How to Apply for the 2021/2022 University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship


Will the 2021/2022 University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship be your ticket to a future in Japan?

After two long years of border closures, states of emergency, and MEXT scholars and other international students being stuck studying remotely in their home countries, 2022 looks like the year that studying in Japan may return to normal again.

Each year, MEXT releases the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship application guidelines quite late. In fact, almost all universities’ application deadlines will have already passed by the time the guidelines come out!
For that reason, universities typically recruit students based on the previous year’s guidelines and the article below will also be based on the most recent available application guidelines, from 2020/2021 (2021 arrival).

I recommend you get started with your application preparation now, even if the university you want to apply to has not yet released their application information.

Here’s what this article will cover:

  • The scholarship types available (General Category and PGP) and number of slots.
  • What the scholarship offers
  • Scholarship eligibility
  • Details about the forms and documents you will need to submit

First, a note on eligible nationalities

In the past, the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship was available to all applicants in all countries, but in recent years, MEXT has focused more and more on its list of Priority Countries. At least as of the 2020/2021 application, it was almost impossible to get the scholarship if you are not from one of those countries. Only priority country applicants are eligible to apply for General Category scholarship. Applicants from non-priority countries can still apply for PGP programs (see below), but many of those programs have nationality restrictions, too. Universities are encouraged to focus their PGP programs on Priority Country applicants.

So, while I am afraid that this comes as bad news to many readers, if you are not from a Priority Country, I am afraid that I have to recommend that you stick to applying for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship.

One other note on Priority Countries: This is not an eligibility requirement for the application. Anyone from any country is allowed to apply, so you won’t see it listed in the application/eligibility. However, it is clearly written in the instructions to universities about who then can nominate. That makes it one of the “Secret Requirements”, like GPA, which I will discuss later.

MEXT Scholarship for Research Students: General Category and PGP

First of all, I am only going to cover the MEXT Scholarship for Research Students in this article. “Research Students” refers to all graduate-level students, including non-degree students, master’s degree students, PhD students, and professional degree (e.g. MBA, MD, DDMS, JD, etc) students. I do not cover undergraduate degrees or the Japanese Studies Scholarship. For information on those, please contact the university that you plan to apply to.

These are the two primary “types” of scholarship places available: General and PGP. For the most part, these types do not affect you as the applicant. The amount of the award and the application process is the same for both. (The biggest difference is in eligibility to extend your scholarship later. See my article about How to Extend Your MEXT Scholarship for more details.)

There are two important differences to understand regarding General Category and PGP, and both have to do with eligibility requirements. As of the 2020/2021 application cycle, only applicants from Priority Countries (see chart below) are eligible to apply for General Category slots. That means that if you are not from one of the priority countries, you can only apply to an applicable PGP program. However, even for PGP programs, no fewer than 75% of nominees must be from Priority Countries, so even in that case, the competition is going to be high.

Even for applicants from priority countries, PGP programs offer a much better possibility of selection.

(There is also a third major type, Top Global University scholarships, but that process is rather different, so I will cover it elsewhere).

What are the MEXT Scholarship PGP Programs?

PGP programs refer to specific degree programs that have been approved by MEXT to have a guaranteed number of slots available each year for three years. These programs can be very narrowly defined, for example, there might be a PGP program at a particular university for Master’s Degree students from Malaysia or Thailand in Health Sciences who are studying in English. Clearly, that means that very few applicants meet the eligibility requirements for the program, so those who do will face much less competition and have a significantly higher chance of success.

Almost every year, MEXT reaches out to universities and gives them the opportunity to apply for a certain number of scholarship slots for one of their graduate or undergraduate programs in advance. It’s a tough screening process, but if approved, then that university is guaranteed to have a fixed number of scholarship places available for a period of three years.

What does this mean for you? Simple: PGP programs are your best chance to get a University Recommended MEXT Scholarship if you are eligible. It’s not even close. I have seen programs in the past that had 10 scholarship places available for one PGP program each year. However, outside of that program, the university only had 5 scholarship places for all of its other graduate schools and programs. In that case, there were 11 applicants for the PGP program, with a nearly 90% success rate. Meanwhile, there were over 200 applicants for the general scholarship, with a 2.5% success rate. (Back then, there were a lot more general category places available.)

How to Find PGP Programs

PGP programs are pre-approved by MEXT to have a certain number of scholarship places available each year for a period of three years. So, for the 2021/2022 application cycle, programs approved in 2019, 2020, and those that will be approved in 2021 will be available.

You can find the PGP program information at the links below (all PDFs on MEXT’s website):

MEXT Scholarship PGP Program Eligibility

The biggest problem with the PGP program is that it might not be possible to find out in advance if you are eligible. When universities apply to MEXT for approval for a PGP program, it typically needs to be very precise and focused, like the example I gave above. Unfortunately, universities will not necessarily make those eligibility criteria available. So, even if you find a PGP program from the lists above, there is a possibility that you will not be eligible. That is just a risk you have to take. If the program matches your interest, it is still better to take a chance there than at a university with no PGP program.

General Category Scholarship Slots

In contrast to the limited PGP programs, in general any university in Japan can nominate students for the General Category MEXT Scholarship and there are no restrictions on major or degree level.

Since these programs are open to all applicants, that means that the competition is going to be intense! You will need to have top grades as well as a laser-focused, well-crafted Field of Study and Research Program Plan in order to have any hope of success.

