Applying for the MEXT Scholarship: The Basics

sprout breaking through pavement starting MEXT application process

Getting started with the MEXT application process can feel like breaking into a whole new world.

Getting Started with the MEXT Scholarship

How to apply for the MEXT scholarship guide ebook

If you want to know more about the differences in the application processes and application timeline, plus advice on creating an application strategy and adopting a successful applicant mindset, my ebook How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship has in-depth discussions and further advice!

If you are just learning about the MEXT Scholarship, this is the place to start. This guide will cover the essential first steps and get you ready to make use of the other MEXT scholarship guides on TranSenz.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:

  • Understanding the difference between the Embassy-recommended and University-recommended MEXT Scholarship
  • When the application starts (plus when you need to start preparing, and why those times are different!)
  • Where to get the application forms and where to submit them
  • Your next steps

If you’ve already got a handle on those topics, this article might be a little to simple for you. In that case, I’d recommend skipping straight to the more advanced guides, which you can find here.

Note for Applicants for the Undergraduate MEXT Scholarship

Most of what I will cover in this article is about the MEXT scholarship for graduate students, since that is a more complicated process and one where I have more direct expertise. I will add notes for undergraduate applicants as appropriate throughout the article, too.

The Difference Between the Embassy-Recommended and University-Recommended Scholarship

There are two primary ways to apply for the MEXT scholarship for research students (i.e. graduate students): via the Japanese embassy or consulate in your country or via a Japanese university. If you are outside of Japan and want to come here for a fully funded graduate degree, these are your options.

But which option is best for you?

Undergraduate MEXT Scholarship Applicants: There is no University-recommended application process for you. The Embassy is your only option.

Always Start with the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship!

One simple reason: The application starts earlier.

If you start with the Embassy-recommended application process, you will know whether or not you will get the scholarship before the University-recommended application process even begins. That means, if you don’t pass the Embassy’s primary screening, you’ll still have time to apply for the University-recommended MEXT scholarship for the same year.

Plus, you’ll have a head start on the other applicants, since you’ll already have your field of study and research program plan done and will be in contact with universities. It’s a win-win.

Advantages of the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship

  • If you miss it, you get a second chance with the University-recommended scholarship.
  • In most countries there are more slots available for Embassy-recommended applicants.
  • You can apply to three (or more!) universities, increasing your chances of getting in.
  • Embassy-recommended applications do not require expensive language proficiency tests.
  • Save on postage: You apply in your own country, so you don’t have to pay for international mail fees until after you have passed the primary screening (when the scholarship is all-but guaranteed.

Scholarship Slots Available: Embassy

MEXT allots a certain number of slots to each country. In some cases, the slots are further divided with a certain number given to each consulate.

That number is not public, but you can occasionally find the number from your country for the previous year by looking through the embassy’s old news releases. Remember, though, that the number may change from year to year.

Advantages of the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship

  • You can focus all of your energy on one university and know that if you get the scholarship, that’s where you’ll go.
  • If you are from a developed country where there are fewer embassy-recommended slots, the University-recommended application process may offer better chances.
  • Fewer screenings and hoops to jump through. Your application is likely to be only a document screening and possibly an interview.
  • No travel required. You won’t have any in-person meetings.

Scholarship Slots Available: University

Both the formula for calculating the number of slots available and the data it is based on are publicly available (though usually only in Japanese), so if you are really keen, you can figure it out yourself. I have done calculations in previous years, as well.

The final formula does not come out until after the application deadline at most universities, though, so you’re stuck using a year-old calculation as a point of reference.

The level of competition also varies by year. The MEXT scholarship is a zero-sum game. The stronger your competition, the lower your chances, and vice versa.

Made up your mind? Great! Next we’ll talk about when to get started.

When does the MEXT Scholarship Application Begin?

As you’ll gather from the rest of the articles on this website, the application begins for you right now! It is never too early to start researching universities and professors, working on your field of study and research program plan, and determining your application strategy. (Don’t worry, I cover all of this in other articles!)

You do not want to wait until the application period opens to start preparing. By then, honestly, it’s going to be too late.

OK, I get it, but when does the application period start?

  • Embassy-recommended MEXT Scholarship: Spring of the year prior to when you want to start your studies.
  • University-recommended MEXT Scholarship: Fall of the year prior to when you want to start your studies.

*I can’t give you exact dates, because it’s going to be different for every single country or every single university each year. But typically you start seeing application information from Embassies and consulates around mid-April and from universities in late September or early-mid October.

Your mileage may vary, so start checking that embassy/university website every day starting a few weeks ahead of the date I suggested. (As must as I’d like to centralize that information for you, there’s no way I can keep up with over 200 embassies/consulates and 800 universities.)


So, if you wanted to arrive in Japan in October 2019, for example, you would start the Embassy-recommended MEXT application around April 2018 or the University-recommended MEXT application around September/October 2018.

Where to Get the Application Forms and Guidelines

OK, so this is actually the one thing that you do have to wait for the application period for.

You will get the application forms, the list of required documentation, and the application instructions from the Embassy or University where you intend to apply.

I do not keep the forms posted here because they are subject to change every year, and I would not want to provide anyone with an out-of-date form by mistake!

I do, however, have a sample application form, based on the 2018 Embassy application form, to help you complete your application. If you sign up for my email list below, I will send it to you right away.

Required Forms and Documents

In addition to the application form, you are almost certainly going to need the items below (graduate students, only):

  • Field of Study and Research Program Plan Form (download from the Embassy or University site)
  • Placement Preference Form (Embassy application, only, download from the Embassy site)
  • Original academic transcript covering all years of the last university attended
  • Original or certified copy of graduation certificate, degree, or expected graduation from last university attended
  • Letter of recommendation (see requirements for your particular application process)
  • Medical certificate (download from the Embassy or University site)
  • Thesis abstract

You may also need:

  • Language proficiency test scores (especially for the university-recommended application)
  • Transcript from previous universities (transfer students or students enrolled at current university for under 2 years)
  • Letter of recommendation from employer
  • Samples of work (music/fine arts majors)
  • GRE Scores, etc. (if required by your university)

So, you can start collecting some of those items while you wait.

How to Submit Your Application

Refer to the instructions in the application guidelines from your university or embassy to be sure.

For the university-recommended application process, you’re usually going to have to send it by international express mail.
For the embassy-recommended application process, you may be able to submit it in person at the embassy or by registered mail.

But we’re not nearly ready for that, yet!

Your Next Step

The most important and time-consuming part of your application will be writing the Field of Study and Research Program Plan, so I’d recommend you start reading up on that.

Click here for all of my MEXT scholarship guides!

If you sign up for my mailing list below, you’ll get the sample application form as well as a short series of emails providing additional insight into the application process that is only available there!

Want to know more?

My new ebook, How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship describes the scholarship in detail, including the purpose and coverage, the eligibility criteria, how to develop a successful applicant mindset, and how to craft your application strategy for the greatest chance of success!


I’ve written an FAQ on the subject of how to get started. Please read through that FAQ first and, if you have further questions, leave them in the comments section of that article!

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