Each university requires at least one round of exams prior to admission. The most prestigious universities, such as the University of Tokyo, often schedule multiple rounds of exams so they can weed out low-scoring students early and limit the following rounds to the most competitive applicants.
These exams are the reason that high school students spend years studying well into the night. In spite of the preparation, 40% of Japanese students do not test well enough to enter their schools of choice. These students usually choose to wait and study for another year rather than settle for their second or third choices. They are called ronin, and they are so common it is often said Japanese Bachelor´s degrees require 5 years of study (officially they require 4).
Japanese university courses are not nearly as straining as their admissions exams, however. Once students are admitted to university, most have no problem completing their degrees.
Eligibility for Japanese university
Foreigners who want to study at a Japanese university must meet the following requirements:
- Have a valid passport
- 12 years of school in your home country or an International Baccalaureate diploma (the German Abitur is also accepted by many universities)
- Proof that you can pay all of your expenses while studying
- Japanese language skills (not technically a requirement, but you will struggle in university courses without a working knowledge of the language)
Foreigners have an easier time getting into Japanese universities than Japanese students, mainly because the Japanese government encourages a diverse university population (the non-Asian population at most universities is still extremely low, however). In addition, the decreasing numbers of young people in Japan are translating into more space at universities.
University application requirements
A typical Japanese university application requires the following items:
- References from professors/teachers
- Proof that you can financially support yourself while studying
- High school transcripts and/or diplomas
- A valid passport
- Passport-size photographs
Don´t think you will be able to apply without taking an entrance exam. While foreign students are not subjected to the sanity-bending rigours of the Japanese exams, they are required to take the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students. This includes academic and language testing, and is offered twice a year (in summer and fall, respectively). If you are applying to a university that requires English language skills and you are not a native English-speaker, you may be required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
Once admitted, your university will help you obtain your student visa, mainly by providing you with a Certificate of Eligibility. See the Visa and Permits section for more information on applying for a student visa.
University tuition and fees
The cost of attending Japanese university usually falls between 500,000 and 1,000,000 yen. Unlike many other countries, Japan does not have a university culture that equates cost with quality. In other words, more expensive schools are not necessarily better schools. When looking for a Japanese university, consider the number of credit hours offered per term and the quality of the faculty. Depending on your needs, you may find cheaper schools more suitable.
Scholarships are available from almost every Japanese university. Though the application process (like the admissions process) is often extremely competitive, there are some scholarships that cater specifically to foreign and language-exchange students.
Monbukagakasho (Ministry of Education) scholarships can be applied for through a Japanese embassy or consulate in your home country. Often, these cover all tuition, application, housing, and living costs. Most local governments and civic organizations also offer scholarships to university students. Contact the city hall nearest where you are studying for more information on available scholarships and their application processes.