MEXT Scholarship General Category Slots Available (Based on the 2020/2021 application cycle)

The number of slots available for the 2021/2022 cycle will not be released until the official guidelines come out, usually after universities have finished their application process. So, here are the most recent numbers available, from last year.

During the 2020/2021 application cycle, the number of slots available to any university was based on number of privately funded (e.g. non-MEXT Scholarship) international students enrolled in the university’s graduate school as of May 2019. Usually, the number of slots is based on the number of students from the year immediately prior, so it should have been May 2020, but I suspect that due to the pandemic and borders remaining closed, MEXT will continue to refer to 2019 as the last year during which universities had normal levels of international student enrollment. Be aware, however, that this could change at any time.

Number of Self-Financed International Graduate Students Enrolled Number of MEXT Scholarship Slots
200+ 3
11-199 2
0-10 1

Up until 2019, universities were able to recommend a significantly higher number – up to 9 in some cases – but there was a dramatic cut that year just before the end of the selection process and numbers have stayed low since.

(You may have heard of applicants from the 2019 cycle who were nominated by the university and thought their scholarships were assured, only to be cut at the last minute. In the decade I have been working with the MEXT Scholarship, this is the only time there was a cut like that and, since the number of scholarships have been much lower ever since, I do not expect that there will be future similar cuts.)

Priority Countries

As mentioned above, only applicants from priority countries can be nominated for General Category slots and for PGP slots, at least 75% must be from priority countries. So, if your country is not on the list below, the chances of getting selected from the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship are practically non-existent.

Priority Countries

Africa
Algeria Angola Benin
Botswana Burkina Faso Burundi
Cabo Verde Cameroon Central African Republic
Chad Comoros Cote D’Ivoire
Democratic Republic of the Congo Djibouti Egypt
Equatorial Guinea Eritria Ethiopia
Gabon Gambia Ghana
Guinea Guinea-Bissau Kenya
Lesotho Liberia Libya
Madagascar Malawi Mali
Mauritania Mauritas Morocco
Mozambique Namibia Niger
Nigeria Republic of the Congo Rwanda
Sao Tome and Principe Senegal Seychelles
Sierra Leone Somalia South Africa
South Sudan Sudan Swaziland/eSwatini
Tanzania Togo Tunisia
Uganda Zambia Zimbabwe
Americas
Argentina Bolivia Brazil
Chile Colombia Ecuador
Guyana Paraguay Peru
Suriname Uruguay USA
Venezuela    
Asia
Bangladesh Bhutan Brunei
Cambodia India Indonesia
Laos Malaysia Maldives
Mongolia Myanmar Nepal
Pakistan Philippines Singapore
Sri Lanka Thailand Vietnam
CIS and Russia
Armenia Azerbaijan Belarus
Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Moldova
Russia Tajikistan Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan    
Europe
Albania Austria Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bulgaria Croatia Cyprus
Czech Republic Greece Hungary
Kosovo Liechtenstein Macedonia
Montenegro Poland Romania
Serbia Slovakia Slovenia
Switzerland Ukraine  
Middle East
Afghanistan Bahrain Iran
Iraq Israel Jordan
Kuwait Lebanon Oman
Palestine Qatar Saudi Arabia
Syria Turkey UAE
Yemen    

You can find the original list in Japanese here.

There are several notable countries not on that list, including (but not limited to): China, South Korea, all of North and Central America (except the US), all of Oceania, all of Scandinavia, the UK, and most of Western Europe.

What the MEXT Scholarship Offers

The scholarship benefits are unchanged from last year:

  • Exemption from paying tuition
     
  • Monthly stipend:
    • Research Students*: JPY 143,000/month
    • Master’s Degree/ Professional Degree Students: JPY 144,000/month
    • PhD Students: JPY 145,000/month
    • (Undergraduate Students: JPY 117,000/month)
       
  • Cost of Living Adjustment: JPY 2,000 – 3,000 in selected areas
     
  • Round-trip flight ticket to Japan (covered by MEXT or the university). Note: only the international portion of the ticket is covered. You are responsible for all domestic travel costs in your home country and in Japan, plus the airport usage fees and fuel surcharges.

*Note: You cannot apply for the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship as a research (non-degree) student. But all University-Recommended MEXT Scholars start their studies in Japan in the fall semester. If the degree program you are applying to only accepts new matriculants in the spring semester, you would spend your first semester as a research (non-degree) student while waiting to start the program.

How to Apply for the 2021/2022 University Recommended MEXT Scholarship

Every university in Japan sets its own application process for students.

Some universities will select their MEXT scholarship candidates out of the pool of general applicants and others will have a specific application process. Once you have selected your university, as I describe below, you will need to check their website for more information. I recommend searching google (not the university’s website) for the name of the university and “University MEXT Scholarship” to find the guidelines quickly.

Technical Differences between the Embassy-Recommended and University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship

If you have applied for the Embassy Recommendation in the past there are a few key differences in the scholarship that you should be aware of. (If you haven’t you can skip down to the next section).

  • You can only apply to one university.
  • You can only arrive in the fall semester – except for PGP programs that start in the spring.
  • There is no Japanese language training semester.
  • In most cases, the university will decide if you are allowed to start as a degree-seeking or research student. If they accept degree-seeking students in the fall, then you will almost certainly start as a degree-seeking student. If they do not, then you would have to start as a research student.

