Choosing a university to apply for the University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship is a much more critical step than it is in the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship, because you only get to choose one. As we covered in the MEXT scholarship eligibility criteria article, applying to more than one university will result in instant disqualification.
So, how do you select your university?
Ideally, you’ll apply to the university that is best positioned to support your research – that should always be your top priority. But there are a few other considerations to keep in mind to give yourself the best shot of earning the scholarship:
- English-taught degree program
- Relationship with your undergraduate university
- Number of scholarship slots available
- PGP Program
Relevance to your research program is most important, yes. But the first step in any search should be to eliminate the irrelevant results. According to the Japan Study Support for Foreign Students (JPSS), there are 587 graduate level programs in Japan that recruit international students. That’s a lot of options, but using the three qualifications above, we can narrow that down before beginning a more in-depth search.
English-Taught Degree Programs
If the program isn’t available in English then there’s no point in considering it. According to JPSS, of the 587 graduate schools open to international students, 65 offer Master’s or PhD level programs in English. The search results on that page will show you which specific graduate schools at each university offer English programs.
Note: Japan has an additional category of graduate programs called “Professional Degree Programs.” These are non-academic programs, such as MBAs, Teacher Training, and (JD) Law degrees. If that’s your interest, you’re going to need to change the search criteria on the page above.
Please note that the JPSS page is not an official publication and listing on there by universities is voluntary, so you should do some additional research, as well, using the links below:
Other Sources of Information About English Language Programs
The JPSS site above, while convenient for getting total numbers, is not necessarily 100% accurate, since they have no way to enforce university participation. The following two sites, however, are official, government-affiliated resources, so be sure to review these, as well.
- Global 30: These 13 universities set up English-language graduate degree programs with MEXT sponsorship, so they are solid bets, but they’re not the only English-language programs. They’re also going to be among the best known and therefore most competitive.
- JASSO’s list of universities with English-language programs: Current as of March 2014, this document lists non-Global 30 programs available in English. These are universities that established English-language programs on their own, not just to get a government grant, so you may find more openness to international students here.
There is no guarantee that these lists are complete! More Japanese universities are offering English-taught programs each year, so be sure to search around on your own, as well. Google your research topic, “Japan” and “univesity” and see what comes up. Or browse publications in your field and look for Japanese authors, then Google them to find out where they teach.
Relationship with Your Undergraduate University
If your most recent university (the university you are enrolled in or earned a degree from most recently) has a relationship with Japanese universities, then applying to those universities is going to make your application easier.
Specifically, a relationship between your universities is going to make the “Letter of Recommendation” requirement easier, though not for the reasons that may appear obvious. I’ll explain below.
A “relationship” between the universities can mean any “Memorandum of Understanding” between the universities (or individual faculties), or any actual incidence of working together, such as joint research programs, exchange programs, faculty guest lectures, etc.
Of course, a relationship that involves faculty members in your research field is going to be most beneficial, for networking reasons.
You can usually find this information easily online. Universities love to advertise their international partnerships. Go to your own university’s homepage and search the site for “partners.” Alternatively, if you have a Japanese university in mind, you can search their site, as well.
I’ll cover networking in a subsequent article, but having a personal connection between faculty members at your most recent university and the university you plan to apply to is going to give you a leg up in the selection process. Personal relationships mean everything in Japan and, from what I’ve heard from academics around the world, they’re critically important everywhere else, too.
If you find that your university has a relationship with one or more Japanese universities, ask around to find out which faculty member or office is the point of contact on your side. Find out if there’s any ongoing research or projects, and get involved. Again, more on this in the networking article.
When There’s Only a Shell Partnership or No Current Interaction
A lot of Japanese universities have meaningless “shell” partnerships with overseas universities – basically a Memorandum of Understanding that says “we’ll think about working together on something specific in the future.”
These still work in your favor!
Even if there is no actual exchange between the universities – no networking potential – the existence of a relationship still makes your application easier when it comes to the Letter of Recommendation.
MEXT Letter of Recommendation: Why University Relationships Matter
As part of your MEXT Scholarship application, you will need a Letter of Recommendation from an official at your home university.
If your universities have a partnership or have experience working together, then this Letter of Recommendation needs to come from a Dean of the Faculty or higher level official.
