How to go to College in Japan: A Guide for International Students

With competitive tuition fees, low rates of inflation and demographic changes leading to increasing graduate employment opportunities, it’s little wonder more and more students are interested in studying in Japan. Studying at a Japanese university is an exciting and rewarding endeavor for international students seeking high-quality education and cultural immersion. However, navigating the application process of many Japanese universities can be complex, time consuming and require careful planning. In this article, we will seek to provide a comprehensive guide to applying to a Japanese university that demystifies the process.

The Japanese Educational System

With a population of around 125 million people, Japan has a well-developed higher education sector. There are hundreds of universities across Japan, split between National, Prefectural, and Private universities. Unlike in some other countries, cost and quality are not necessarily correlated, with admission to National and Prefectural universities being more competitive but cheaper, than Private Universities.

A Bachelor’s degree takes 4 years to complete in Japan (six years for medical, dental, veterinary, and a number of pharmaceutical programs). There are also a number of Junior Colleges in Japan awarding Associate’s degrees that take 2 to 3 years to complete.

The first step in applying to a Japanese university is conducting thorough research to identify institutions that align with your academic and personal goals. The first question you should ask yourself is whether you’d like to undertake your degree in Japanese or English. An increasing number of universities, like Yamanashi Gakuin University, offer degree programs taught in English. The range of degrees open to you and the application process itself will be markedly different depending on which language you intend to study in.

Japanese School Year

Many students are interested to know when the school year starts in Japan, and the differences between the Japanese school year and that of their home country. Japan has a rather unique timing to the start of the school year in that it mirrors the fiscal year. So, in Japan, the school year starts in April and ends in March. This is true for all levels of the Japanese school system, from Elementary, to Junior High and High School, and through to university. There is typically a summer holiday over late July and August, and a short New Year’s break.

However, many top universities in Japan now offer fall (typically September or October) intakes to accommodate more international students. This also makes it much easier for international students to do a foreign exchange program in Japan, and for Japanese students to study abroad.

Types of Higher Education in Japan

Japan’s education system sees students graduating from high school with 12 years of education. Students looking to pursue higher education in Japan have the following choices by school type:


短期大学士 – Junior College Associate’s degree (2-3 years)
学士 – Bachelor’s Degree (4 years)
修士 – Graduate School Master’s degree (2 years)
博士 – Doctoral degree (5 years, 6 years for Medicine, Dental Surgery and Pharmacy degrees)

Technical College:

専門士 – Diploma (2-3 years)
高度専門士 – Advanced Diploma (4 years)

Types of Universities

It may come as some surprise to learn that there are over 700 universities across Japan. There are two types of public universities, National and Prefectural, as well as Private universities. The fees at National and Prefectural Universities are cheaper than at Private universities, but they are considered more elite and have a more limited intake per year, making gaining a place in one very competitive. For the purposes of international students, they usually have a very limited English program, or none at all. Some older Private universities are considered as prestigious as their national or prefectural peers. While their fees are higher, they remain a more affordable option than studying abroad in many other countries. Most English taught bachelor’s programs in Japan are taught at private universities, like Yamanashi Gakuin University’s Bachelor of International Liberal Arts program.

Requirements for Universities in Japan

The entry requirements for Japanese universities will differ from school to school, so unfortunately you will need to check the homepage of each university you are interested in. In short, you will need to meet their academic and Japanese or English language requirements.

Academic Requirements

In order to study in a Japanese university you will need to have completed 12 years of high school before commencing university. What this means is that you can apply during your final year of high school.

Many countries however have 11 year education systems. The Japanese government’s education ministry (MEXT) have recognised the following country’s 11 year education system as being equivalent to a 12 year education in Japan: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Peru, Russia, South Sudan, and Uzbekistan. If you are not from one of those six countries but your nation also has an 11 year education system, please contact the university you are interested in and enquire as to whether or not they will allow you to apply. In the event that they will not, you would be required to complete the first year of university in your home country, or a foundation year program recognised by MEXT.

Universities with English language degree programs will typically require your high school transcript and diploma and may or may not require your country’s university entrance exam result, or similar standardized test result such as the SAT or ACT.
Many universities around the world, such as the International College of Liberal Arts at Yamanashi Gakuin University, decided to become standardized test optional during the pandemic. This means that academically speaking, you only need your high school transcript and diploma to apply. Even if you did not take your country’s university entrance exam you can still apply.

If you wish to enter a program taught in Japanese you may need to take the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU). Private universities may have their own entrance exam you can take in lieu of the EJU or will admit you if you can evidence a set minimum level of Japanese (e.g. JLPT N2). Typically the minimum level of Japanese you would require to pass these exams is JLPT N2, but more realistically, you will need JLPT N1 to successfully complete the four years of the degree. For these reasons, entering a English taught degree where you can study Japanese, work part time, join university clubs and circles, and graduate with JLPT N2 or N1 Japanese is an attractive option for many students.

