Placement Preference Form – Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application

The placement preference form determines your study path in Japan

The placement preference form will determine your way forward for your studies in Japan.

How to Find Your Best Degree Program and Advisor for the MEXT Scholarship book cover

If you want to learn more about how to choose the best university and professor for you, as well as how to reach out to professors for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance, I go into much more detail in How to Find Your Best Degree Program and Advisor for the MEXT Scholarship.

The Placement Preference Form is only a single page, but it’s impact on your MEXT Scholarship Application can be significant. This form is where you tell MEXT what, where, and with whom you want to study. It might not have a significant bearing on whether you pass the Primary Screening, but it will help decide where you spend the next 2-3 years in Japan as a MEXT Scholar.

As with any other MEXT form (or any Japanese government form, for that matter), it is not necessarily easy to understand. It is also the only form in the application process that you need to submit twice. Naturally, it inspires quite a bit of confusion, but this article I will explain it in simple detail so that you can submit it easily and with confidence. Both times.

When to Submit the Form

In most cases, you will submit this form twice. Each Embassy or Consulate may have its own procedures, but typically, the first submission is with the rest of your application documents for the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship. This is the submission that generates the most confusion.

I will go into more detail below, but the most important thing to know is that the list of universities and professors can (and in most cases will) change before the second submission.

The second submission comes after you pass the Primary Screening and receive your Letters of Provisional Acceptance. At this point, you can only list universities that have awarded you a Letter, or at least have not rejected you. You should also be able to re-order the universities in your list.

How To Fill Out the Form

1. Name in Alphabet:

Your name has to match your passport, exactly. Specifically, it needs to match the computerized text at the bottom of your passport, as below:

To find your name and the correct order for the application form, refer to the bottom two lines of your passport. On the second-to-bottom line, there should be a three-digit country code along with your name. For example:


Everything between the Country Code (“USA” in the example) and the “<<” is your surname. Everything after the “<<” is your given and middle name, in that order. It is your choice whether to list all of your given and middle names in the “given name” box or to split them between given and middle name, but you must include everything and cannot change the order, even if that’s not what you use in daily life. If you have no middle name, you can leave that question blank.

If you do not have a “<<” because you do not have a legal surname or have only one legal name, then you should leave the surname block blank.

You cannot enter any special characters, such as accented letters. Even if there are accented or special characters in the top part of your passport, near your photo, there should be none in the computerized text.

Yes, that’s a lot of instructions for a “name” line, but I’ve seen a shocking number of mistakes with this one in the past.

2. Gender:

This refers to your biological gender as stated in your passport, not your gender identity. Do not expect special treatment or even official acknowledgement of non-binary genders in Japan. There is still no official recognition of non-binary genders in Japan, so you will have to complete official paperwork with your biological gender, but more and more universities are understanding and you should be able to ask professors to call you by a preferred name, at least.

3. Nationality:

Write the name of the country that issued your passport. (In Japan, your “nationality” is a noun, not an adjective. For example, you would write “Japan” not “Japanese.”) If you have multiple nationalities, choose your “primary” nationality, which is the country that you are living in and where you will apply for the MEXT Scholarship.

4. Date of Birth/Age:

The tricky part of this line is filling in your age. If your age falls between the date you fill in the application form and April of the next year, you need to be sure to fill in the age you will be as of the date on the form, not the age you are now.
Note: In Japan, your age goes up on your birthday. It does not automatically go up on January 1 or on the lunar new year as it does in some other countries. Your age at birth in Japan is “0”. I am aware that in other countries, newborn babies are considered to be “1” at birth, but use the Japanese system for this form.

5.(1). Field of Study in Japan / 5.(2). Detailed Field of Study in Japan

Select your field and detailed field from the official list of research fields provided by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science. Note that you should choose the field for the research you want to pursue in Japan, not the research that you have completed in the past!
5.(1). Field of Study: Choose from the left-hand column.
5.(2). Detailed Field of Study: Choose a detailed field from the right-hand column. You do not need to include the field number. In most cases, you only need to write the “basic section” field, which would be one of the ones not in bold. However, if your field is marked with an *1, you need to also write the “Medium-sized Section” which is the one in bold at the top of each section. For example, “Gender-related studies*1” appears as a “Basic Section” in three different Medium-sized Sections on page 1, so if you choose that field within Political science and related fields, you would write “Political science and related fields: Gender studies-related”.
Some fields are also marked with an “*2”, but you don’t need to worry about that. *2 means that you have to write the “Research field”, too, but we already did that in 5.(1).

