August 2022 MEXT Scholarship Q&A Video and Transcript

On August 6, I did my first ever live video Q&A session on YouTube. Dozens of my subscribers and Patrons asked questions in advance and about 34 people attended live and asked questions on the spot, but I wanted to share the video for those of you who could not attend live, along with a transcript, in case you prefer reading to watching.

Special Thanks to Patreon Supporters

This video Q&A session was brought to you by my supporters on Patreon. I made a promise that if I reached $50 in support in a month, I would do a live session. We hit that goal in July, so this was my first live Q&A. Unfortunately, I’ve had some drop off since then, but if we get back about $50, I will do another similar session in the future. If you are signed up to my mailing list, you’ll be the first to know if that happens!

Video Transcript


Hello and thank you for tuning in. It is just about 11 o’clock, the time I said I’d get started so I will go ahead and start the introduction now.

Thanks to Patreon Supporters

Before we get started I would like to take the time to thank my supporters on Patreon who made this possible. I set up a Patreon page for people who want to pledge monthly support for the blog and any month that I hit $50 of support on Patreon, I promised I would hold one of these live question-and-answer sessions. At higher support levels I might even make these weekly. So I want to say a special thanks to Alessia, Jay, and Chris who are the highest level of support, Daimyo Supporters, who contribute $10 per month. You guys are amazing and your support is really what made this possible.

You can support the TranSenz blog for as little as a dollar a month on patron at but I completely understand not everyone can support. That’s totally fine. I put up everything I can for free and I’m always on the blog answering questions in the comments section each day, so if you have any questions you want answered, post them there and I’ll be happy to answer those.

Mailing List

If you want to be notified whenever I have any new articles or updates for the blog or when I’m doing additional live sessions like this, please subscribe to my mailing list if you haven’t done so already. If you sign up, I’ll also send you a sample version of the MEXT scholarship application form filled in. There is a sign-up link at the bottom of each of the articles on my website.

Session Format

So, for today’s session, I asked my patron supporters and mailing list subscribers to submit questions in advance. I will start with some of those questions and then I will open it up for live questions. I probably won’t be able to get through all the questions that I got in advance or all of the live questions, but I’ll try to cover as many as I can.

For the questions I got in advance, there was a wide variety of questions, but I’m going to focus on two different topics. The first one is what you can do to increase your chances for success and the second topic I’m going to cover is the results of the recent Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship Primary Screening and what to do next whether you were successful or not. So if you asked a question it doesn’t fall under those categories or if you ask a question in the live chat and I can’t get can get to it, please first post your questions in the live chat I’ll get those in the second half the session today and then if I can’t cover something, please post it in one of the comment sections on an article on the blog and I’ll answer it there as soon as I can.

I should mention that for the questions I received in advance, often times I received very similar questions from multiple people, so I combined and reworded them in some cases. If it doesn’t sound exactly like how you asked, then that’s the reason.

Advance Questions: How to Increase Your Chances

In general, what can I do to improve my chances of being selected?

I have an article on my blog about how to maximize your chances to win the MEXT scholarship and it’s also the subject of the final chapter of How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship, and I go into a lot more detail in the article in the chapter in the book, but I’ll try to summarize here.

Application Theme

I think one of the most important things you need to have to be successful in this application is a strong application theme. By “application theme”, I mean there’s some significant problem in society that you want to work to solve. So an example could be if you want work towards world peace or if you want to contribute to healthy aging, these are huge problems and of course you can’t tackle that in a two-year masters or a three-year PhD. But what you can do is to research a specific problem that is going to contribute to that. So, you identify theme or issue you want to contribute to and then a research problem or research question that is going to help contribute to that theme.

For example, in the case of world peace that’s a little bit difficult to research, but maybe you can explore a political theory or a specific incident in international relations that could be an example or an explanatory way to help people understand how to relate to one another. Or perhaps you could look at how to conserve or better more efficiently exploit a particular resource that’s in competition so that we can reduce competition between nations and reduce the potential for conflict. Those are some specific questions you might give look at that can contribute to the larger issue of world peace. Then within that, I recommend that you come up with a really specific research problem, something specific you can research and then you can define exactly what steps you will use to research that and analyze it so you can answer your research question.

You want to have a strong global impact, a clearly defined research question that is going to contribute to that, and then a research proposal that shows exactly how you’re going to answer that question.

Benefit for the Japanese Government: Why the Scholarship Exists

Somewhat related to that question, someone asked me what is the benefit to the Japanese government for offering the scholarship. I think understanding that is very important to understanding how to maximize your chances as well, because this isn’t just about you. You want to create a research proposal and your approach in your interview etc. to appeal to the Japanese government, to show that your interests and their interests are related, so that selecting you for the scholarship is going to help them.

