In order to have the best chance at winning the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship, it is best to start your application as early as possible. But that’s where many applicants run into a brick wall.
Japanese universities do not make the application guidelines available far enough in advance. Sometimes, that means you do not have enough time to obtain the documents you need, like letters of recommendation from universities in other countries or official English language proficiency scores.
There is, however, some good news: the required documents do not change significantly from year to year.
What You Can Do to Prepare Now
Prepare the documents that were due last year, now! This article will list and describe all of the documents required by MEXT in the 2018 application cycle. If you have these documents on hand, you will almost certainly be ready for this year’s application.
There is one caveat to the list below: These are only the documents required by MEXT. When you apply for the University Recommended MEXT scholarship, each university can determine its own, additional requirements. In most cases, these additional requirements are only addition forms to be filled out, not anything that requires advance preparation. However, there is always a possibility that there may be some other requirements, as well. Since these would be determined on a university-by-university basis, there is no way I can list all of them here. The only way to find out about them is to go digging on the specific university’s website for past announcements, as I covered in my previous article about How to Apply for the 2019 University Recommended MEXT Scholarship.
(If you haven’t read through that article yet, I highly recommend you go through it now. It talks about how to find the specific application information for your university and other details about the application process).
MEXT Scholarship Application Documents
Here are the documents you need to prepare. For each one, I will describe what it is, where to get it, and what requirements it must meet. At the end, I’ll also talk about some general requirements for all application documents.
You’ll need to get the application form from the university you’re applying to. The form changes slightly each year and, unfortunately, it usually is not released in advance. Fortunately, the questions never change significantly, so you can easily prepare the information you’ll need and complete the form once it arrives.
I have a sample version of the form that I send to everyone who joins my mailing list, so you can at least see what kinds of questions you’ll have to answer and prepare to complete the form quickly as soon as it is available. I also have an article about how to fill in the form, based on the most recent version, that should answer any questions you have.
Field of Study and Research Program Plan
This is by far the most important document in your entire application and one that you should start working on several months before you submit it! It is far too complex and important to cover in a few sentences, but fortunately, I have a much more detailed explanation available as well!
The most important thing is to develop a compelling research topic. Then, you need to present it in the format required by MEXT. I have a free article about how best to present your research topic in MEXT’s format and cover both the topic selection and formatting in my upcoming book, How to Write a Scholarship-Winning Field of Study and Research Program Plan.
You will need to attach a photo to the application form, and I recommend including a second one, just in case something happens to the first. It is possible to import the photo into the form digitally, but do not print a photo on regular printer paper and attempt to attach that.
If attaching a physical photo, never never never use a stapler! A photo with staple holes in it is useless. Use a glue stick.
The photo should be 4.5 cm high by 3.5 cm wide – don’t worry if it is larger than the physical space for it on the form, just make sure it matches the dimensions – and should be high resolution (no visible pixelation or color distortion), showing you facing directly forward from the chest up, with no hats or unnecessary glasses. (Note: Hair coverings worn for religious reasons are acceptable). If attaching a physical photo, write your name and nationality on the back, in case it falls off and they need to check which application to reattach it to.
If you are sending a backup spare photo (recommended!), wrap it in a folded piece of paper so that it does not get damaged by things like paperclips or edges of other documents.
Passport Copy or Government-Issued Identification Record
The purpose of this documentation is to confirm both your citizenship and your personal identifying information, such as your legal name and birthdate.
Submit a copy of your passport, if you have one. The copy of your passport should include the outside cover as well as the page with your photo and identifying information. You do not need to include copies of all pages or copies of pages with visas, entry/departure stamps, etc.
Make sure your photocopy shows the whole page. Ideally, the edges of the passport should be visible in the copy. That will help prove that there is no other information or invalidation outside of the copied area.
If your passport has any incorrect information (e.g. Your name is spelled incorrectly), you should get that corrected officially before submitting the copy, or wait until after your MEXT scholarship to get it corrected.
If you do not have a passport yet, then alternative documents can include a Family Register or Birth Certificate.
Transcript from Most Recent University Attended
The following would not count as your “current university”:
- A University you attended to earn a certificate
- A university where you enrolled in a few classes, but did not earn a degree
- A language program attended at a university, outside of a degree program
- A university where you studied abroad short-term
- A university where you are currently studying but plan to drop out, rather than graduate, before starting your MEXT-funded studies
A “Transcript” may be known by other names in other countries, so it is fine if your document is not called a “transcript”, as long as it shows your academic performance in each class you have taken over the course of your degree, with an indication of each course’s credit value (if applicable) and grade, score, or marks. It must cover every year of your current degree program, even though only the most recent two years will be counted toward your GPA calculation for scholarship eligibility.