6. The university in Japan you with to attend

The purpose of this article is not to tell you how to choose your universities and professors. I have another article and a book that is dedicated to that process.

I also have another article that focuses on how to contact universities in Japan to apply for your Letter of Provisional Acceptance (note: the article is from 2023, but I will update it as soon as possible), so I will not be covering that process here, either.

The purpose of this section is to tell you how to fill in the list both times you submit this document.

Name of university

Fill in the official name of the university that you wish to apply to. Make sure you get the name and the spelling right. Believe it or not, I have seen mistakes here!

Name of the graduate school

Each university is divided into graduate schools for various subjects, like the Graduate School of Letters, Graduate School of Medicine, etc. That’s what you should fill in in this section. This is the graduate school where you would enroll and earn your degree, so you would need to make sure that you are qualified to study there (particularly in the case of medical degrees, etc.)

Name of academic advisor

This is the professor that you want to supervise your research. The professor must be affiliated with the graduate school, so please be sure to check their profile on the university website. If you see that the professor’s research field is similar to yours but they are not affiliated with your desired school, then they cannot be your advisor. I often see this happen with STEM fields. For example, an applicant to the Graduate School of Life Sciences (an academic discipline) might find a professor researching the same topic who is affiliated with the Graduate School of Medicine (a professional discipline).

Your academic advisor does not necessarily need to be a full professor. Each university is going to have rules about what faculty members are allowed to supervise graduate students, and you won’t know for sure until you apply there for your Letter of Provisional Acceptance. Fill in the name of the faculty member that you most want to work with when you submit the initial form. You will fill in the final name after you receive the Letter of Provisional Acceptance.

I recommend that you fill in the name as follows: “[Title] FAMILY NAME, Given Name”. For example:

Assoc. Prof. TRANSENZ, Taro

Remember, you do not need to contact the professor in advance before submitting this form to the embassy.

The Checkbox

You should only check the box at the bottom of the form when you submit this form after receiving Letters of Provisional Acceptance. So, when you submit it to the embassy at the start of your application, it should be blank. If you apply for Letters of Provisional Acceptance and fail to receive any, you would leave it blank for the second submission, too. But I hope that doesn’t happen to you!

Checking this box indicates that you agree to arrive in Japan at the time specified in the Letter of Provisional Acceptance from the university you are placed at, regardless of your preference. If there is a difference between the preferred arrival time you wrote in your application form and the arrival time in the Letter of Provisional Acceptance, the Letter takes preference.

It is mandatory to check the box, so you don’t have a choice in the matter, I just wanted to explain what it means.

Submitting the Placement Preference Form

1. Submitting the Placement Preference Form at the Start of Your Application

Here are a few of the most common questions and points of confusion I hear from applicants at the start of the process:

What does it mean that I can not fill in the name of a university that has already rejected me?

One of the most confusing parts of the instructions for this form is the bold, underlined explanation, “Do not fill in the name of any universities you have already been rejected.” (And not just because it’s bad English!)

Applicants ask me every year if that means that they cannot list universities that they applied to in the past (such as through the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship) and were rejected from. No, it does not.

When you first submit this form, along with your other application materials, at the start of the application process, you will not yet have been rejected by any university. So, you do not need to worry about this instruction at all. Fill in any university you would like.

Even if you have reached out to a professor in the past and gotten no reply, that is not a rejection. You can still list that professor (though whether you want to or not is up to you). If you reached out to a professor and they said they weren’t able to supervise your research, that is not a formal rejection, so you could list that professor, but that would be a bad idea, since they aren’t likely to change their mind. You could, however, list a different professor at the same university.

Do I need the professors’ permission to list them in the Placement Preference Form?

No. At this point, you do not need the professors’ permission. You do not need to have ever been in touch with that professor or university. So, if you are not already in contact with them by the time you go to submit your application to the Embassy or Consulate for the first time, you do not need to worry about getting in contact with them then, at least for the purpose of the form.

Of course, it’s always better if you have been in touch with the professors on your list and even more so if you already have their support, but that’s not always possible.

What Steps to Take Before Filling In Professors’ Names

Ultimately, you are not even required to contact the professors on your list at this point, but that doesn’t mean that you can just fill in any name.