So, what does Japanese government want out of this? Well, the Japanese government essentially wants to attract future leaders from around the world to Japan and build a connection with them, or a sense of gratitude, a sense of connection, a sense of appreciation for Japan in these future leaders. So that when you go back to your home countries–or sometimes stay in Japan work for as international cause. Within that context, you continue to develop your field, to advance in your field, but you have this positive relationship with Japan. Then 10 years now, or 20 years from now, maybe you are a leading professor at a university or home country or if you’re a leader in politics or civil service, or a leader and industry, and you’ve got strong connections to Japan. That is in a benefit Japan in the long-term, both in terms of soft power in international relations and economically. So that is what they’re looking to do. They’re looking to cultivate future leaders who are going to have a positive feeling for Japan and create a bridge between Japan and your home country.

It’s not a need-based scholarship, it is a merit-based scholarship. They’re looking for people to have the most potential impact future.

Why this Blog Exists

Someone also asked what’s a benefit to me, personally, for running this TranSenz website and doing this sort of thing. Honestly, the benefit to me initially was that I was the person in charge of handling all the scholarship applications at a university in Japan for three years. I saw a lot of common mistakes and a lot of applicants who I think could have done really well because of some mistakes he made an application they basically killed their chances. I want to be of help those applicants, but as university staff member they’re working on this I couldn’t show preference to one applicant over another. I couldn’t give advice I just had to follow the procedures to accept applications or not. So once I left that position I wanted to use the knowledge I had there to help applicants. Both to help applicants who were almost there, but needed a little bit more to be successful.

And also the flipside of the coin, I saw applicants had no chance no chance of ever getting the scholarship, even if they made some major corrections, they were still pretty hopeless. These applicants spent hundreds of dollars on a TOEFL test or a lot of money on couriering their application documents from the home countries to Japan–because back then, it had to be sent by post and they were spending a ton of money and it was all for a lost cause. I wanted to help them better understand the application process they could learn the reality of their chances without having spent so much money.

That was my initial motivation, but I’ve been doing this for over eight years, talking about the MEXT scholarship and since then, my motivation has changed. I no longer work directly in that position but I’ve realized that there is no one else out there sharing this information or collecting this information. Right now, this is something I can do to help that no one else can do. So as long as that’s the situation, I want to keep providing this service. I don’t want to take this resource away.

Is Passion a Factor in Your Chances?

Someone asked, how important is passion to your application? If two applicants have equally great proposals, would passion play a role in how you choose between them?

First of all, I’ve never seen equally great proposals. There is always one it’s better than another. Always. This goes for the MEXT applications, this goes for interviewing students for admission, and for in job interviews. There are never equal applications. Sometimes it’s just the way someone presents themselves. Sometimes it’s just a slight GPA difference, but there’s always going to be a priority order.

On the subject of passion, it can go either way. For me and for the reviews I’ve seen it really comes down to clarity of purpose. I mentioned earlier having a clear theme for what you want to accomplish and steps to take to accomplish that. That is most important. So you’ve got something you want to do and you’ve shown that you can clearly accomplish that goal. If you’re passionate about it, great. But I have also seen applications that are all passion and no substance and that hurts. That’s not to get you anywhere. If you don’t have a clear plan for how you’re going approach your research, or you’re really excited about something but you don’t have a research question that you’re going to follow-up on, then passion in that case could hurt you. You’d need a little bit more logic and reason.

Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship Primary Screening Results

Moving on, I’m going to talk about the recent Embassy-recommended MEXT scholarship application. As I am recording this, in August 2022, most countries have already finished the Primary Screening at the embassy and you’re now in the stage of applying to universities for letters of provisional acceptance.

How to Find the Results of the Primary Screening

One question I got is, “how do I find out the primary screening results?”

For those of you might not have heard yet, it’s going to be different in each country. Each country and each embassy is going to have a different approach. I know that some countries will post the list of applicants on their website, sometimes with the applicant’s full name, which I think is a gross violation of personal information, but it happens. Sometimes it’s just application numbers. So you’re going to have to check with the Japanese Embassy in the country where you applied to see how they release results. Unfortunately, if the embassy is contacting applicants directly, sometimes they only contact successful applicants. So if you’re unsuccessful, you might just be sitting there forever waiting for an email. I’ve had applicants in the past contact me in December to say, “Do you know when I will get the results the primary screening?” I have to tell them that if they haven’t heard by now, they were unsuccessful.

Make sure that you’ve checked your spam mailbox. Sometimes results get filtered as spam. But if you haven’t heard by now, definitely contact the embassy to find out how they release results.

