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 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 is going to 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: This should match the application form exactly. As I discussed in that article, it need to match your name as written at the bottom of your passport page. If you look at the bottom of the page, you should see your name mixed in with a bunch of “<” symbols. It will start with P< then a three-letter code for your country, followed immediately by your name.
You will see that your last name and given names are separated by two < symbols, where is if you have multiple given names, they are separated by one < symbol. (If you have only a family name or only a given name, there will be no double <<).
You must fill in your names in the order shown at the bottom, with the same spelling (no special characters) even if that is not the customary order you use in daily life (e.g. Vietnam). If you have multiple give names, it is your choice whether to include them both as your “Given Name” in the form or to use one as your “Given Name” and one as your “Middle Name” but that is the only freedom you get. You cannot rearrange names.
Be sure to include spaces, too! I have known students who were surprised to learn during this process that there was legally a space in their last name that they did not know about. (e.g. Mc Cloud)
2. Gender: This is your biological sex, as written in your passport, not your gender identity. Japan is behind most of the world in recognizing sexual minorities.
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 only one. If you are applying for the Embassy-recommended scholarship, you must write the nationality of the country you plan to apply in.
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, 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.
This area tends to result in quite a bit of confusion, but if you fill in the details as described below, you should have no trouble.
5.(1). Field of Study in Japan: The Japanese explanation literally translates to your “major” in Japan. You should fill in the name of the Department that your first-choice professor is affiliated with at your first-choice university.
If you find that the name of the department or major is different at each of your universities and worry about insulting your number 2 and 3 universities, then try to find a name that is close enough that it could cover any of them, or use a slash, colon, etc. For example, if your first choice university has a department of “International relations”, your second calls the department “International development studies”, and the third just calls it “Political Science”, you could fill in “Political Science: International Relations/International Development”.
6.(2). Detailed Field of Study in Japan: The Japanese translation here refers to your “research field”. This is where you would fill in your proposed thesis title or, if you cannot propose a thesis title yet (e.g. hard sciences majors who will be working on a project assigned by their lab, in general), then you should fill in the field that you want to work in, in as much detail as possible.
This information will help the office that receives your application forward it to the right faculty division for approval.
Universities You Want to Attend
The purpose of this article is not to tell you how to choose your universities and professors. I have another article 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, 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 each time you submit this document.
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 explanation, “Do not fill in the name of any universities you have already been rejected.”
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 have not yet been rejected by any university. So, you do not need to worry about this instruction at all.
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).
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 research your potential professors before putting their names on the list to make sure that they are able to supervise your research and someone that you want to study under. Consider that 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.
Make sure that you are able to answer that question in the interview so that you do not end up hurting your chances!
Submitting the Placement Preference Form After Obtaining Your Letters of Provisional Acceptance
Once you pass the Primary Screening, you will need to contact 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 decided not to accept you. 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 reach out to another university in its place and potentially add that one to your list.
- You discovered another university that suits you better, and applied there instead. I often see applicants who continue to research universities after submitting their application to the Embassy and only later find a university or professor that suits them better. In that case, I have never heard of an Embassy objecting to an applicant adding a completely different university to their list.
- 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.
Are You Required to Contact all of the Universities on Your Original List?
No. You should probably want to – after all, why did you put them on your list in the first place? – but there is no requirement. The universities do not know that you have put them on your list unless you tell them that you have, so it is not rude to not contact them.
Are You Required to Submit All Letters of 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 Acceptance would be a lie and could get you disqualified from the scholarship if discovered. Just don’t risk it.
If you’re thinking about getting “safety” letters, just in case your first choice university doesn’t come through, then be sure each of those safety letters comes from a university that you would be willing to study at, if placed there. This is especially true if your first-choice university is a private university and any of your safeties are national universities!
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!
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