Congratulations on Passing the Embassy’s Primary Screening!If you are reading this article, I assume you have passed the primary screening (or are preparing to pass soon). That’s a tremendous step! Most applicants do not make it this far.
In fact, almost all applicants who pass the Primary Screening and get at least one Letter of Provisional Acceptance (LoPA) from a university in Japan receive the MEXT Scholarship. The good news is that the screening to get a LoPA is significantly less competitive than the Embassy’s Primary Screening and as long as you avoid the major causes for rejection that I discuss below, you should have no problems at this stage.
Note: The only time I have heard of applicants being rejected for the scholarship after passing the Primary Screening and getting a LoPA was in the 2019/2020 application cycle, when MEXT had a budget crunch and had to reduce the number of scholarships after the primary screening was already in progress or over in some countries. I do not expect that situation to happen again.
So, what do you need to know about getting that letter of acceptance? Let’s get started.
Note: This Article is About the Application Process in 2023
If you are applying in 2023 for the MEXT Scholarship to begin in 2024, then this article is for you. If you are reading in a future year, be aware that the deadlines below will have changed and there could be other changes to the requirements, too, but the general idea should remain the same!
Only applicants for the MEXT Scholarship for Research Students (Graduate Students) are required to obtain Letters of Provisional Acceptance.
Three Ways to FAIL to Get a Letter of Provisional Acceptance
Let’s get this out of the way first: There are three avoidable ways to get rejected by a university. Almost every LoPA rejection I have seen was for one of these causes.
- Missing the Deadline: As of the 2023/2024 Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application Cycle (applying in 2023), the deadline to apply to universities for a LoPA is Friday, August 25, 2023 (Japan time). If you do not submit your application by that time, they won’t even look at it. Be aware of time differences and don’t wait until the last minute. An application that arrives in the Japanese university’s inbox at 00:05 am on August 26 will be rejected, even if it was still August 25 where you are.
You also want to avoid the possibility that your email doesn’t arrive at all because it is too large or the university’s inbox is full. Submit it as early as you can!
- Not Having the Required Language Ability: Every year I hear about applicants who have zero Japanese language ability applying to programs that are taught only in Japanese. Of course, universities reject all of them! You need to have the requisite language ability as of the time you apply for the LoPA or you don’t have a chance.
While MEXT offers a 1-semester, intensive Japanese language program on arrival for scholarship recipients, it is not supposed to teach you academic Japanese or give you enough ability to study for your degree in the language. It teaches Japanese for surviving day-to-day life. So do not think that you can apply to a Japanese-taught program and brush up on your language skills later.
This is an easily avoidable problem if you followed my advice in my article about how to find universities and professors in Japan.
- Applying to a University Where No Professor Can Supervise Your Research: This was probably the single-most common reason for rejections at my former university. The rejection letters would say something like, “Great student, great research plan, but we don’t have anyone doing research in that field that can supervise you.”
This is mostly avoidable if you follow the advice in the article I listed above and my book, How to Find Your Best Degree Program and Advisor for the MEXT Scholarship. The only part that is beyond your control is retirements and personnel changes. However, if you get in contact with the professors in advance, you can also avoid those personnel problems.
If you can avoid those three pitfalls, you should have no problems securing two Letters of Provisional Acceptance. Here is the process you need to follow to make sure you get everything done.
Choosing Your Universities
By this point, you should already have selected up to three universities and professors that you want to apply to. If not, I have another guide to help you locate universities and professors in your field of study.
If you have already been in contact with the professors for networking, that is to your advantage. But even if you have tried to contact the professors and gotten no response, do not let that stop you from trying again now. Many universities have a policy to not respond to MEXT Scholarship applicants until after they have passed the Primary Screening. It’s nothing personal.
Changing the Universities on your Placement Preference Form
If you have a list of universities and professors but want to change it from the information you entered in the Placement Preference Form before the Primary Screening, that should still be possible. You might want to change the universities on this form if you found a better university/professor after submitting your Placement Preference Form, or if any of the universities on your list rejects your application and you need an alternative.
To check the rules about changing the universities on your list, contact the Japanese embassy or consulate where you applied for more details on their policies. Usually, you will submit the Placement Preference Form again after acquiring the Letters of Provisional Acceptance and when you do, you can only include universities that have offered you a LoPA or, at least, have not rejected your application. Most applicants must change the list based on results from the universities.