Requesting Letters of Provisional Acceptance

When I apply for the letter of provisional acceptance, should I send universities the template I got from the embassy as-is, or should I fill it in first?

It is fine to send it blank. They will fill it in.

Finding a University to Apply to

How can I find a university to apply to for the letter of provisional acceptance?

I have an article about this on my website: How to Find Universities and Professors that teach in English and I also have a whole book on the subject. But if you look at the article or the book, I have links to a few different sites that list all the programs in English. I think the best one is JASSO. They list all the degree programs taught in English and you can search by field of study. As I mention those articles, you might have to think broadly about your field of study because it might have a different name or a different categorization in Japan than what you’re used to.

I recommend you go through the lists to identify any of the programs that are taught English and then go to universities’ websites to follow up. Look for which professors and research labs exist, what courses they teach, and you can follow up from there. Again, there is more detail in the article and book

What if You Cannot Find a Professor?

A related question: What should you do if you cannot find a professor with the same interests as you?

I’m going to be blunt: Keep looking. Because if your topic is worth researching, than there is going to be someone researching it or researching something related. You might have to rethink how you’re describing your research topic. You might have to look at someone who is using the same methodology but with a different data focus that can be close enough. Keep looking because, again, if the research is worth pursuing than I think it’s almost impossible that there’s nobody pursuing similar research in Japan.

Submitting Letters of Provisional Acceptance

If I get letters of provisional acceptance from all three of my choices, am I required to submit all three, or is there still a chance I can get rejected if I only submit one? If I only submit one letter of acceptance, is it guaranteed I’ll end up there?

First of all, you can only contact two universities to apply for LOAs, not three. I know you can put three in the Placement Preference Form, but you can only contact two of them.

You are required to submit all of the letters of provisional acceptance that you receive. So please keep that in mind. In the past, that wasn’t in the list of requirements so sometimes applicants would apply to several universities but only submit one letter. Also in the past, there was no limit to the number of universities you could apply to. So you might see old advice saying apply to lots, but only submit the letter of acceptance from the University that you really want to go to that is old advice so you are required to submit all of them.

It is not guaranteed that even if you get a letter of acceptance, that you will be accepted the secondary screening. It almost never happens that applicants get rejected in the secondary screening, but there’s always that chance.

Not Submitting All Letters of Acceptance

What happens if you don’t submit all of the letters of acceptance you receive?

There is a good chance MEXT will never find out. THere’s a good chance that they’re not going to find out, they’re not going to punish you. But, if they did find out, then your application could be disqualified because you didn’t follow the instructions.

I’m going to give you my basic guidance here. If you ever find yourself in this application process thinking, “Will MEXT find out if I . . . ?”, then you’re probably doing something wrong and you shouldn’t do it. You don’t want to be stressed out later, thinking “I passed the application, but what if they discover this and reject me later?” You never want to put yourself in that situation. In general, try to avoid any situation where you’re afraid of being “found out”.

Secondary Screening

Is it possible to be rejected during the secondary screening, and if so, why?

Technically, yes, it is possible but it’s very rare. The only time I’m aware of this happening in any sort of significant numbers was in 2019/2020. In that year, MEXT cut the number of slots each country could nominate for the Embassy-recommended MEXT scholarship after the application process had started and some countries didn’t find out until after they’d issued the results of the primary screening. So they had to cut applicants during the Secondary Screening.

I think that happened because that was the year Japan made college free for low income families in Japan, so that had a huge impact on MEXT’s budget. They cut the number of slots dramatically that year and those cuts have stayed, so I don’t think it’s going to be cut any further in the future. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, but that year, almost all of the applicants I heard from who were cut during the Secondary Screening were applicants who left the Japanese language test blank during the Primary Screening. You’re not required to pass that language proficiency test, but if you don’t if you don’t try, then some applicants were cut that year,

The other time I’ve heard of applicants being cut in the past was because they didn’t receive even one Letter of Provisional Acceptance. I have heard of applicants succeeding even in that situation, but there’s a higher chance of rejection.

Why Didn’t I Pass the Primary Screening?

I was invited to interview and I thought it went well, but in the end I didn’t pass. What you think might be the reasons I was rejected?

