Most of the MEXT Interview advice you find online is for the Embassy-Recommended application process, and rightfully so.
In the Embassy-Recommended application, the interview can be a make-or-break part of your application. (I will have a guide coming about that in the future, so sign up for the mailing list to get updates when that is released!).
For the University-Recommended application, the interview isn’t going to “make” your application if your GPA and Research Plan weren’t amazing. But it can break your application and destroy an otherwise successful application. So it’s just as important to be prepared.
Will There Even be an Interview?
It depends on the school. For the PGP Scholarship, universities are technically required to interview applicants three times. For other types, it’s really up to the individual graduate school.
Just because you don’t get interviewed does not necessarily mean that your application was rejected. If you are concerned, you can always ask the office where you submitted your application if there will be an interview process.
But, even if the interview isn’t a sure thing, it’s a good idea to prepare.
MEXT Interview Formats
The two primary interview formats will be skype or email. You’ll need to be prepared for both!
An email interview sounds easier. After all, you’ll have time to think about your answers and write a careful response. But for many applicants, that can also be a lot of pressure to make sure your grammar and response is perfect. Plus, you can’t see any feedback from your interviewer as you’re talking, like you could on skype.
For an email interview, knowing how much to say is important. My general rule is that your answer should be long enough to get your point across and answer the question, but short enough that you’re not boring the person to death.
You’ll also want to make sure that your answer is well formatted in paragraphs with topic sentences, etc., just like you would in an academic paper. But shorter paragraphs! Nobody wants to read a full page of text.
For a Zoom or Skype interview, you’ll need to respond to questions on the spot, but getting your content across is more important than not making any grammar mistakes.
You’ll still want to make sure your answers are short, to the point, and flow well. Practicing questions and answers in advance is key to success. Dressing up in a suit for the interview is also a good idea if you’re going to be on camera.
How to Approach the Interview
As with any interaction, you want to focus on what the other person wants.
What is the Interviewer Looking For?
Think about the interviewer’s perspective. What is his or her purpose in interviewing you? They want to make sure they can be confident in nominating you for the scholarship. They want to know if you’ll be a good fit for their lab and research, as well as how much work they’ll have to put in to supervising you.
Present yourself as humble and ready to accept the professor’s guidance, but not so humble that you can’t function on your own. You should be confident and independent, as well.
You have a research plan – and should have a post-research goal – in mind already. It’s great to talk about what you want to achieve with your research and show your passion, but be prepared to accept guidance.
What Do You Have to Offer?
Try to think in advance what value you bring to your potential supervisor.
Find out as much about your supervisor’s research and lab as you can in advance. Then think about ways you could help. What skills do you have that you can apply? What research experience or connections can you leverage to contribute to your advisor’s interests?
How might your own research support what your supervisor is focused on?
What the Interview is Evaluating
The University wants to test you as a person and as a scholar. Specifically, they’ll be looking for the items below:
The interview measures how quickly you respond to messages and guidance.
From the day that you first contact your university to the day you graduate, you should be prepared to respond to any emails within 24 hours. Most Japanese universities will expect that of their students.
This is one area where the interview can destroy your application: If you do not respond, you are out. Even if it is your email spam filter’s fault. (Make sure to whitelist your university’s domain!)
If your university asks a question, or asks for a document, and you cannot answer immediately, write back right away to let them know you got the message and are working on it. Give them a timeframe as to when you will answer and update them if there are any changes.
In Japan, that is common courtesy. Unresponsiveness is laziness and disrespect to the sender. That’s not the image you want to convey.
The interview will also test your Japanese or English ability.
Regardless of the qualifications you’ve submitted or the quality of your Research Plan, the university wants to test your language directly.
Japan is the world capital of high but meaningless test scores. Japanese are used to “studying to the test” for college admissions and language proficiency exams and achieving scores far beyond their actual ability. So they want to see if you can really communicate in speech and writing.
You could have had anyone help you edit your research plan or other documents. The interview, with a shorter turnaround, will see if you can keep up that ability.
Even if your research program is entirely in English, they’re probably going to be interested in your Japanese ability. You might have zero ability now, but it is important to convey a willingness to learn, including studying on your own before you come to Japan.
If you’ve already started studying Japanese, even if it’s just daily conversation level, that’s great!