Applying to Universities for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance
The deadline to contact universities to request a Letter of Provisional Acceptance for the 2023/2024 scholarship application cycle is Friday, August 25, 2023 Japan Time. MEXT has instructed all universities in Japan that they are to refuse any applicant who contacts them on or after August 26. Keep in mind that Japan is ahead of most countries in terms of time zones. Do not wait until the last day! An emailed application sent on the 25th in your time zone that arrives after midnight in Japan will be rejected.
Email Delivery Problems
If you send your application by email, that message is likely to have several large attachments, so your application email might not be delivered. It could also get filtered as spam, be blocked because it is too large, or it could be rejected because the recipient’s email inbox is too full to accept it. If that happens, you might never know that your application didn’t arrive.
When applying by email, I recommend sending two emails: The first one with no attachments that states your intent to apply and informs the university/professor that you will send a follow-up email immediately with the required documents attached, and the second one with the actual application materials attached. That way, even if the attachment email doesn’t get through, the first message should arrive and they will know that you have tried to apply. Even if your email with the attachments does not arrive, they may be flexible and allow you to resend the documents that were blocked.
Recently, I have seen applicants try to send documents with a Google Drive download link to avoid heavy attachments. If you do so, make sure you set the permissions so that anyone with the link can access the files. Do not limit access to specific email addresses. The receiving email address might be a shared address that automatically distributes to other emails, etc., so if you limit the addresses, the person who needs to process your application might not be able to access it.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Letter of Provisional Acceptance?
August 25, 2023 is your deadline to contact the universities. It is not the deadline for universities to issue the Letter of Provisional Acceptance. MEXT specifically says that applicants must not urge universities to issue letters quickly.
MEXT has instructed universities to reply to applicants with the final results within approximately one month of receiving the request. This is not an immediate process and you should not expect instant results. At most universities, your application will first need to be reviewed by an individual professor in your field, who will determine if they can accept you. Then, it would have to be approved at a committee meeting at the department and/or graduate school level. The problem is that August and most of September are the summer vacation months at most Japanese universities, so some professors are not at the university, may not be reviewing their email as often, and there are no committee meetings until the semester starts up again. So, this naturally causes the process to go slowly.
It it takes a long time to get a response from the university, do not take that as a bad sign. It is not a judgement about your application or the university “ghosting” you. It is just a slow process with a lot of waiting.
Make sure you apply to the university and give them enough time (at least a month) to process it, make their decision, and issue the letter. Do not start insistently contacting the university if they don’t send you a letter right away. That will not get you a positive response. However, if a month has passed since you contacted the university and you have not heard from them, or if your deadline to submit the Letter of Provisional Acceptance to your embassy/consulate is approaching, then it is OK to contact them and politely ask about the status.
Keep in mind that it might take a few days before universities can get to your email. Universities will also be extremely busy processing applications around the deadline, so expect delays in replies. It is also common for universities to not acknowledge receipt of your application and not send any reply until they have made their final decision.
Submitting Letters of Provisional Acceptance to Your Embassy/Consulate
Each embassy or consulate will set the deadline for you to submit your Letters of Acceptance and final Placement Preference Form, so please refer to the embassy or consulate where you applied for their submission deadlines.
How Many Universities to Contact
You may contact a maximum of two universities at one time to request a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. This is a change from the past, when you could have three or more Letters of Acceptance, so if you see any articles (including on this site) saying that three or four letters are OK, that information is out of date!
Even though you will probably have three universities in your Placement Preference Form, you can still only contact two at one time. If one of the two universities you contact rejects your application and it is still before the deadline, then you can contact an alternate, but you should never have more than two active or complete applications and you should not get more than two Letters of Provisional Acceptance.
What Happens if You Get More than Two Letters?
If you paid attention to the instructions, this should never happen. But if you didn’t and you only realize after receiving the letters that you were only allowed to have two, then contact the embassy and tell them what happened. They will give you further instructions.
But it’s actually not in your favor to have more than two. Having more Letters of Provisional Acceptance does not increase your chances of success. As long as you have one from your first-choice university, you should be fine in almost all cases.
