For a successful MEXT scholarship application you should always start long before the application process opens. There is a lot of research to be done and several important decisions for you to make. One of those decisions – deciding which university to apply to – will determine when you can actually start the application process. We’ll get to that a little bit later on.

No, seriously, when does the application start?

Fine: The fall. It typically starts in the (Northern Hemisphere) fall. However, some universities will start accepting applications as early as August, some in September or October, and some as late as December. Ultimately, you can only find out the exact start date after choosing a university.

Technical Differences from the Embassy Recommendation Application Process

If you have applied for the Embassy Recommendation in the past there are a few key differences in the scholarship that you should be aware of. (If you haven’t you can skip down to the next section).

  • You can only apply to one university.
  • You can only arrive in the fall semester.
  • There is no Japanese language training semester.
  • In most cases, the university will decide if you are allowed to start as a degree-seeking or research student. If they accept degree-seeking students in the fall, then you will almost certainly start as a degree-seeking student. If they do not, then you would have to start as a research student.

Choosing Your University – The Most Important Decision

You can only choose one university to apply to, so this decision is critical and must come very early in your application process.

I have written another article about how to search for universities in Japan with English language programs in your field of study that should help you figure out which universities are even possible.

Focus on Partner Universities

However, keep in mind that you should select a university that has a partnership with your current university if at all possible. Some Japanese universities will only accept University Recommendation MEXT scholarship applications from graduates of partner universities.

Partner University Benefit: You have to submit a letter of recommendation as part of the application process. If your universities have a formal partnership, any faculty member can write the letter. If the universities have an informal partnership and history of interaction, then your letter must come from the Dean or higher. No partnership? Your letter of recommendation would have to come from the president of your university.

Even if you do find a university that accepts applications from anyone, having a partnership connection helps you stand out over the competition, makes one of the application requirements a little easier, and also makes it easier for the university to accept you, since they are under pressure by MEXT to nominate students from partner universities and have to report that partnership status.

Another advantage of applying to a partner university is that it may be easier to learn their exact application process. As I mentioned above, not every university makes this clear or public. If there is a direct connection between your current university and the university in Japan, such as a connection between professors or between international offices, then you can use that to ask about the application.

Even if there is no formal partnership agreement between your universities, the existence of informal cooperation is also beneficial. Check with your university’s international office or international planning office to see if they can provide you with a list of all the Japanese universities that your university has partnered or worked with.

Applying to Non-Partner Universities

You cannot control what partnerships your university has in Japan, so you may find yourself in a situation where applying to a partner university is not an option. That doesn’t mean that you should give up! It just means that you’re going to have to work a little harder.

If you do not have the partnership connection, it may be harder to determine which universities will accept non-partner applications. So, even though you can only apply to one university, at the research stage, I suggest you come up with a list of several Japanese universities that you would like to apply to and follow-up to find the application process for each one. (I will cover that below).

The Numbers Game: Competition and Slots

I mentioned at the top that the University Recommendation MEXT Scholarship is more competitive. Just how competitive depends on the university and on your nationality.

Each university has a specific number of slots available, depending on the number of international graduate students it had enrolled during the previous year. As of the 2018 application cycle (the most recent one available), the base number of scholarship slots available to each university was determined as shown in the chart below. The calculation is based on the number of international graduate students enrolled at the university as of May 1 of the preceding year. That report is not yet our for 2018, so I have categorized universities based on their number of 2017 students. This number is subject to change.

Base Slots

Number of International Graduate Students Enrolled Number of MEXT Scholarship Slots Universities in the Category
(As of May 1, 2017)
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.

Modifiers and Other Scholarship Slot Types

The number in the chart above is just a base number. It can go up or down based on the percentage change in the number of privately financed (e.g. non-MEXT scholarship) international students enrolled versus the previous year. If the number goes up, there is a possibility of the university receiving more slots. If it goes down, slots could be taken away.

Also, if a university had zero new University Recommendation MEXT scholars during the previous year, than the maximum number they can nominate is 1, regardless of their student numbers.

