Transferring to a different university midway is easier said than done, so let’s hear it from someone who has walked the talk.

It’s uncommon and quite difficult to transfer to a different university halfway through your undergraduate studies, especially in Japan. There are many things that you need to tick off a list, certificates you need to procure, requests to be submitted to school administration, and so on. Very few universities in Japan also accept transferee students, so it will be wise to check with a university’s student admission center first to figure out your options.

However, for two students from the Philippines, studying in Japan was the key to opening more doors of opportunity to grow as a person and to expand their career options. Here are Paulo Oyama and Eli Signo’s stories, both undergraduate students at one of Japan’s top universities: Waseda University.

Study in Japan: A Calculated Decision or a Leap of Faith?

So what made them transfer to a university in Japan when they are both well underway their current undergraduate studies at their own respective universities?

For Paulo:

” I was actually already a third-year economics student in the University of Asia and the Pacific at the Philippines when I decided to apply for universities in Japan. At first, my plan was to finish my undergraduate degree in the Philippines and pursue my graduate degree in either the United States or United Kingdom. However, upon consulting my dad regarding my post-graduation plans, he told me that the graduate programs abroad are too expensive for him to fund. Our conversation further depressed me when I realized that I will never be able to fund myself in a graduate school abroad if I graduate in the Philippines given the low wage in the country. That is why I consulted my dad again and this time I asked him if I can just transfer to a university in Japan instead of finishing my degree in the Philippines since the tuition fee in Japan is way cheaper compared to the US or UK and it would be more financially feasible to fund myself through graduate school if I get a job in Japan. After several attempts to convince him, he finally gave me the go signal.”

Eli, on the other hand, had a different reason behind her decision.

“The degree, which I was taking in my previous school, was Business Management. My previous university, known for its business department, had a trimester calendar, which meant that I was supposed to graduate earlier than people who were taking a four-year degree program. I’ve already finished 118 units in my previous university and yet I still chose to start again with a four-year degree program, and most importantly, in a different field of study. I had the choice of continuing my business degree, to continue my university life with the friends I have, and continue my participation in the organization that I was in.”

“Despite that, I chose to study in Japan, specifically Waseda University, and to be in the School of Liberal Studies department, because I knew they could give me one thing I badly needed that the other university couldn’t offer which was giving me the freedom to study what I actually wanted. I felt that the degree that I was taking wasn’t suited for me, with its structured flowchart of classes I should take to its rule of not have an option of taking other classes as electives, I just knew this degree just wasn’t it for me.”

Why this Japanese university and major?

In certain cases students transfer to a different university because they want to switch majors; others continue the same major in a different university. For whatever reason it may be, one thing is for certain: you need to be sure of the changes you are making when it comes to your studies. For both Paulo and Eli, they had a common reason for choosing their university and major: it was to elevate the quality of education they were receiving.

Paulo shares, ” I find economics fascinating because it is all-pervasive. From deciphering the causes of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis to using economic theories in analyzing the role of legalized abortion on lowering crime rate (in the book Freakonomics) to forecasting the economic growth of the Philippines for the next five years. All of the aforementioned make use of an intricate blend of theoretical and empirical analysis using economic theories to understand everyday human phenomena. It is amazing that with just an affinity in economics, one will be able to understand the past better, decide pragmatically in the present, and forecast the “future” more accurately.

Right from the onset, I was already fixated on taking up economics as my major so I didn’t encounter any difficulty in choosing my major. I chose economics not only because that was already my undergraduate program in the Philippines, but because I already learned to love economics.”

Eli chose to switch majors, pursuing interest in arts and media.

“I was a double degree holder in my previous university, taking up Bachelor of Arts in Behavioral Sciences major in Organizational and Social Systems Development along with my Business Management degree. Although I dropped the other one and focused on Business Management, my classes during my first year had to be related to the Arts. I ended up taking 1 years’ worth of these types of classes, which grew to me until my second year even after I stopped taking that degree. This led me to look for universities in Japan which had a degree taught in English and had classes related to the arts.”

Selection and Admission Process

As mentioned before, admission for transfer students are rigorous and tedious not only because of the amount of tests and certificates you have to submit or interviews you have to take, but having to do all that from overseas multiplies the amount of work needed.

