Are you eligible to apply for the Japanese Government Monbukagakusho (MEXT) Scholarship?
As I write this, the application guidelines for the 2021 Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship (apply in 2020/scholarship starts in 2021) have just been released. Here is a complete explanation of the most recent requirements.
Embassy Recommendation MEXT Scholarship Eligibility Requirements: Research Students
The requirements below are for the Embassy Recommended 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 University Recommendation MEXT Scholarship when those guidelines came out for 2019 and will continue to update each article each year.
These are also the eligibility requirements for the MEXT Scholarship for Research (Graduate) Students. I do not cover the requirements for undergraduates below.
The eligibility requirements I describe below are the requirements set out by MEXT. However, when you apply to universities for Letters of Acceptance after passing the primary screening, the 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!
You may also find additional requirements unique to your country. For example, there may be a GPA requirement established in your country’s GPA system, a limitation on fields of study, or other rules. Be sure to check the application guidelines on the homepage of the Japanese Embassy for your country!
You must have a minimum 2.3 / 3.0 GPA on MEXT’s scale
over the most recent two years of your degree-seeking studies. Updated: It appears that MEXT may have stopped considering only the last two years and may now consider your GPA over the course of your full degree. This information comes from the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship, so I do not know if it also applies to the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship, but it would be a safe idea to calculate your GPA using both systems, just to be sure.
For more information on how to correctly calculate your GPA, refer to my previous article.
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.
If you have dual nationality (or more) but do not have Japanese nationality as one of them, then you can ignore the statements about dual nationality throughout the application guidelines.
You must apply for the scholarship via the Japanese embassy in the country where you have nationality, including being present at the embassy in person at certain stages of the application.
As of the application for the 2020 scholarship, applicants would need to have been born on or after April 2, 1986.
The only exceptions to the date of birth above is if MEXT has determined that you were unable 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, etc.
I have never heard of any country qualifying for this exception, but if you find out that yours has been, please let me know in the comments below!
For the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship, you must meet the requirements below, based on the level of degree you are applying for:
Master’s Degree or equivalent (including Master’s level research student)
- Completed 16 years of school education in a country outside of Japan.
- Completed an undergraduate program with a standard length of study of at least three years in a country outside of Japan and received a degree equivalent to a bachelor’s degree.
- Not meet either of the requirements above but be considered eligible for a master’s degree at a Japanese graduate school.
The reference to “standard length of study” in criteria 2, above, refers to what the university says should be the length of study. If you graduated early because of high ability and credit loading, that would not make you ineligible. For example, graduating from a 3-year program in 2.5 years still means that you completed a 3-year program.
Doctoral Degree (Non-Medical Practitioner Degrees*)
This is the set of criteria that apply to almost all doctoral degrees.
*There are separate criteria for doctoral degrees in medicine, dentistry, veterinary sciences, and certain pharmaceutical faculties, as listed below.
- Earned a master’s degree or master’s level professional degree at a university outside Japan.
- Earned a bachelor’s degree, have at least two years of experience in research at a university or research center following that degree, and be considered to have academic competency equal to a person with a master’s degree, as recognized by a Japanese graduate school
- Not meet either of the requirements above but be considered eligible for a doctoral degree at a Japanese graduate school.
Doctoral Degree (Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Sciences, and Certain Pharmaceutical Fields)
- Completed 18 years of school education in countries other than Japan.
- Completed an program with a standard length of study of at least five years in a country outside of Japan and received a degree equivalent to a bachelor’s degree.
- Completed 16 years of school education in countries other than Japan, have at least two years of experience in research at a university or research center following that degree, and be considered to have academic competency equal to university graduates in the same field, as recognized by a Japanese graduate school
- Not meet any of the requirements above but be considered eligible for a doctoral degree at a Japanese graduate school.
Field of StudyYou 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 and taught there in a language that you are competent in (English or Japanese).
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. Do not worry about the specific name of the major or graduate school, all that matters if if the contents of the degree program are related.
If your fields are not so obviously related, then you have to establish and prove 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.
Field of Study Limitations by Country
MEXT allows the embassy in each country, in consultation with the local government, to limit the fields of study in which you can apply. Please check the website of the Japanese Embassy in your country to see if this applies to you.
Prohibition of Technical/Artistic Training Fields
Traditional Japanese performance arts, such as Kabuki and Japanese Dance that require studio training are not permitted under this scholarship. You would be able to study kabuki, etc., but not participate in a program that was designed to train performers.
Similarly, degrees that require technical training at factories, etc., are not covered by this scholarship.
Additional Requirements for Medical Degrees
Medical, Dental, and Social Welfare degrees typically require clinical training, but students will not be able to participate in such training until obtaining the required licenses from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. These licenses must, of course, be obtained via testing in Japanese, so unless you are already highly fluent in Japanese, these degrees are essentially going to be impossible.
