Honestly, the contents of this article are not going to make or break your application – in fact, I’m going to give you the most important point right here in the intro – but this is the last 3% that might just be enough to give you an edge.
And when you’re competing with the best in the world for a single scholarship in the field, every point helps.
Before your application reaches the professors for evaluation, in most cases it’s going to pass through the hands of an admin staff, who will check it for completeness (everything I covered in the Required Documents and Application Form articles) and contact you to submit the remaining items. For three years and over 500 applications, that was me.
In this article I’m going to tell you what will help you make a good impression on the admin staff and get your application through their screening and on to the professors as fast as possible. Specifically:
- How to prove immediately that you are professional and prepared to earn the staff’s trust
- How to minimize the need for expensive corrections by international express post
- Problems that can push your application to the bottom of the priority list and hold it up in admin review
- How to avoid giving the impression of incompetence and needing special care
As promised, here’s the most important tip: submit your Monbukagakusho Scholarship application as early as possible.
Why This Matters
You want your application to get as much time in front of the reviewing professors as possible. The more they see your name and think about your research, the better chance you’ll stick in their heads (hopefully in a good way).
In order to get to the professors, though, you have to pass through the admin staff, just like everyone else, and these guys and gals deal with up to dozens of applications arriving each day.
If you make it easier on them to review and process your application and if you build trust with them through professional communication, then there’s a better chance your application clears review first and gets in front of the professors before your competitors.
There were days when I received 40+ applications in one day. It is not physically possible to go through that many, so I selected the ones that looked like they would need the least work to process and pushed those through first.
By the way, that admin guy or gal that reviews your application will probably end up being one of your go-to support people after you arrive in Japan, so it never hurts to get on their good side.
Get Started Before You Get Started
Before you even contact the university and make your first impression, here are a few things to consider:
Your Email Address
Is your email address professional? I saw all manner of email addresses, from anime characters to dirty references to body parts (yes, really). Yes, that makes an immediate impression, but probably not the one you want.
Do you check it regularly? Make sure this is an address that you check every day and that you’re prepared to reply to any communications from the university within 24 hours. If you go longer than that without replying, you will give the impression that you’re not serious.
If you don’t have a professional email address now, go get one. Firstname.Lastname@ any of the major services should work. If you use gmail or the free Thunderbird software, you can manage multiple addresses from the same screen, so you won’t have to worry about checking extra addresses each day. You really don’t want to miss emails from your university.
If you check your mail on your mobile device, set up notifications for emails from the university’s domain. But don’t ever reply from your mobile device. I’ll discuss that more, below.
Do Your Research
Spend some time on your university’s website. I know that many of them are really badly designed, but give it a try.
Before you contact the university for the first time, you want to identify:
- Which office handles MEXT Scholarship applications.
- In some cases, the International Office handles applications for the whole university. In others, each graduate school’s administrative office receives applications. In some cases, you may even send them direct to a processor (though I’ve never seen that).
The application guidelines will tell you what office to send your application to. If the office’s email address isn’t listed there, though, you’re going to have to look for it elsewhere on the site.
- Know the Professor You Want to Supervise You
- I covered this in Choosing a university, but if you didn’t choose a professor then, do so now. If you have chosen a professor, find out what graduate school and department they are affiliated with and make sure you’re submitting your application to the right place.
I have seen cases where applicants applied to the Graduate School of Life Sciences but selected an advisor who was affiliated with the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences. That doesn’t work. You might be able to talk to the Pharm professor during your studies and work with him/her, but your advisor must be from the school you enroll in.
You can usually find this information on a university-wide researchers database or in the faculty list for the graduate school you want to apply to.
- Do You Need to Contact the University?
- If you have specific questions about the application process or documents, see if you can find the answer yourself, first. Read the application guidelines carefully and see if they have an FAQ. If the university has the information posted on their website and you ask them the same question, you’re going to come across as lazy.
If you have read the information on their website and you still have questions, make sure you specify that in your email. For example, “I read your explanation about [question] at [link], but I wanted to clarify [question].” That shows the university that you have tried and also (hopefully) prevents them from sending you the answer you already found.
Do not rely solely on external websites like this one for advice! I share everything I know about the process based on my experience and I’m happy to answer questions in the comments, but I only worked at one university. I’m sure there are things I do not know. So, if you have a question, do contact the university directly!
