College guidance

Studying in Japan: Tips for applying to Japanese universities

Expert tips from a Cialfo Institute webinar featuring Jeremy Tan, International Admissions Officer at Ritsumeikan University in Japan

Cialfo Community
July 14, 2021
6 min read
Studying in Japan: Tips for applying to Japanese universities
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Studying in Japan: Tips for applying to Japanese universities

Going to university in Japan

  • Why Japan?
  • Higher education options in Japan
  • Cost of studying in Japan
  • Deciding on your university
  • Admission into Japanese universities
  • Advice on the admissions process
  • Student life
  • Employment in Japan
  • Conclusion

Why Japan?

Japan is becoming increasingly popular amongst students as a destination for tertiary education, and it is easy to see why ⸺ this is a country highly regarded for its excellent education system, which is known for producing some of the most disciplined and accomplished students in the world. Furthermore, Japan’s unique culture and safe environment are also major selling points that attract students from across the globe. So, what are some things students who aspire to study in Japan need to know?

Higher education options in Japan

Higher education in Japan is overseen by the Ministry of Education Sports and Technology of Japan (MEXT), which is in charge of all the universities, technical colleges, specialist colleges, junior colleges and professional schools in the country. When it comes to universities, there are around 86 national universities, 93 public universities, and 607 private universities in Japan. Unlike their private counterparts, national and public universities have subsidized tuition fees, and thus serve as a more accessible option for financially conscious students. 

In the past, higher education in Japan was very much seen as a means to train Japanese students to assimilate into the Japanese workforce, which made the education system less suitable for and appealing to international students. However, MEXT has since shifted its stance regarding higher education, and has adapted curricula from other countries such as the UK and the US to develop programs that are more relevant for our increasingly globalised world. This in turn has made Japanese graduates more appealing to MNCs, and has also attracted more international students to study in Japan. 

From the increase in English-medium programs offered by universities, to the introduction of  September enrollments to accommodate overseas timetables, and hybrid models taught in both English and Japanese, the Japanese government has demonstrated its commitment to transforming its education system.

Cost of studying in Japan

Expenses are probably one of the most important factors for international students, as the costs of living and studying abroad can be quite significant. Thankfully, the annual tuition fees in Japanese universities are relatively affordable compared to some other countries.

Tuition Fees

  • National/Public Universities: Around 540,000 JPY annually (5000 USD)
  • Private Universities: 900,000 JPY - 1,500,000 JPY annually (8000 - 13,500 USD)

On top of annual tuition fees, students will also need to pay a one time admissions fee before enrollment of around 200,000 - 400,000 JPY (1800 - 3600 USD) to reserve a place at the university. 

Living expenses

These costs vary depending on the area of Japan the student stays at, but usually average around 89,000 JPY (810 USD) monthly. For more metropolitan areas like Tokyo, living costs are likely to increase to around 100,000 JPY (910 USD) while for more rural areas like Kyushu, estimates are around 72,000 JPY (655 USD).

Deciding on your university

When choosing a university to study at, students need to take note of the school's language of instruction. Unless the student is very proficient in Japanese, they will have to choose between programs where English is the language of instruction, or hybrid programs, where lessons are taught in both English and Japanese. Hybrid programs are recommended for students who have a general grasp on the Japanese language, and are looking to increase their proficiency.

Aside from this, Japanese universities can also be categorized as being more specialized or more comprehensive. A specialized university generally focuses on one line of study (e.g. the arts, social sciences, liberal arts, etc.), and is thus more suited for students with very specific interests. On the other hand, comprehensive universities give students the opportunity to try a wide range of subjects, for a more all-encompassing educational experience.

Finally, factors such as extracurricular activities, cultural experiences, student life, and the area the university is located in are also important things to consider when making one’s university choice.

Admission into Japanese universities

Unlike countries like the UK or the US, there is no centralized application system or universal application timeline set by universities in Japan. Furthermore, program requirements can vary depending on the institution. As such, students need to begin their applications early in order to maximise their chances of entering their school of choice.