It’s really hard to tell but in most cases the all the steps of the primary screening are cumulative. So even after the interview, they’re going to factor in your initial documents you sent. They’re going to factor in your GPA, the quality of your field of study and research program plan, your tests, and your interview all together and come up with a cumulative score. It’s not like, OK, you passed the document screening and now everyone gets a fresh start for the tests, then a fresh start for the interview. It does build up, so it could have been anything along the way. They are going to accept more students after the document screening than they can finally nominate because sometimes applicants will come in and completely bombed the interview. It’s not that common, but it happens sometimes that someone cheated and got some else to write their field of study and research program plan for them, and so when I get interview they can’t explain the research all because they didn’t write it. (Don’t do that!) Or an applicant could come off well in writing, but does really poorly in the interview or fails the language tests. So even if after the documents screening, you weren’t quite in the top, you could move up based on a really strong interview or someone above you having a really weak one.

So it could be anything. It could be the documents, it could be the test, it could be the interview. Or it could just be that this year it was super competitive so applicants who probably would’ve succeeded in other years didn’t succeed this year. Over the past couple years, people weren’t able to travel and many applicants deferred their applications, so there was a much higher number this year. I have seen feedback from people in several countries it was much more competitive or that there were a significantly higher number of applicants that in past years. So I do recommend you try again if you can. If you made it as far as interview, they clearly saw some potential in your research and so the focus at that point is probably on your research and its impact. If you can strengthen those areas I think that can help you.

Negative Feedback: “Lacked Maturity”

Most people don’t actually get any feedback about why they didn’t pass, but one applicant wrote in and said they applied and failed the primary screening. The feedback they got was that they “lacked maturity”, so they wanted to know what that means.

I’m guessing that they’re not saying you were immature, as in that you were rude or your behavior was inappropriate or anything like that. I think this is probably a translation of the Japanese term “mijuku“, which could also be translated as being “unripe, not fully developed”. So, not mature in the sense that probably your research plan needed a little bit more development or your your interview presence needed a little bit more development. It’s not a personal comment about you

Direct Admission to Universities

If I failed to get the MEXT scholarship, how can I gain direct admission to a university?

Each university has their own application process so you need to go to their website and look for their admissions process in English. Also, starting soon the universities should be starting their University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship application processes, so that’s something you could potentially apply to as well.

You probably saw in the eligibility requirements that you cannot apply for two different types of MEXT scholarship at the same time, but if you apply for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship and did not pass the primary screening, you can apply for the University-Recommended MEXT scholarship because your Embassy application is no longer active. Typically, the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship is a little bit more competitive, but I’ve also seen situations where applicants who didn’t pass the Embassy did pass the University. I think it’s because sometimes they are looking for different things. If you apply to the university, you’re being evaluated only by academic experts, whereas if you apply to the embassy you’re being evaluated by bureaucrats. Sometimes your home country government could have a say in who is selected or what fields of study get priority treatment. So sometimes it could be easier for you to apply through the university. Again, each university is going to have their own process for that, so check their websites. I do have an article about the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship application process in general and I’ll be updating that as soon as MEXT releases their guidelines for next year.

Applying Again Next Year

If I didn’t pass the primary screening, can I apply again next year with the same research plan?

Yes, you can, but I recommend that you try to improve it somehow. Your Field of Study and Research Program Plan, which is your research proposal, is the one part of your application that is under your control. That is where you can make the most difference. If you submit the same plan next year–it was more competitive this year, so maybe you have a better chance–you can probably anticipate a similar result.

So try to improve it: Try to make it a little bit more clear, maybe do some more research on your own in the meantime you can refine it, add some more sources, see if you can get someone to look at you research proposal from this year and offer any advice. I offer coaching and review services, where I will look at your Field of Study and Research Program Plan and offer some notes and advice. That comes with a fee. To give you an idea, usually for a two-page research proposal, I’m going to be sending you back 5 to 8 pages of notes on how to improve it. But you can also try to consult with your academic advisor or a professor you trust from your home country or your previous university. They might be able to work with you for free, so that’s also a resource you can use. Do try to find someone who will give you blunt, honest feedback. Not someone is who is just going to say “good job”, you want to tell you how to improve.

Limit to Number of Application Tries

What is the limit of times you can apply for the MEXT scholarship?

There is no limit, but like I mentioned before, just resubmitting the same application probably won’t help. I’ve known applicants who succeeded in their second or third try applying. It’s not like not succeeding once is going to hurt your chances in the future. If you take this opportunity to improve your application and use what you’ve learned to create a stronger application, then it could improve your chances. Obviously, there is an age limit, but until you reach limit, you can keep applying. However, if you find that you can’t make any more improvements to your application, then maybe you want to try a different route.

How an Unsuccessful Application Affects the Next Application

If you apply and you’re not successful how does that affect your next year’s application and what changes should you make.