Choosing Your University – The Most Important Decision

How to Find Your Best Degree Program and Advisor for the MEXT Scholarship book cover

How do you choose the best university? How to Find Your Best Degree Program and Advisor for the MEXT Scholarship is my step-by-step process to search for and evaluated universities and potential advisors in Japan to find the one that will be best for your studies.

You can only choose one university to apply to, so this decision is critical and must come very early in your application process.

I have written another article about how to search for universities in Japan with English language programs in your field of study that should help you figure out which universities are even possible.

Focus on Partner Universities

However, keep in mind that you should select a university that has a partnership with your current university if at all possible. Some Japanese universities will only accept University Recommendation MEXT scholarship applications from graduates of partner universities.

Even if you do find a university that accepts applications from anyone, having a partnership connection helps you stand out over the competition, makes one of the application requirements a little easier, and also makes it easier for the university to accept you, since MEXT encourages them to nominate students from partner universities and requires universities to report their partnership status with applicants’ previous universities.

Another advantage of applying to a partner university is that it may be easier to learn their exact application process. As I mentioned above, not every university makes this clear or public. If there is a direct connection between your current university and the university in Japan, such as a connection between professors or between international offices, then you can use that to ask about the application.

Even if there is no formal partnership agreement between your universities, the existence of informal cooperation is also beneficial. Check with your university’s international office or international planning office to see if they can provide you with a list of all the Japanese universities that your university has partnered or worked with.

Applying to Non-Partner Universities

You cannot control what partnerships your university has in Japan, so you may find yourself in a situation where applying to a partner university is not an option. That doesn’t mean that you should give up! It just means that you’re going to have to work a little harder.

If you do not have the partnership connection, it may be harder to determine which universities will accept non-partner applications. So, even though you can only apply to one university, at the research stage, I suggest you come up with a list of several Japanese universities that you would like to apply to and follow-up to find the application process for each one. (I will cover that below).

If you are interested in a more detailed description about how to research and approach universities, my book How to Find Your Best Degree Program and Advisor for the MEXT Scholarship goes into much more detail on my recommended process for evaluating how suitable a university is for your research topic and determining if a professor is a good fit to be your advisor, plus recommendations and templates for your initial contact email!

Follow the Application Guidelines to the Letter!

As I described above, the competition for this scholarship is incredibly fierce. There could be hundreds of applicants for a mere three scholarship places (or fewer). So do not expect the university to have any patience with incomplete applications, documents that do not meet their requirements, or requests for exceptions to the rules. The universities will be actively looking for ways to shrink the pool of applicants that they have to seriously consider, so do not give them any excuse to discard your application.

I do offer coaching services to review your application to determine if it is complete and make recommendations for corrections/fixes, but this service has a fee. If you are interested, you can find more information at the Coaching Services link at the top-right corner of this page. Be aware though, that this service is first-come, first-served, and my queue fills up quickly.

University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship 2021 Eligibility Criteria

The requirements below are for the University Recommendation MEXT Scholarship. As I detail in my book, How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship, there are differences between the eligibility requirements for University and Embassy Recommendation. I have published another article about the eligibility requirements for the Embassy Recommendation MEXT Scholarship as of the 2021/2022 Application Cycle that you can find at the link above.

These are also the eligibility requirements for the MEXT Scholarship for Research (Graduate) Students. I do not cover the requirements for undergraduates below.

Disclaimer

The eligibility requirements I describe below are the requirements set out by MEXT as of the 2020/2021. However, universities may have their own, higher eligibility requirements, as well. If you find that the university you are applying to specifies higher requirements than what I describe below, you have to meet both sets of requirements. Do not bother trying to argue with the university that MEXT’s standards are lower. That won’t work! MEXT’s requirements may change in future years, as well.

You may also find requirements below that are higher than what the universities require, or completely new. Even if there is some discrepancy, if you do not meet the MEXT requirements, the university cannot recommend you for the scholarship, period.

Minimum GPA

You must have a minimum 2.3 / 3.0 GPA on MEXT’s scale during your most recent degree. I have another article about how to calculate your GPA on MEXT’s scale, so please read that page for more details.

GPA is one of those “secret” requirements and universities might not mention it in the application. There is no official GPA requirement for you to apply to the universities, but universities cannot nominate applicants who do not meet threshold above.

Exception: Programs with no objective grading

If your degree program has no objective grading or marking system (for example, a graduate program entirely by research with no coursework), then you may be eligible if you can provide objective evidence that you are in the top 30% of students in your program. In this case, your letter of recommendation from your university would have to state your order of merit within your graduate program or university as a whole, such as “#1 of 150 students”.

Please note that this exception does not apply if you do have objective grades. If your grades on MEXT’s scale are 2.3 or lower, but you are still in the top 30%, you are unfortunately not eligible.

Nationality

You must have the nationality of a country that has formal relations with Japan (e.g. not Taiwan or North Korea) and must not have Japanese Nationality, including dual nationality. If you currently hold Japanese nationality as a dual national, you must give up your Japanese nationality prior to arriving in Japan.

That is the only requirement to apply, but just like with the GPA requirement, above, there is a “secret” requirement that you must be from one of the Priority Countries for the general category scholarship, as described in the table above.

Age

As of the application for the 2021/2022 scholarship application cycle, applicants would need to have been born on or after April 2, 1987.

