Brief Background: In 2008, the Japanese government
announced plans to bring 300,000 international students to Japan by
2020. The Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) reports that
international students in Japan numbered over 298,980 in 2018, with
significant growth in postsecondary and vocational enrollments.
According to JASSO’s annual survey of international students, there were
2,596 American students enrolled in Japanese higher education
institutions in 2018.
There are hundreds of local and national universities in Japan,
varying in size, reputation, and institutional control. The University
of Tokyo (known as Todai) and the Kyoto University (known as Kyodai) are
considered Japan’s top two universities. They are among the country’s
so-called Ivy League institutions, referred to as the National Seven
Universities or the former Imperial Universities.
Though English-taught programs have existed at Japanese universities
for decades, the Japanese government has selected 13 universities as
members of its Global 30 initiative, which aims to increase the number
of programs taught in English as a way to attract more international
students to Japan’s most prestigious institutions. No Japanese
proficiency is required at the time of admission to these programs. Note
that most of these universities offer only a small number of places in
just a few academic areas.
In 2014, the Japanese government announced special funding for 37
universities through its Top Global Universities Project, part of an
effort to boost the presence of Japanese universities in global
rankings. Most but not all of these universities offer courses taught in
English; students should carefully check the departments at each
university to determine whether English-taught programs are offered.
Good to Know: To earn a bachelor’s degree, a student
must study at a university for at least four years. There are no
programs in medicine, dentistry, or veterinary science offered in
Despite the growth in English-taught programs, many students wishing
to study in Japan enroll in a yearlong Japanese language course before
beginning their academic program. Some universities offer private
language programs. Students also have the option of enrolling in
separate language institutes. These programs typically educate students
about Japanese language, society, and culture.
By law, Japanese universities cannot accept students who will be
under age 18 on the first day of their freshman year. If the applicant
will be under 18, it may be possible to apply to some universities as a
Academic Calendar: Most educational institutions in
Japan start their academic year in April. The long holiday seasons are
usually in the summer (end of July to early September), winter (end of
December to early January) and spring (February to March). There are
approximately 25 universities in Japan at which students may matriculate
in the autumn. Some institutions are moving to a quarter system to
facilitate entry at various points throughout the year.
Students beginning programs in the fall who wish to work in Japan
after graduation should be aware that companies typically hire new
workers to begin in April. Considering this challenge, some programs
offer a fast-track graduation plan, which means that students are able
to start the academic year in September, graduate in March, 3½ years
later, and then begin work in April.
Search: Students can search for a degree program
taught in English, with autumn matriculation, and with admission
procedures and assessment standards similar to those in North America,
through the JASSO or Univ. In Japan.
Each faculty or department within a university typically has a
profile or policy that details the requirements and demands of its
program. These profiles may be useful in helping students evaluate their
Apply: Students must apply directly to a Japanese
university and to the specific college or program within the university
where they hope to enroll. Traditionally, the faculty of each program
review and select applicants. However, some universities are beginning
to adopt elements of a more holistic admission review process at the
behest of Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and
Technology (MEXT). Additionally, applications to English-taught degree
programs may be reviewed by an admission office dedicated specifically
to international applicants, with input from faculty.
University of Tokyo
“The reasons I decided to come to Osaka University were that I
wanted to live outside the US, I had attained quite a high level of
Japanese before coming, and it made more sense financially to come to
—Sean Zilka, Minnesota, Osaka University
Many Global 30 schools require an interview component as part of the
admission process, but this can be conducted virtually. Some
universities also require additional tests; students should check with
individual institutions for more details. The SAT or the ACT is accepted
(and in many cases required) at almost all universities with
Students within the Japanese secondary school system are selected
based on their results on a competitive nationwide exam, but
international students are exempt from this requirement. However, note
that the English translations of admission procedures that appear on
many university websites use the term examination to refer to all
admission methods, which can be confusing.
International students can apply for admission to undergraduate
professional degree programs, such as law or medicine, at Japanese
universities. These programs are highly competitive and require a high
level of Japanese proficiency prior to applying. These programs are not
available at all institutions, students should contact universities
directly for more information.
Students should be aware that application requirements vary depending
upon the university and program. The requirements can be quite rigid,
with the applicant having to follow a set format for completion of the
forms or production of application essays. Failure to adhere to the
published guidelines can result in an applicant being denied.
Deadlines: Deadlines vary greatly, and many
universities have two or even three admission deadlines within the same
academic year. If applying to multiple Japanese universities, students
are advised to choose one application window and submit their materials
to all institutions during that timeframe. Check with each institution
to confirm its deadlines.
Application Fees: Application fees vary by
institution, but the average fee is between 5,000 and 35,000 yen and is
non-refundable. Additionally, if accepted, a student must pay an
entrance/admission fee of between 200,000 and 300,000 yen, on average.
The entrance/admission fee should be understood as a contribution to the
university; it is not considered part of tuition fees.