When it comes to admission requirements, international students will need to have completed 12 years of school in their country, as higher education in Japan is defined as studies after 12 years of formal education. Students may also need to take an English test if their course is taught in English; these courses do not require students to have any Japanese proficiency. Final submission of applications tends to occur  at least six months before enrollment, but may be earlier or later depending on the university. 

Due to the varying requirements and application timelines, students need to do their own research into their school of choice and begin collating the respective requirements as early as possible.

Advice on the admissions process

The admissions process can be a very complicated one, especially for international students. Here are some tips to help ensure you maximize your chances of success at it:

Begin preparation early

Japanese students take their education very seriously, and often begin to compile information for university entrance in their penultimate year before graduation. As such, international students should start their applications early as well, to increase their chances of admission.

Be organized

With the different requirements and application timelines to keep track of, students must find a way to organize their information so as to not run the risk of missing deadlines.

Check requirement validity dates

Some English tests are only valid for a period of time. Ensure all certifications are still valid at the time of submission.

Double check if you have dual citizenship

Students with dual citizenship should contact the university directly, as there may be a different admission process for them

Reconsider Japan if you are a medical student

Medical schools in Japan are extremely competitive, with very limited spots. At the minimum, students need exceptional grades and Japanese proficiency levels close to that of a native speaker to be considered. Having good Japanese proficiency is important as medical students will be interacting with patients very often.

Student life

Leisure activities

One of the foremost reasons students decide to study in Japan is to experience its unique culture. There are a range of festivals in Japan, and students turning 20 can celebrate the coming-of-age festival with their fellow students, which signals their transition to adulthood. There are also many campus festivals all year round, creating an unforgettable campus experience unlike anywhere else in the world. 

Japan is also famous for its cuisine, and students will definitely enjoy the country’s unique food through both on- and off-campus dining. Whether it’s street food, restaurants, or even convenience stores, a good meal in Japan is never too far away. The more culinary inclined students can also take advantage of Japan’s famous agricultural produce to whip up their own meals, which can also serve to ease a tight budget.

Another way students can experience the Japanese culture is through club activities. Students can opt to learn Japanese martial arts, play sports such as baseball, or unwind with leisure activities such as photography. This allows international students to mingle with Japanese students, forming bonds and providing an opportunity to practice the language.

Part-time employment

In order to gain supplementary income and get a taste of working in Japan, many international students opt to work part time. To do this, students will have to apply for a work permit, which is relatively easy to obtain. Most schools will assist the student with applying for the permit. Once this is completed, they will be able to begin working up to 28 hours per week, and up to 8 hours a day during school holidays. Wages tend to be ¥800 - ¥1000 per hour.

Employment in Japan

In the past, the Japanese workforce was seen as relatively closed off to foreigners. However, in an effort to become more globalized, there has been an increasing number of Japanese companies hiring international students. Students will still need to have fluency in Japanese in order to be considered for employment, and as such a majority of students choose to study the language during their time in university. 

Most students begin seriously looking for a job during their fourth year of university. Because of this, many try to get as many credit points as possible during their first two years, to free up time towards the end of their studies. For international students who manage to secure a job, the company will sponsor that graduate’s work visa.

For those who are unable to secure a job before graduation, they can apply to change their visa status and stay in Japan for an additional six months after graduation to find a job.


The Japanese university application process can seem daunting, with many barriers to entry in the form of complicated procedures and language barriers. However, students who are willing to put in the time to navigate this and succeed in entering their university of choice will be duly rewarded with enjoyable, enriching educational and cultural experiences unlike any other.

A big thank you to Jeremy Tan, International Admissions Officer at the Admissions Center of Ritsumeikan (Undergraduate Section), Ritsumeikan University in Japan, for his invaluable insights and expert advice that made this webinar and article possible.

Image credits: Jezael Melgoza and Lin Mei

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