If there is no relationship between your universities at all, then you will need a Letter of Recommendation from no less than the President of your university.
Don’t worry. In both cases, this is not quite as daunting as it sounds. I will explain the best way to acquire this letter in another article. But for now, understand that a university-level relationship makes your application easier.
I have my heart set on University X, but there’s no relationship . . .
That’s OK. You can still apply. Just understand that it’s going to be a little more challenging to get your paperwork done.
Number of University MEXT Scholarship Slots Available
I covered scholarship estimates for all of the “Top Global University” grant universities as well as the universities that accept the most international students in the Introduction to the University MEXT Scholarship article, so please refer to that chart for an estimate of scholarship slot availability.
Slot allocation calculation methods do change from year to year, so be aware that some fluctuation is possible.
The final factor that may affect your choice of university is PGP programs.
I’ve referred to these programs a few times in previous articles, but have not gone into detail. To be honest, it’s difficult to find specific details as not a lot is publicized about these programs.
In general, a PGP program is a very specific program at a university that has been approved by MEXT to receive a certain allocation of scholarship slots for a period of three years. Eligibility criteria may be very narrow. For example, I knew of past programs that were only open to Thai or Indonesian nationals in one particular graduate school. Another program was only open to Master’s level students in computer science who would be studying in Japanese, but had 10 scholarship slots.
As you can see from these examples, if you are eligible for one of these programs, then your chances of getting the scholarship goes way up. One year, that Japanese-language computer science program only had 10 eligible applicants. Everyone got in!
Unfortunately, universities can’t or won’t (I’m not sure which) publish the details of these programs. So you won’t know in advance how many slots are available or whether there’s a nationality or language restriction. The best level of detail I’ve been able to find so far is the name of the graduate school that is hosting the program, but even that list isn’t complete!
As I mentioned, programs are approved for three years. But universities are applying for approval for new programs at the same time as you are applying for your scholarship! So a program that didn’t exist when you started your application might come into existence later on.
This is one more reason to try to network with professors at your university in advance- you may be able to get some inside information on ongoing applications.
Don’t get your hopes up too high for the PGP programs. In most cases, it’s going to be blind luck. But if you really want to know, I will be translating the list of current programs in a subsequent article, so sign up for the updates below.
The University Short List
By now, you should have a short list of schools that you want to apply to. These schools offer your degree program at the right level (Masters or PhD) in English, may (or may not) have a partnership relationship with your current/most recent university, and have a decent number of scholarship slots to compete for.
If you’re feeling lucky, they may have a PGP program in your field.
Are you with me?
Good, now it’s time to tackle those universities’ websites. Many Japanese universities will have web pages showing their professors’ individual research specialties or, in the case of science and engineering fields, their laboratories’ ongoing research topics. Read through these pages and look for professors whose research interests are closely aligned with yours.
You may also be able to find past students’ Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation topics on the university website, so you can review those for similar themes or topics to your interest.
Google your field of study and the name of your target university together to see if you can find any publications on that topic.
Ask your current (or most recent) academic advisor if they know about the state of your research field in Japan.
Choosing Your Target Professor
Once you have combed through all of that information, you want to select the one professor who is best suited to supervise your research. Study that professor. Know where he or she got her degrees, know his or her publications and conference participation. Read any publications you can get your hands on.
For now on, that professor is your target. If you attempt the networking strategies that I will cover in the next article, your goal is to get closer to that professor.
When you write your Field of Study and Study Plan – which is the most important part of your application – you will do so to get that professor’s attention and interest.
Here’s the thing: The majority of MEXT scholarship applicants apply blindly, writing their research proposals (well or poorly) and sending their applications with the hope that someone will find it interesting. You are going to have an advantage over all of those applicants.
It’s a lot easier to hit your target when you know what you’re aiming for.
Before asking any questions in the comments below, please read through the MEXT Scholarship Application FAQ top page and specific FAQ pages to see what I’ve answered already and to find tips about how to get your questions answered faster.
You can ask your questions in the comments here, on the FAQ page, or by email and I will answer them by updating the FAQ and letting you know when the answers are available.
I’d also recommend signing up for my mailing list to get notified whenever I have updates to any of the FAQs or new articles about the MEXT scholarship!