Congratulations on Passing the Embassy’s Primary Screening!If you are reading this article, I assume you have passed the primary screening (or are preparing to pass in the near future). That’s a tremendous step! The vast majority of applicants do not make it that far.
In fact, almost all applicants who pass the Primary Screening and obtain at least one Letter of Provisional Acceptance (LoPA) from one university in Japan, end up receiving the MEXT Scholarship. The good news is that the screening to get a LoPA is significantly less competitive than the Embassy’s Primary Screening and, as long as you avoid the major causes for rejection that I discuss below, you should have no problems at this stage.
If you haven’t passed the Primary Screening yet, you can find my guides to applying for the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship, the Embassy Interview, and identifying professors and universities in Japan on the MEXT Scholarship Information Page!
Note: The only time I have heard of applicants being rejected for the scholarship after passing the Primary Screening and obtaining a LoPA was in the 2019/2020 application cycle, when MEXT had a budget crunch and had to reduce the number of scholarships after the primary screening was already in progress or over in some countries. I do not expect that situation to happen again.
So, what do you need to know about getting that letter of acceptance? Let’s get started.
Note: This Article is About the Application Process in 2021
If you are applying in 2021 for the MEXT Scholarship to begin in 2022, then this article is for you. If you are reading in a future year, be aware that there could be changes to some of the processes and deadlines that I discuss below, but the general idea should remain the same!
Three Ways to FAIL to Get a Letter of Provisional Acceptance
Let’s get this out of the way first. There are three, avoidable ways to get rejected by a university. Almost every LoPA rejection I have seen was for one of these causes.
- Missing the Deadline: As of the 2021/2022 Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application Cycle (which occurs in 2021), the deadline to apply to universities for an LoPA is Friday, August 27, 2021 (Japan time). If you do not have your application completely submitted by that time, you’re out. Be aware of time differences and don’t wait until the last minute. An application that hits the Japanese university’s inbox at 1:00 am on August 28 is not going to be accepted, even if it was still August 27 where you are.
You also want to avoid the possibility that your email isn’t delivered at all because it is too large or the university’s inbox is full. Submit it as early as you can!
- Not Having the Language Ability: For some reason, every year I hear about applicants applying to programs that are taught only in Japanese who have no Japanese language ability. Of course, they are all rejected. You need to have the requisite language ability as of the time you apply for the LoPA or you don’t have a chance. MEXT does offer a 1-semester intensive Japanese language program on arrival for Scholarship recipients, but this is not designed to teach you academic Japanese or give you enough ability to study in the language. It is designed for surviving day-to-day life. So, do not think that you can apply to a Japanese-taught program and brush up your language skills later.
This is an easily avoidable problem if you followed my advice in my article about how to find universities and professors in Japan.
- Applying to a University Where No Professor Can Supervise Your Research: This was probably the single-most common reason for rejections at my former university. The rejection letters would say, “Great student, great research plan, but we don’t have anyone doing research in that field that can supervise you.”
This is mostly avoidable if you follow the advice in the article I listed above and my book, How to Find Your Best Degree Program and Advisor for the MEXT Scholarship. The only part that is beyond your control is retirements and personnel changes. That’s one of the strongest arguments for trying to get in touch with prospective professors in advance.
If you can avoid those three pitfalls, you should have no problems securing two Letters of Provisional Acceptance. Here is the process you need to follow to make sure you get everything done.
Choosing Your Universities
By this point, you should already have selected up to three universities and professors that you want to apply to. If not, I have another guide to help you locate universities and professors in your field of study.
If you have already been in contact with the professors for networking, that is to your advantage, but even if you have tried to contact the professors and gotten no response, do not let that hold you back. Many universities will not respond at all until after you have passed the Primary Screening – it’s nothing personal. In fact, it might just be university policy!
Changing the Universities on your Placement Preference Form
If you have a list of universities and professors but want to change it from the information you entered on the Placement Preference Form, that should still be possible. This might be the case if you found a better university/professor after submitting your Placement Preference Form, or if the universities on your list reject your application and you need an alternative.
To find out for sure about changing the universities on your list, you should contact the Japanese embassy or consulate where you applied for more details on their policies. Usually, you will have to submit the Placement Preference Form again after acquiring the Letters of Provisional Acceptance and, at that time, you will have to make sure that the universities on that list are all universities that have offered you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance (or are still processing your request, but have not rejected your request outright). So, most applicants have to change the list on their form.
Applying to Universities for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance
After you have passed the primary screening and received your documents back, as well as the Passing Certificate of the Primary Screening from the Japanese Embassy or Consulate, you should contact two universities in Japan that you want to apply to immediately!
