Choosing a university and major when applying to study abroad can be difficult. There is no one right way to choose as there are several considerations and deciding factors that come into play. But it is one of the most important things that you have to decide on. It is important to have extensive knowledge of your chosen university, its program, and location before moving on with your application. Here we share with you some stories from international students who are now studying in Japan and their advice when choosing where to study in Japan. 

Prestige: Top Universities

When you are planning to study abroad, it means that you are looking to get out of your comfort zone. Most students who want to do this also want to maximize their study abroad opportunity by entering prestigious universities.  

For Vijayeta Lapalkar, an international student from India majoring in Language, Media, and Communication, prestige was an aspect that she considered. “The National Universities of Japan is very prestigious and I wanted to get into one of them,” she says. “Being one of the top ten universities of Japan and one of the seven National Universities, Kyushu University was a dream university for me. As I researched further, Kyushu University stood out because of the new programs it was offering for foreign students.”

In Japan, National Universities are highly respected. Some of the most prestigious institutions in the country are called the “National Seven Universities” (国立七大学), also known as “Imperial Universities.” These universities were founded by the Empire of Japan between 1886 and 1939, and are some of the oldest higher education institutions in Japan and in Asia. The National Seven Universities are the following: University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, Osaka University, Nagoya University, Tohoku University, Hokkaido University, and Kyushu University. 

Particularly when choosing where to study in Japan, taking prestige into consideration is a good strategy because like in Lapalkar’s experience, you will find that these universities have better infrastructures and programs to support international students. These institutions are well-established and most of them are also part of the Japanese Government’s Top Global University Project. Launched in 2014 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports, the project provides financial support to 37 universities in the country (including the National Seven Universities) which are spearheading the internationalization of Japanese education. 

Major, Field of Study, and Academic Adviser

Some international students, like Prashant “Arsen” Shrestha, who come from Nepal, choose their university specifically based on their field of study. “I had no difficulty choosing Tokyo Institute of Technology,” says Arsen. “I was determined to study robotics from the beginning. The System and Control Engineering program from Tokyo Tech was specially catered to match the type of full robotic course I was seeking.”

For students like Arsen, studying in Japan not only means studying outside of their country but it is an opportunity to engage with the finest institutions that are at the forefront of their field. For instance, Japan is a world leader in the field of robotics and the Tokyo Institute of Technology is one of the best universities offering degrees in this field. “My major is System and Control Engineering,” Arsen adds. “This is a specially designed course by Tokyo Tech faculties to provide a smooth transition for undergraduate students from robot basic to robot research without having to pursue any other unnecessary unrelated subject matter. The reason I chose this major is simply because I love technology and I think robots are the next big thing in the field of technology.”

Photo from YT Loke

Meanwhile, some students also ask for advice from their teachers or lecturers in their home country. This was the experience of YT Loke from Malaysia. “The biggest reason I selected Kyushu University as my first option is because the university is recommended by one of my lecturer who graduated from Kyushu University,” Loke says. “My current specific research topic is corrosion in concrete under the School of Civil Engineering. There is no difficulty for me to choose my major because the topic is related to my previous research when I was a Degree student.”

As a then-incoming graduate school student, Loke’s strategy was to ask for advice from a lecturer that he trusted. This strategy paid off, especially because his current research is related to what he was already studying for his undergraduate degree. This means that the lecturers in his university would have known about which institutions have the best programs within this field of study. 

Loke also adds an important point when choosing where to study in Japan. “It is important to choose professor that has the same interest of research topic as yours,” he adds. “Your professor plays an important role because they would be guiding you throughout your study period at the university. Therefore, please choose your professor wisely.” 

Weather, Culture, and Environment

For some, weather and culture play a major factor when considering moving to another city or town. As a student, the environment and other external factors outside the university may affect your lifestyle, physical and mental wellbeing.  It can also be a big factor for how long before you can adjust and settle down. 

Ronald Buan considered this when he chose his university.  An anime and manga fan himself, Ronald is already familiar with the Japanese culture. As a Filipino, he also considered the weather, “Kyushu University is situated in the far south of Japan, which I find perfect. Coming from a tropical country, I think that warmer weather is more suitable for me.” Additionally, he was lucky because he wasn’t alone in his studies, “Luckily, a close friend of mine happened to be enrolled in Kyushu University as well.”

YT Loke from Malaysia also had the same sentiment,  “Fukuoka has a lower cost of living compared to Tokyo and Osaka,” says Locke. “Fukuoka City’s size is balanced, not too dense and crowded. People in Fukuoka are friendly and more connected to each other. The subway line here is not complicated and it is easy to travel from one place to another. Moreover, Fukuoka is rarely hit by disasters. The weather is generally mild all over the year. The temperature ranges from 4 degrees Celsius during winter to 33 degrees Celsius during summer.”

Studying abroad is an exciting opportunity. As we mentioned, while there are many factors to consider,  there isn’t a single correct way to decide where you should study in Japan. After doing your research, and even after asking your peers, teachers, or professors, the most important thing is to take some time to reflect on your own. What do you value the most? Why do you want to study in Japan? Is it because of the culture and the experiences? Is it to pursue a specific degree? What are you really interested in? Afterwards, think about which universities or which places can help you achieve these goals and support you. 

That’s it! We hope our stories have inspired you in your journey to study abroad here in Japan. Mata ne!