On Getting Into the JET Program, Part 4: The Statement of Purpose

paperwork

The centerpiece of your JET application is The Statement of Purpose, or SOP. It’s the one-page letter where you get to say everything you want JET to know. It’s also, shockingly, the only chance you’ll have to prove that you can actually speak English.

Organize it well, be clear, and edit it. In theory, the SOP should explain:

1. What you’re going to do when you are in Japan and why Japan should care.
2. What you’re going to do when you leave Japan and why Japan should care.
3. Why you care about Japan.

Once you have explained 1-3, you need to cram in supporting evidence. Now, the essay might change every year, so make sure you read the prompt extremely carefully. But ultimately, it always ends up breaking down to these questions.

1: What you’re going to do when you are in Japan and why Japan should care.
Too many people write about how Japan will benefit them, without talking about what they have to offer to Japan. That’s sort of like expecting people to date you because you’re “nice.” JET isn’t really interested in knowing how badly you want to be a JET. They want to know how badly they need you.

If you want to get into JET – or date! – you have to have something to offer the other person. Something you’re passionate about, something that makes you interesting and unique.

This is an exchange program, after all. If you love to line dance, play an instrument, wear a kilt or play a sport, that’s your angle. Try to cram in a few things at once. The JET Programme is looking for people who can represent their culture.

Now, I get that the main reason you want to go to Japan is probably because Japan is pretty cool, and you think it would be exciting to live there. The thing is, Japan knows that you want to visit it, or you wouldn’t be applying for this job, right?

So imagine the things you might do in Japan with the skills you have. Yeah, you can speak English. Would you like to start an English-language club at a school? Do you have some special skill or knowledge that might be interesting to students, or your community as a whole? Remember that English education and internationalization are the two aims of the JET Programme. What can you deliver that connects to those goals?

This is probably the toughest question to answer, because it’s hard to imagine what opportunities exist in Japan. But you don’t have to panic about the likelihood of success. But just showing that you’ve thought about the question will go a long way.

Once you’ve decided what you can bring to the Japanese table, make sure to explain how you feel these will be useful to you as an ALT or CIR. If you can line-dance in a kilt or you can do capoera, then go with internationalization benefits. If you write, edit, or sing, go with the English education angle. If you can get both of those things into your benefits paragraph, great!

2. What you’re going to do when you leave Japan and why Japan should care.
Basically, what do you want to be when you grow up? The SOP guidelines ask you to describe “what effect you hope to have on the Japanese community and internationally as a result of your participation in the JET Program.”

I’ll give you a hint: It shouldn’t involve moving to Japan. JET specifically brings people to Japan and then kicks them out in three-to-five years, ideally with the ability to explain Japanese culture to Americans or Brits or Aussies or Kiwis or whatever. Even if your dream is to live in Japan until you are a Golden Girl, keep the assumption to the visa that JET is offering you.

Your life goal, as far as the SOP is concerned, should ideally involve a situation where your experience in Japan can help explain Japanese culture to others. You can probably find a way to make this relevant to any career, but try to make it explicit in your SOP.

3. Why you care about Japan.
This is the motivation paragraph. Your answer should be something about learning and sharing something about both cultures. Be specific – food, music, art, movies, sports, poetry, etc – find something you want to learn about that you can also teach others. If you are bilingual, this gets a little easier.

If you have a compelling personal story – “My brother ran away from Australia when I was 3 and lived in Japan for 20 years, and we’ve reunited” – then that’s awesome, but be careful about dedicating your entire SOP to it. I’m sure JET is interested in helping you understand your step-cousin, boyfriend or adopted sister, but it may not be enough. You gotta give something back, too.

4. Supporting Evidence
Once you’ve achieved 1-3, you need to look at the SOP guidelines and see what else you can pluck from this list: applicable experiences, professional skills, relevant interests and personal qualities.

You only have one page, so you will revise a lot (see “writing tips” for some advice on getting the most out of the space!). If something even remotely echoes what you say somewhere else, cut it out and replace it with supporting evidence. Ideally, your essay will briefly mention any sustained experience with foreigners or culture shock (“It was quite a culture shock!” is a good, fast way to do this) and also how you overcame it with a personal quality.

WRITING TIPS

  • When you have finished your essay, check and see that you have hit all of these points, and backed them up with evidence. If something is missing, you need to work it in!
  • You may be tempted to be flowery and descriptive, but there’s not very much room to do that. Literally every word counts! If you have a hard time making room for all of these points, first look at your essay, sentence by sentence. Is every sentence relevant to your goals? Then look at each word. Compare: “Often, writers use a bunch of redundant, repetitive words in all of their sentences,” to “Sentences often have redundant words.” Same meaning. Less space. You can tighten up almost any sentence – make sure you do!
  • Show it to someone. You will always think everything you write makes sense, because you know what you meant when you wrote it. Ask your grammar-fetishist friends to be brutal about your essay’s punctuation, spelling and organization. Show it to a teacher. Show it to everyone you know who can read.
  • But don’t give it to them without telling them your goals. They have no idea what JET is looking for, so you have to tell them. Then ask if your essay meets the goals you set.

 OK, that’s that. Feel free to leave comments if you need help or have any questions about the process! I’m also hoping to post some advice on the interview process later in the year. 

If you’re really keen on understanding more about the Japanese education system, may I recommend skimming through my old blog posts that explain the whole thing? Check out part one here: On Pretending to Know About Education in Japan.

And as always, you can find This Japanese Life over on Facebook

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4 Responses to On Getting Into the JET Program, Part 4: The Statement of Purpose

  1. renmi86 says:

    Thanks for the heads up! Because of strict guidelines enforced by my school, my essays tend to become wordy.

  2. Wow! This is a gold-mine of information, both for JET and for other types of applications. Thank you so much!

  3. I wish I’d read something like this back when I applied for JET! As it is, I’m happy at ECC, but you never know what could have been..

  4. audreyhogan says:

    I’m applying for JET right now and panicked when I sat down to write my statement of purpose. Thank you so much for your help!

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