Dos and Don’ts for Writing to Your University
Basic rule: Treat your emails like a formal letter, not like an SMS to your friend.
- Set your display name to your real name
- Begin each email with a salutation, such as “To Whom it May Concern”, “Dear Professor [name]” of “Dear [name]-san” for admin offices. (The wonderful thing about Japan is that even if you can’t figure out if the person on the other end is a Mr or Ms, you are always safe with “san”).
- Keep your message short and simple. Remember that the person on the other end is probably not a native English speaker, so you want to avoid long, complex sentences to reduce the chance for misinterpretation.
- Make it clear what you are applying for (e.g. University-recommended MEXT in the Graduate School of Engineering).
- Make it clear that you have done your research but still have questions.
- Sign your name at the end of the email. Don’t rely on a signature block, only.
- In subsequent emails, make sure you include all previous messages.
- Skip the salutation and launch right into your question. That’s rude in any situation, but especially frowned upon in Japan.
- Use letters in place of words (e.g. “i want 2 apply”). University staff and professors expect proper grammar- it’s part of how they begin evaluating your quality as an applicant from the first email.
- Write an email from a mobile device that includes “This was sent from my iPhone” or something like that at the bottom. That tells the university that you don’t think the application is important enough to sit down and write an email from a computer.
*Especially do not ever include a line saying “please excuse misspellings, as this was sent from a mobile device.”
- Assume the university understands what you’re talking about. You want to make sure that you give enough background about your questions for the university to answer. Include a link to the webpage that you had a question about, if you can. If you’ve contacted the wrong office, or if the university is handling multiple application types at once, you want to make sure they understand your question right away.
- Refer to information that you got from a friend or from another website (including this one) in a question.
- Forget to sign your name. Even if it shows up in the name of your email address, leaving it out at the end is just rude.
How Early Should You Contact the University?
As soon as possible once the application period is open. Like everything else with the MEXT Scholarship application, being early is to your benefit because you will get more and better attention. Here’s why:
When I handled MEXT applications, we had 2 staffers that processed all of the applications for the whole university (me plus one Japanese woman). Both of us hand-checked each application as it came in and followed up with the applicants. I personally answered every question that came in in English and wrote back to each English-speaking applicant about deficiencies with their application (my colleague did the same in Japanese).
The number of applications increased every year. We received 200 in my final year there, and over 170 of those were in English.
The application period was a month long, but of those 200 applications, 150 arrived in the last three days of the application period. Plus, I was still the only person replying to English-language questions by email.
Guess how much of my time and attention each applicant got.
Now, compare that to the one (yes, one) application that arrived during the first week of the application period. I had time to exchange several emails with that applicant, help her get all of her paperwork in order, and even provide some of the advice I’ve written in these articles (such as how to get a letter of recommendation from the Dean).
Even though that early applicant had a lot of problems with her application documents, she eventually got everything corrected, resubmitted, and fully processed before 80% of the other applicants had even contacted me.
Application Deadlines in Japan
In every case I’ve seen, the MEXT application deadline is the date by which your application must reach the university. If your application arrives a day late – even if it is postmarked 2 weeks earlier – you’re out. There are no exceptions, so don’t even risk being close to the deadline.
The university doesn’t care if it’s “the courier’s fault.” The university doesn’t care if mail service is temporarily suspended in your area due to a civil war. The university doesn’t care if your Dean was on vacation and you couldn’t get the letter of recommendation until the last day.
Tip: Scan all of your application documents into a single pdf file. If you see from your tracking information that your application is being held up (customs, etc.) and might not arrive in time, contact the university, let them know the situation and send them the tracking number and scanned application file. You might get consideration if you let them know in advance.
Questions About Your Eligibility?
When I worked on MEXT applications, we only ever responded to one kind of eligibility question: academic background.
As I mentioned in the MEXT scholarship eligibility article, if your primary through tertiary education was 16 years, then you’re eligible to apply. If it was anything less than 16 years – for example, if you graduated from a 3-year bachelor’s degree or your secondary education was a year shorter – then you need to “pass an individual review of qualifications by the graduate school to which you are applying and be judged to have equal education to a Japanese university graduate.”
If this is you, use the following script to contact the university (go ahead, copy and paste it directly, just be sure to replace the all-caps text, as appropriate!)
