On Getting Into the JET Program, Part Three: The Application

paperworkSo we’ve looked at what the JET Program is and what it basically is looking for. Now, let’s look at the application itself. 

You require triplicate versions of the paperwork, collated (without staples! Hear me? NO STAPLES. UNLESS IT SAYS TO STAPLE IT!) and presented in a certain order. I have a theory, and this borders on conspiracy, that your ability to collate papers and follow instructions to a T is an aspect of your “ability” score.

But even if it isn’t – pay attention to detail. Scan every page for small print informing you about how to present the form. Read every question before answering. Don’t answer questions that it asks you not to answer. Don’t skip them, either!

Do feel free to use additional sheets of paper when the application lets you do so. The more you put down, the better off you’ll be, so don’t skimp just because the form doesn’t let you get it all down. If you are worried that maybe the experience is sort of relevant but maybe not? Write it down. Let JET decide if they are going to consider it. Don’t sell yourself short.

The Placement Preferences Conspiracy
The application asks you to rank regions where you could be placed; it also asks for vague preferences like “rural” or “urban.”

An area of considerably widespread Internet panic is this idea that you won’t get accepted if you say you want a large city, or if you request a popular destination, because so many other people want that destination, too. This is nonsense. Say exactly where you want to be placed. This information is used only AFTER you are accepted to the program, and it is used by the ministry that places you – not the ministry that accepts or rejects you.

Now, do I know this for a fact? No. But neither do anonymous internet trolls. But let’s consider it rationally: The placement process is long and arduous. Going through the placement process before deciding on accepted applicants is insane. Furthermore, Japan is not going to punish talented candidates who request Tokyo just because everyone else is requesting Tokyo. They’ll simply assign you somewhere else.

Now, you might be placed into competition for large, popular cities – Tokyo, Kyoto/Osaka, etc – with a lot of people who want the same location. And if your application score isn’t high enough, you will definitely be placed somewhere else. And if you haven’t selected somewhere where you are top ranked: You might not get any of your three choices. However, you won’t be rejected from the program at that stage.

The same goes for your requests concerning rural or urban placements. Be honest. Sure, you may be asked why – and don’t disparage the alternatives – but that won’t weigh against you, unless your reasons involve sociopathic pastimes.

That said, understanding this system, you may be tempted to be strategic. That would mean making your first choice a city or region that is interesting to you but less interesting to someone else, in a bid to make sure you get your second choice. This kind of stuff is questionable, and I think that so few people get their first-placement preferences that you may as well just shoot for the gold and see where you land.

If you think you have holes in your application score, you might want to cut out the competition for Tokyo and Kyoto (etc) just so you have more options listed on your preference sheet. Perhaps request a prefecture nearby – with trains, you can get anywhere easily. But if you have good reasons to live in Tokyo or Kyoto, and you think you have a solid application and will get a top score, don’t hesitate to reach for the stars.

On Taking Anti-Depressants (or having other medical conditions)
This question might seem out of place or far too personal for a job interview. The fact is, though, the JET Programme’s worst fear is that the people it hires from abroad will “break contract,” which leaves schools in a bind. Schools without an ALT are severely inconvenienced when somebody leaves, especially since ALT hiring season comes just once a year. If a JET leaves, the school may hire someone privately – and then, that may lead to the JET Programme being locked out of that school for up to five years or more.

So this question is really asking: Are you going to get so depressed that you leave Japan?

The fact is, plenty of people have said yes and have gone on to get JET positions armed with bottles of Zoloft. If you need to handle this in your essay do it, but don’t feel you have to. If you’re asked, the key point is to stress that your depression did not interfere with your responsibilities. If they did – there’s no reason for the JET people to know it. Have a story in your pocket about something you accomplished in spite of your depression, just in case.

I suggest resisting the urge to explain yourself for depression or any other medical conditions in the SOP, unless they tell a story showing why they should hire you. Focus on your positive contributions, because the anti-depressants or requiring medications will not be a big deal unless you make your entire application about your experiences with depression or illness.