The transcript must be an original document, or a copy certified as being accurate by the issuing university and it must be in English or Japanese. If your document is in another language, you would need to include the original document as well as a certified translation.
As I will discuss under “Proof of Outstanding Academic Achievement” below, your transcript must also include or be accompanied by an explanation of the grading system.
Transcript: Special Cases – Transfer Students
Transfer students must include their transcript from their current university as well as the transcript from any previous universities attended where they earned credits toward the same degree. All of the originality and language rules above would apply to all transcripts.
Transcript: Special Cases – Fewer than Two Years of Grades
MEXT requires at least two full years of grades on your transcript. However, current Master’s Degree students applying for a MEXT scholarship for their PhD, will most often not have two full years of grades from their Master’s program. In that case, they would also need to include their undergraduate transcript. All of the originality and language rules above would apply to both transcripts.
Transcripts: Special Cases – No Grades at All
There are some degree programs (research-based degrees) with no coursework where students earn no grades at all during the course of the program. If you are in one of those programs as of the time of your application, there is an alternative: Your letter of recommendation (more on that below) must state that you are in the top 30% of your graduating class either within your faculty or your university.
Note that being in the top 30% will not help you if you do have grades, but they are below the minimum requirement.
Certificate of Graduation
A “Certificate of Graduation” is not the same thing as a diploma. (Never send your only original diploma as part of the application!)
A Certificate of Graduation is a document issued by your university that certifies that you have graduated. This could be a certified copy of your diploma, but it does not have to be. A letter from your registrar that certifies that you have graduated and shows the date of graduation (or of completing all of the requirements) would be equally valid.
In some cases, your transcript may show the degree you were awarded and the date of graduation. In that case, your transcript could also be considered a “Certificate of Graduation.”
Special Case: Certificate of Expected Graduation
What if you haven’t graduated yet? In that case, MEXT asks that you provide a “Certificate of Expected Graduation” that shows the date you are expected to graduate and the degree you are expected to earn.
This requirement frequently results in confusion: Universities will often refuse to “certify” that a student will graduate by a specific date. After all, you haven’t completed all of your requirements and they do not want to be liable if you fail to do so. But here’s the solution:
The Certificate of Expected Graduation can be conditional! It is not a problem for your university to write that your graduation is conditional on completing your remaining classes, passing your thesis, etc. Essentially, the Certificate of Expected Graduation is asking the university to certify that “it is not impossible for you to graduate” by the expected date.
If your university protests that they cannot certify your graduation, the explanation above has worked in every case that I am aware of!
Proof of Outstanding Academic Achievement
In almost all cases, this requirement is met by submitting your transcript along with an explanation of your grading system. For more on what an explanation of grading system is, please refer to the article linked in the previous sentence.
If you do not have any grades, then the Letter of Recommendation described above would also suffice to meet this requirement.
While the two options above will meet the requirement for well over 99% of applicants, if you have further proof of your outstanding academic performance, you can submit those, as well. Examples would be statements of order of merit, awards for top graduate in your department, etc., awards earned at conferences or competitions, or publications in peer-reviewed journals.
Letter of Recommendation: University Recommended MEXT Scholarship (*Academic)
Yes, this whole article is about the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship, but the Letter of Recommendation requirements are the most significant difference between the University and Embassy application processes, so I wanted to make that clear again here to minimize the inevitable confusion. If you are applying for the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship, skip this section!
There are several important requirements for your Letter of Recommendation, which I will cover below.
What University Should it Come From?
First of all, your Letter of Recommendation needs to come from your most recent university attended, as I defined in the transcript section, above. There are no exceptions permitted. It doesn’t matter if your most recent university was in another country, or if you are closer to a professor from a past university, or if you have been working as a researcher at a university. It has to be the most recent university where you earned a degree.
Who Should Write It?
You will most often see the requirement that it has to be signed by a Dean or someone higher. Depending on the relationship between your universities, you might actually need a letter from your university president, or you might be able to get away with one from a professor. (I covered the differences in this article about the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship application from last year.
Here’s the thing, though: While those different levels may be necessary for the university to submit your nomination to MEXT, in order to keep things fair to all applicants, most universities will ask for a letter from a Dean or higher, regardless of the relationship. If you are preparing your documents in advance, this is what you should be aiming for. A Vice Dean, Deputy Dean, Assistant Dean, etc. will not meet the requirements, nor will a Department Head.
If your university does not use the title “Dean”, then to find the equivalent person, you would need the administrative head of a “faculty”, “school”, or “college”. That person should report directly to the Provost, or head of all academic affairs for the university (unless the Dean is doing double duty as the provost).
