Important Update: There have been some minor changes to the eligibility criteria effective in 2018 – specifically to the parts about your academic background. There are a few key clarifications about residence in Japan, language proficiency, and how to evaluate applicants who have no grades, as well. I have summed up these changes in a new article about the 2018 University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship. However, the rest of the details below still apply, so you should certainly review them carefully!
Every year, hundreds of applicants spends time and money applying for the MEXT Scholarship without ever realizing that they are not even eligible.
The problem is that there are two sets of eligibility criteria. The eligibility criteria that most universities list on their MEXT scholarship application guidelines are not the full set- they’re missing the criterion that knocks out more students than any other. Fortunately, I have it translated below, along with everything else you need to know to make sure your application is going to be valid.
Why Have 2 Sets of Eligibility Criteria?It has to do with administrative processing of your application. If you’re ineligible then your application is not accepted and that means the university has to:
- Explain why you’re ineligible
- Return your application documents to you (at your expense)
If you’re application is accepted but not successful, then the university doesn’t have to explain or return a thing. Which, given how many ineligible applicants there are each year, saves universities quite a bit of trouble.
Frankly, the eligibility criteria that catches most students – grades – is so difficult to explain universally that even if it was made public, there would be a ton of ineligible applicants anyway. I’m still going to try, so bear with me.
MEXT Scholarship Eligibility: Stage 1
These are the eligibility criteria that you will find on Monbukagakusho’s “application guidelines” web page as well as university websites. They’re not always clear, so I’ll explain the tricker ones below.
Excellent* applicants who newly arrive from overseas for the purpose of graduate-level studies.
Let’s break this into two pieces:
- Excellent*: The asterisk goes to a footnote explaining: *Applicants who have a 2.3 GPA over the past two years of studies and are assumed to be able to maintain the same performance throughout the scholarship.
The problem is that this is 2.3 out of 3.0 on MEXT’s converted scale, so we can’t take this at face value. Because this is the single most significant obstacle, I have included a whole section on it farther down the article, so keep reading!
- Newly arrive from overseas for the purpose of graduate study: This means that you must not be residing in Japan immediately prior to the scholarship period and you must arrive on a Student Visa. Again, there are a lot of ways to interpret this, and MEXT has hammered out most of the loopholes, so I will explain it in detail below.
Must have the nationality of a country that has relations with Japan. In principle, applicants with Japanese nationality are not eligible. However, a person who lives overseas and holds Japanese nationality as a dual national who then gives up his or her Japanese nationality prior to the start of the scholarship will be eligible.
I used to get a lot of applicants who were worried about whether their country had relations with Japan. In most cases, the answer is yes. The most notable country that does not meet this criteria is Taiwan. Otherwise, if you’re from a country that isn’t universally recognized as a country (e.g. Republic of Abkhazia, State of Palestine), you probably know it.
Must have been born no earlier than April 2, 1981 (for the 2016 scholarship). This condition does not apply to previous Young Leaders Program scholars who are applying for admission to a PhD program.
Basically, you must be younger than 35 as of April 1 in the year that you start your scholarship. Japan considers you an investment and wants applicants that have more years to contribute to the country.
A person who has graduated from a Japanese university or who is judged to have an equal or higher level of education to a graduate of a Japanese university, as follows:
- A person who has completed 16 years of study (18 in the case of medical, dental, or pharmaceutical studies which have a 6-year undergraduate program and who wish to proceed to a doctoral degree). Applicants whose degree is in progress and will be completed prior to the start of the scholarship are eligible.
- A person aged 22 or older (24 in the case of medical, dental, and pharmaceutical applicants as listed above), who has passed an individual review of qualifications by the graduate school to which they applied and has been determined to have equal education to a Japanese university graduate. Applicants who are in the process of acquiring this status and who will acquire it prior to the start of the scholarship are eligible.
*Applicants who have completed a PhD program and are applying for an additional degree are unable to apply in principle.
A note about calculating your age: MEXT figures your age as of April 2 in the year you plan to start the scholarship (since that is when the Japanese school year begins), so if you’re trying to meet criteria 2 above and you turn 22 on April 3, then you’re not eligible this year.
OK, this one throws a lot of people, too. There used to be a long list of alternate qualifications that were considered equal to a Japanese university degree, but most of them were frankly irrelevant. In my time, I saw two common exceptions to the 16 years of education, and almost all were approved, as long as they contacted the university in advance.