The deadline to contact universities to request a Letter of Provisional Acceptance for the 2021/2022 scholarship application cycle is Friday, August 27, 2021 Japan Time. MEXT has instructed all universities in Japan that they are to refuse any applicant that contacts them on or after August 28. Keep in mind that Japan is ahead of most countries in terms of time zones. Do not wait until the last day! An emailed application sent on the 27th in your time zone that arrives after midnight in Japan will not be accepted.
If you are sending your application by email, that message is likely to have several large attachments, so there is a chance that your application email might not be delivered. It could look like spam, be filtered because it is too large, or it could be rejected because the recipient’s email inbox is too full to accept it. If that happens, you might never know that your application didn’t arrive. When applying by email, I recommend sending two emails: The first one with no attachments that states your intent to apply and informs the university/professor that you will send a follow-up email immediately with the attachments, and the second one with the actual application materials attached. That way, even if the attachment email doesn’t get through for some reason, the first message should arrive and they will know that you have tried to apply.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Letter of Provisional Acceptance?
August 27, 2021 is your deadline to contact the universities. It is not the deadline for universities to issue the Letter of Provisional Acceptance. MEXT specifically says that applicants must not urge universities to issue letters quickly.
MEXT has instructed universities to reply to applicants with the final results within approximately one month of receiving the request. This is not an immediate process and you should not expect instant results. Make sure you submit your application to the university and give them enough time (at least a month) to process it, make their decision, and issue the letter.
Do not start insistently contacting the university if they don’t send you a letter right away. That is not going to get you a positive response. However, if a month has passed since you contacted the university and you have not heard back from them, or if your deadline to submit the Letter of Provisional Acceptance to your embassy/consulate is approaching, then it is OK to contact them and politely ask about the status.
Keep in mind that it might take a few days before universities can get to your email. Universities will also be extremely busy processing applications right around the deadline, so expect delays in replies at that time, too. In some cases, I have also heard of universities that do not acknowledge receipt of your application and do not send any reply until they have made their final decision.
Submitting Letters of Provisional Acceptance to Your Embassy/Consulate
Each embassy or consulate will set the deadline for you to submit your Letters of Acceptance and final Placement Preference Form, so please refer to the embassy or consulate where you applied for their submission deadlines.
How Many Universities to Contact
According to the application guidelines, you may contact a maximum of two universities at one time to request a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. This is a change from the past, when you were allowed to have three or more Letters of Acceptance, so if you see any articles (including on this site) saying that three or four letters is OK, it’s old!
Even though you will likely have three universities in your Placement Preference Form, you can still only contact two at one time. (In past years, it was three, but this changed in 2020!) If one of the two universities you contact rejects your application and it is still before the deadline, then you can contact an alternate, but you should never have more than two active applications at any time and you should not obtain more than two Letters of Provisional Acceptance.
Applying for a Letter of Acceptance: How to Apply
MEXT’s instructions say to contact the division of international student affairs at the university where you intend to apply, first. However, I recommend that your first step should be to check the university’s website to see if they have instructions posted for Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship applicants. The best way I have found to do this is to search Google for your university name and the words “Embassy MEXT”. For example “University of Tokyo Embassy MEXT.”
You may find that the universities do ask you to contact a faculty member as part of your application. In that case follow the university’s instructions.
I tried this researching the application process at 7 different universities using the Google method above and in almost every case, the top result was the page with the instructions on how to apply for a letter of acceptance.
Despite MEXT’s instructions that applicants should contact the international offices at their target universities, you can see from the list below that the actual practice can vary significantly from university to university.
Just for reference, the universities I tried and their results were as follows:
- University of Tokyo: Contact the administrative office of the graduate school where you want to enroll (not your prospective advisor).
- Tohoku University: Contact the instructor directly. If you cannot find their contact information, then contact the administrative office of their graduate school.
- Kyoto University: Contact the Admissions Assistance Office to apply for permission to contact the professor and, once approved, contact the professor directly.
- Osaka University: Recommended to contact the professor in advance to inquire about possibility of acceptance, but the official application should be made by emailing the required documents to the International Student Affairs Division.
- Waseda University: Complete their online form and upload the documents directly
- Keio University: Complete their online form and upload the documents directly
*Note: Apparently, their online application includes a question about whether or not you have contacted your desired advisor for informal acceptance, and if you have not, they will not issue the Letter of Provisional Acceptance.
- Ritsumeikan University: Submit application to the International Center
If the university does not offer specific instructions on their website, your embassy or consulate should have a list of staff members responsible for accepting MEXT scholarship applications at various Japanese universities. If you already know which universities you want to contact (see my article on how to identify the best Japanese universities and professors for your field of study, then the embassy staff may be able to help you.