To Whom It May Concern:
I intend to apply for the Monbukagakusho Scholarship in the Graduate School of GRADUATESCHOOL at UNIVERSITY NAME, but I need to request a screening of my academic background to determine if I am eligible.
I graduated from university after completing a 15-year program of education and I am over 22 years old, so I would like to request an individual review of my qualifications, as mentioned in the scholarship eligibility requirements.
Please let me know what materials I would have to submit for this screening and I will provide them as soon as possible.
You’ll want to contact the university as soon as possible after the application guidelines are posted in order to give them enough time to screen you and get back to you so that you can send the application on time.
If you contact them late, then you’ll probably have to send the application while they are still reviewing your credentials. You take the risk that you will be judged ineligible (although I rarely saw this happen) and have gone through all that effort for nothing.
Asking Your University for Exceptions to Requirements
Don’t do it, unless you would be completely unable to submit the application without it. The chances of getting an exception are almost non-existent and you make yourself look bad to the university. This includes asking for extensions to the deadline and exemptions from requirements (like TOEFL scores).
Remember, at this point in the application process, you’re just one of large group of applicants. The university has no reason yet to think you’re better than any of the others or more deserving. They have no reason to give you special consideration. Plus, they have hundreds of other applicants that aren’t asking for exceptions and are willing to do what it takes to get all their materials on time.
English Language Proficiency Requirement
The vast majority of the request for exemptions that I saw came under this category. Students would argue that the tests were too expensive, that they didn’t have time to take a test and get the scores in time, or that they shouldn’t have to submit the tests because they graduated from an English-taught undergraduate program.
We did not accept any of those reasons. But here’s the one alternative we would accept, when nothing else worked.
You need to get the Dean or head of your English department at your university (or the last university you graduated from, if you’re no longer a student) to give you a one-on-one English ability test that covers all four skills. That person should then write a letter that evaluates each of your skills by relating them to a particular test score. For example, “His reading ability is equal to that of a student that scored 6.5 in that skill on the IELTS.”
A letter that simply says “English is the medium of instruction at our university” is not enough, nor is a letter saying “I am confident that he has sufficient English language ability to complete a Master’s degree in that language.”
Asking for Exceptions to the Deadline
We never approved this one, either. It didn’t matter whether the reason was the post office, the Dean traveling, or having to acquire records from multiple schools in different countries. The university’s stance is that you should have prepared earlier.
Exceptions to the Requirement to Send All Materials at Once
This one can be approved. Usually, we would allow this if applicants had to have a transcript, etc., from an overseas university mailed directly to us, or when the Dean wanted to send the Letter of Recommendation directly. We would also approve sending some items later by email, if they wouldn’t be ready in time for post, such as English proficiency test score reports or passport copies.
It’s OK to ask your university about these kinds of exceptions – it won’t make you look bad.
However, even if someone else is sending your materials directly from overseas, you are solely responsible for making sure that they meet all requirements and that they arrive on time. Don’t expect special treatment there.
Also, if any of your materials are going to arrive separately, make sure to mention that in your Cover Letter. I’ll explain more about that in the next section.
Preparing Your Application for Mailing
Staples: Don’t do That
Remember, this is about the little things that are going to make your application just a little bit easier for the university staff to process. Easier application = happier staff = faster processing.
I think I speak for all application processing staff when I say: Avoid using staples (please!) Stick to paper clips or clam clips to keep your multipage documents together.
The university is going to have to remove every staple you put in your application, anyway- usually, it was the first thing I did with an application so that I could make photocopies for the review committee. It may sound insignificant, but when you’re dealing with 200 applications, it isn’t.
Exception: If the application guidelines specifically require you to staple your forms, do it. If your transcript, official translations, or other documents from outside sources come pre-stapled, don’t remove them.
Attaching Your Photo
Use a glue stick and don’t overdo it. If there is a problem with your application, the university is going to have to remove that photo later.
This is a place where you really don’t want to use staples. I would stay away from liquid glues or anything else that is meant to be permanent, as well.
I also highly recommend including two loose copies of your photo in a small plastic bag or envelope, paper-clipped to your passport copy. Extras never hurt, even if your university doesn’t ask for them.
Two Copies of Your Application Form?
Most universities will not ask for this, but I recommend including one double-sided and one single-sided copy of the application form. MEXT requires a double-sided form, but the single-sided one will be handy if you need to make any corrections.
