“What is the acceptance rate, or quota of the MEXT scholarship?” This is one of the most asked questions about the MEXT (Monbukagakusho) scholarship. But the inconvenient truth is that there is very little information about it on the internet, or even from MEXT itself. MEXT does not explicitly release information about the quotas of how many students they are going to accept. Furthermore, each country’s Japanese Embassy has its own quota.
Because of this, I’m going to focus more on how you can increase your chances of getting accepted into MEXT. This article focuses more on prospective graduate school students, but may also be useful for prospective undergraduate students.
MEXT (Monbukagakusho) and International Students in Japan
There are two ways to pursue further studies with MEXT. One is through the embassy-recommended scholarship, where you apply to your country’s Japanese Embassy. Another option is for a university-recommended scholarship where you apply directly to your chosen university and take it from there. MEXT does not release any data regarding student acceptance, how many applied, and how many got the scholarship, etc. However, for the university-recommended scholarship, each university has its own slots. The number of scholarships MEXT gives out to a university depends on how many international students are currently studying at that university. For example, if the university has 0 to 200, the slot for a university-recommended scholarship is 1. If there are around 201 to 400 international students, that university will have 2 slots. For schools with 401 – 700 international students, they will have around 3 slots. For the full calculation, visit Transenz’s article from his research in 2016. One example I found was Hokkaido University’s International Graduate Program, which accepts 7 Ph.D. students and one master’s student for university-recommended MEXT scholarship for 2020.
Here are also some statistics of international students from JASSO. There are 298,980 international students in Japan as of May 1, 2018, which is an increase of 12.0% from the previous year. Those who are in graduate school are 50,184 (16.78%).
The top-five fields are; Humanities 140,200 students (46.9％), Social science 74,037 (24.8％), Engineering 35,463 (11.9％), Arts 10,219 (3.4％ ), and Home Economics 5,083 (1.7%).
The top-five countries with international students in higher education are; China with 114,950 students (38.4%), Vietnam 72,354 (24.2%), Nepal 24,331 (8.1%), Republic of Korea 17,012 (5.7%), and Taiwan 9,524 (3.2%).
The top-five cities with international students are; Tokyo with 114,833 students, Osaka 24,751, Fukuoka 19,296, Kyoto 13,230, and Chiba 13,084.
Tips Before Applying
Know Your Motivation
Okay, you’re interested in the MEXT scholarship. The first thing that you have to ask yourself is “Why Japan?” If you’re entering graduate school, you might even ask, why do you want to pursue further studies? No one can give you the right answer but yourself. This is important because the application process for MEXT is grueling and long. It can take up to one and a half years from the time you start your application to finally getting the final confirmation of your scholarship. Making sure that your heart is right for MEXT will get you through that process and give you the ‘stamina’ to commit to your decision.
Hence, this is my first tip: be prepared to have stamina and perseverance. I would say that this is one ‘informal’ way that MEXT weeds out candidates. Some applicants do decide to quit in the middle of their application process, and for different reasons. But if in the beginning, you find your motivation and commit to the process, it will save you time and money. And even if in the end, you did not get the scholarship, it’s ok. If you really know that you want to study abroad in Japan, there are still a lot of other options aside from MEXT.
Make sure to know the schedule of the test, the interview, and other pertinent deadlines. Make time to prepare beforehand. It’s be wise to free up your day or several days before the test and the interview so that you can focus on these tasks.
Research, Ask and Connect
The next tip is to really do your research. You’re already doing it by reading this article, good for you! But there’s a lot more to learn from MEXT. How long is the program your applying for, and is it in English? Can you adjust to the weather in Japan, or how about the culture? I can’t answer all this here but there’s a lot of resources on the internet including from MEXT itself. While you’re at it, look for people who have been MEXT scholars or know about the MEXT program. Asking people who have experience with this scholarship will give you an advantage. If you don’t know anyone, ask your professor, or anyone from your university, heck even on Facebook. Look for people who might know someone who knows someone, you know what I mean.
During the Application Process
Have a Solid Research Topic
If you’re applying for graduate school, the MEXT program prioritizes good research proposals that are relevant to Japan. But aside from that, is your research relevant to your chosen field or discipline? Does it benefit society? These are just simple questions to ask yourself when coming up with a good research proposal. Find a person or resource that can help you write your proposal better. When choosing your research subject, it’s important to find an adviser who is an expert in that field and is willing to take you under his arm. The adviser-student relationship in Japan is very important and is quite similar to a master-apprentice relationship. This is also a requirement for MEXT so you should really research which Japanese professors can potentially help you with your application.
When Choosing a University
MEXT will ask you for three Letters of Acceptance (LoA) from three different universities. You will have to get in touch with your three chosen universities and ask how you can get an LoA from them. Each university has its own process, but most likely, they will ask for you to identify an adviser and possibly to get in touch with that adviser. When you apply and give MEXT these three LoAs to MEXT, you will have to rank them by priority, but in the end, it will be up to MEXT to choose which university they will place you in. Whichever comes first, choosing an adviser, or choosing a university then finding the right adviser, do consider these: Include at least one university from your choice that is a government university. Because MEXT is a government scholarship, it makes sense for them to prioritize state-funded universities as tuitions are relatively cheaper than in private universities. Another factor is if you can get an LoA from one or more of the top-ranking universities in Japan such as the University of Tokyo, Waseda University or Kyoto University. This would really make your application strong in the eyes of the panel. In my case, I actually applied to get an LoA from four universities just to make sure that if I did not get LoAs from one of my original universities, I can send my ‘back-up’ LoA as a replacement. Luckily, I got all of the four LoAs so I ended up sending MEXT my three original universities.
The Devil is in the Details
You can treat the scholarship as a competition, but the problem is you don’t know other’s performance or progress so the best thing to do is just do your best. After making sure that the content of your application is excellent, another way to step up your game is to be attentive to details – make sure that your application is well-polished. First, make sure everything is complete, from items you need to answer in a form up to the actual documents that you need to submit. This attention to detail also applies to grammar and punctuations in your application as well as the neatness of your documents (no creases, using nice and new envelopes, etc.). If the panel sees that you really put the effort into your application, it will give them a good impression, which increases the chance of your application being noticed and possibly being considered.
Increasing your chance to get into MEXT is not an exact science. Luck and the right timing may also be added factors so putting in the effort, taking it seriously and committing to the task are just some attitudes that can take you ahead of the competition. Having a good research proposal and an adviser who can vouch for you will really give you a strong chance to be accepted. Ganbatte ne!
Hokkaido University – International Graduate Program (website)
Hokkaido University – International Graduate Program (brochure)
JASSO International Students in Japan 2018
JASSO Result of an Annual survey of International Students in Japan 2018
MEXT STUDENT FROM GERMANY: HOW TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCES (video)