Exceptions

There are only two exceptions to the date of birth above

  1. Inability to apply during the ages when you would have been eligible due to the situation in your country, such as compulsory military service or the total suspension of higher education due to war, as approved by MEXT. (Exceptions will never be granted for personal reasons such as family reasons, financial difficulties, health, etc.)
  2. Applicants who are graduates of the Young Leaders Program and applying for a Doctoral-level program that will start within 5 years of the end of the YLP.

Academic Background

For the University Recommendation MEXT Scholarship, MEXT requires only that you meet the admissions requirements established by the university recommending you.

Field of Study

You must be applying within the same field that you studied previously at university or a related field. Your field of study must be available at the university you are applying to.

I have discussed the meaning of a “related field of study” in detail in past articles as well as in my book, How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship, but here is a brief summary:

A “related field” is a field of research that falls within the same discipline as something you majored in previously. If your past and future fields could conceivably be majors in the same faculty, or if one is a subset of another, they are related. For example, international relations and political science are clearly related. The same could be said for media studies and communication, or mechanical engineering and robotics. If you come from a multidisciplinary field, such as area studies, then any of the related fields are fair game.

If your fields are not so obviously related, (for example, if you majored in computer science in undergrad and want to do an MBA in Japan) then you have to sell the connection in your Field of Study and Research Program plan by clearly showing how research in your past field provided you with a natural transition to the future one.

The most common changes I see that work are related to business and computer science, my examples above. I have seen many applicants switch to an MBA and emphasize how they want to study the business applications of the field they studied previously, or switch in/out of computer science by explaining how they will use the computer science knowledge (programming, data science, etc.) to conduct their research in their other field.

Language Ability

For both Japanese and English, you have to meet the language ability requirement at the time of formal enrollment into the degree program, not at the time of application as in the past. (Unless you are applying as a non-degree student, in which case, you would have to meet the requirements at the time of application.) However, if you fail to meet the language ability requirement when you progress to the degree program, you would forfeit the scholarship. So, my guess is that regardless of MEXT’s relaxed timing, universities are still going to want to see that you have the requisite language ability at the time of application, in general. They do not want to lose one of their scholarship recommendees later!

Here are the standards you have to meet for MEXT. You only need to meet the language requirement for the language that your program will be taught in! So, if you are applying for a program taught in English, the Japanese language requirements are irrelevant to you.

Japanese Language Ability Requirement

You must meet one of the following (in addition to meeting the admission requirements for your degree program, of course).

  1. JLPT N2 or higher at the time of starting the degree program
  2. Completed your qualifying degree* in Japanese
  3. Have equivalent or higher ability in Japanese language to a person meeting criteria 1 or 2 above, as determined by the nominating university.

*Your “qualifying degree” is the degree that you earned as a prerequisite to the degree you are applying for. If you are applying for a master’s degree, your qualifying degree would be your bachelor’s degree. If you are applying for a doctoral degree, then your qualifying degree would be your master’s degree.

Note: If you are nominated under criteria 3 for either Japanese or English language ability, then you would have to meet requirement 1 or 2 in order to apply for an extension of your scholarship (from non-regular student to degree-seeking student or from Master’s to Doctoral level).

English Language Ability Requirements

You must meet one of the following (in addition to meeting the admission requirements for your degree program, of course).

  1. Have a formal language proficiency test score in English equivalent or higher to B2 on the CEFR scale (*PDF in Japanese from MEXT’s website. See the English translation below) at the time of starting the degree program.
  2. Completed your qualifying degree* in English
  3. Have equivalent or higher ability in English language to a person meeting criteria 1 or 2 above, as determined by the nominating university.

*Your “qualifying degree” is the degree that you earned as a prerequisite to the degree you are applying for. If you are applying for a master’s degree, your qualifying degree would be your bachelor’s degree. If you are applying for a doctoral degree, then your qualifying degree would be your master’s degree.

CEFR B2 Equivalency Table

Here are the scores that MEXT has determined to be equivalent to the CEFR B2, based on the PDF linked above:

  • Cambridge English (Preliminary, First, Advanced, Proficiency): 160 or higher
  • Eiken (Jun-1 kyu, 1 kyu): 2304 or higher
  • GTEC (Advanced, CBT): 1190 or higher
  • IELTS: 5.5 or higher
  • TEAP: 309 or higher
  • TEAP CBT: 600 or higher
  • TOEFL iBT: 72 or higher

The requirements above are only MEXT’s minimum requirements. Universities may establish higher standards and in that case, you would have to meet the university’s higher requirements.

Health

Must be fit to study in Japan as determined by the nominating university. In general, this means that each university will have a medical form that they require you to have completed. Often, universities will use the same Certificate of Health used in the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship. Of course, you should be sure to fill in the document required by the university you are applying to, but the certificate linked above should be a good indication of what to expect.

Even if you have a pre-existing medical condition, in general you would only be disqualified for medical reasons if your home country doctor was unwilling to sign off that you are fit to study abroad in Japan. If your doctor agrees that you can continue your care or medication regimen in Japan, then there should be no problem.

Ability to Arrive in Japan on Designated Date

You must be able to arrive in Japan during the period specified by the nominating university, no more than 2 weeks before or after the official start of the semester. Failure to arrive by the end of the designated period will be considered voluntary withdrawal from the scholarship. In the event that nominees arrive prior to the designated period, their travel fees will not be paid.