MEXT requires that applicants have a strong interest in dedicating themselves to studying the Japanese language and deepening their understanding of Japan, but does not have any set minimum language requirements, assuming that you are planning to study in a degree program taught in English.
MEXT also requires that you have the requisite language ability to be able to complete your research and survive in daily life in Japan. In general, it would be safe to assume that you cannot apply for a program taught in Japanese if you do not have at least N2-level Japanese language ability. To apply for a program taught in English, assume that you should have at least B2 level English ability on the CEFR scale.
CEFR B2 Equivalency Table
Here are the scores that MEXT has determined to be equivalent to the CEFR B2:
- Cambridge English (Preliminary, First, Advanced, Proficiency): 160 or higher
- Eiken (Jun-1 kyu, 1 kyu): Any passing score
- 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
- TOEIC L&R/TOEIC S&W: 1560
The N2/B2 suggestions above are not officially established as minimum requirements. You may find that the requirements are higher or lower depending on the program that you want to apply to.
You must have no physical or mental health obstacles to studying in Japan.
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 on the Medical Certificate that you submit during the application process. 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 September or October 2021 within the period set by the university where you are placed, generally within a 2-week window surrounding the start of the fall semester there.
In previous years, it was also possible to arrive in April to start with the spring term, but because of the delays to the application process in 2020 due to COVID-19, students in this application cycle may only arrive for the 2021 Fall Semester (September or October, depending on your university).
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.
Anyone meeting any of the criteria below is ineligible to apply for the scholarship:
- Active duty military or military-employed civilian at the time of arriving in Japan or at any point during the scholarship award period.
- Unable to arrive in Japan by the deadline determined by MEXT or the nominating university.
- 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 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 for Privately-Financed International Students does not disqualify applicants.
- Applicants who are simultaneously applying for any other Japanese Government (MEXT) scholarship, including students who applied for a scholarship to begin in 2020 and have not yet received the results of that application and students applying for other programs that will begin payment in 2021.
- Applicants who are already enrolled at a Japanese university or any other institution (including Japanese language schools in Japan) with a residence status of “Student” at the time of application or who will enroll in a Japanese university or any other institution prior to the start of the scholarship award period. However, applicants who are currently enrolled in a Japanese university/institution (or who will enroll in a Japanese university/institution) 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, language school, etc., 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.
- Applicants who are planning to receive scholarship money from an organization other than MEXT (including a government organization of the applicant’s country) in addition to the scholarship money provided by MEXT during the same award period.
*Note that this does not apply to research grants, etc., only to scholarships that cover the same areas as the MEXT scholarship, such as travel, living, or tuition expenses.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- Applicants who have already obtained a doctoral degree and are applying as a non-degree student.
Item 4, above, means that applicants for the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship for 2020 who are still waiting on the final confirmation from MEXT cannot apply for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship for 2021. However, if you applied for the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship for 2020 and were told that you were not nominated for the scholarship, you are allowed to apply. It is only applicants who have been nominated to MEXT by universities in Japan who are disqualified. (Practically speaking, applicants who were recommended to MEXT for the scholarship by a Japanese university should receive the scholarship without fail, so there is no need to apply in that case.)
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.
Scholarship Revocation Criteria
Any of the following, if discovered during your application or during your scholarship award period, will result in you losing eligibility, being disqualified from the scholarship, or losing the scholarship in progress (including losing your paid ticket back to your home country). Students who have already started the scholarship may be asked to pay back all or part of the stipend received.
- You are determined to have made a false statement on his/her application
- You violate any article of his/her pledge to the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
- You violate any Japanese law and are sentenced and imprisoned for an indefinite period or for a period exceeding 1 year
- You are suspended from your university or preparatory educational institution or receive other punishment, or are removed from enrollment; as a disciplinary action in accordance with school regulations of the accepting institution
- It has been determined that it will be impossible for you to complete the course within the standard period of study because of poor academic grades or suspension or absence from the university or preparatory educational institution
- You come to Japan without newly acquiring a “Student” residence status, or change your residence status to one other than “Student”
- You receive another scholarship (excluding those specified for research expenditures)
Of the criteria above, 5 is really the only one that most applicants are at any risk of encountering. Essentially, if you were to fail a class and, because of that, not be able to earn the credits you need in time to graduate, you would not be able to continue your studies. As soon as it was determined that you could not graduate on time, you would forfeit the scholarship, including your ticket home. Really, though, all of these situations are perfectly avoidable!
End of the Eligibility Criteria
You can find the original eligibility requirements for 2021 in English and Japanese in the application guidelines on the Study in Japan website, below
Want to know more?
My book, How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship describes the scholarship in detail, including the the eligibility criteria, purpose and coverage, how to develop a successful applicant mindset, and how to craft your application strategy for the greatest chance of success!
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