Applying for a Letter of Acceptance: How to Apply
MEXT’s instructions say to contact the division of international student affairs at the university where you intend to apply, first. However, I recommend that your first step should be to check the university’s website to see if they have instructions posted for Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship applicants. The best way I have found to do this is to search Google for your university name and the words “Embassy MEXT”. For example, “University of Tokyo Embassy MEXT.” Then, read the web page to find the instruction for applying for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance.
You may find that some universities ask you to contact a faculty member as part of your application. In that case, follow the university’s instructions.
I tried this method for 7 top universities and in almost every case, the top result was the page with the instructions on how to apply for a letter of acceptance.
Despite MEXT’s instructions that applicants should contact the international offices at their target universities, you can see from the list below that the actual practice can vary significantly from university to university.
Just for reference, the universities I tried (June 2023) and their results were:
- University of Tokyo: Contact the administrative office of the graduate school where you want to enroll (not your prospective advisor).
- Tohoku University: Contact the instructor directly. If you cannot find their contact information, then contact the administrative office of their graduate school.
- Kyoto University: Contact the professor directly, or through the administrative office of the graduate school/research institute, or submit an online application to the Admissions Assistance Office.
- Osaka University: Recommended to contact the professor in advance through the International Student Affairs Division to inquire about the possibility of acceptance and consult about the research contents, but you must officially apply by emailing the required documents to the International Student Affairs Division. There are specific instructions for the subject line and contents of the email you need to send.
- Waseda University: Complete their online form and upload the documents directly. It is not necessary to contact your desired supervisor beforehand.
- Keio University: Contact your deisred advisor for informal acceptance, then complete their online form and upload the documents directly.
*This was the only university where I could not find the instructions using the Google method above and had to dig around their website for the information, which is very Keio.
- Ritsumeikan University: Submit application to the International Center by email (including the university’s own survey form).
If the university does not offer specific instructions on their website, your embassy or consulate should have a list of staff members responsible for accepting MEXT scholarship applications at various Japanese universities. If you already know which universities you want to contact (see my article on how to identify the best Japanese universities and professors for your field of study), then the embassy staff may be able to help you.
Applying for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance: How to Send Your Application
The website with the Letter of Provisional Acceptance application procedures for your university should have a list of required documents. Always follow the directions from the university instead of the instructions below or instructions from the embassy. The information I have provided below is from the MEXT guidelines, so it is more general.
You will send all of your application documents by email to the university or upload them directly, depending on the university’s instructions. MEXT also says that you can send the documents by post if you have trouble submitting them electronically, but in that case, make sure that you contact the university first and communicate with them about your submission plan. You will also have to submit your application even earlier in this case, since the mailed documents would need to arrive at the university before the deadline.
When sending your documents by email, I recommend you do not attach them all to your first message. Your application document scans may have a very large file size and many university email accounts in Japan have size limits or attachment size limits. If your attachments exceed the limit, your mail will not be delivered and the university might never know that you tried to apply!
Before sending your documents, reach out to the office or professor you have identified. Let them know you plan to apply and that you will send your application documents in a subsequent email. You do not need to wait for a reply to your first message.
Applying for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance: What to Send
I recommend you scan all of your documents together in a single pdf file. This is easy enough to do if you have a scanner available and you can even scan documents as a pdf from a smartphone using the free Adobe Scan app. NEVER send your documents as individual jpeg files for each page. That makes it very difficult for the university to process your application and will put them in a bad mood before they even begin to review the contents of your file.
At a minimum, you are required to send the university the documents below. These should be the documents that you submitted to the embassy and had returned to you after the primary screening and should be stamped by the embassy. You cannot replace the contents of these forms between submitting them to the embassy and sending them to universities.
- Application Form
- Field of Study and Research Program Plan
- Academic transcript for all academic year of university attended
- Certificate of graduation or degree certificate of the university attended
- Certificate of graduation or degree certificate of the university attended
- Abstracts of theses (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Medical Certificate
- Certificate of language proficiency (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission*)
- Recommendation letter from the present employer (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Photograph(s) showing applicant’s own works of art or a digitally recorded media of musical performance (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Copy of a passing Certificate of the First Screening issued by the diplomatic mission
*Universities will sometimes require you to submit proof of language proficiency even if you did not submit it to the embassy during the primary screening.