Essentially, you need to follow the arrival dates designated by your university. The “2 weeks” mentioned above is an instruction for the university’s reference as to when they are allowed to set your arrival date. Arriving late will mean that you lose the scholarship. Arriving early is possible, but you would forfeit the travel benefits.

For the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship, you will arrive for the fall semester in Japan, in September or October, depending on your university. The only exception is for some PGP programs that start in the spring semester (April), but this is quite rare.

Visa Requirement

In principle, you must apply for and obtain a “Student” visa at the Japanese diplomatic mission in the country where you hold nationality then arrive in Japan using that visa. Applicants who already hold other residence statuses in Japan, such as “Permanent Resident”, “Long-term Resident”, etc., must give up that status, apply for a “Student” visa, and return to Japan with that visa. After completion of your degree, it is not guaranteed that you would be able to reobtain a “Permanent Resident” or “Long-term Resident” status again, even if previously held.
Applicants who arrive in Japan without a student visa will have their scholarships suspended.

Disqualification Criteria

Anyone meeting any of the criteria below is ineligible to apply for the scholarship:

  1. Active duty military or military-employed civilian at the time of arriving in Japan or at any point during the scholarship award period.
     
  2. Unable to arrive in Japan by the deadline determined by MEXT or the nominating university.
     
  3. Previous recipient of the Japanese Government MEXT Scholarship (including those who withdrew from the scholarship in the past after arriving in Japan). However, applicants who have over 3 full years of education or employment history between the month after the end of the previous scholarship award and the commencement of the new award are eligible to apply. Past recipients of the Japanese Studies MEXT Scholarship who returned to their home universities and graduated after receipt of that scholarship (including those expected to graduate before the start of the new scholarship), past recipients of the Japan-Korea Joint Government Scholarship Program for the Students in Science and Engineering Departments, and past recipients of the Young Leaders’ Program scholarship are eligible to apply. Past receipt of the MEXT Honors Scholarship does not disqualify applicants.
     
  4. Applicants who are simultaneously applying for any other Japanese Government (MEXT) scholarship to begin in fiscal year 2022. (e.g. the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship or applying to another Japanese university for the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship at the same time).
     
  5. Applicants who are already enrolled at a Japanese university with a residence status of “Student” at the time of application or who will enroll in a Japanese university prior to the start of the scholarship award period. However, applicants who are currently enrolled in a Japanese university (or who will enroll in a Japanese university) as fee-paying students and who have definite plans to complete their studies, return to their home countries, and obtain a new student visa before returning to Japan are eligible.
    Essentially, this requirement means that you cannot be enrolled in a Japanese university with the intent to quit if you receive the MEXT Scholarship. The exception applies to students who enrolled in Japanese university (or language programs) and will complete their course of studies/graduate before the start of the scholarship.
     
  6. Applicants who are projected to receive (have been accepted/approved to receive) a scholarship from any other source, including their home country governments, after the commencement of the MEXT scholarship payment period.
     
  7. Applicants who have not yet graduated from their qualifying degree at the time of application and who fail to graduate before the start of the scholarship award period.
    If you have not graduated, you are still eligible to apply and would have to submit a “Certificate of Expected Graduation” instead of a Certificate of Graduation. However, if you do not graduate as expected, you would lose the scholarship.
     
  8. Applicants who have dual nationality, including Japan as one of the nationalities, at the time of application and who fail to renounce their Japanese citizenship prior to the start of the scholarship.
     
  9. Applicants who intend to conduct fieldwork or internships outside of Japan or take a leave of absence during their studies for a long period of time.
    “Long period of time” is undefined, but I would interpret this as meaning any period of time that interferes with coursework during the semester or the MEXT Scholarship payment cycle (one month). Fieldwork outside the country could be possible during vacation periods, for less than a month, but if you fail to sign in at your university each month, you would forfeit the monthly scholarship payment for the months that you do not sign.
     
  10. Applicants who intend to study only as non-degree students and do not plan to advance to the degree program. Applicants who have already obtained a doctoral degree and do not intend to earn another degree (e.g. post-doc research).

Willingness to Participate in Intercultural Interaction

During your studies in Japan, you must be willing to actively participate in interaction events with schools and communities to contribute to the strengthening of relationships between your home country and Japan. After graduation, you must remain in contact with your university, participate in follow-up surveys and studies, and join in activities conducted by the Japanese diplomatic mission in your home country to promote relations with Japan after returning home.

Of course, this is unmeasurable, but stating your willingness/excitement to participate in such activities during the application process where possible would help you application.

How to Apply

As mentioned above, the application guidelines will be different for each university, so you’ll need to check with the university where you will apply. They may have a different process, more forms you need to complete or even ask you to submit forms at different times during the application process.

Ultimately, though, here are the documents that you will need to submit by the end of the application. This is the list of documents that MEXT requires universities to obtain. All documents must be written in English or Japanese or be accompanied by a Japanese translation. For the certificates mentioned below or any documents from your university, etc., if they are not available in English or Japanese, then you would have to submit the original as well as a certified translation into Japanese. (Note: If the original is written in a language other than English of Japanese, only a Japanese translation is acceptable.)