On Bringing a Significant Other
You can apply for JET with a boyfriend or girlfriend, but unless they get on JET, that significant other (SO) can’t actually work unless they earn their own visa. And without that visa, there will also be restrictions on how long your SO can stay. For Americans, a tourist visa is easy to get – just show up, and preferably have a ticket showing you plan to leave within 90 days (though that isn’t strictly required) – but you’ll need to renew it after 90 days, which means leaving the country and coming back. This is by no means guaranteed, either. Immigration can deny your re-entry if they think you’re abusing the tourist visa.

On top of that, working – and even looking for work – is technically illegal on a tourist visa.

So when JET asks you if you are bringing your SO, you’d better have a plan ready: Will s/he live off of savings? Telecommute to a job at home? Be careful and do your homework. Make sure you have a plan that actually works.

If you are married, it’s a different ballgame. Married partners of JETs can earn spousal visas which allow them to work part-time, or at least, to stay in the country. If you’re married, you’ll still want a plan, but it’s not as crucial for winning over the JET Programme. An unmarried partner, on the other hand, will raise questions, so just be ready: How will you support yourself? What will your SO do with their time?

A Note About Mentioning Manga
Internationalization is important. This basically means the exchange of cultures between you and native Japanese people. It means having something from your own culture that you can share with them.

This is why a lot of “otaku” kids – who love Manga and studied Japanese for 17 years and brag about how long it’s been since they’ve watched a movie in English – often don’t get into JET. It’s not because JET doesn’t want people who speak Japanese (they love people who speak Japanese) or people who love Japan (they love people who love Japan). It’s because these kids make the mistake of writing about Japanese culture instead of about themselves. I haven’t seen these essays, but I bet that a lot of them were doing the famous “nice guy” thing: “But I love Japan sooooooo much! You have to let me in!

It don’t matter how much you love Japan, man. Japan’s gotta love you.

Now, I’m not saying that loving manga is an instant rejection. That’s a rumor that floats around the internet all the time, and I’ll tell you why: Because a large number of applicants for a teaching-in-Japan-program are interested in anime and manga. That’s a given. And many of them are going to be rejected.

Why? Because talking about manga in a sea of manga-loving applicants doesn’t set you apart. Having the largest collection of manga is less interesting than what you’ve done with it. Did you start a manga club in university? A blog or message board? Did you self-publish your own manga when you were 17? Did you study a specific aspect of manga in university? That stuff will make you stand out. Absolutely mention that.

JET cares about what you do, not what you like. You can get into JET and admit to loving Naruto and Pokemon. You just probably won’t get into JET if all you have to show for it is a weird condescending attitude toward the Powerpuff Girls.

We aren’t done yet. I have a final post about your Statement of Purpose here. That’s gonna be a doozy. To make sure you know when it’s posted, you might want to “like” This Japanese Life on Facebook

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15 Responses to On Getting Into the JET Program, Part Three: The Application

  1. bastards6 says:

    Thank you so much for your blog! It really is an eye-opener to admissions for JET :) You’re awesome!

  2. renmi86 says:

    I like how you covered the anti-depression meds part because it’s sort of linked to something I’ve been concerned about, should I apply to JET. I have food allergies, some of them severe. I’ve been to Japan before (alone for 2 weeks) and was totally fine living off onigiri and cooking my own food. I’m a little worried that my condition will prevent me from being chosen.
    I’ve had this condition for over 15 years and so far have only had to go to the hospital once in all that time. I can cook for myself and hardly ever eat out except at places I know are safe (in Japan that meant conbini and sushi places). I keep meds on me at all times (benedryl and and epi-pen) and know what to do in case of emergency. I also speak enough Japanese to explain what I am allergic to and what will happen if I eat something I’m not supposed to.
    Do I still have a chance or will I be seen as too much of a risk?

    • owwls says:

      You’re fine. There are lots of vegans, diabetics, food-allergy-sufferers, and all that on JET. As with any medical condition, you should disclose it, because if JET finds out you covered it up it will lead to trouble. Make sure you mention how easy it is for you to regulate. Find out of the medicine is sold in Japan and how you can get ahold of it. Really, assume they are interested in it because of where you may get placed (a city, or close to a hospital, etc) not in terms of whether you will get in. You’ll be fine.