Try to improve the Field of Study and Research Program Plan. That is the most important part of your application that is under your control. Earlier in the session, I described what you can do to increase your chances: Focus on a theme; emphasize a significant impact that you can make to benefit society or benefit Japan, your home country, or the relationship between the two; have a research question that’s clearly related to that; a clearly defined research question or problem; and methods that will clearly answer that research question.

I have never seen a Field of Study and Research Program Plan that could not be improved. I’ve been working with applicants for eight years and have coached dozens, maybe hundreds, of applicants one-on-one. I’ve never seen one that couldn’t be improved. There’s always room for improvement. It could be in the content, it could be in how you explain yourself and how easy it is to understand, but there is always room for improvement so please try to improve it and try again.

Live Questions

Primary Screening Selection Process

What is the process of selection after the interview conducted by the embassy? I haven’t received any message yet.

The interview is the last part of the embassy recommended application process that you are participating in. After that, the embassy officials are going to look at all the applicants, decide who is successful, and contact them. If you haven’t heard by now, I would certainly recommend you contact the embassy to see if the results are out because you only have another couple weeks to submit your applications to universities to ask for Letters of Provisional Acceptance. They should have given you the results by now, so please contact them. Also please check your spam mail box because sometimes the results might be there.

Finding Professors for Letter of Provisional Acceptance

Finding research professors is very difficult. Do you have any tips? I’ve already gone through your blog on finding a professor but I’m not receiving any responses.

If you’ve already passed the primary screening and you have the Passing Certificate of the Primary Screening, then usually each university is going to have an official process they want you to go through to apply for Letters of Provisional Acceptance. Sometimes that’s going to be contacting the professors directly, but sometimes it’s not. Some universities just want you to submit the application to the administration office and they will distribute it to the professor. At some of those universities, the professors will not respond to applicants directly, because they’re not part of the process. If you’re not hearing back the professor, please check to see what that university’s process is.

If they say that you are supposed to contact the professor and the professor hasn’t responded to you after a week has passed, I recommend sending a reminder email. Right now, it’s August 6 and usually the end of July is final exam season for the spring semester at Japanese universities. So professors might have been really busy working with final exams over last couple weeks and entering grades. Now August through most of September is going to be summer vacation, so they’re going to be outside of out of their offices and checking emails less frequently. So either they’re too busy to have gotten back to you right away or they’re not checking emails frequently. Either way if a week has passed, I recommend sending them a reminder email.

If you still can’t get in touch with them, then check with the administrative office of the graduate school you want to apply to. Sometimes they can help you get in touch and a professor might be more likely to reply to email that comes from the admin office of their own university. The admin staff should be in the office now. Although I should note that next week, August 13-15, is the O-Bon on holidays in Japan so before and after that holiday even University admin offices may be closed and it might be a little slow to get a response during that time. I know you’re probably thinking, “Why on earth does MEXT schedule you to contact the universities at this time when everyone is either super busy or not in the office?” It seems like really stupid to me too, but it’s what we all have to deal with.

Importance of Grades/Results/Marks

Will your grades, results, or marks play an important role in the selection process?

Yes! I’ve got an article about the GPA as well. There is going to be a grade cutoff in most cases for your application. If your grades aren’t above a certain marks then you’re not even be considered. That is what I meant when I mentioned earlier that I said I saw applicants who had no chance in succeeding at the MEXT Scholarship. I know this is true for the University-Recommended MEXT scholarship and I know it’s true for every other Japanese scholarship that goes through the universities. They require that all applicants have a minimum 2.3 out of 3.0 GPA. That’s on a funky system that only MEXT uses. Not even Japanese universities use a three-point GPA system. You have to convert your grades to that system and make sure they are above 2.3. Even if they’re above that, higher marks, higher grades, are generally going to give you an advantage. It’s going to be considered in conjunction with your Field of Study and Research Program Plan, but higher grades are certainly going to help.

The Secondary Screening

What happens after an applicant sends in the letters of provisional acceptance to the embassy?

After that point, you just sit around and wait for the results. The embassy will forward your application and your letters provisional acceptance to MEXT. MEXT will conduct the secondary screening. The secondary screening is not competitive. It’s really a double-check to make sure the embassy did all their work right. Some of things that MEXT is looking for that maybe the embassy can’t look for is things like: Have you ever been deported from Japan, accused of a crime or arrested for a crime in Japan. If you’ve got a criminal record in Japan or a record of deportation, you’re probably not going to be selected. They’ll look to see if your name might be on an international terrorist list. I know that’s not likely, but I actually had an applicant at the university I used to work for who had the exact same name as an internationally wanted terrorist. So for a while his visa was blocked because they wanted to make sure he wasn’t the terrorist. MEXT might be looking for that. They’re also going to be double checking to make sure your research doesn’t conflict with their policy to avoid weapons-related research. If you’re doing research into a topic that could be used for weapons of mass destruction, they might reject you for that. But typically almost every applicant gets through the secondary screening and then MEXT will contact universities on your Placement Preference Form that gave you a Letter of Acceptance and ask him to formally accept you.