Application Form

I will a separate article that will walk you step-by-step through the 2020/2021 University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship application form (the most recent version of the form available at the time of this writing). You can find my article about how to complete that form at the link above and if you join my mailing list (see the link at the bottom of this article), I will send you a sample version of the filled form for your reference.
You should get the official form from the university that you are applying to.

Photo

You will need to attach a physical photo to the application form or digitally insert one into the form.

If you are attaching a physical photo, it must be printed on photo paper, never regular printer paper. You should attach it with a glue stick – never use a stapler, since a photo with staple holes in it will be rejected and you may have to resend a new one. I also recommend including a second photo inside a protective bag or folded inside a piece of paper to protect it, just in case something happens to damage the original during transit.

The photo should be 4.5 cm high by 3.5 cm wide – don’t worry if it is larger than the physical space for it on the form, just make sure it matches the dimensions – and should be high resolution (no visible pixelation or color distortion), showing you facing directly forward from the chest up, with no hats or unnecessary glasses. (Note: Hair coverings worn for religious reasons are acceptable). If attaching a physical photo, write your name and nationality on the back, in case it falls off and they need to check which application to reattach it to.

Field of Study and Research Program Plan

How to write the field of study and research program plan MEXT scholarship guide ebook

Need help with your Field of Study and Research Program Plan? How to Write a Scholarship-Winning Field of Study and Research Program Plan will walk you through choosing a field, developing a research question, and completing the final report to give you the best chance of success!

I have a separate article about how to complete the Field of Study and Research Program Plan for the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship. If you have purchased my book, How to Write a Scholarship-Winning Field of Study and Research Program Plan, the chapter about formatting your final plan is based on the embassy format, but you can still use if for the University format! Simply move the “Research Goals,” “Previous Research in the Field”, and “Existing Research” to question 2 and move the rest to question 3.

Passport Copy or Government-Issued Identification Record

The purpose of this documentation is to confirm both your citizenship and your personal identifying information, such as your legal name and birthdate.

Submit a copy of your passport, if you have one. The copy of your passport should include the outside cover as well as the page with your photo and identifying information. You do not need to include copies of all pages or copies of pages with visas, entry/departure stamps, etc.

Make sure your photocopy shows the whole page. Ideally, the edges of the passport should be visible in the copy. That will help prove that there is no other information or invalidation outside of the copied area.

If your passport has any incorrect information (e.g. Your name is spelled incorrectly), you should get that corrected officially before submitting the copy, or wait until after your MEXT scholarship to get it corrected.

If you do not have a passport yet, then alternative documents can include a Family Register or Birth Certificate.

Certificate of Grades from last university completed and current university

Your certificate of grades is an official document issued by your university that shows the grades or marks that you have earned in each course during your degree, as well as the credit value of those courses (if applicable) and when you completed them. If you do not have one document that shows all of these items, then you may have to submit multiple official documents (for example, one showing your grades and another showing when you took each course) to meet this requirement.

As I will discuss under “Proof of Outstanding Academic Achievement” below, your transcript must also include or be accompanied by an explanation of the grading system so that the university in Japan can understand the relative quality of your grades and calculate the conversion to MEXT’s 3.0 GPA system, which is a requirement for recommendation.

If you have already graduated from university and are not currently a student, then you would submit your certificate of grades from the university degree program that you graduated from most recently.

If you are currently enrolled in a university, then you must submit the certificate of grades from your current degree program as well as the most recent university degree you have completed, if applicable. For example, if you are currently enrolled in a Master’s degree, you would submit your grades from that program and your Bachelor’s degree. But if you are enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree and it is your first university degree, you need only submit the certificate of grades from that program.

If you transferred universities during the course of your degree and have transcripts from multiple universities showing the courses and grades that count toward your current or most recent degree, you would need to submit a certificate of grades from each of the universities that you attended.

The certificate of grades must be an original document, or a copy certified as being accurate by the issuing university (if you cannot get it certified by your university, certification by a notary would also be acceptable), and it must be in English or Japanese. If your document is in another language, you would need to include the original document and a certified translation.

Certificate of Graduation from last institution attended

A “Certificate of Graduation” is not the same thing as a diploma. (Never send your only original diploma as part of the application! You will not get it back.)

A Certificate of Graduation is a document issued by your university that certifies that you have graduated. This could be a certified copy of your diploma, but it does not have to be. A letter from your registrar that certifies that you have graduated and shows the date of graduation (or of completing all of the requirements) would be equally valid.

In some cases, your Certificate of Grades may show the degree you were awarded and the date of graduation. In that case, your Certificate of Grades could also be considered a “Certificate of Graduation.” If you submit your Certificate of Grades to cover both requirements (Certificate of Grades and Certificate of Graduation), then I recommend you also include a separate sheet with a brief explanation saying that your date of graduation and degree are certified as part of the Certificate of Grades to let the reviewers know to look there.

Special Case: Certificate of Expected Graduation

What if you haven’t graduated yet? This is very common, since many applicants want to start their degrees in Japan immediately after graduating, so they have to start their applications while they are still studying.

In that case, MEXT asks that you provide a “Certificate of Expected Graduation” that shows the date you are expected to graduate and the degree you are expected to earn.