Applying for a Letter of Acceptance: What to Send
If you found the website with the Letter of Acceptance application procedures for your university, you should have seen a list of required documents there. Follow those guidelines instead of the instructions below, as they may contain additional requirements that you do not want to miss. The information I have provided below is from the MEXT guidelines, so it is more general.
You will be sending all of your application documents by email attachment to the university or uploading them directly, depending on the instructions. MEXT also says that you can send the documents by post, if you have trouble submitting them electronically, but in that case, make sure that you contact the university first and communicate with them about your submission plan. You will also have to submit your application even earlier in this case, since the mailed documents would need to arrive at the university before the deadline.
As mentioned above, when sending your documents by email, I recommend that you do not attach them all in your first message. Your application document scans may have a very large file size and many university email accounts in Japan have size limits or attachment size limits. If your attachments exceed the limit, your mail will not be delivered. So, you want to contact the university first to let them know to expect your application. A text-only email should not have any problems with size limit filters!
Before sending your documents, you should reach out to the office or professor you have identified, let them know that you plan to apply and that you will send your application documents in a subsequent email. You do not need to wait for a reply to your first message.
I recommend that you scan all of your documents together in a single pdf file. This is easy enough to do if you have a scanner available and you can even scan documents as a pdf from a smartphone using the free Adobe Scan app. There is no excuse for sending your documents as individual jpeg files for each page. That makes it very difficult for the university to process your application and will put them in a bad mood before they even begin to review the contents of your file. Don’t do it!
In order to request a Letter of Acceptance from a university, you are required to send the university the following documents. These should be the documents that you submitted to the embassy and had returned to you after the primary screening and should be stamped by the embassy. You cannot replace the contents of any of these forms between submitting them to the embassy and sending them to universities.
- Application Form
- Field of Study and Research Program Plan
- Certified grade transcript for each academic year
- Graduation certificate or degree certificate of the last university attended
- Recommendation letter from the president/dean or the advisor of the last university attended or the university currently attending
- Abstracts of theses (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Certificate of language proficiency (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Recommendation letter from the present employer (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Photograph(s) showing applicant’s own works of art or a digitally recorded media of musical performance (only if submitted to the diplomatic mission)
- Copy of a passing Certificate of the First Screening issued by the diplomatic mission
Notice that the Placement Preference Form and Medical Certificate are not on that list! Per the application guidelines, you are not to send those documents to the universities. Furthermore, universities have been instructed that they cannot request those documents from you.
If a university requests that you send either of those documents, politely tell them that your instructions from MEXT were that you are not allowed to submit them to universities. You can send them a link to the application guidelines in Japanese saying so as well. Here is that link:
The university may also ask you to submit additional documentation. As long as it is not the Placement Preference Form or Medical Certificate, then you are required to submit it. That includes submitting language proficiency certificates, other test scores, etc., regardless of whether you had previously submitted them to the embassy or consulate.
Things to Check in Your Letter of Provisional Acceptance
There are a few things you will want to pay particular attention to in your Letter of Provisional Acceptance. The first is your date of arrival. In the Application Form, you had a chance to say whether you prefer to arrive in the April or September/October semester. When the university issues your Letter of Provisional Acceptance, it will include their decision on when you should arrive. In principle, it is not possible to change that date from what is written in the Letter of Provisional Acceptance, so make sure the date in that letter works for you.
The second thing to check is your status. In your application form, you had the opportunity to fill in whether you wanted to arrive as a research student or a degree-seeking student (in the master’s, doctoral, or professional program).
In order for the university to issue you a letter of acceptance as a degree-seeking student, you would have had to have passed their entrance examination prior to them issuing the letter. Unless the university considers a screening of your application documents to be a sufficient entrance exam, the chances are high that you would not have passed it yet. In that case, the university would issue you a letter of an acceptance as a research student.
This can change!
The university will have 2 opportunities later to “upgrade” you to a degree-seeking student before your arrival:
- During the placement phase: After you submit your Letters of Acceptance and final Placement Preference Form to the Embassy, MEXT will conduct a secondary screening of your application. After that secondary screening, MEXT will contact the universities on your Placement Preference Form one-by-one to ask them to accept you. If you have passed the university’s entrance exam in the meantime, then when the university replies to MEXT to confirm that they will accept you, they can change your category at that time to degree-seeking student.
- Upon arrival in Japan: If the university agrees to accept your placement as a research student, but you then pass their entrance exam prior to arriving in Japan, then the university can send a notice of change of status and change of scholarship payment period to MEXT and you would be able to start as a degree-seeking student immediately on arrival in Japan.
