Blog 🍎 School 2nd January 2022

Studying in Japan: The Japanese University System Explained

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James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

Japan is 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.

Studying in Japan is an increasingly appealing option for many international students – and for good reason.

While there are vibrant and vital study hubs across the Asian continent, Japan is often particularly enticing. With many highly ranked universities, a world-leading technological sector, and a unique culture, it’s a strong bet for higher education.

Of course, COVID-19 has thrown up some difficulties, with Japan imposing tight entry restrictions. Nevertheless, those with a visa to study in Japan are currently allowed to enter the country. 

And it’s clear that despite these challenges, the Japanese government has been keen to attract international students over the past few years. In fact, it explicitly set a target to increase the number of foreign students in the country, which now stands at around 300,000.

Universities themselves have also introduced a variety of initiatives to be more accessible 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

Nevertheless, for many counsellors the Japanese university system is new and unfamiliar territory. With no central application platform, the process can be even more confusing!

So in this blog post, we’ll 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?

Studying in Japan grants access to world-renowned universities

Japan has a reputation for its great education. It has 48 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2022, and its prestigious “National Seven” universities are on par with the Russell Group in the UK or the Ivy League in the US. They are:

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

Studying in Japan can bring 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.

Studying in Japan provides 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.

Studying in Japan gives students the chance to learn a new language

Though an increasing number of university courses 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.

Studying in Japan means soaking up a unique culture

From anime to J-pop, Japan has a dynamic culture that is popular with people all around the world.

As a country it is immensely modern and home to some of the world’s biggest tech companies. But Japan also takes pride in its rich cultural traditions and ancient 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!

Studying in Japan puts students amongst vibrant student cities

Studying in Japan is also a great choice in terms of students’ broader lifestyles. Because so many international students do choose to study in Japan, there’s a rich and exciting student life and cities brimming with fellow students.

In fact, two of Japan’s cities are in the top 20 student cities in the whole world: Tokyo even takes a place on the proverbial podium at number 3!

Studying in Japan: different types of university

Studying in Japan gives students the choice from a rich and diverse higher education system. The country has over 700 universities which can be classified into different types of university institution.

National universities

National universities in Japan are funded by the central Japanese government and are seen as the more prestigious universities in the country.

Degree programs at national universities tend to focus on general studies and the sciences.

Public universities

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

Private universities

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

Colleges of technology and engineering

Those interested in studying in Japan can also look into more vocational routes, as Japan has an array of excellent vocational universities and schools designed to help students to enter a particular trade or line of work. In fact, graduates of Japanese colleges of technology usually have an especially high employment rate.

Vocational study in Japan generally takes place in junior/technical college (Senmon Gakko) which can impart more vocational qualifications including associate degrees, diplomas and apprenticeships.

Students who are specifically interested in engineering could also look at the prestigious KOSEN, which are higher education institutions dedicated to engineering.

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 and technical courses, often two to three years in length.

How to apply to study in Japan

Unlike countries like the UK, applicants hoping to study in Japan have no central platform for their applications. Instead, students apply directly to their chosen institutions, and should check each university’s website carefully before applying.

Application deadlines for studying in Japan

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 for studying in Japan

Broadly speaking, studying in Japan requires international students 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.

How to fund studying in Japan

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 tend to be around 4,800 USD, while at private universities this can rise to about 15,000 USD per year.

Tuition fees 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 scholarships available for studying in Japan. Here are a few examples…

Japanese Government Scholarships

Students can apply to 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, or specialised training college.

Local Government Scholarships

Local governments in Japan offer scholarships to international students in their municipal district. 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 also offer their own scholarships.

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!

Help your students explore their Asian education options

If you’d like to know more about how BridgeU can help your students to explore a range of Asian universities, book a free demo of our platform below.

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