Usually, the Secondary Screening will and around the end of October and MEXT will contact universities in October to November. You might not hear back the embassy until about January or February, but sometimes when MEXT contacts the university to ask them to formally accept, you university might contact you, as well, to ask you questions like whether you want to be take part in the language program for six months. They’re not supposed to contact you, but if they do, that’s usually a good unofficial sign that you’ve passed Secondary Screening and you’re probably going to be placed at that university.

Only One Letter of Acceptance

Is it okay if I only get one acceptance letter?

That’s not a problem.

Letter of Acceptance: What to Do if the Professor Doesn’t Respond

I passed the first screening and sent an email to the professors, but there was no response. Should I resend it or contact the international office?

First of all, I would recommend that you check to see what that university wants you to do. If they want you to contact the professors, keep trying to contact the professors. If the professors don’t respond, then you can contact the international office. But if they want you to contact the international office or, I think some universities, like Keio, ask you to submit applications their online system, than make sure your following their instructions.

Primary Screening: Weights

Is there a certain stage in the primary screening that weighs more than the others?

This is just my sense, but I think the Field of Study and Research Program Plan weighs most heavily. The GPA might be used as a pass/fail criteria or to rack and stack, but I do think that the research proposal is most important and the interview stage really seeks to confirm your research proposal. I do think that’s probably the strongest part but everything does impact evaluation.

Research Topic: Focus on Japan?

For the research topic, should we use Japan in the topic?

That’s a great question. You don’t have to focus your research on Japan, but do keep in mind that you cannot do extended field research outside of Japan. You cannot be outside Japan for more than a month consecutively during the course of your MEXT scholarship. So when you do field research, it should be within Japan. But the research topic doesn’t necessarily have to be about Japan. It could be about a common topic that affects Japan and your home country. It could be completely related to your home country, but in that case you have to explain why it’s better to do that research in Japan. Maybe Japan has better resources for that research or institutional knowledge that you can use.

Delaying Letter of Provisional Acceptance Application to Second-Choice University

So far I’ve only contacted my first choice University about the Letter of Acceptance. I’m really set on this school. Is it OK to wait for the results before deciding whether to contact the second or not?

Yes. But I think it’s August 26 (Note: I said August 19 in the video, but that was a mistake) that is the deadline this year to apply for Letters of Provisional Acceptance. So, if you wait longer than that, then you cannot contact any other universities. August 26, that’s the deadline for you to contact universities, but it could take them significantly longer to reply to you. MEXT says please try to get the responses back within a month, but over the summer vacation that can be difficult. To give you one example from my experience, the university where I used to process these applications for, they required that all letters of acceptance be approved at a faculty committee meeting, but there were no faculty committee meetings during summer vacation. If you got your application in by the end of July, you could get into that last faculty meeting in July, during the spring semester, and you might get your results a week later. But if you submitted it in early August, the next faculty meeting might not be until the end of September, so you would not get the results until October. That is just one university’s example, but you can see that there could be some time required. If you’re coming up to that deadline to apply to universities for the letter of acceptance and you have not heard back from your first choice, then you have to consider whether or not you want to apply to the second choice. But until then, sure, you can wait.

Submitting Your Final Transcript

I passed the first screening, but I won’t have my transcript until December. Do you think that will affect the secondary screening?

I assume that you’re still enrolled in your previous degree and you don’t have your final transcript for graduation. That’s fine. Your primary screening is based on your results from the transcript you submitted with the other documents. They are not going to update your results midway through the process. But you will have to submit the final transcript and your proof of graduation before you arrive in Japan. Typically, the embassy is going give you further instructions about that later. But it’s not going to affect the secondary screening, so don’t worry about that.

Changing Universities When Extending from Research Student to Master’s Student

Can I pursue my Masters program in another graduate school aside from the graduate school for the research student period?

I assume you’re initially applying as a non-degree research student and you want to know if you can change universities when you extend your scholarship research student to master’s degree student. Typically, MEXT expects that you will continue with your masters program at the same university where you start as a research student. It is possible to change universities, but usually there has to be extenuating circumstances, for example if the professor that accepted you retired or moved universities and cannot supervise you anymore. If you have a reason like that where you need to shift universities, than it is possible to change. I have known applicants who changed universities between the research and master student, but in general they expect you to continue at same university.