- Students who came from a country with a 15-year program of education that included a 3-year bachelor’s degree. This used to be a specific exception, though I don’t see it listed in the 2015 guidelines, so it may have been lumped in with the next category.
- Students from countries with less than a 16-year program of education that included a 4-year bachelor’s degree, or less than 15 years.
In both cases above, we would have students submit their transcripts, proof of degree awarded, passport (to check their age), and an explanation of the academic systems of their home countries, preferably countersigned by an academic advisor.
Skipped a grade? The length of your education program is judged by the length prescribed by your national education ministry, not by how long you took to complete it. If you skipped grades, you’re still considered to have completed the full 16 years, or whatever it is. (There will be space to explain this on the application form later).
If you have any questions about whether you would be eligible because of your academic background, you should contact the university as soon as they release their application guidelines!
Field of Study
Must be the field you studied in university previously or a related field. Must be available for study at the university you are applying to.
I did see applicants every year who wanted to study a different field from what they had done previously. If this is you, then you must make it very clear in your “Field of Study and Study Plan” document how your graduate studies will be related to what you’ve done before.
Japanese Language Ability
Applicants in fields that require high levels of Japanese language ability (e.g. Japanese Linguistics, Japanese Literature, Japanese History, Japanese Law, etc.) will not be awarded the scholarship if their language ability is insufficient.
I did actually see the occasional student try to apply for Japanese linguistics with an N2 JLPT. Not going to happen. Any field that would conceivably require most research to be done in Japanese is going to require an N1.
Must have no physical or mental health conditions that would interfere with graduate-level studies.
The biggest concern here, in my experience, was the tuberculosis chest x-ray. You need to have the date the x-ray was taken as well as the x-ray film reference number. In Japan, each x-ray has a reference label so that the doctor can look it up again. They expect other countries to work the same way. This confused a lot of applicants so I’m going to clarify: do not send the actual x-ray film. Just the reference (even if it’s just your last name and the date) will do.
Time of Arrival in Japan
In principle, students must be able to leave their home countries and arrive in Japan on the date specified by the university, up to two week before the semester starts. (Should be September or October, in general, excepting students who start in the April semester.)
The purpose of this criteria is to ensure that you have no legal restrictions preventing you from leaving your home country (e.g. you’re not in jail or hospitalized) and nothing preventing you from arriving in Japan (e.g. you have not been deported from Japan in the past).
In principle, applicants must acquire a Student Visa before arriving in Japan and arrive in the country with a Student Residence Status. Students who change to any other residence status during their time in Japan will immediately lose their eligibility to continue receiving the scholarship.
MEXT is going to help you apply for the visa after you’re accepted, so don’t worry about that. The thing to note here is to arrive on a “Student” visa – not a “Tourist” or anything else – and to keep that status throughout your time in Japan.
In Japan, a “visa” is the document that you use to enter the country. Once you’re in Japan, you no longer have a “visa,” you have a “residence status,” which is what permits you to stay in the country.
Meeting any of the criteria below will disqualify you from the application process. Further, if it is discovered after the fact that you were ineligible, your scholarship will be withdrawn as if you voluntarily canceled the scholarship.
Anyone who is a member of the military or a military-status civilian at the time of arriving in Japan is ineligible.
Anyone unable to arrive on the university-designated arrival date is ineligible
Previous MEXT Scholarship Receipt
Anyone who has received a Japanese government (Monbukagakusho / MEXT) Scholarship in the past is not eligible to receive the scholarship again until they have completed three years of education or research after the end of the previous scholarship award. This condition does not apply to previous short-term scholarship recipients under the following categories who graduated from their home institutions after scholarship receipt: Japanese Language and Culture Scholarship, Japan-Korea Joint Science and Engineering Scholarship, Young Leaders Program.
By “education or research,” this criteria essentially means that you must have completed a full three years of enrollment in a university after your last scholarship ended and before the next one begins. It might also be possible if you have been employed by a university as a researcher for that amount of time.
They are very strict about this, so 2 years and 11 months is not going to be enough!
Simultaneous Application to Multiple Universities
If you apply to multiple universities under the University-recommended MEXT scholarship and/or JASSO scholarship in the same year, or if you are currently receiving a MEXT or JASSO scholarship and will continue to receive it as of the month that your University-recommended MEXT scholarship is to begin.
Furthermore, if you apply to two universities and both recommend you for the scholarship, MEXT will not only cancel your scholarship, but may also rule all nominees from both universities ineligible! It is OK to apply to other universities as a fee-paying student, or under another scholarship scheme, just as the ADB or Joint Japan-World Bank Graduate Scholarship, but don’t try to mess with MEXT.
