Are you eligible to apply for the Japanese Government Monbukagakusho (MEXT) Scholarship?
As I write this, MEXT has just released the application guidelines for the 2023 Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship (apply in 2022/scholarship starts in 2023). This article covers everything you need to know about those 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.
These are also the eligibility requirements for the MEXT Scholarship for Research (Graduate) Students. I do not cover the requirements for undergraduates below. If you want to know about the MEXT Scholarship for undergraduate students, I recommend reading the official application guidelines.
A Word of Caution
The eligibility requirements I describe below are the requirements set out by MEXT. However, when you apply to universities for Letters of Acceptance (Note: The article linked here is from the 2021/2022 application cycle. I will update it soon for this year) 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 or additional requirements compared to what I describe below, you must 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 course of your most recent degree, including all grades shown on your transcript at the time of application.
For more information on how to calculate your GPA, I have a separate article dedicated entirely to that process.
You will not find this requirement listed in the official application guidelines provided by MEXT or the embassies (or universities). It is a requirement that MEXT sends to embassies and universities to nominate candidates.
However, frankly speaking, if your converted GPA is even close to that minimum standard, you are going to be facing an uphill battle to get this competitive scholarship!
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 will use one of your nationalities for this application.
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. If you had multiple nationalities, then you must choose the country of your primary nationality (typically the country where you live).
Age/Date of Birth
As of the application for the 2022/2023 scholarship, applicants would need to have been born on or after April 2, 1988.
Exceptions to the Age Requirement
The only exceptions to the date of birth requirement above is if MEXT has determined that you could not apply during the ages when you would have been eligible because of a situation in your country beyond your control, 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!
MEXT will not consider personal circumstances, such as your job, family, health, etc., for an exception.
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 study period of at least three years at a university 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 eligible for a master’s degree at a Japanese graduate school.
In Japan, you need to complete 16 years of study, starting from elementary school, in order to earn a bachelor’s degree, so that is the assumption for criteria 1. (However, if you completed 16 years of study and have not earned a bachelor’s degree because your country’s system requires more years, or because you repeated a year, etc., you would not qualify). For countries that require fewer than 16 years of formal education to earn a bachelor’s degree, refer to criteria 2.
The reference to “standard study period” 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. (You will know if this applies to you!)
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 degree at a university outside Japan that is equivalent to a Master’s Degree or Professional Degree.
- 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 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 a program with a standard study period 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 eligible for a doctoral degree (medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, or pharmaceutical science) at a Japanese graduate school.
Besides the criteria above, you must also review the admissions requirements for the specific program(s) that you want to enroll in and meet all of those requirements. For example, the universities in Japan are likely to require that your previous degree be in the same field (medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, or pharmaceutical science) that you are applying to in Japan.
Field of StudyYou must apply in the same field that you studied previously at university or in 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 another article (and book) all about how to find degree programs taught in English in Japan. The book also goes into detail about how to determine which professor would make the best advisor for your studies and how to contact them.
I have discussed the meaning of a “related field of study” in past articles and in my book, How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship, but here is a 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 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 acceptable. Do not worry about the specific name of the major or graduate school, all that matters is if the contents of the degree program are related.
If there is no obvious relationship between your fields, 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. For example, if you can show that you are researching the same subject matter from a different perspective, that can be successful. I have often seen that approach work for applicants who want to pursue a business degree in Japan after completing a degree in another field during their previous studies. If they can justify that they want to explore the business development opportunities for their previous field of study, that can be considered to be related.
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
The MEXT Scholarship does not permit study of traditional Japanese performance arts, such as Kabuki and Japanese Dance, that require studio training. You could study kabuki, etc., but not take part in a to train performers.
Similarly, the scholarship does not cover programs that require technical training at factories, etc.
Additional Requirements for Medical Degrees
Medical, Dental, and Social Welfare degrees typically require clinical training, but students cannot take part 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, any degree that requires clinical training is 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 complete your research and survive in daily life in Japan.