Interview Question Responses

What is the recommended length for answering questions in the interview?

Great question, but I’m going to give you the Japanese answer, which is: “it depends”. Make sure you answer the question thoroughly, but also tried to take advantage of any interview question you get asked to refer back to your theme, or to refer to what makes your research special or unique and why you are the best candidate. If you can answer the question and show why you are the best candidate for the scholarship, then that’s a complete answer. If it’s a face-to-face interview, and you can see your interviewer and you see that they are fading away or looking down at their paper, then maybe try to wrap up the answer a little quicker. But I think as long as your answer remains relevant and is focused on the question and your candidacy, then as long as it takes to explain it.

Follow up: How long would you say is too long? 3 minutes?

Three minutes is probably a good maximum length. I think it depends on the country, but typically each interview is about 15 minutes, so you make sure that they have time to ask all the questions they want to ask and so try not to make any single answer too long.

Extend from Research Student to Master’s Student

How difficult is it to change from a research student to a master’s student at the same university?

Typically it’s pretty easy. Typically, if the university accepts you as a research student, they are provisionally considering that they are going to accept you as a degree seeking student, too. It depends on the university, and it also depends on your academic background–if you get there and they figure that you’re really not that academically prepared, then it might be harder–but most of the time, you’re going to be able to get in. It’s not going to be a problem, unless you have a really bad relationship with your academic advisor, or you come in and you’re just not prepared at all or not showing up to do your research or not showing up to classes.

Japan always refers to “entrance exam” to get into the degree program, but that does not necessarily mean that it’s going to be an exam in all cases–like a sit down, written test or an interview test. Sometimes the “entrance exam” just consists of submitting the application documents and it’s really just a rubberstamp: Yep, you’re in. Sometimes, there is going to be an exam with questions and if you struggle with that, then you might not be able to get in. You have a maximum of two years you can spend as a research student if you arrive in April, or a maximum of three semesters if you arrive in the fall. I’ve heard of applicants who had to apply multiple times to get accepted into the Masters programs because they didn’t do well the first time, but I’ve almost never heard of anyone who couldn’t get in it all at the end of the research program. So it should be relatively easy.

Common Mistakes in the Primary Screening

What are some common mistakes that MEXT scholars make during the first and second screening, and how to avoid those?

Some of the common mistakes I’ve seen with the application form is just not filling it out correctly, not answering all of the questions or ignoring the instructions. It’s really basic.

The more complex mistakes I’ve seen really come in the essay questions. This is for the MEXT scholarship for graduate students or undergraduate students, there are different sets of essay questions. For graduate students, the mistake is in those essay questions or in your Field of Study and Research Program Plan, thinkin only about yourself. Thinking about what you want to say, rather than what you want reviewers to come away for your application thinking. For example, there’s a question about, “What was your trigger for having an interest in Japan?” and if you write the same thing that any other applicant can write, you’re going to bore the reviewers and your not going to use that opportunity to make the most of your application. Keep in mind that application reviewers are probably reviewing at least dozens, maybe hundreds, of applications and if they see the same thing over and over again, it’s boring and you’re not going to stand out. If you have something unique and exciting, if your trigger for your interest in Japan is something related to your research and something exciting or that indicates you have high potential as a scholar, that’s going to help. But if it’s “Well, I used to watch a lot of anime as a kid and that’s why I like Japan, that’s probably not the best.

I’ve also seen cases where the documents don’t meet the requirements. It’s a pretty common mistake. Please make sure you check all of those requirements as well.

Those are some of the biggest ones: Not thinking about the reviewers’ perspective and not thinking about the impact you want to have on them how you want them to see you application, and then just careless mistakes with not following the instructions.

JLPT Scores

If the University strongly recommends to have JLPT scores (Japanese Language Proficient Test Scores), and you don’t have them, do you still have a chance to get a Letter of Provisional Acceptance?

If the University strongly recommending it, then probably you should consider it mandatory. Especially if you’re applying for a program taught in Japanese, the university is going to want to see some sort of objective proof of your Japanese language ability at least at the JLPT level N2 or higher, so you should certainly have proficiency test scores if you’re applying for a program taught in Japanese.

I know that during the Primary Screening, you take a language proficiency test at the embassy, but universities don’t know that test. They don’t see the results of that test. They don’t know how your performance on that test relates to JLPT, so they can’t really use it as a reference. At the university I worked at, if a student applied for a program taught in Japanese but didn’t have JLPT scores, there was no chance we would give them a letter of acceptance.

Changing Graduate Schools within the Same University When Extending

Can you change graduate schools within the same university when you extend from research student to Master’s student? For example you might be a research student in the graduate school of economics but you want to be a master’s recent graduate school of business. (Clarification of previous question.

