MEXT: Study in Japan

I’m sure a lot of people have thought about studying abroad, but even before the anxiety of living in a new environment kicks in, we start by thinking about the cost. Let’s face it, an airline ticket is an expense many of us second-guess; we’re always searching for discounted red-eye flight or trying to book months in advance hoping that it’ll knock down that price tag by some significant percentage. It’s hard enough planning out a week-long trip; studying abroad couldn’t be any lighter on the wallet.

Then there’s that out-of-state tuition fee.

It’s no wonder that so many American’s stick with the system. UC schools generally only cost a California Citizen $40,000, give or take a few thousand, but that’s not a small number. And when the influx of foreigners making American universities their pay-to-play Plan B, the locals are left pulling on their waistbands wondering what happened.

So you can imagine the anxious planning that’s coupled with the financial situation of a middle class family.

Now, of course I didn’t choose to go to Japan solely on cheaper college tuition. Let’s face it, this blog is titled The Ex-Otaku, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce what influenced me. I wasn’t looking into scholarships beforehand; it was simply a bi-product of trying to obtain a visa, so of course finding a section on undergraduate programs on the website of The Japanese Consulate of San Francisco took me by surprise. I didn’t know there were funding programs of this sort. Hell, the most I knew about student aid was the FAFSA form they made all students fill out in high school, the one with the fine print of entering the draft.

I could become a soldier, but I didn’t qualify for aid. What’s going on here?

The MEXT was almost a dream come true. Not only was the tuition fully paid, the Japanese government paid YOU a monthly stipend for living expenses. The problem is that many people expect this to be free money. It’s not. Studying in Japan is NOT something you do after being rejected from an American university. I had been accepted into to the UC system. I could be taking the same route as everyone else, have a good support system, and know exactly what to expect during the 4 years. No, this was a choice, and it was a long, arduous chore. Rewarding yes, effortless no.

Here’s what the MEXT entails:

The program is broken into two main sections: undergraduate programs and graduate programs. Before we begin, it’s imperious to understand that the acceptance rate for graduate students is unbelievable higher than undergrads. The reason is most likely that undergrads require 2-4 years of tuition fees. Undergrads require 5.

Graduate programs are the easiest to explain. Although I’m not part of this program, the screening process is generally:

  1. Application
  2. Preliminary Japanese/Math/English/Science Test
  3. Research Plan presentation + Interview
  4. Finding a Professor
  5. Preliminary Acceptance Announcement (Consulate Decision)
  6. Secondary Acceptance Announcement (Japanese Office Decision)
  7. Tertiary Acceptance Announcement (MEXT Department Decision).

This generally takes the span of 10 months. That’s right, 10 months. You’re overall involvement is less than one week, however the waiting time is 3-4 month between each decision.

You can find the applications on the website with application guidelines and deadlines. Keep checking between the months of January through February. The applications are easy but there are multiple parts including a health check-up so be sure to finish the papers well in advance. The Japanese are not one to be accommodating to the late.

As a graduate student, there is much less pressure on your preliminary test and Japanese skill. In fact, many are accepted with NO Japanese experience, yet can be accepted into Tokyo University. However, it’s a good idea to brush up on these skills as the professor is not guaranteed to understand English. Be sure to have a clear understanding of what your research plan is. Although the presentation and interview are conducted in ENGLISH, giving the feeling of unpreparedness will be a major set-back. Remember, the graduate program is the popular one. There will be competition, not just from those attending the interview day with you. The MEXT is given internationally, so you’re competing with multiple countries.

If your meetup at the consulate goes well, you will be informed by email or post detailing your flawless victory. Be wary, however, as that is just the beginning. Another 3-4 months comes the second declaration. Then 10 months from the start is the final acceptance letter.

Every year, at least one or two graduate students are guaranteed, but undergraduates are a different story.

Although there is no need for a research plan, the test and interview are heavily weighted. There seems to be a decrease in applicants, but not attending with others is in no way a default win. By the time of preliminary testing, anyone that has less than a JLPT N3 level has basically no chance of success. N2 is safer, but again no guarantee. What they want is someone that can jump into a Japanese university and thrive. No Japanese skill means no scholarship.

Next, the interview relies heavily on your knowledge of Japan. Not necessarily Japanese Law, Markets, News (although it helps) but understanding of culture, life, and people. It’s simply an opportunity to show that “hey, I like Japan. I may not know much now but I have a strong will to learn it” kind of showcase. Since I stayed in the country for 2 years, I had a few stories to share about people I met. That probably helped.

The process is more or less the same

  1. Application
  2. Preliminary Japanese/Math/English/Science Test
  3. Interview
  4. Preliminary Acceptance Announcement (Consulate Decision)
  5. Secondary Acceptance Announcement (Japanese Office Decision)
  6. Tertiary Acceptance Announcement (MEXT Department Decision).

The preliminary test is based on whether you choose to be a Science Major or Liberal Arts. This changes the type of Math level you’re given and considers whether or not a Science test is administered. Keep in mind that none of these questions are like what you learned in high school. These are direct translations of Japanese entrance exam questions, you are guaranteed to see certain things for the first time. Don’t sweat it too much, but you might want to check out some past EJU tests.

Both the test and interview weigh heavily to designate your Major. That’s right, you don’t get to choose your major independently. The MEXT gives some “help” on that end. What they choose goes, you either take it or leave.

Undergraduate programs have a special addition: a one year intensive preparatory course. This is where Japanese, social studies, math, etc. are taught to groom your level to that of a first year undergrad. Japanese undergrad. It’s on a completely different level. This course is here because you are not given a university right off the bat either. Your performance through this one year and your designated major determine which universities you can TEST for. If you don’t pass? Tough luck, but pack your bags.

It’s not easy; that’s to be expected, there’s a lot of money on the line here. However, it’s a rewarding experience, at least to me it is. I applied 3 times. That’s 3 years, and I am not ashamed to say it. Without my own experience in Japan, I’m convinced that I could never pull this down. This goal pushed me to seek out what it was I wanted, it helped me find aspects of life that could be used to impress the interviewers. I dare say that some ideas on this blog were created just this way. I expect that the next few years with MEXT should be something to look forward to.


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