If you do end up arriving in Japan and starting as a research student, there is no problem with that course of action, either. You will have the opportunity to take the entrance exam while in Japan and apply for an extension of your scholarship to cover the full degree program. Unless you are in a hurry to graduate for a particular reason, I recommend starting as a research student as possible, as it will give you an extra semester (or more) to get used to studying in Japan and to start taking courses and starting your research.
Japanese Language Preparatory Education
The final thing to check is whether or not the university plans to assign you to the Japanese language program. In general, they will send you to that program if you are studying in English and need to learn some basic Japanese to survive daily life. If your Japanese is already good enough that you can study for a degree in Japanese, you will most likely not be sent to the Japanese language program.
If you are starting in the Japanese language preparatory education program, you will be a research student (non-degree student) for the duration of that program, even if you applied to start directly with the degree program.
I recommend that you make a copy of each of your Letters of Provisional Acceptance prior to submitting them, so that you can refer back to the contents later.
Submitting Your Letters of Provisional Acceptance and Placement Preference Form to the Embassy
MEXT requires that you turn in every Letter of Provisional Acceptance that you receive to the Embassy and that you list those universities in your placement preference form. It used to not be mandatory, so you might see comments from past students that they applied for more Letters than they turned in at the end. That is no longer allowed. Submitting fewer letters would constitute lying on your application and could result in your being rejected.
Each embassy or consulate controls its own deadline for when you should submit Letters of Provisional Acceptance, so be sure to consult with them. MEXT has asked universities to return letters of acceptance within one month of the application, so the embassies’ deadlines should not be earlier than that, but there are always miscommunications between the two. There is no substitute for checking directly on your own!
*In the past, MEXT required universities to produce Letters of Acceptance within a month. This is no longer a requirement, but your local Embassy might think that it is and set their deadline accordingly. If your embassy has given you a deadline, it is not rude to provide that information to the university, provided you are not being rude or demanding when you address them.
When you submit your Letters of Provisional Acceptance, you will also likely have to submit an updated Placement Preference Form. You are not allowed to list universities on your final Placement Preference Form that refused to issue you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. You are, however, allowed to list universities that have not yet replied to you as well as those that have issued you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance (even if the hardcopy of that document has not yet arrived). You should also be able to re-order your university preferences at this point, but that is also something you should confirm with the embassy.
Since 2020, it is now mandatory to list all universities that have issued you a Letter of Provisional Acceptance. The old tactic of acquiring emergency back-up Letters of Acceptance but only submitting the one letter from your first-choice school is no longer allowed.
Since you are only allowed to acquire two Letters of Provisional Acceptance, but can submit up to three university names on your Placement Preference Form, you can include the names of universities that you didn’t apply to for Letters of Provisional Acceptance. (If every university you applied to rejected your application and you have no letters, you can still fill in the names of three universities, as long as they are not ones that rejected you. Even without a Letter of Provisional Acceptance, MEXT will try to place you at one of them.)
Secondary Screening and University Placement
Once you have submitted the Letters of Provisional Acceptance and the final Placement Preference Form, the application process is essentially over for you. All you have left to do is wait for your placement assignment, sometime between November to February.
Prior to 2019, I had never heard of an applicant getting rejected for the scholarship after passing the Primary Screening and submitting at least one Letter of Provisional Acceptance. However, in 2019, it did happen to several people that I heard from. In that year, it seems that MEXT reduced the number of places available to each country during the Primary Screening. Some countries seemed to have gotten the information in time and reduced the number of students who passed that screening, but others did not, so the applicants were eliminated during the Secondary Screening to get down to the required number. In this case, the applicants heard back after MEXT’s Secondary Screening process and before the University Placement Process, so they got their replies much earlier than the successful applicants.
Once thing that all of the applicants I heard from had in common was that they had all left the Japanese Language Proficiency Test blank during the Primary Screening!
2019 was the first, and so far only, time I have heard of this happening. I do not anticipate it happening again, but I can no longer be sure.
It will take a long time to the embassies to confirm that you have passed the Secondary Screening and to announce your university placement, but do not let that bother you. That is just normal, slow bureaucracy, not a reflection on your application. For the 2021/2022 application cycle, the final results and placement information is expected in January – February 2022.
In some cases, you may end up hearing from the universities even before the embassy gives you the final approval. If you hear from your professor or housing office at one of the universities on your list, you can consider that an unofficial confirmation.
Once you have your final confirmation, you should reach out to the other university that issued you a letter of provisional acceptance to let them know that you were placed in another university and thank them for their support. You never know when you might end up interacting with them after arriving in Japan!
For more about what to expect from the secondary screening and placement, I have another article entirely about that process.
Let me know in the comments below!
Special thanks to the TranSenz supporters on Patreon, who help keep this site running through their generous contributions, especially to Daimyo Supporters Flower and Isaac C. 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!