There are no specific minimum language ability requirements in English or Japanese and you are not required* to submit proof of language ability during the Primary Screening, but language ability will still be an important part of the screening. During the Primary Screening, you will take language proficiency tests in Japanese and English at the embassy, which will be part of your evaluation. (You can find old tests on the official Study in Japan website for studying.)
*Note: During the COVID-19 Pandemic, some embassies cancelled in-person written exams and instead required applicants to submit proof of language ability using test scores, such as TOEFL or JLTP. Be sure to check what the requirements are in your country for your year.
The second time that language proficiency test scores matter is when you apply to universities for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance after passing the Primary Screening. The universities may require that you submit language proficiency test scores (this is particularly true for programs taught in Japanese!), so I recommend you check the websites for the programs that you want to apply to in advance.
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 at the time of application. 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 official 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, as indicated by a doctor on your Medical Certificate.
A pre-existing medical condition will not disqualify you, as long as your doctor says that you are still fit to study in Japan. If your condition is self-managed, or you can manage it under the continuing care of a Japanese doctor, you should be fine. (If you need continuing care, though, that might limit your choices for universities in Japan, as you will need to be close to a doctor that can treat you in English.)
Ability to Arrive in Japan on Designated Date
In the application form, you will specify whether you want to arrive in Japan for the April or September/October term in 2023. Note that this is when you will arrive in Japan, not necessarily when you will start your degree or your studies at your university (you may spend the first semester in an intensive language program). Once you select your month of arrival, you cannot change it later.
- April Arrival: You must leave your country of residence on or after April 1, 2023, and arrive at your university in Japan between April 1-7, 2023.
- September/October Arrival: You must be able to arrive on the dates specified by your accepting university, which should be within a 2-week window surrounding the start of the Fall 2023 Semester there.
If you do not arrive during those dates, you would have to withdraw from the scholarship, unless MEXT determines that your inability to arrive was because of unavoidable circumstances.
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 re-obtain 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.
The comment in the application guidelines about not being able to re-obtain “Permanent Resident” or “Long-Term Resident” status only applies to applicants who already hold those statuses in Japan. It is possible for any MEXT Scholar (including scholars who were previously Permanent Residents or Long-Term Residents) to apply to change their residence status after completing their studies and to stay in Japan after graduation. However, if you apply to change your residence status after graduation, you would have to meet all requirements to change it, so the results cannot be guaranteed.
Note that if you change your residence status before completing your scholarship/studies, you would instantly be disqualified and lose the scholarship, as discussed in the “Disqualification Criteria” below.
Disqualification Criteria (“Non-eligibility” in the MEXT Guidelines)
Anyone meeting any of the criteria below is ineligible to apply for the scholarship. If a scholar is found to meet any of these criteria during their studies, they would be forced to withdraw from the scholarship immediately.
- 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 accepting 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 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, even if they do not have 3 years of education/employment from the end of the previous scholarship period. Past receipt of the MEXT Honors Scholarship for Privately-Financed International Students does not disqualify applicants.
Note that if you are a past MEXT scholarship recipient and over three years have passed since your last award, but you were not employed or enrolled in a degree for at least three full years during that time, you would not be eligible.
- Applicants who are simultaneously applying for any other Japanese Government (MEXT) scholarship, including students who applied for a scholarship to begin in Fiscal Year 2022 (April 2022-March 2023) and have not yet been told that their applications were rejected and students applying for other programs that will begin payment in Fiscal Year 2023.
This means that applicants who applied for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship or the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship in 2020 who passed the Primary Screening and are waiting on the final confirmation of results from MEXT are not eligible to apply this year. You cannot even apply as insurance in case your application is rejected in the end.
- 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 you cannot be enrolled in a Japanese university, language school, etc., intending 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. This would have to be shown in a Certificate of Expected Graduation, etc.
- Applicants who are planning to receive scholarship money from an organization other than MEXT (including a government organization of the applicant’s country) besides the scholarship money provided by MEXT during the MEXT scholarship award period.
*Note that this does not apply to specific 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 do not 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, you will also be required to submit your final Certificate of Graduation prior to starting your studies in Japan to prove that you graduated as expected. If you do not graduate as expected, you would lose the scholarship.