Note that the Placement Preference Form is not on that list! Per the application guidelines, you are not to send that document to the universities. MEXT has instructed Universities they cannot request it from you.
If a university requests that you send the Placement Preference Form, politely tell them that your instructions from MEXT were that you are not to submit it to universities. You can send them a link to the application guidelines in Japanese saying so as well. Here is that link:
The university may also ask you to submit additional documentation. As long as it is not the Placement Preference Form, then you are required to submit it. That includes submitting language proficiency certificates, documents unique to the university, etc., even if you did not submit them to the embassy or consulate. For example, some universities may require you to submit JLPT scores, TOEFL scores, or even GRE scores, even though you did not submit them to the embassy.
For a detailed explanation of the required documents, please see my article about How to Apply for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship.
Receiving Your Letter of Provisional Acceptance
There are a few things you will want to pay particular attention to in your Letter of Provisional Acceptance once you receive it.
The first is your date of arrival. In the Application Form, you wrote whether you prefer to arrive in the April or September/October semester. When the university issues your Letter of Provisional Acceptance, it will include their decision about when you should arrive. In principle, it is not possible to change that date from what is written in the Letter of Provisional Acceptance, so make sure the date in that letter works for you.
The second thing to check is your status. In your application form, you filled in whether you wanted to arrive as a research student or a degree-seeking student (in the master’s, doctoral, or professional program).
In order for the university to issue you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance as a degree-seeking student, you would have to pass their entrance examination prior to them issuing the letter. Some universities will consider a screening of your application documents to be a sufficient entrance exam. But if they do not, the chances are high that you would not have passed their exam yet. In that case, the university would issue you a letter of an acceptance as a research student.
This can change!
If your Letter of Provisional Acceptance lists you as a “Research Student”, the university will have 2 opportunities later to “upgrade” you to a degree-seeking student before your arrival:
- During the placement phase: After you submit your Letters of Provisional Acceptance and final Placement Preference Form to the Embassy, MEXT will conduct a secondary screening of your application. After that secondary screening, MEXT will contact the universities on your Placement Preference Form one-by-one to ask them to accept you. If you have passed the university’s entrance exam in the meantime, then when the university replies to MEXT to confirm that they will accept you, they can change your status to degree-seeking student.
- Upon arrival in Japan: If the university agrees to accept your placement as a research student, but you then pass their entrance exam prior to arriving in Japan, then the university can send a notice of change of status and change of scholarship payment period to MEXT and you could to start as a degree-seeking student immediately on arrival in Japan.
If you end up arriving in Japan and starting as a research student, there is no problem with that course of action, either. In fact, that’s what I recommend in most cases. You will take the entrance exam while in Japan and apply for an extension of your scholarship to cover the full degree program. Starting as a research student will give you an extra semester (or more) to get used to studying in Japan and to take courses and starting your research.
Japanese Language Preparatory Education
The final thing to check is whether the university plans to assign you to the Japanese language program. Usually, they will send you to that program if you are studying in English and need to learn some basic Japanese to survive daily life. If your Japanese is already good enough that you can study for a degree in Japanese, you will most likely not join the Japanese language program.
If you are starting in the Japanese language preparatory education program, you will be a research student (non-degree student) for the duration of that program, even if you applied to start directly with the degree program.
I recommend you make a copy of each of your Letters of Provisional Acceptance prior to submitting them, so that you can refer to the contents later.
Submitting Your Letters of Provisional Acceptance and Placement Preference Form to the Embassy
When to Submit
MEXT requires that you turn in every Letter of Provisional Acceptance that you receive to the Embassy and that you list those universities in your placement preference form. It used to not be mandatory, so you might see comments from past students that they applied for more Letters than they turned in at the end. That is no longer allowed. Submitting fewer letters would constitute lying on your application and could result in your being disqualified if discovered later.
Each embassy or consulate controls its own deadline for when you should submit Letters of Provisional Acceptance, so be sure to check with them. MEXT has asked universities to return letters of acceptance within one month of the application, so the embassies’ deadlines should not be earlier than that, but there are always miscommunications between the two.