Paulo states, “I originally wanted to apply to the University of Tokyo, Keio University, Waseda University, Nagoya University, Sophia University, and International Christian University. However, the application deadlines for Nagoya University and International Christian University were already on December of that year, so I was not able to apply to those universities since the result for December SAT will only be released on January. I also didn’t apply for the University of Tokyo since the school didn’t offer an English-degree program in Economics. “

The application process

“Although the application for Waseda was quite laborious, the effort I put on it was all worth in the end. First, I had to submit my SAT score. In the SAT, I was able to score 1470/1600, but Waseda only requires 1300-1400 so I already felt comfortable with my score. After that, I had to fill up my application forms, gather all the certificates and awards I have received before, and request my temporary transcript of records from my former university and high school. The most tedious thing I had to do for the application was my personal statement. For this, I had to write a 1500-word essay explaining why I wanted to apply to Waseda. I had asked help from my friends several times to proofread my paper before submitting it since I knew getting into Waseda as a transfer applicant is way harder compared to admission for regular students. That is why I made sure that all my requirements were perfect. All the efforts I put in came into fruition when I learned that I was the only transfer applicant that the EDESSA program accepted for that application period. Till this day, I cannot forget the joy that I felt while looking at that letter saying that I received an unconditional offer from Waseda.”

The interview

The interview part in the admission process of Waseda is only required if you received a conditional offer from the university. But since I was able to receive an unconditional offer, I didn’t have to take the interview.

Eli applied for the September Admission for the School of International Studies at Waseda University. Unlike Paulo, she started her undergraduate studies from the first year.

The application process

“As an international student applying for a Japanese university, the start of university classes are different, however, Waseda offered an option to start in September, the same month my previous university started its new academic year. On the other hand, the paperwork they asked from me was different since I was currently enrolled in a university but I only had ten years of primary and secondary year education, which made it much more confusing than it should be. They asked me for a result of my national standardized test (SATS results were preferred but I submitted my country’s national standardized test result), my previous university and my high school’s transcripts, my English proficiency results (whether it’s TOEFL, TOEIC or IELTS) and a certificate of completion from my previous university (for my case I had to give a piece of paper that proved that I terminated my studies in my previous university). As with other international students, I applied online by answering the essay questions Waseda asked for to get in the SP2 program for students who are not fluent in the Japanese Language. “

Word of Advice

Who better to ask for tips than those who have successfully gone through the whole process of transferring universities and now enjoy their university life? Paulo and Eli shares their thoughts and the lessons they’ve learned through their experience.

From Paulo:

“When choosing a school, don’t just look at the ranking of the school! Make sure to also learn about the curriculum of the degree program they offer and check if your interests are piqued by the courses they offer. Other than that, make sure to watch videos about the school and check if the culture of the university resonates with your idea of scholarship. This is an important process in figuring out whether you are a right fit for the school or not. You cannot go to a school just because you know it’s famous and well-regarded by everyone. This is a four-year commitment to the institution which could leave a long-lasting impact in your life so make sure to check every detail before deciding which school you want to enter.”

In choosing your major, I think you cannot just obsess about the name of the degree. You also have to look into the curriculum of the program as I have said earlier. Make sure to check if the courses they offer pique your interest, if not, try check other degree programs. They have diverse sets of degree programs in Japan so make sure to check as many as you can in order to make an informed decision.

To students who are considering to study abroad in Japan, I would recommend you to do it. Not only because it will give you an international experience, but also because the resources and quality of teachers they have in Japan are on par with other developed countries. You don’t need to know how to speak Japanese to study here since there are lots of English-degree program offered by universities in Japan. But you do need to embrace the Japanese culture in order to maximize your experience in staying here.

From Eli:

Do research about every Japanese University that offers the specific program you want to study. Coming from a person who didn’t do any research about Japanese universities and quickly applied to Waseda because they had classes taught in English, I was lucky enough that I did apply to Waseda, a well-known university in Japan, which got me all the sugois I wasn’t expecting, offered a program that suited what I wanted. People who want to study other degree programs should do some research on the best school that offers the best quality of education of their degree program.

A piece of advice for people choosing a major in Japan, or just for anyone who is undecided with what they want to take is to choose a major that you know you would grow from. University is a place for learning and to be able to grow because of something you know you like studying, or if you were given a chance, to study in a country you love, is the most fulfilling thing a university student can achieve.

I was lucky that I was given a chance to experience university life twice, and through the ups and downs of adjusting to the environment of everything, I wouldn’t trade it for any experience I could have experienced. Always remember that it might seem daunting to do something that is out of your boundaries, such as studying in a country that speaks a language you don’t know or something that you like and is within your passion, such as studying something related to the arts or the sciences, learning is something that is up to you. Whether it’d be studying in your favorite country or studying a degree you love, do something that you know you will help you thrive into the best person you can be. To shorten this final message; just do you. 

Look before you leap

It’s best to be prepared to take tests such as the SAT, TOEFL, or even the JLPT as an international student applying to universities in Japan. Thorough research of which universities are offering programs that will suit your educational interests and the application process comes next. For students like Paulo and Eli, the whole process is tedious but guaranteed to be worth it. So what are you waiting for? Take up that opportunity to study in Japan.