Studying in Japan: The Japanese University System Explained

Japan is becoming an increasingly popular destination for international students. Here's an overview of the types of universities and courses on offer to your students, and how they can apply.

With many highly ranked universities, a world-leading technological sector, and a vibrant, unique culture, Japan is becoming an increasingly popular destination for international students.

This is even more the case this year, and with COVID-19 causing students to consider alternative destinations the demand for an international education in Japan has only increased.

Luckily, Japan is keen to attract international students, too!

Recently the Japanese government implemented a target to increase the number of foreign students in the country, and it now stands at around 300,000. Universities have also introduced a variety of initiatives to be more welcoming to international students, including:

  • An easier, more online, application process
  • An increase in the number of English-taught courses available
  • Additional financial aid options
  • Help finding a job after graduation

For many counselors, the Japanese university system is new and unfamiliar territory, and with no central application platform the process can be quite confusing!

So, in this blog post, we will take a look at the types of universities and courses on offer to your students, and how they can apply.

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What are the benefits of studying in Japan?

World-renowned universities

Japan has a reputation for its great education. It has 41 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2021, and it’s prestigious “National Seven” universities are on par with the Russell Group in the UK or the Ivy League in the US. It includes:

  • The University of Tokyo
  • Kyoto University
  • Osaka University
  • Nagoya University
  • Tohoku University
  • Hokkaido University
  • Kyushu University

Lower tuition fees

Though Japan is one of the most expensive Asian university destinations, compared with countries like the UK and USA, tuition fees are fairly reasonable. The Japanese government has also introduced a number of scholarship and financial aid options for international students. We’ll go into more detail about these a little later.

Good employment prospects

Japan has the world’s third-largest economy, and is home to huge global companies such as Sony, Hitachi, and Toyota. This means that there are a lot of jobs available for university graduates, and English-speaking graduates are in high demand.

The chance to learn a new language

Though an increasing number of university options are taught in English, most students will have to learn some Japanese in order to get by in the country. Don’t let this deter your students, though! There are plenty of Language Schools that offer both short-term and long-term courses, and Japanese is a fantastic language to know in the workplace.

A unique culture

From anime to J-pop, Japan has a vibrant culture that is popular with people all around the world. As a country it is immensely modern, home to some of the world’s biggest tech companies, but also takes pride in its traditional history. If your students are looking for a unique cultural experience that they won’t be able to get anywhere else, Japan is the place for them!

The different types of Japanese university

Japan has a rich and diverse higher education system, playing host to over 700 universities. Students can choose from a number of different types of university institution.

National Universities

These universities are funded by the central Japanese government and are seen as the more prestigious universities in Japan. Degree programs at national universities tend to focus more on general studies and the sciences.

Public Universities

These are similar in structure to national universities, but these institutions are run by local government and are therefore more rooted in their local community.

Private universities

Degrees at these universities tend to focus a bit more towards humanities and
social sciences. Private Japanese universities also tend to be more expensive than their national and local public counterparts.

Colleges of technology

As with other international destinations, Japanese vocational universities and schools are designed to help students to enter a particular trade or line of work. Graduates of Japanese colleges of technology usually have a much higher employment rate.

Qualifications issued by colleges of technology include associate degrees, diplomas and apprenticeships.

Special training colleges & community colleges

These are two year specialist schools that train students in fields such as education, health care, agriculture, social welfare and industry. Students are awarded a diploma after two years of study and an advanced diploma after three years of study.

Junior colleges

Junior colleges are institutions that offer shorter, more vocational & technical courses, often two to three years in length.

How to apply to university in Japan

Japan has no central platform for its university applications - instead, students apply directly to their chosen institution(s). Students should check their chosen university’s website carefully before applying.

Application deadlines

The Japanese academic year usually starts in April and ends in March, but to become more attractive to international students, some courses allow students to begin in September. Application deadlines vary, but are usually around six months before the start of the semester.

Documents required

Broadly speaking, when applying to a university in Japan students will need to submit the following documents:

  • Application form from the individual university
  • Secondary school transcript
  • Letter of recommendation
  • Certificate of proficiency in Japanese and English

Again, this will vary between institutions, so it’s worth students checking the university’s website ahead of time.

Once they have been accepted to a Japanese university, international students will also need a student visa. To obtain this, they should get a Certificate of Eligibility from their university, and then apply for their visa through their local Japanese embassy or consulate.

Entrance examinations

International students who wish to apply to university in Japan must take the Examination for Japanese University Admissions, or EJU. The EJU is designed to test students’ basic academic abilities and Japanese proficiency.

It’s also worth noting that individual universities may require students to take entrance exams in addition to the EJU.

Funding a Japanese education

Tuition fees

Japan isn’t one of the cheapest countries to study in, but tuition fees aren’t as high as in the USA or UK. Annual fees at public universities range from around ¥400,000-¥850,000 (£3,000-£6,000), while at private universities this can rise to about ¥1,500,000 (£10,000) per year.

Tuition fees will vary between universities, and students can also expect to pay a separate admission fee. They should contact the admissions department of their chosen university to confirm the exact amount they can expect to pay.

Scholarship options

The good news is that there are plenty of scholarship options available to international students in Japan. Here are a few examples...

Japanese Government Scholarships

Students can apply through these scholarships either via through the Japanese embassy in their country of origin, who actively recruit international talent, or through Japanese universities themselves.

Japanese Student Services Scholarships (JASSO)

JASSO offers the “Monbukagakusho Honors Scholarship for Privately-Financed International Students”. These are for international students who are accepted by a Japanese university, graduate school, junior college, college of technology, specialised training college.

Local Government Scholarships

Local governments in Japan offer scholarships to international students studying in their municipal district, so students should research scholarships in the local region/district they ultimately decide to apply to.

Private Foundation Scholarships

These are Japanese scholarships offered by private companies and organisations.

Individual university scholarships

Japanese universities will also offer their own scholarships and the Study in Japan website has a useful downloadable eBook and spreadsheet of Japanese scholarships for you and your students to use.

As you can see, both the Japanese government and the university institutions themselves have been doing a great deal to make the country more welcoming to international students. So, if you have students considering alternative destinations, Japan is well worth a look!

To learn more about the requirements and application procedures for popular international destinations, download your free eBook below.

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