Language Requirements

The level of Japanese you will require to enter a Japanese taught degree program and succeed in it is discussed above, so in this section we will focus on the English language qualifications you will typically need.

Japanese universities offering English medium degrees typically require IELTS 5.5-6.0, or equivalent. If you have a lower level than this, you may be able to enter an English acceleration stream for that degree. Many Japanese students of that course may also be in that stream. In addition to IELTS, most universities accept a variety of English language tests such as TOEFL, TOEIC, Pearson etc. You may also be able to use your high school English results as proof of your English Proficiency. More and more universities (like YGU), accept the Duolingo English Test as well, just check with the Admissions Department of the university you are applying to confirm if they accept it.

Other Requirements

Many universities will also ask you to prepare a personal statement outlining why you wish to enter their program. In addition, you may require a number of academic or character references. If you wish to apply for a scholarship you may need to write an application essay for that as well. Many Japanese universities conduct interviews as part of their admissions process as well, which will be conducted after your application has been submitted.

Steps for applying to iCLA

You can start an application by heading to

1. Fill out the application form

In order to complete the application you will need to enter the following:

    • Your personal details
    • Your complete education history
    • A Statement of Purpose
    • The name and email address of at least two references
    • Your scholarship essay, if you wish to apply

2. Upload the necessary documents

You will also need to upload the following documents:

    • A copy of your passport or official photo ID
    • Miscellaneous achievements – digitally scanned copies of any certificates proving your achievement(s)
    • Diploma, graduation certificate, or expected graduation certificate
    • Academic transcript, or statement of predicted results
    • Certificate of the results of university entrance qualification examinations or other standardized tests (optional)
    • English proficiency test score (if required)

3. Pay the application fee

Applying to iCLA costs 7000 yen and can be paid using Flywire via the application system. 

4. Screening and Interview

Applications are evaluated based on a holistic review of all application documents. An interview will also be conducted as part of the application screening process.

The interview will be conducted online. A specific date and time will be arranged and you will be contacted via the information you provide in your online application form.

The interview will be conducted in English, and will take approximately 20 minutes.

5. Notification of results and enrollment procedure

You will be notified of the results of your application via email within the Notification Period, usually 2-4 weeks after your interview.

You can confirm your enrollment by clicking “Accept” in your online account. At this stage you must also complete your payment of the Enrollment Fee. Students requiring a Japanese student visa will be contacted to submit the necessary materials after they have accepted their offer of admission. 

Things to Consider After Applying

There are some things everyone should consider before applying to any university. You will need to have a student visa to enter Japan, and this will require you to have a financial sponsor. You should also make sure you apply for the JASSO scholarship if you can.

Getting a Student Visa

Unless you are a Japanese passport holder or have some other valid status of residence (i.e. visa) allowing you to stay in Japan you will need to obtain a Student Visa before you commence your studies.

Thankfully, obtaining a Student Visa is a relatively straightforward process, as long as you answer the questions asked on the Certificate of Eligibility form truthfully and have sufficient financial support. The university you are enrolling in will apply for the Certificate of Eligibility on your behalf and therefore will have staff well-versed in the application process.

We have written a full article on applying for a student visa in Japan, so please check it out. 

Applying for External Scholarships

You should find that most Japanese universities have some form of scholarship you can apply for as part of the application process. At iCLA we have a tuition, facility and equipment fee waiver scholarship that you can apply for. It also reduces the enrollment fee. There are four tiers to the scholarship: 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% waiver. The scholarship is for the full four years of the degree, however you must maintain your GPA. The level of GPA you must maintain depends of the level of scholarship you have been granted.
You should also be on the lookout for any external scholarships you might be eligible for. Most students will apply for the JASSO scholarship before they arrive in Japan, so make sure to follow the instructions and apply when you receive them. We have written a full guide to the kinds of scholarships available to undergraduate students in Japan, including the MEXT and JASSO scholarships, which we get plenty of questions about here at iCLA.


Many universities have dorms and insist you live in them for at least one year, as is the case at iCLA. If not they should provide some assistance with housing. We’ve written a handy guide on dorm life and the other types of student housing available in Japan, so please check it out.


Japan has had a reputation as a country that is difficult to enter as an international university student, but the increasing number of English taught degrees available at Japanese universities is slowly changing that. While National and Prefectural universities may be slow to simplify their admissions practices, Private universities like Yamanashi Gakuin and its International College of Liberal Arts are at the forefront of making applying to an English taught Bachelor’s degree accessible and as stress free as possible for international students.