This requirement frequently results in confusion: Universities will often refuse to “certify” that a student will graduate by a specific date. After all, you haven’t completed all of your requirements and they do not want to be liable if you fail to do so. But here’s the solution:

The Certificate of Expected Graduation can be conditional! It is not a problem for your university to write that your graduation is conditional on completing your remaining classes, passing your thesis, etc. Essentially, the Certificate of Expected Graduation is asking the university to certify that “it is not impossible for you to graduate” by the expected date.

If your university protests that they cannot certify your graduation, the explanation above has worked in every case that I am aware of!

Note: In some countries, Certificates of Graduation are issued by a national authority instead of by the university. In that case, a Certificate of Graduation issued by the national authority is acceptable.

Proof of outstanding academic achievement from the last institution attended

In almost all cases, this requirement is met by submitting your certificate of grades along with an explanation of your grading system. For more on what an explanation of grading system is, please refer to the article linked in the previous sentence.

If you do not have any grades, then your Letter of Recommendation, described below, can meet this requirement if it explicitly states that you are in the top 30% of students in your college/graduate school/university, with objective facts to back up that assertion, such as your order of merit.

While the two options above will meet the requirement for well over 99% of applicants, if you have further proof of your outstanding academic performance, you can submit those, as well. Examples would be statements of order of merit, awards for top graduate in your department, etc., awards earned at conferences or competitions, or publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Letter of Recommendation from the Dean or higher at last institution attended

*Please note, the requirements described below apply to the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship, only. The Letter of Recommendation requirements for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship are significantly different, so if you are applying for that scholarship, please refer to my separate articles about that process!

There are several important requirements for your Letter of Recommendation, which I will cover below.

What University Should it Come From?

First of all, your Letter of Recommendation needs to come from your most recent university attended, which is the university where you are currently enrolled as a degree-seeking student or the most recent university you graduated from, if you are not a student. There are no exceptions permitted. It doesn’t matter if your most recent university was in another country, if you are closer to a professor from a past university, if you have been working as a researcher at a university, or if you were a study abroad student in Japan, etc.. It has to be the most recent university where you earned a degree.

Who Should Write It?

You will most often see the requirement that it has to be signed by a Dean or someone higher. Depending on the relationship between your current university and the university you are applying to, you might actually need a letter from your university president, or you might be able to get away with one from a professor. Here is what MEXT requires for your recommendation.

  • If there is a formal exchange or cooperation partnership agreement between your universities: Official recommendation by anyone at your current university, which could include a professor.
  • If there is no formal partnership agreement between your universities, but there is a history of working together, or just a memorandum of understanding: Official recommendation by the President of the university or by a Dean or higher official.
  • If there is no formal partnership agreement or history of working together: You would still need an official recommendation by the President, or Dean or higher, at your current university, and you would also undergo a more rigorous screening at the university where you are applying.

Here’s the thing, though: While those different levels may be necessary for the university to submit your nomination to MEXT, in order to keep things fair to all applicants, most universities will ask for a letter from a Dean or higher, regardless of the relationship. If you are preparing your documents in advance, this is what you should be aiming for. A Vice Dean, Deputy Dean, Assistant Dean, etc. will not meet the requirements, nor will a Department Head. Remember what I said above: This is a highly competitive scholarship and the university will have their pick of applicants who meet all of the requirements, so you should avoid asking for exceptions or special treatment at all costs!

If your university does not use the title “Dean”, then to find the equivalent person, you would need the administrative head of a “faculty”, “school”, or “college”. That person should report directly to the Provost, or head of all academic affairs for the university (unless the Dean is doing double duty as the provost).

How Do You Get the Dean to Sign It?

Let’s get this straight, first: Your letter of recommendation needs to be signed by the Dean. It does not have to (and in most cases should not) be written by the Dean. This is something that trips up applicants all of the time. They think that they need to walk into the Dean’s office – where the Dean does not know them personally – and convince the Dean to write them a letter.

That’s not the right way to go about it. Here’s why:

  1. You should never in your life ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation from scratch! Always give them a draft or, at the very least, a bullet list of your significant achievements that you want included.
  2. You probably should not be going directly to the Dean, either, unless you already know them. Start with your adviser. Show your adviser or a trusted professor the draft, ask their help in editing it, then ask if the adviser will approach the Dean on your behalf.

If you were one of the top students in your field, you should have a good relationship with your adviser, and your adviser should have no trouble talking the Dean into signing the letter.

You can also have your adviser/trusted professor sign the letter and have the dean counter-sign it. That means that you would have signature blocks for both your advisor and the Dean.

What Does it Have to Include?

The letter needs to be addressed to the President of the university you are applying to – make sure to use the title! – be signed by the Dean (with his or her title, as well), and somewhere in the body include the words “I recommend [your name] for the Monbukagakusho Scholarship at [university you are applying to].”

Everything else is just window dressing. It helps to list your most significant academic achievements or activities that indicate that you would do well in an international environment, but in most cases, your letter of recommendation will not have much of an impact on your application evaluation since almost every applicant is going to have a superlative Letter of Recommendation and there is little room for differentiation between them.

Abstract of Thesis

If you have written or will be writing a graduation thesis, you need to include a half-page to full-page abstract (summary) of it with your application. Do not send the entire thesis – nobody has time to read that.

Since you are only sending an abstract, you can write one even if you haven’t finished the thesis itself or gotten it approved. If your original thesis was written in an language other than English or Japanese, you can still write an abstract on your own in English. You would not need to translate it into Japanese!

No Graduation Thesis?