Failure to Acquire Required Prerequisite Degree
Anyone who fails to acquire an expected degree or qualification that was a prerequisite to scholarship selection will have their scholarship revoked.
As mentioned above, you can apply to MEXT before graduating from your previous degree, as long as your graduation is anticipated to occur before you start your MEXT scholarship. For example, you can apply for a Master’s scholarship beginning in Oct 2016 if you are currently enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree program and will graduate before your Master’s program starts. In this case, you will have to present proof of graduation after arriving in Japan.
Japanese Dual-Nationals Who Fail to Relinquish Japanese Citizenship
If you applied as a dual national (Japan plus something else), you are required to relinquish your Japanese citizenship before starting the scholarship. If you are a dual-national (or more) and none of your nationalities is Japanese, then don’t worry – this doesn’t apply to you.
Persons Who Intend to Study Outside Japan
As this is a scholarship for research at a Japanese university, anyone who desires to conduct fieldwork or an internship outside of Japan during the scholarship period will not be awarded the scholarship.
Do not apply for the MEXT scholarship if you don’t intend to study in Japan! In fact, being outside the country for an entire calendar month at any time during the scholarship will result in your losing the scholarship stipend for that month. Three consecutive months of missing your stipend will result in the scholarship being canceled. If you apply for the MEXT scholarship, be prepared to stay in Japan throughout the award period.
MEXT Scholarship Eligibility: Stage 2
There are two eligibility criteria above that are not explained in detail in the application guidelines: the non-residence criteria and the GPA calculation. Additionally, a third eligibility criteria that relates to your field of study appears nowhere in the call for applications.
Since each of these three criteria require that the university accept your application and begin reviewing it, they are not considered application eligibility criteria. They are recommendation eligibility requirements. This means that the university accepts your application (they don’t need to return it to you), but ultimately denies your application (they don’t need to explain why).
Neat, if you’re the university. Not so good if you’re one of the hundred applicants who never knew they didn’t have a chance. Well, now you’ll know exactly what the university is looking for:
Residence in Japan
The phrase used in the eligibility criteria is often translated as “newly arrive in Japan for the purpose of study.” This is more confusing than helpful. Here is what it really means:
- You must be living outside Japan prior to the start of your scholarship. Universities will prefer for you to be outside of Japan for at least the 6 months before beginning your scholarship/studies.
- You must apply for a student visa from your home country and use that visa to come to Japan. There is a special student visa application process for MEXT scholars. You cannot change residence status in Japan. This has to be an entirely new arrival.
That’s it. Don’t worry if you don’t know what I mean by “residence status.” If you don’t understand it, then you’re probably not residing in Japan, and none of this applies to you!
Frequently Asked Questions About “Newly Arrived”
You are eligible for the scholarship if:
- You visited Japan in the past as a tourist
- You studied in Japan before and have since gone home.
- You lived in Japan in the past on any other residence status and have since gone home.
- You are studying in Japan at the time of application but will finish your degree in March, go home, then return anew in September or October to start your scholarship.
- You are living in Japan at the time of application for any other reason, but you have already and irrevocably planned to return to your home country no later than 6 months before starting the scholarship.
If you are living in Japan and plan to leave the country if you receive the scholarship and only to meet the eligibility criteria of the scholarship, then you are not eligible. That is why universities will want to see an explanation or proof that you will return to your home country regardless of the application process outcome.
A Side Note: You Are Not a Special Case
If your situation is in the gray area in any way, expect Japanese universities to blow you off. If you want special treatment or an exception, it’s not worth their while to accommodate you, they will just shift their attention to a less troublesome applicant.
You may, in fact, be brilliant and promising, but if you cannot follow directions or rules, than universities – and especially the admin staff that handle applications – will want nothing to do with you.
Of course, if you’ve read this far down this article, chances are pretty good, that’s not a problem for you! Let’s move on.
Grades – The Silent Killer of Dreams
Probably half the applicants I saw were never eligible for the scholarship because their grades were too low. But they never knew it.
Applicants would contact me every year to ask if there was a minimum grade to apply, but I could never answer them. So here it is:
Yes, there is a minimum. No, I can’t tell you if you meet it. But you can figure it out yourself.
The minimum GPA is 2.3 on a scale of 3.0. What university uses a 3.0 scale? None that I know of, even in Japan. On the university side, we had to convert every single applicants grades or marks from their home country scale to MEXT’s 3.0 scale, manually, using the system below.