  3. Krafty says:

    Thank you for this guide, it is very useful. I was wondering, will Japan recognize a same-sex couple who married in the US for a spouse visa? If not, can a spouse still be considered a significant other on the JET application? Thank you n__n

    • owwls says:

      So this will sound weird, and you should check with your embassy to make sure, but I think that gay marriage counts for your status in Japan if the marriage is performed abroad. However, you could not be legally married in Japan. So, if you have a legitimate marriage certificate from your country, you qualify!

      • Krafty says:

        Oh cool, that sounds promising. I’ll definitely contact them about it. Thank you for your help n__n

  4. waterleaves says:

    Thanks for the post – I kinda have a strange question. I’m half Japanese (will have to renounce my passport if I do this,etc), went to an International School in Tokyo and am finishing up my undergrad in the States and was wondering if it’s possible to get a placement with JET in Tokyo and live at home ?? I am entirely asian and have no idea if that lowers chances/ how this all works. I’d like to eventually teach at international schools/etc and teaching experience is always good and it’ll be a nice way to save up and immerse myself in well technically my ‘culture’ :p I am a native English speaker have US citizenship and all.

    • owwls says:

      Well I think you are fine on every point except that Tokyo is a notoriously difficult placement to get. That said, if you don’t mind living outside of Tokyo (which I recommend) I believe everything else you’ve said is correct. The best answer is to speak to your embassy, but nothing you’ve described seems to be an obstacle to *trying*.

  5. Joe says:

    Like lots of things in life, if you get rejected, you have absolutely no idea why and thus have no ability to improve your chances the next time around. I’m 30 and I’m a little bit removed from college graduation. Instead of college professors for recommendations, I used Japanese friends that I have helped to learn English by doing Japanese/ English exchange. They wrote their recommendations in Japanese. If this doesn’t work I don’t know what can. I didn’t even make it to the interview.

    • owwls says:

      Honestly I wouldn’t see Japanese friends being good references, though I can see why you’d think so. This is a professional application, and they want to make sure you have the professional chops. I have no idea if that’s why you weren’t accepted, but I personally would warn people away from that approach if I was asked!

  6. Zoe C says:

    Hi there, I stumbled on your site since I’ve been searching for info about JET and plan to apply when applications open up this year. I’ve been specifically concerned about what you mentioned regarding depression, and I’m so glad you brought it up here! If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask a little more about that.

    I’ve suffered from depression for several years and I’m currently on prescription antidepressants from my psychiatrist. They aren’t 100% necessary and I managed to get by with my responsibilities just fine for several years before I got on them, but they’ve definitely improved my life and lowered the stress I feel on a day-to-day basis.

    I don’t know if you suffer from anything similar, but since my meds are prescription I was wondering about any experience you may have with Japanese doctors and pharmacies? Have you had difficulties getting prescriptions filled there? If I am chosen I would worry about not being able to get them, since a year is a long time and I don’t think anyone is going to be happy with me dragging a suitcase full of prescription drugs through the airport.

    • owwls says:

      Hi Zoe;
      I was not on antidepressants, and your local pharmacist is going to be different wherever you are, but I knew many people who had prescriptions for all sorts of ailments and had no trouble getting them in Japan. I’d say, assume you can for now, check with your embassy before you leave, and talk to your doctor about equivalent medications if yours aren’t available in Japan. Once you get a prescription, a supervisor will be able to help you out (which means disclosing your medication, though not necessarily what it’s for — if you need it, just say you need it) and you should be able to get it filled. Basically: Don’t worry too much, but this is going to vary by placement and the like, so communicate this as soon as you are accepted! Good luck!

  7. sujipoo says:

    Did you ever get around to writing that post on interview tips? Because I found your other posts so helpful!

  8. Kara M Comiskey says:

    Thank you so much for this helpful post! I had a question about bringing a SO, does the JET Program allow for a SO to live with you in Japan if they are not in the program but have their own working visa granted?

    • owwls says:

      Generally, yes, but it can depend on the contracting organization. It’s something to be upfront about when you apply – it shouldn’t harm your chances, but it will affect your placement. If they take you, they’ll need to make sure they place you somewhere where your SO can stay, too. Good luck!

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