Yes, that’s possible. You might have to change advisors in a situation, so your advisor would have to be on board with it. But I know of some graduate schools where that’s actually the only way to get in. I think it was the University of Tokyo, but there was one graduate school there that did not accept research students, only degree-seeking students. So if you wanted to start as a research student, you had to start in a different graduate school and then move on to be degree student in that school. So sometimes that’s not just possible, but it’s mandatory. In that case, you should really be upfront with your advisor in your research program that that is your plan and make sure that they understand that and they’re OK with that.

Interview: How Attitude and Nervousness Affects the Score

In the interview, is your attitude scored as well? For example, if your nervous and your voice is shaking, or you weren’t fluent or confident, would that result minus points?

I don’t that you’re going to be penalized for that, but an applicant who is more confident is going to get bonus points for presenting themselves more clearly, they’re going to make a stronger impression. I do think that’s going to be a factor. They’re going to look at how well you can communicate your idea and also the way you communicate is going to impact how well they understand the research proposal.

On the other hand, I will say that most applicants think they were a lot more nervous and unconfident than they actually were. There are some cases in Japanese interviews where someone will decide that it’s their job in the interview to make the applicant uncomfortable, to put them in stress to see how they react. If that happens, you don’t take it personally. They’re doing that deliberately and they’re doing to everybody, so please be aware that it’s not just you and again please don’t take it personally. Many applicants come away from the interview thinking, “I did horribly, I was so stressed!” and then they find out they were successful, later. You are going be a lot harder on yourself usually than reviewers are. They’re going to see a lot of other applicants who are probably just as nervous, so it’s more relative than it is an absolute score.

I think your impression–your professionalism–will certainly be taken into consideration. I mention my my article about how to prepare for the interview that you should go into an interview as if it was a job interview. Wear a suit, sit at attention, being very formal, being very polite, that is going to make a difference. If it’s scored, it’s not be scored as highly as the contents of your answers, but your impression is also going to affect how the reviewers look at your other answers. You can give the exact same answer about your quality of your research, but if you are sitting straight and delivering it confidently, or if you are slouching in your chair and nervous and answer in the exact same words, it’s going to sound stronger if you’re confident as result in a higher score.

Choosing a Research Topic

I’m having trouble selecting a topic to begin my initial literature review and I’ve considered looking at what professors are currently focusing on and tailoring it around that. There are so many different fields that I have analysis paralysis. What tips do you have to select a field within your graduate studies?

That’s a great question. I’m actually in kind of a similar position right now. I am applying for a research grant through my university to the Japanese government and there are so many different individual topics I want to research, that I’m not sure which one to choose.

I recommend that you choose something that is based on research you’ve done before. If you can show that you have previous experience in the field, it’s going to make you a stronger candidate. They’re going to have a little more confidence that you can do the research that you said you’re going to do. Also, I recommend something with a global impact or significant benefit for society that you can relate to a specific research problem.

Connect your past experience with your future potential and within that, try to find whatever excites you most. You mentioned there’s a lot of different fields, but try to find something that excites you, something you want to do in your future career, and something that matches a research field you can find a professor for in Japan.

Connecting Field of Research in Japan to Past Research

In your books you mentioned that the field of study should be related to what you have studied in the past, but how closely does it have to be> Could you explain this?
The specific example is if someone applied for environmental science but their past field of study was hospitality and tourism management.

You have to show that you have some research experience in the field so that the embassy and university is confident that you’re going to be able to do Master’s-level research in that field. Show that you’re familiar with the methodologies, familiar with the state of the field, so that you’re not starting from scratch. They don’t want to accept you into a Master’s program if you have zero background in that field.

I don’t know what your specific focus was within hospitality and tourism management, but I know–at least working with my students here–that sustainable tourism is a hugely popular topic. If you’ve done some research related to sustainability and tourism, than you can probably show how that’s related to environmental science and maybe if you have some research done that’s similar to that field and can show how that got you interested in environmental science for your Master’s program.

As long as you make that connection and persuade the reviewers that you have enough background to be able to do the research you’re proposing in Japan, then I think it’s going to be close enough.

Thank You for Participating!

Thank you so much to everybody who attended life today. I’m sorry I didn’t get to every question I was asked either in advance or live but I hope you found the session useful. If you ask a question and I didn’t get to it, please find the article on this blog that is most similar to your question and leave your question in the comment section there, or just leave it below on this article! I answer every comment that comes in in the order it is received.

Thank you again. I hope you all have a wonderful day and I wish the best of luck with your application whether that’s a continuing application or one you are going to start in the future.


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