How Do You Get the Dean to Sign It?
Let’s get this straight, first: Your letter of recommendation needs to be signed by the Dean. It does not have to (and in most cases should not) be written by the Dean. This is something that trips up applicants all of the time. They think that they need to walk into the Dean’s office – where the Dean does not know them personally – and convince the Dean to write them a letter.
That’s not the right way to go about it. Here’s why:
- You should never in your life ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation from scratch! Always give them a draft or, at the very least, a bullet list of your significant achievements that you want included.
- You probably should not be going directly to the Dean, either. Start with your adviser. Show your adviser the draft, ask their help in editing it, then ask if the adviser will approach the Dean on your behalf.
If you were one of the top students in your field, you should have a good relationship with your adviser, and your adviser should have no trouble talking the Dean into signing the letter.
What Does it Have to Include?
The letter needs to be addressed to the President of the university you are applying to – make sure to use the title! – be signed by the Dean (with his or her title, as well), and somewhere in the body include the words “I recommend [your name] for the Monbukagakusho Scholarship at [university you are applying to].”
Everything else is just window dressing. In most cases, your letter of recommendation will not have much of an impact on your application evaluation, it just needs to be there.
If you have written or will be writing a graduation thesis, you need to include a half-page to full-page abstract (summary) of it with your application.
Do not send the entire thesis – nobody has time to read that.
Since you are only sending an abstract, you can write that, even if you haven’t finished the thesis itself or gotten it approved. This is also one of the few documents that you can translate yourself, if your thesis is in another language, since it’s your own words.
No Graduation Thesis?
If you have a graduation thesis, you have to submit an abstract of that paper, even if it is off topic from what you plan to apply to study in Japan. This still applies if you graduated years ago and have since written and published academic papers that you consider to be better.
If you do not have a graduation thesis, then you should contact the university for further instructions (or look at their application guidelines from the previous year), but here are a few common alternatives:
- SUmmary of equivalent graduation project
- Summary of a published paper or paper presented at a conference
- Summary of a term paper (in the class that was closest to what you plan to study in Japan)
Proof of Language Ability
This is one of those requirements that can hurt you if you aren’t prepared well before the actual guidelines are released. It’s nearly impossible to get an official language proficiency test score on short notice, and it is impossible if that language is Japanese, since the JLPT is only offered twice per year.
If you are planning ahead to apply for the MEXT scholarship, especially the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship, make sure that you have your language proficiency test done and score report available before that application period begins. Score reports are good for two years in most cases, so you do not need to worry about preparing too early.
As of the 2018 application cycle, MEXT started telling universities that they should collect objective proof of language proficiency, such as official TOEFL or IELTS scores, if at all possible. To me, this suggests that in future years, MEXT is going to start requiring an official language proficiency test score.
This article is about planning in advance. If you’re planning in advance, then plan to get one of the approved, internationally accepted tests. Don’t plan to ask for an exception or alternative. If you plan in advance to ask for an alternative, you’re deliberately putting yourself at a disadvantage. Count on your competition having official language proficiency test scores. Given how competitive this scholarship is, you cannot afford to put yourself a step behind.
Proof of Relevant Professional Ability
This requirement is somewhat ambiguous and in most cases does not apply. Proof of relevant ability would be a professional certification in your field or certification in a skill directly related to your research. Something like a certificate of proficiency in Microsoft Word is not going to count.
In processing over 500 applications over the course of three years, I never once saw a relevant professional certification. So, don’t worry if you don’t have one.
Once the application period for the University Recommended MEXT Scholarship starts, you will not have much time to prepare and send your application, so you need to get started in advance.
The documents you need to prepare, once again are:
- Application Form – Prepare the contents, even though you do not have access to the form yet. You can get a sample version of last year’s form when you sign up for my mailing list, below.
- Field of Study and Research Program Plan – Write it out now so that you can copy it into the required format as soon as it is available.
- Passport – Apply now if you do not have one.
- Transcript from Most Recent University Attended
- Certificate of Graduation or Expected Graduation
- Proof of Outstanding Academic Achievement
- Letter of Recommendation
- Thesis Abstract – Or Summary of alternative graduation project
- Language Proficiency Test Scores
- Relevant Professional Certifications – If applicable
Want to Maximize Your Chance to Win the MEXT Scholarship?If you want to increase your chances of earning the MEXT scholarship, my book, How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship, breaks down the scholarship details and application process and also includes chapters on developing a successful applicant mindset and an application strategy that will help you stand out from the crowd. You can purchase it in ebook or print format – or ask your university library to stock it, instead!
Let me know in the comments below!
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