Priority Graduate Programs

Priority Graduate Programs are specific programs selected by MEXT to receive a bonus allotment of slots for a period of three years.

MEXT used to select new programs each year, but stopped between 2014 and 2016. In 2017, MEXT selected new programs again, and you can find the list here (pdf from MEXT website). MEXT has also called for applications for new programs to be selected in 2018.

The programs selected in 2017 will all have a certain number of scholarship slots that are protected for their program for three years (scholars starting their studies in 2018, 2019, and 2020). If you apply to one of these programs and are eligible, then your chances of earning the scholarship go up exponentially since there are more scholarship slots to go around!

To give an example, one year when I was processing applications for a major private university that had 2 PGP programs with a total of 15 slots available, we had approximately 200 total applicants. Of those 200 applicants, 16 met the eligibility requirements for one of the PGP programs. The other 184 did not, and had to compete for the 10 general scholarship slots we had that year. So, 15 out of 16 of the PGP-eligible applicants (93.75%) earned the scholarship, but only 10 out of 184 non-eligible applicants (5.43%) did.

If there is a PGP program that matches your interest, it makes sense to target it, but the eligibility criteria can be very narrow. For example, one of the two programs I mentioned above was only available to Information Science applicants at the Master’s Degree level, who were applying for the degree program taught in Japanese. (The grad school also offered the same degree taught in English, but that was not eligible for the PGP slots) The other was only available to citizens of Thailand or Indonesia who applied in Life Sciences. Neither of those eligibility criteria were made public.

So, targeting a PGP program is a good idea, but you may not be able to find out in advance if you are even eligible, unless you have a partnership relationship that you can leverage for more information! For both of those programs above, relevant faculty members deliberately reached out to partner universities that would have eligible students to encourage them to have their students apply.

Priority Countries and Division of Scholarship Slots

To you, the MEXT scholarship may “just” be a ticket to advanced education and a life-changing experience. But from the Japanese government’s perspective, it is a foreign diplomacy tool. So, unfortunately, politics does play a role in the scholarship award. For the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship, this is represented by the number of scholarship slots awarded to each country.

For the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship, there are also rules on the nationality of scholars that universities can recommend. These rules have changed over time and could change again when the final guidelines are released for the 2019 application cycle, but in 2018, universities were told that at least 75% of their nominees had to come from countries on the list of “Priority Countries”, below.

That means that a university that had 8 scholarship slots could recommend a maximum of 2 students from non-priority countries; a university with 4-7 slots could recommend only 1; and a university with 3 or fewer scholarship slots cannot recommend any scholarship nominees from non-priority countries.

Priority Countries

Africa
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/eSwatini
Tanzania Togo Tunisia
Uganda Zambia Zimbabwe
Americas
Argentina Bolivia Brazil
Chile Colombia Ecuador
Guyana Paraguay Peru
Suriname Uruguay USA
Venezuela    
Asia
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
Uzbekistan    
Europe
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
Yemen    

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.

How and When to Apply

As I mentioned at the top, every university has its own application process and rules, so the first thing you need to do is choose the university you will apply to. Once you have your target university, find out how they accept applications.

Approaching Via Partnership

If your target university is a partner, the most effective and advantageous way to approach them about the MEXT scholarship is via that partnership. Try to reach out through your university or faculty’s international partnership office (it may be called something different at your university).

If they can give you information about specific faculty or staff members who have worked with the Japanese university, approach those people and ask if they will contact the university on your behalf for more information. An inquiry that comes via a known conduit has a higher chance of getting a faster and more thorough reply. Even if the professor who has worked with the Japanese university is in a completely different field of study from you, you can still leverage that person as a connection. If you are hesitant to contact the professor directly, yourself, ask your academic advisor for assistance.

However, before approaching through a partnership, always do your own research first! Few things make a worse first impression as a research student than failing to notice information that was clearly available to begin with.

