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.

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.

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 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!


Special Thanks

Special thanks to the TranSenz supporters on Patreon, who help keep this site running through their generous contributions, especially to Daimyo Supporter Marck Rodas and my newest Patron, Ania. Your support is what keeps me motivated to reply to questions and work on new articles and books for this site every day. Plus Patreon supporters get early access to articles, discounts on coaching services/books, and priority responses to questions.

You can show your support for TranSenz on Patreon for as little as $1 (0.08% of a MEXT monthly stipend) per month. If TranSenz has helped you in your application process and you want to “pay it forward” to keep this site running to help future applicants, every contribution helps!

If you want to show your support but Patreon is out of reach, I’d appreciate it if you say hi on social media or in the comments below to let me know if you appreciate these posts. You can find me on facebook at @TranSenz or on Twitter at @tagsenzaki. I look forward to saying hi!

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