There are hundreds of private, public and national universities in Japan, and Japan has one of the most competitive admissions processes in the world. But how competitive would it be for foreign students? Do they also need to take the same tests Japanese students have to take?
Read on for information on how to apply to be a student at a university in Japan. You should also check out our GaijinPot 101 section on Higher Education and Studying Japanese.
Why study at a Japanese university?
Japan was recently ranked as the No.2 study abroad destination in Asia thanks to its low tuition fees, the high number of government scholarships given to international students and the positive employability prospects both in Japan and abroad post-graduation.
Both the current Japanese government and Japanese higher learning institutes are actively trying to increase the number of foreign students by offering scholarships and making the path to admissions much easier.
You will have to meet entry requirements, but in most cases, these requirements relate to attendance at a language school and overall language ability.
If you study at a language school and can get your Japanese to a suitable level, it’s possible to have Japanese universities contacting you with scholarship offers.
In addition, there are also several international programs at Japanese universities that are conducted in English and do not require any Japanese language ability to apply. These courses are typically combined with language lessons as part of the degree.
Types of universities in Japan
You will find three types of university depending on how they were founded.
- National universities (established by the Japanese government)
- Public universities (established by local public entities)
- Private universities (established by educational corporations)
Private universities account for about 80% of all universities and have about 80% of all university students on their registers.
Types of degree in Japan
- University Bachelor’s degree = 4 years
- Graduate School Master’s degree = 2 years
- Doctor’s degree = 5 years
- Professional degree = 2 years
- Junior College Associate’s degree = 2 or 3 years
- College of Technology Associate’s degree = 5 years
- Specialized School Specialist’s degree = 2 or 3 years
- High-level Specialist’s degree = 4 years
- Medicine, Dental Surgery, Pharmacy degree = 6 years
Quick overview of the admissions procedure for a Japanese university
The academic year begins in April and ends in March. Classes are usually divided into two semesters from April to September, and then October to March. Students normally enroll in April, but some universities allow entry at a different time such as October.
Most Japanese universities offer a special entrance examination for privately financed foreign students which is different from the one taken by students in Japan. This may be separate or in addition to the EJU and the university’s official entrance exam.
General eligibility for an undergraduate degree program for international students:
- Have completed or will have completed 12 years of school education in your home country. You will need to submit a transcript
- You should not have any immigration issues, which may interfere with your entry into Japan or with your study in a Japanese university
- You will take the examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU)
As for the application, some universities require a personal statement, the result of your Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and the result of your TOEFL score. Letters of recommendations are needed based on the university you will be applying to, so check with the university website.
If you are receiving funding from the Japanese government, it is best to go to the funding organization’s website for specific instructions.
What is the EJU?
The EJU is an examination introduced in 2002 by the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) and is considered as a part of the entrance examination for international students who wish to study at universities or other higher educational institutions in Japan.
This examination is conducted in Japan twice annually in June and November and is scheduled to be held in about 17 cities outside Japan, mainly in the Asian region. The examination subjects are Japanese as a Foreign Language, Science, Japan and the World, and Mathematics.
Questions are available in Japanese and English. Applicants will take the examination on the subjects and in the language designated by the respective colleges or universities.
Some of the universities consider the result along with grades at a senior high school without requiring students to sit the university’s own entrance examination.
If you apply to such a university, you could receive permission to enter that university without even leaving your home country.
Find out more about the EJU here.
Getting a student visa for Japan
Once you get accepted into a Japanese university, you will be asked to apply for a student visa to study in Japan.
This involves completing a Certificate of Eligibility form, providing a copy of your passport, and also having proof of funds which demonstrates that you have sufficient money to pay for your studies and to live in Japan without a part-time job, at least for the initial few months.
The amount varies depending on your school’s tuition fees, the period of stay in Japan and your living circumstances after arriving in Japan, but it is recommended to show access to an average of ¥2,000,000 or more for the first few months of your stay. Read more about providing proof of financial viability.
The international student center at the Japanese university will then submit your application to the immigration authorities in Japan. It takes about 2 to 3 months for immigration to process the application and issue the Certificate of Eligibility (COE).
After you receive a COE from your Japanese university, you will need to visit the Japanese embassy in your home country and bring the following documents:
- Application materials for your student visa
- Student visa application form
- One photo
- Certificate of Eligibility (must be original)
The embassy will then issue your student visa in about 7 days, and you’re set!
For more information about the student visa visit our GaijinPot Study FAQ page on How to apply for a student visa to study in Japan.
Japanese universities that offer degree programs in English and Japanese
For English programs, you generally do not need to have Japanese language ability, although having some basic skills or being able to show some efforts in studying the language will strengthen your application.
Programs in English at Komaba (PEAK)
Having a long history and status as the best university in Japan, Tokyo University or “Todai” offers a learning environment not only for native Japanese elite students but also for talented students around the world. The PEAK initiative consists of two programs: “International Program on Japan in East Asia” and “International Program on Environmental Sciences”, that are taught in all-English.
Global Science Course (GSC)
The Global Science Course is a bit unique in that it is not a four-year undergraduate program but a program designated for transfer students that have completed at least two years of undergraduate studies in a scientific field. GSC transfer students receive monthly stipends of ¥150,000 as well as accommodation fully funded by the university, and other privileges.
More information on international programs at Todai can be found here.
Sophia University (Tokyo)
Faculty of Liberal Arts (FLA)
Sophia University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts is known for its program taught entirely in English, which is the oldest and one of the most distinguished of its kind in Japan. Students can take courses from various fields, including Comparative Culture, International Business and Economics, and Social Studies, which examine modern Japan and its traditions in a global context.