You should do everything possible to find the best professor to supervise your research in Japan. You may be asked during your interview why you have chosen each professor and university that you filled in there and may also be asked if you are in contact with them. Being able to explain your selection then would be helpful. But you will also be working under that professor for the duration of your degree in Japan, so it is important to put time and thought into your selection. You can change this list later, but you will not have much time after the Primary Screening and before applying for Letters of Provisional Acceptance, so do your research as soon as possible.

2. Submitting the Placement Preference Form After Obtaining Your Letters of Provisional Acceptance

Once you pass the Primary Screening, you will need to contact up to 2 of the universities and professors you want to study under in order to request a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. The embassy or consulate will also give you a deadline for when you need to submit your Letters of Provisional Acceptance along with your revised Placement Preference Form. (Note that this is different from the deadline for contacting the universities, as described in the article above).

You should be able to change the names and order of universities and professors in your Placement Preference Form when you submit it for the second time. In most cases, you’ll have to.

Reasons to Change the Universities/Professors on Your List

  • A university on your original list refused to issue you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. When you submit your final Placement Preference Form along with your Letters of Provisional Acceptance, this is when the instruction that you may not list any universities that have already rejected you applies. If a university turned you down for any reason, you cannot leave it on the list.
    If you found out about the rejection before the deadline to contact universities, then you can apply to the third university on your list for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. But even if it is after the deadline and too late to apply to another university for a Letter, you can still research and add a new university to your list.
  • You discovered another university that suits you better, and applied there instead. If you continue to research universities after submitting your application to the Embassy and find a university or professor that suits you better, you can apply there, instead, and rearrange your priority list. (Of course, if you have already applied to two universities, then you cannot contact a new one to request a Letter of Provisional Acceptance unless you withdraw your application to one of the first two, first.)
  • A university never replied to your request for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. Technically, you do not have to remove a university from your list if they did not reply yet. You can keep that university on your list, but would you really want to? If the quality of the university’s communication has made you second-guess whether you really want to study there, and they have not responded, you may want to remove them from your list. Note that even if a university doesn’t reply, that does not mean that you can contact an alternate university. You would first have to contact the non-responsive university to withdraw your application.

Are You Allowed to Contact All of the Universities on Your Original List?

No. You can only contact two universities at any time, even though you can have three on the list, and you can only receive two Letters of Provisional Acceptance. I know this doesn’t make much sense. If the first or second university rejects your application before the deadline to apply for Letters of Provisional Acceptance, then you can contact the third, but that is the only time it would be allowed.

Are You Required to Contact the Universities on Your List?

No. You could choose two contact two universities that weren’t on your original list, if you continued researching universities after the deadline and found better options for you.

Are You Required to Submit All Letters of Provisional Acceptance that You Receive?

Yes. If you applied to a university and received a Letter of Provisional Acceptance from them, then you are required to put them on your list and submit that letter to the Embassy, even if you are not so interested in them anymore.

Of course, I do not know how MEXT would ever find out if you left a university out, but on the other hand, with every document you submit, you are attesting that it is true to the best of your knowledge and ability. Deliberately leaving out a Letter of Provisional Acceptance would be a lie and could get you disqualified from the scholarship if discovered. Just don’t risk it.

Will MEXT Follow Your Preference List?

Not necessarily. MEXT will contact one university at a time from your list to ask them to accept you, but it might not be in order.

MEXT prefers to place scholars at national universities, instead of public or private universities. If your first choice university is private and your second choice is national, then MEXT may decide to contact the national university, first, to ask them to accept you.

MEXT should prioritize universities that have given you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance, though. So, in the example above, if the private university had given you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance, but the national had not, then I think MEXT will contact the private university, first. Remember though, you are required to submit all Letters of Provisional Acceptance that you receive, so you can’t “hide” one to manipulate the order.

What Comes Next?

If you’re submitting the Placement Preference Form as part of the document screening at the start of the application process, then your next step is going to be the language proficiency tests and interview. During that interview, you’ll need to be prepared to explain your choice(s) of universities and professors, as well as your contact status with them.

If you have already passed the Primary Screening and are submitting the Placement Preference Form with your Letters of Acceptance, then you are essentially done with the application process! At this point, your MEXT scholarship is essentially guaranteed and only the Secondary Screening, Placement, and long wait remain.


Let me know in the comments below!


Special Thanks

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