Admission Requirements: By law, Japanese higher
education institutions can only enroll students who have a high school
diploma following 12 years of schooling. Many universities are familiar
with the IB Diploma, but they will not accept exam scores for college
credit. The same applies to AP exams. However, advanced classes and
extracurricular involvement related to the desired program of study will
strengthen a student’s application.
Students applying to programs taught in Japanese will be required to
pass an Examination for Japanese University Admission for International
Students (EJU). Administered by JASSO, it evaluates both Japanese
language skills and other basic academic abilities.
Upon Acceptance: Students should follow the
directions for accepting an admission offer provided by the university.
Once accepted, there is a narrow range of dates within which a student
must commit to entry, which includes paying a deposit equivalent to the
entire tuition for the first semester. Once a student has committed, the
university—most likely the international student office—will supply a
Certificate of Eligibility to be used as part of the visa application
Tuition and Fees: Annual tuition at national and
local public institutions typically ranges between 535,000 and 931,000
yen. Private university undergraduate tuition varies based on the course
of study pursued, ranging anywhere between 1,108,000 and 4,189,000 yen.
Tuition costs for studies in medicine and other professional science
fields are at the higher end of this scale. International students pay
the same tuition and fees as domestic students.
International students can apply for scholarships from universities,
private foundations, local governments, JASSO, and MEXT. It is important
to note that students cannot receive a MEXT scholarship and a JASSO
scholarship simultaneously. According to a 2017 JASSO Survey, 39.3
percent of international students receive scholarship funding to study
In addition to scholarships, some universities also offer application
fee waivers. Inquiries about these opportunities can be directed to
Housing: While most international students choose to
live in private apartments or homes, privately-run off-campus student
dormitories tend to be a cheaper option—in part because most apartments
are not furnished and in some cases appliances must also be purchased. A
university’s international student services office or admission
representative can typically recommend housing options or connect
students with area landlords or real estate agents. Some universities
have on-campus dorms, however, only a limited number of students are
able to live there.
According to the 2017 JASSO Survey, the average monthly rent paid by
students is 34,000 yen, with the Tokyo metropolitan area being the most
expensive with rent upward of 39,000 yen. The average monthly cost of
living for an international student in Japan, including rent, is
approximately 146,000 yen.
Students staying in Japan for more than a year must register for
national health insurance and pay yearly premiums of approximately
20,000 yen. Insurance covers 70 percent of medical bills with the
remaining 30 percent the responsibility of the individual.
Visa and Other Permits: Students must apply for a
visa before traveling to Japan and will need the Certificate of
Eligibility issued by their institution to do so. Students planning to
live and pursue university study in Japan for more than three months
must obtain a residence card. They must carry their College Student
Residence Status card with them at all times.
US citizens are exempt from paying all Japanese visa fees, including fees for student visas.
Students who want to work part-time while studying in Japan must
submit an application to a regional immigration office. They may not
begin part-time work until that application has been approved. Students
may not work more than 28 hours a week (there is no maximum number of
hours per day), but may work up to 40 hours a week (eight hours a day)
during summer break or other vacation periods.
Following graduation, international students can work in Japan as
long as they have a job related to their major and receive a salary
equivalent to a Japanese national employee. Without satisfying both of
these requirements, the student cannot change their status of residency
(i.e., acquire a work visa). Students who do not secure a job
immediately can remain in Japan for job-seeking activities for a maximum
of one year following graduation.
Japanese universities pride themselves on their ability to help their
graduates secure jobs in Japan, and much of a student’s final
undergraduate year is spent job-hunting, with comprehensive support
provided by the university.
Advice from the Field: Since there are
well-established and reputable universities offering September entry to
English-taught programs, the start date should be an important criterion
for students and counselors when selecting academic programs.
Japan is a relatively safe country with a low crime rate. However,
prospective international students should be aware that drug laws are
strict and equally applied to foreigners and Japanese citizens. Use or
possession of even small amounts of a prohibited drug can result in a
prison sentence of one to 10 years, as well as a fine. Individuals
arrested in Japan may be held without bail for two to three months
during a police investigation and legal proceedings.
“Personally, the best part of being a university student in
Japan for me was the way the credit schedules were structured. In
Japanese universities, you finish most of your credits in the first two
years of school, so later you have a lot more free time to focus on what
you want to research in the second half of your time at your
Japanese universities are looking to diversify, and American students
are well sought after. Be aware, however, that English is not widely
spoken in Japan, so basic knowledge of Japanese or a desire to learn the
language is highly beneficial. The terms international or global appear
frequently in some university course descriptions and publicity, but
that is no guarantee that all students or professors are fluent in
English. It is worth investigating how many professors have studied
overseas or the percentage of students from outside Japan within a given
university or program. Universities that include these statistics
prominently on their websites have likely made a sincere effort to
internationalize the education they provide.
Following graduation, international students can stay connected to
their institution and fellow graduates by joining an alumni-initiated
group in Japan, should they stay to continue their education or work in
Japan, or an alumni-initiated group back in their home country or new
country of residence. Some universities have designated offices
operating in different countries. Students can contact these offices or
the universities directly for more detailed information about available