Rules for the GPA Calculation
The University is going to do the calculation for you, but if you are at all concerned about your grades, then you can do it on your own, first, to see if you have a chance. Note, however, that if your calculation does not match the university’s, they are going to stick with their numbers. They have a lot more practice doing this (hundred of times each year) and as I mentioned above, there is no special treatment.
- GPA should be determined based on the last 2 years of grades earned.
- Grades such as “pass” and “approved” are not considered toward the calculation. (However, “Fail” in a pass/fail situation would be considered, as universities consider that equal to a fail in a graded course).
- When calculating grades, consider only grades acquired in degree-seeking programs. Grades earned as a non-degree seeking student, at a Japanese language school, or in other non-degree programs do not count toward the calculation.
- Grades should be calculated per academic year and in-progress years should not be counted. However, if grades are awarded on a semester basis and grades for the first semester of a year are available, then that semester should be included and that semester counts toward the two full years.
- In the event that a student changed programs within the past two years (e.g. proceeded from a bachelor’s to master’s degree program) and the most recent program is graded in semesters, with an odd number of semesters’ grades available, and the preceding program was graded in full years, then 2.5 years of grades should be calculated to meet the minimum of 2 years.
- In the event that a student transferred to a new program at the same level (e.g. transfer admission, dual degree program), then only grades earned after the transfer will be considered. However, grades earned before the transfer must be calculated and entered in the notes section of the recommendation.
- In the event that a grade calculation is not possible, then the university must explain what objective evidence it used to determine that the applicant’s academic performance was equal to or greater than a 2.3/3.0 GPA. Concrete evidence is required. An explanation such as “the applicant conducted outstanding research” will not be accepted. (Editorializing: Forms of concrete evidence could include a statement of order of merit within the student’s class. Proof of peer-reviewed academic publications during the past two years, or significant academic/research based awards earned in the past two years.)
The Grade Conversion Chart
To get your GPA on a 3.0 scale, you have to convert each individual course according to the chart below. Even if your university considers only your overall average marks, or a similar system, that does not matter here. Japan does not care about your system.
To determine how many distinct grading levels, or “grading buckets” your system has, you will need an “explanation of the grading system” (or marking system) from your university. In many cases, this is printed right on the transcript. If not, you will need to get one – it’s going to be required for your application, anyway.
If you don’t know what I mean by an explanation of the grading system, search wikipedia for “[your country name] grading system.” Yeah, wikipedia. It does a pretty good and accurate job of explaining this, in general.
|4-Level System||100 – 80||79 – 70||69 – 60||59 – 0|
|All other grading systems with 4 distinct grading buckets will use this system|
|5-Level System||100 – 90||89 – 80||79 – 70||69 – 60||59 – 0|
|All other grading systems with 5 distinct grading buckets will use this system|
|MEXT System Grade||3||3||2||1||0|
Subgrades: Pluses and minuses do not matter. If you have a system that goes A, A/B, B, BC, etc., assume that the university is going to calculate an “A/B” as a “B” and do your math that way, just to be safe.
Average Marks System: Even if your university uses the system of determining your overall grade by adding your total earned marks and dividing by the total available marks, as is common for the “First Class,” “Upper Second Class,” etc. System, you still need to convert each individual course by its individual percentage. This can make a significant difference in your grade, so be careful with the math!
Also, in this system, a course with 200 available marks would be considered 2 credits for the next step, while a course with 100 available marks would be considered 1 credit.
OK, use the chart to convert each grade for each course for the past two years (four semesters). Now, if your university uses a credit system (e.g. some courses are worth 1 credit, some are worth 3, etc.), then multiply each converted grade by the number of credits. If your university does not use credits, then you can skip this step. Less math!
Add all of the totals together then divide by the total number of credits. Drop everything after the second decimal place. Do not round. A 2.299 is a 2.29 (ineligible), not a 2.30 (eligible).
As a final note, I should caution that while a 2.30 is eligible, it is hardly competitive. So, if you’re closer to 2.30 than you are to 3.00, it’s going to be very, very important to have an amazing Field of Study and Study Plan to balance that out and earn the scholarship.
Field of Study
Any applicant whose field of study could be related to military applications (i.e. dual-use technology), such as weapons production or military technology development cannot be recommended for the scholarship. This prohibition extends to applicants who are or have been affiliated with military technology development in the past, as well.
If you’ve followed along this far then, as we say in Japan, Otsukaresama desu! I sincerely hope that you still find yourself eligible for the scholarship.
Want to know more?
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