Faculty of Science and Technology
Sophia University also offers English-conducted programs for more specialized fields in science. The Green Science program is designed to foster cross-disciplinary knowledge in chemistry, physics, biology, and their application to environmental issues. The Green Engineering program teaches the fundamentals of physics, mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as application of such knowledge to the development of energy conservation technology. As each program has an enrollment capacity of 25 students, students can communicate closely with their professors.
Sophia Program for Sustainable Futures
Selected as a “Top Global University” by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), Sophia has decided to launch a third English-taught program starting in September 2020. This new program allows students to take courses in English in existing departments that teach courses in Japanese.
Through this program, students can obtain a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, education, sociology, economics, management, or international relations, and there will be more opportunities for field research and internships.
More information on each program can be found here.
For those that wish to enroll in a Japanese-taught program starting in April alongside native Japanese applicants, information can be found here.
Waseda University (Tokyo)
Seven undergraduate schools in Waseda offer English-based degree programs where international students can take English courses and earn a Bachelor’s degree without Japanese language proficiency.
The School of Political Science and Economics (often referred to as Waseda Seikei) is known as one of the most prestigious schools in Japan and started their English-based degree program in 2010.
Unlike the other schools, Waseda only takes students once a year in September. Other schools like the School of Social Sciences Transnational and Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Innovation (TAISI), School of Fundamental Science and Engineering, and the School of International Liberal Studies (SILS) take students in both April and September.
More information on English programs for each school can be found here.
Information on Japanese-based degree programs can be found here.
Keio University (Tokyo)
English-based degree programs
The undergraduate degree programs offered in English at Keio are the Programme in Economics for Alliances, Research and Leadership (PEARL) under the Faculty of Economics and the Global Information and Governance Academic (GIGA) Program under the Faculty of Policy Management and the Faculty of Environment and Information Studies.
Japanese-based degree programs
A number of Keio’s undergraduate departments also offer all-Japanese courses with a special admission procedure designated for international students, which they call “Ryugakusei Nyushi.” Required documents vary among each department, and some departments are relatively demanding, such as the Faculty of Law that requires a short essay with a thesis statement that is separate from the statement of purpose.
More information can be found here.
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (Beppu, Oita)
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) has two undergraduate programs under the College of Asia Pacific Studies focusing on tourism, international relations, and culture, and the College of International Management, focusing on finance and marketing. Students can choose between a Japanese-track program and an English-track one, allowing for a diverse group of people to study together on one campus.
Prospective students may also apply for a tuition reduction scholarship at the time of admission.
More information can be found here.
A more comprehensive list of “Top Global Universities” selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology can be found here.
How much does it cost to study at a Japanese university
The cost for each university program obviously varies among each university, but for national universities (国立, kokuritsu), the tuition fee itself is fixed at ¥585,800. Private universities usually cost twice as much ranging from ¥1 to 2 million.
Each university has scholarships, some of which cover all of a student’s tuition fee based on their financial situation and academic performance. More than 100 kinds of scholarships programs offered by public or private institutions are available, and of these, about 60 are reserved for foreign students with a college student visa.
JASSO (Japan Student Services Organization) also offers scholarships which can be applied to through the university, giving out a stipend of ¥48,000 per month for one academic year.
Student housing in Japan
Most universities provide student dormitories, but oftentimes they are not located on campus and are a couple of stations away by train. In some cases, the commute time takes up to an hour, but the dorm fee may be cheaper. The monthly rent for student accommodation is ¥20,000 – ¥30,000 for a single room with water and electricity bills included.
This can go up to ¥60,000 – ¥90,000 depending on the extra amenities, such as a kitchen attached to each room or access to community space with table tennis and movies. Cafeteria meals in Japan are cheap and filling, with a lunch set of rice, miso soup, and a main dish like karaage chicken costing ¥500.
For more information on housing, take a look at the Moving In and Moving Out section on the GaijinPot 101.
Do I need to be able to speak Japanese to be a student in Japan?
In order to increase your chances of studying at a university in Japan, the most important thing is to have all the proper immigration documents and get the visa situation straightened. The application process may seem tedious but the better prepared you are the faster it will go.
The next thing is to start studying the Japanese language.
For English-based programs, as mentioned above having fluent Japanese language skills is not always a requirement though you can strengthen your application by being able to show efforts in learning the language before you get here.
For Japanese-based programs, you will need at least N2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) in order to keep up with lectures that are taught entirely in Japanese. For prestigious universities (Waseda, Keio, Tokyo), you may be required to have the top-level of N1.
Finding a job in Japan after studying at a Japanese university
After completing a four-year university program, students can consider job hunting in Japan as companies are increasingly hiring those with an international background.
Career centers in universities often hold special sessions for international students, giving out information such as a general guideline on when companies start accepting applications, the types of exams that are commonly used, advice for interviews, and unspoken social rules and etiquette in Japanese business settings.
Check out GaijinPot Jobs for listings in a variety of industries to get a feel for what’s out there.
For any international student, it is important to determine what the purpose of your stay in Japan is, and to figure out the program most suitable for you, also keeping in mind financial costs of tuition and housing. Check out this article on the average cost of living in Japan in 2019 and the average cost of rent in Tokyo for further information.
Another great resource for international students is the JASSO Gateway to Studying in Japan website.
For more on learning Japanese
- Learn Japanese with our original study materials on GaijinPot Study
- Questions about studying Japanese in Japan? Take a look at the Japan 101 section on Higher Education and Studying Japanese
- Join our GaijinPot Study Facebook group to connect with fellow learners
- Learn more about the GaijinPot Study Placement Program