If you have a graduation thesis, you have to submit an abstract of that paper, even if it is off topic from what you plan to apply to study in Japan. This still applies if you graduated years ago and have since written and published academic papers that you consider to be better.

If you do not have a graduation thesis, then you should contact the university for further instructions (or look at their application guidelines from the previous year), but here are a few common alternatives:

  • Abstract/summary of equivalent graduation project
  • Abstract of a published paper or paper presented at a conference
  • Abstract of a term paper (in the class that was closest to what you plan to study in Japan)

Proof of Linguistic Ability

You only need to submit proof of your ability in the language of instruction for your degree in Japan. That proof should meet the requirements I listed in the eligibility section, above.

This is one of those requirements that can hurt you if you aren’t prepared well before the actual guidelines are released. It’s nearly impossible to get an official language proficiency test score on short notice, and it is impossible if that language is Japanese, since the JLPT is only offered twice per year. If you are planning ahead to apply for the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship, make sure that you have your language proficiency test done and score report available before the application period begins. Score reports are good for two years in most cases, so you do not need to worry about preparing too early.

One of the ways to meet the language proficiency requirements is if you completed your previous degree entirely in English or Japanese. In that case, you would need a letter from your university saying so. Otherwise, you would need official language proficiency test scores.

Other Requirements

There will probably be some form of certificate of health required. As I mentioned above, many universities use the Certificate of Health format from the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship, but not all do. I recommend that you wait until the official application guidelines are available from your university before getting this documentation, since it can be costly in some countries. However, be prepared to make a doctor’s appointment and get the certificate in time to submit it by the university’s deadline!

Universities may also have additional requirements, such as their own forms for you to complete or additional tests and certifications, like GRE, GMAT, etc. The only way to find out for sure is to check that university’s website, so make sure that you are doing your research in advance.

When will the application results be out?

Application results for the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship come in two stages: University Selection Results and Official MEXT Results.

University Selection Results

Universities must select the applicants that they are going to accept and nominate to MEXT by the dates below. That means that universities must finish their internal selection procedures, inform applicants of the results and confirm that all applicants are still willing to participate in the scholarship by those dates, in general. The results may be even earlier if the university has not yet asked you to submit all of the documents above and need to ask you to send them after the results are out.

Deadlines for universities to submit nominations to MEXT *Based on the 2020/2021 application cycle.

  • PGP Scholarships (April Start): January 14
  • General Category Scholarships (September/October Start): March 25
  • PGP Scholarships (September/October Start): March 25

Different universities may release their initial results at different times. Do not get discouraged if you hear that results are out at different universities, but not at yours. However, if you do not receive a notification from the university by mid-March that you have been selected and nominated to MEXT for the scholarship and their final decision, then I’m afraid that means you were not successful this year and you should start preparing for the next Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship application process, which will likely begin in April.

Caution: Results Notification

In some cases, I have seen situations where individual faculties at the university each select one candidate and then that candidate is sent forward to a university-wide screening board for final decision about the university’s nominees. If you are informed that you were selected as the faculty’s candidate and that they will then screen your application at the university level, that does not mean that you will ultimately be selected for the scholarship.

Final Selection Results

After universities select their nominees, they are sent to MEXT for final screening. MEXT claims that results will be out by the end of February for PGP applicants arriving in April or the end of June for all applicants arriving in the fall, but it is not uncommon for the results to be late, especially for fall arrivals. So, expect that the results will be a little later than those dates. Those are also the dates when results are released by MEXT to the universities. It may take universities another few days to communicate those results to their applicants. Again, this may take some universities longer than others, so if other applicants have heard their final results and you have not, that might be the cause.

Since universities know in advance how many nominees they can have accepted each year, usually all nominees receive the scholarship in the end, but this is not a guarantee. In 2019, due to budget problems, MEXT ended up cutting down the number of slots at the last minute, so some applicants received the shocking news that they were not accepted. Since then, however, the maximum number of slots was reduced dramatically (maximum of 3 instead of 9 like it was originally in 2019!), so I do not think this should be a risk in the future, but nothing is sure with MEXT, anymore.

Want to Maximize Your Chance to Win the MEXT Scholarship?

I have written three books under the Mastering the MEXT Scholarship series that go into more detail then I can possibly cover in a simple blog article – even one this long! Each of these books cover different aspects of the application in detail and should give you an advantage over most other applicants out there. They are available in ebook or print format. You can also ask your local public or university library to purchase them instead so that you can read them for free! Please see the links below for more details about what each book covers, purchase links, and the details that libraries would need to make the order.

  1. How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship: Information about the scholarship goals, eligibility, and how to create an application strategy to increase your chances.
     
  2. How to Write a Scholarship-Winning Field of Study and Research Program Plan: Everything you need to know about the most important document in the MEXT Scholarship application, from developing and testing a research question through to formatting your plan for submission.
     
  3. How to Find Your Best Degree Program and Advisor for the MEXT Scholarship: How to choose the university and supervisor in Japan that is best for you, along with contact strategies and templates.
     
  4. Special Thanks

    Special thanks to the TranSenz supporters on Patreon, who help keep this site running through their generous contributions, especially to my newest Samurai patron, Wakisho. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your continued support! If this site has helped you in your application process and you want to “pay it forward” to keep the site running to help future applicants, every contribution helps!

    Questions?

    Let me know in the comments below!

16 Comments

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