Independent Research

If you do not have a partnership between your universities, then the first thing you need to do is make sure that the target university will accept applications from non-partner universities.

Your first resource should be the target university’s website. Search the university’s website for the terms MEXT or Monbukagakusho or google the university’s name plus MEXT scholarship or Monbukagakusho Scholarship. Typically, one of those searches will give you the results you need.

You can also browse the university website’s admissions section. Usually, you will find information about the MEXT scholarship under admissions for international students in a scholarship section. You might find one page for the university as a whole or under admissions pages for a specific graduate school or program.

Even if it is not during the application cycle, you may often be able to find information from the previous year. That would at least be enough to tell you what the requirements and application timeline were and whether or not the university accepts applications from non-partners (assume they do, unless they specifically say that they do not).

Warning Sign: University Only Mentions Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship

If the university makes no mention at all of the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship, that may be a sign that they do not offer a public application for it. MEXT scholarships nominees may be selected out of the top applicants for the regular degree program, they may limit applications to partners, or they may simply not participate in the University Recommended MEXT scholarship.

If you suspect this is the case, or you are otherwise unable to find any information on how to apply for the University Recommended MEXT scholarship, then your final course of action should be to contact their international office by email to ask.

Contacting the University

The best point of contact at the university would be the international office or the administrative office for the graduate school where you plan to apply.

When you reach out to that office, be sure that your email is polite, specific to that university, and indicates that you have already searched their website but were unable to find the answers you are looking for. I also recommend that you be able to explain in one sentence why you are really excited about that particular university, to make it clear that you have an academic interest and are not just looking for a handout.

What Not To Do/What I See Constantly

You don’t want to write an email that could have been sent to any university. I get these all the time and it is immediately obvious that the applicant has sent the same message to multiple universities and didn’t bother to do any research on their own in advance.

Some such inquiries are so incompetent as to have multiple universities in the “To” line of the email.

Trust me, no university wants an applicant that lazy, even on a paying basis.

Once You Have Your University Decided

Once you have chosen your university, confirmed that they will accept your application, and know the application period, it is time to get started on your actual application documents – even if the university won’t accept them, yet.

  • The most important document in your application and the one that you want to start soonest is your Field of Study and Research Program Plan. This is the most important part of your application that is under your control. I recommend that you start working on it months in advance to give yourself time for the research and revision you need to make it shine.
  • You may also need to start working on getting your Letter of Recommendation in advance, particularly if you have already graduated and need time to get in touch with your Alma Mater. The other item you might need to start working on is obtaining language proficiency scores from an official test, if you do not already have them.
  • In general, you would want to prepare your other supporting documents, such as your academic transcript(s) about a month before the application period. For some of the documents, the university will want them to be issued within a certain period before the application deadline, so being too early can hurt you.
  • You should wait until the university releases the application guidelines before completing the application forms. The university might have its own format for your to complete or might use a variation of an old MEXT application form, since MEXT tends to release the official forms late. Here is my article on how to complete the MEXT scholarship application form from the 2019 Embassy-Recommended Scholarship application cycle. The form will not be identical for the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship, but the questions should be similar, so this should help you prepare. If you join my mailing list (below) I will also send you a completed sample form that you can reference.
  • Apply as soon as they start accepting applications! The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to get more thorough attention and be able to correct any deficiencies, etc., before the deadline. In my experience, we typically got 10% of our applications during the first three weeks of our application period and 90% during the last week, including about 75% over the last three days. If your application arrives during that final rush, it’s going to get a lot less personal attention.

Good luck with your application!

Interested in a More Detailed Walk-through?

How to apply for the MEXT Scholarship ebook cover

Click here for more information about How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship.

If you want to increase your chances of earning the MEXT scholarship, my book, How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship, breaks down the scholarship details and application process and also includes chapters on developing a successful applicant mindset and an application strategy that will help you stand out from the crowd. You can purchase it in ebook or print format – or ask your university library to stock it, instead!

Questions?

Let me know in the comments below!

Special Thanks

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