- Applicants who have multiple nationalities that include Japan, at the time of application and who do not renounce their Japanese citizenship prior to the start of the scholarship.
Note: If you have multiple nationalities, but none of them are Japanese, then you are still eligible.
- Applicants who change their residence status in Japan to a status other than “Student” after arriving in Japan during the scholarship award period.
- Applicants who at the time of application 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 that exceeds one month or interferes with coursework during the semester. MEXT Scholars are required to sign in once each month at their universities and show that they still have “Student” residence status. If you do not sign in on the designated date, you lose your stipend for the month in question and, if you miss three months in a row, you lose the scholarship entirely. Fieldwork outside the country could be possible during vacation periods, for less than a month.
- Applicants who have already obtained a doctoral degree and are applying as a non-degree student.
Item 4, above, means that applicants for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship for 2022 or the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship for 2022 who are still waiting on the final confirmation from MEXT cannot apply for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship for 2023. However, if you applied for either of those application processes and have already been told that your application was rejected, you may apply. It is only applicants who are still in the application process who are ineligible. (Practically speaking, applicants who have not received notification of rejection by this point 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 take part in interaction events with local 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, take part 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 take part 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 cause you to lose eligibility, be disqualified from the scholarship, or lose the scholarship in progress (including losing your paid ticket back to your home country). Students who have already started receiving the scholarship may be asked to pay back all or part of the stipend received. If any of the items below are in question, then MEXT may suspend payment of your stipend until the issue is resolved.
- You are determined to have made a false statement on your application
- You violate any article of your 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 under 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, 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” after arrival
- You receive another scholarship (excluding those specified for research expenditures)
- You proceed to a more advanced level of education without receiving approval for an extension of the period of the scholarship.
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 could not continue your studies. As soon as it was determined that you could not graduate on time, you would give up the scholarship, including your ticket home. Really, though, all of these situations are perfectly avoidable!
Item 2 above mentions the “articles of your pledge to the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The Pledge Form is something that you sign after arrival in Japan, and the 2023 version is not yet available, but you can find the 2022 version on MEXT’s website. Here is a summary of the items you must pledge:
- To obey the rules set by the university or the enrolling institution and devote yourself to your study and research in order to accomplish the aims of the Scholarship.
Obeying the rules set by the university is clear and understandable, but part of the meaning of “devote yourself to your study and research” means that you should not engage in any other activities, including part-time work.
- To not violate Japanese laws and regulations.
Sounds obvious, but I actually had a MEXT Scholar at my past university get arrested and lose his scholarship for stealing, including falsifying records of tutoring sessions he offered through the university to collect additional pay
- To not bring the MEXT Scholarship program into disrepute.
The Japanese statement here actually goes further and says that you will do nothing to cause distrust in the acceptance of international students by Japanese universities. In the COVID-19 pandemic era, this could mean strictly following all quarantine, mask-wearing, and other rules.
- To accept responsibility for any expenses incurred beyond those covered by the Scholarship awarded by MEXT.
- To accept responsibility for payment of any debts you might incur in Japan.
- To not receive other scholarships (excluding those specified as being for research expenditures.).
- To acknowledge that the scholarship awards will be tenable during the period stated in the notice of selection.
This item means that you understand that the scholarship period cannot be deferred or changed. (It is possible to apply for an extension later, such as when progressing from research student status to a degree program or from a Master’s degree to a PhD, but that would entail an additional scholarship award for that program.)
- To acknowledge that information (name, gender, date of birth, nationality, accepting university/graduate school/undergraduate school, field of specialty, period of enrolment, career path after completion of scholarship, contact information [address, telephone number, e-mail address]) regarding the MEXT Scholarship recipient may be shared with other relevant government organizations for the purpose of utilization for overseas students programs implemented by the Japanese Government (support during the period of overseas study, follow-up support, improvement of the overseas student system).
In addition, to acknowledge that information regarding the recipient other than date of birth and contact information may be made public in materials produced by the Japanese Government as publicity information for promoting the acceptance of overseas students in order to introduce the activities of recipients in countries around the world after their study in Japan.
End of the Eligibility Criteria
You can find the original eligibility requirements for 2023 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 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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