As a senior in high school, many were faced with the same two options, either to remain in Japan or study abroad for university. I actually went to two universities, that is, I applied two separate times, once during my senior year in high school and another time after I graduated and decided to leave my university in Japan.
I chose to apply to both Japanese and schools abroad. Since my school was based on an AP curriculum, I naturally wanted to study in the United States. In addition, I wanted to study at a university where a liberal arts education was already firmly established. This indicated to me that they could excel at both STEM and liberal arts disciplines. I applied to universities in the US but there were other students who went to Canada, Europe, or Singapore. It depends highly on the student, their goals, and concentration.
A lot of Japanese people have the preconceived notion that to enter a Japanese university you need to work hard but graduating is not that difficult. On the other hand, they say that entering universities abroad is easy but graduating is difficult. I just like to point out that that is NOT TRUE AT ALL. In Japan, you must take the university exam and achieve a high score, which determines your eligibility to enter that specific university. Many study endlessly and go to cram schools in order to achieve the score necessary to get in. This is true even if you want to enter universities abroad, since many universities require the SAT or ACT exam scores. Not only that, they look at your accomplishments during high school including extracurricular activities or volunteer work, as well as essays.
With that said, here was what I went through to apply to both universities as a student attending an international school in Japan.
The majority of students applying to Japanese universities will do so through the AO admission, that includes submitting an application form, writing essays, providing your SAT/ACT score and recommendation letters. Some also include interviews, video or in person, depending on the school and candidate. There are more schools now that have programs run in English compared to when I applied, but there still are not many to begin with. Most students apply to Waseda, Keio, Sophia, and ICU as they offer many English based programs. Some programs were relatively new, and had a maximum number of students they were able to accept through the AO admission. For instance, Waseda’s Advanced Science and Engineering School only accepted about 15 or 20 students, and the Department of Physics only had 5 people (including myself) when I applied.
When applying to an American university, you are applying as an international student (unless you are an American citizen), but there is no difference between the admission and application process between American students and international students. I would like to note however, the only big difference is tuition – as an international student, usually tuition is incredibly expensive. That means that you are competing with students who attend top high schools in the United States and around the world. Not only are the standard of test scores much higher, but there are many other factors that contribute to your admission to top schools in the US. Top schools in the US are often globally ranked making it extremely academically rigorous.
One benefit about applying in the United States is that many schools utilize a platform called the Common Application. Through this, submitting your application can be much easier since your main essay – the personal statement – and your information can be inputted once to apply to any college participating in the application. Yet that does not mean that there are less essays to write than when applying to Japanese universities because many universities using the Common App have supplemental essays that have topics specific to their school.
There is no easy admission to a university. However one thing was clear when applying to both Japanese universities and American universities. I was always competing with the top students all over the world.