*In the past, MEXT required universities to produce Letters of Acceptance within a month. This is no longer a requirement, but your local embassy might think that it is and set their deadline accordingly. If your embassy has given you a deadline, it is not rude to provide that information to the university, provided you are polite when you address them.
Resubmitting the Placement Preference Form
When you submit your Letters of Provisional Acceptance, you will also likely have to submit an updated Placement Preference Form. You are not allowed to list universities on your final Placement Preference Form that refused to issue you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. This also applies if one professor/graduate school at a university has rejected your application. You can not list an alternate professor or graduate school at that university!
You are, however, allowed to list universities that have not yet replied to you as well as those that have issued you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance (even if the hard copy of that document has not yet arrived). Even if every university you applied to for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance rejected your application, you can also list universities that you never applied to. But in that case, since you won’t have a chance to contact the university in advance, you should do your research to make sure that they have a matching program and professor who can supervise you!
You should also be able to re-order your university preferences, but that is also something you should confirm with the embassy.
It is mandatory to list all universities that have issued you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. The old tactic (pre-2020) of acquiring emergency back-up Letters of Acceptance but only submitting the one letter from your first-choice school is no longer allowed.
Since you can only get two Letters of Provisional Acceptance, but can submit up to three university names on your Placement Preference Form, you can include the names of universities that you didn’t apply to for Letters of Provisional Acceptance.
Secondary Screening and University Placement
Once you have submitted the Letters of Provisional Acceptance and the final Placement Preference Form, the application process is essentially over for you. All you have left to do is wait for your placement assignment, sometime between November to February.
Aside from the 2019-2020 cycle, I have never heard of an applicant getting rejected for the scholarship after passing the Primary Screening and submitting at least one Letter of Provisional Acceptance. However, in 2019, it happened to several people. In that year, MEXT reduced the number of places available to each country during the Primary Screening. Some countries seemed to have gotten the information in time and reduced the number of students who passed that screening, but others did not, so applicants from some countries were eliminated during the Secondary Screening to get down to the required number. In those cases, the applicants heard after MEXT’s Secondary Screening process and before the University Placement Process, so they got their replies much earlier than the successful applicants.
One thing that all rejected applicants I heard from had in common was that they had all left the Japanese Language Proficiency Test blank during the Primary Screening!
2019 was the first, and so far only, time I have heard of this happening. I do not expect it to happen again, but I can no longer be sure. This was also the year that Japan made higher education free to students from low-income households, so I suspect that had a major impact on MEXT’s budget and led to the cuts.
It will take a long time for the embassies to confirm that you have passed the Secondary Screening and to announce your university placement, but do not let that bother you. That is just normal, slow bureaucracy, not a reflection on your application. For the 2023/2024 application cycle, the final results and placement information are expected in January-February 2024.
Sometimes, you may end up hearing from the universities even before the embassy gives you the final approval. For example, universities might contact you about attending the Japanese language program around October/November. If they do, that usually means that you have passed the Secondary Screening and MEXT has reached out to that university to ask them to accept you.
You might also hear from your professor or housing office at one university on your list, asking about the Japanese language program or informing you that you should apply for housing (in the case of spring semester arrivals). In any of those cases, you can consider the contact from the university to be an unofficial confirmation that you will win the scholarship and be placed at that university.
However, if you do not get unofficial confirmation, don’t worry! Universities are not supposed to contact you at this stage, so the lack of any messages could just be a sign that they’re doing things right.
Once you have your final confirmation, I recommend that you reach out to the other university that issued you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance to let them know you were placed in another university and thank them for their support, particularly if you were in direct contact with the professor there. You never know when you might end up interacting with them after arriving in Japan!
For more about what to expect from the secondary screening and placement, I have another article entirely about that process.
Let me know in the comments below!
Special thanks to the TranSenz supporters on Patreon, especially my amazing Daimyo-level supporter, Manuel AG, who contributes at least $10 per month to help me keep this site running and updated for everyone and to newest Samurai-level Patron Arin S. If you have found this website helpful and want to help keep it running for future applicants, then please consider supporting my work on this site for as little as $1 per month (onetime contributions are also welcome!). Patreon supporters also get priority responses to questions and advance access to articles and discounts on my books and coaching services.