In the University-recommended MEXT application interview, your interview is going to include experts in your field. Unlike the Embassy interview, which almost never includes experts, you can expect the university to dig deeper into your research plan.
Be prepared to talk one to two layers deeper about your plan than you presented in your application materials. But also be prepared to explain it in layman’s terms.
You should also be aware of any current events in your field of study. Comb through the news and journals in your field before your interview for any developments. Ask your previous advisor, if possible.
You can even use Google’s free service to set up news alerts for specific topics so you get them emailed to you directly.
Related to your reasoning, the university wants to see if you can construct and defend all thought-out arguments. Do your sentences make logical sense and carry a theme? Can you communicate in a clear and concise fashion?
In all likelihood, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if that wasn’t the case. However, I’ve known several otherwise amazing scholars who fall apart when put on the spot. If you think a skype interview will make you nervous, practice so that you can present to your interviewers the confident, reasoning you that you know you are.
Bottom Line: Be As Good in the Interview as You Are on Paper
The chances are good that the university already more or less has a priority list of applicants. It’s going to be tough to leapfrog anyone above you unless you are simply amazing. Your first goal should be not to fall.
In most cases, being as good in the interview – in language, reasoning, responsiveness, and research knowledge – as you were in your application is going to be enough to get the job done.
While I have never participated in a University MEXT interview personally, these are the question types I have seen in other MEXT and scholarhip interviews.
Questions about Your Research
As I mentioned above, your prospective advisor is going to want to know more about your research plan. The plan you submitted in your application was (probably) only 2 pages long. Be prepared to go into more depth about what you want to cover and what your final goals are. In particular, you may see questions about your field research intentions.
One of the most common questions I have heard is: Why do you want to do this research in Japan? Be prepared to answer not only with relationship to Japan, but why you want to study at this particular university with this advisor.
This is a good opportunity for some minor flattery, but keep it within reason!
Questions about Your Future
What is your goal for your research? How do you want to apply it?
For the MEXT scholarship, you want to show how you can use your research to benefit both countries in the future. Tell them how you want to use your research outcome and/or your personal experience as a student in Japan to strengthen bods between Japan and your home country.
Most universities would love to see that you have a plan to use your research to contribute to your home country’s development and become a leader in that country, yourself. Both MEXT and Japanese universities are most eager to educate future leaders in other countries who will have an affinity for Japan and strengthen the countries’ bonds in the future.
Questions about Your Past
You’ll probably get some questions on your academic or professional (if applicable) experience to date. Think about how what you have studied or worked on in the past has affected your research choice. If you can show convincing passion for your field and a reason you want to make a difference, that is excellent!
You’ll also want to show a track record of success. The university wants to know that you can take on a challenge and see it through without giving up or getting distracted. If you’ve taken on a significant project or leadership position in the past, or if you’ve demonstrated independence, you’ll want to work those experiences into your answers if you can.
For example, if you’ve studied abroad before, that shows the university that you can handle the stress of leaving home. If you’ve interned and leveraged that experience for your research, that shows that you can achieve goals that you set.
Questions about Japan
I don’t mean that they’re going to ask the year of the Meiji Restoration (unless you’re a history major), or who’s on the 10,000 yen bill. They want to know what you know about Japan and how prepared you are to live here.
The university wants to be sure that, if you’re selected for the scholarship, you are prepared to leave your country, job, and family behind to come to Japan. They also want to make sure that you can handle the experience.
If you have experience overseas or living on your own – especially if you have studied abroad in Japan in the past – bring that up as evidence that you can handle it.
Talk to people from your country who have lived in Japan before, if you can. Find out about their experiences so that you can bring it up in the interview: “I know from talking to my senpai that life in Japan can be challenging because of x, but I am preparing by doing y.”
If you get asked, this is also a good opportunity to bring up how you are studying Japanese, or plan to.
If you have a family (spouse, kids) that depends on you, be prepared to answer about what you will do about them. Do you plan to bring them to Japan on a Dependent Visa later? Will they be taken care of in your home country? The university wants to know that you have a plan.
How Was Your MEXT Interview Experience?
Those are all the questions that I can think of. Now, it’s over to you!
If you’ve gone through the interview and want to share anything about your experience (or ask any questions), let me know in the comments below!
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!
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