If you’ve followed my instructions for completing the MEXT application form, you shouldn’t have any difficulty, but it helps, just in case.
As I mentioned in the article above, any changes to pages with any handwritten entries will need to be resent by post (so that the final form has the original ink), while pages with all type-written pages can be resent by email.
Page 4 on every application includes your handwritten signature, so that is always going to need to be resent by post. Page 3 can be filled out digitally, but if it’s double-sided, you’re going to have to send pages 3 and 4 by post anyway if you make a mistake on 3 (most common: leaving out a language ability check).
If you sent pages 3 and 4 single-sided, too, then you can replace page 3 by email and the university can print that on to the blank back of page 4.
Those few short sentences could save you the cost of an international courier delivery or two. I know they would have done for scores of applicants I worked with in the past.
Include a Cover Letter
Your cover letter should include the name of the graduate school and professor you wish to apply to and should list all of the documents in your application package in the order they appear in the school’s application guidelines.
If any of your documents will be sent separately (such as a transcript coming from a school in another country), that should be explained in the cover letter, as well.
I’ve created a sample MEXT cover letter that you can download in word format, and the pdf to the right shows how to customize it for your situation.
The Envelope and Mailing
Put your cover letter on top and all remaining documents in the order that they are listed in that letter, then place them all in a plastic document protector. I’ve seen applications get wet, bent, crushed, torn, etc. By the postal service. If that happens to you, you’re going to be the one who has to get all your documents together again and resend them.
So use protection, so to speak.
Similarly, you don’t want to fold any of your documents, if you can avoid it. (If you’re from Indonesia, Taiwan, or another country that issues super-long transcripts, you are going to have to fold those in half).
Unfolded documents give a more professional appearance and are easier to copy for review and for error correction purposes.
Mail your package using an international courier that allows for tracking – and make sure they give you an estimate as to when it will arrive!
In my experience EMS (through the national postal service) is often the cheapest, but other options such as FedEx, DHL, UPS, etc., are faster and more reliable. If you have doubts about the quality of your national postal service, then skip EMS and go for a commercial courier for safety’s sake.
Japan’s postal service is outstanding, so you do not need to worry about the mail here.
Plan for delays. Your application could get stuck in customs for a few days (especially if you’re using EMS/postal service). If your application is late because of delays caused by the mailing service, the university won’t accept it.
Once you’ve posted your application, go ahead and send a courtesy email to the university to let them know that it’s on the way and to send the tracking information. If you’ve been in communication with the university at all before sending it, then this is just common courtesy. Don’t expect a reply, though. Japanese university staff, in general, do not send courtesy replies, so they won’t write back unless they have additional instructions for you.
Tracking, Arrival, and Follow-Up
If your application is on its way, congratulations! The tedious part is done, though you still have a little left to do.
Follow your application daily. Even if you sent the tracking info to the university, don’t expect them to follow up on it, that’s your job. They have hundreds of applications, you have one. Take care of your one!
Similarly, don’t expect the university to confirm arrival right away – that’s why you have the tracking information. If the university is large, then mail will probably go to a central processing room (where the staff will sign for the package) and then get sorted and sent on to the proper office through campus mail. That can take a day or more, but rest assured: if your application arrives at the university on the deadline, you’ll be OK.
Even after the application package reaches the right office, don’t expect them to contact you. It’s not a matter of being rude, it’s just a matter of being overwhelmed by the number of applications.
At one university where I worked, we would not confirm arrival until we had reviewed the application in its entirety. That way, we could send the confirmation of arrival and required corrections (90% of applications or so required corrections) at the same time and speed up our processing.
This was the same place where I once received 60 application packages in a single day. In some cases, it took me several days to get back to applicants to say their package had arrived. In the meantime, I also ignored any emails from applicants saying “Did my application get there yet?”
I know it’s frustrating to you, the applicant, but it’s in the interest of getting your application processed as efficiently as possible. Please rely on your tracking info to tell you the application has arrived.
Once you’ve seen that your application arrived, be sure to check your email several times per day. Set up an alert for emails from the university’s domain, if you can.
The university is going to expect you to reply to their emails right away, even though they won’t do the same for you. Of course, if they have any corrections for you, it’s in your interest to get on those right away!
If several days go by without any contact from the university, by all means, send them a message to confirm that they received your application. It doesn’t hurt you to do so!
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!
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