So you’ve done your research and realized the JET Program is the best out of all the existing programs for getting an English teaching job in Japan. You are a smart cookie. Now comes the daunting task of actually submitting your JET Program application. The process admittedly takes quite a bit of work, but is completely doable. This guide breakdown everything you need to know, including how to write your statement of purpose essay.
Two years ago, I was just like you. Someone with a simple dream of living in Japan, but uncertain if I could get there. Thanks to my obsessive amount of research, preparation, and bugging my friend (a JET alumnus) to approve everything I did to a T, I passed all the stages in one go. After coming home from one of the best experiences of my life, I also got the chance to work as a recruitment assistant for the JET Program in Toronto. I love to see more people benefit from this amazing program as I did and I’ve got tons of insider tidbits to share. Consider you have a sempai on your side ;). Make sure to grab my JET Program Cheat Sheet at the end of the post!
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JET Program Background
The JET Program is an organization with 2 main goals: Enhancing foreign language education in Japan AND promoting international cultural exchange between the people of Japan and those of other nations. Every year, the JET Program accepts thousands of participants from all over the world and bring them to Japan. The participants work as Assistant Language Teachers in the public school system or as Coordinator for International Relations in local government offices. (For this post, we are only focusing on applying for Assistant Language Teacher “ALT”)
This prestigious program, started in 1987, now has chapters in 54 countries. Check this participating countries page to see if you can apply from where you are.
The contract term for the JET Program is one year, with the possibility of renewal. Some benefits of the program include:
- A full time salary starting at 3,360,000 yen per year
- Flights to and from your placement in Japan
- Medical insurance
- Paid vacation days (10-20 depending on placement)
- Extensive training and support
- Experience living in one of the coolest countries in the world
- Memories and connections that will last a lifetime 😉
So let’s see how you can get in on this amazing program.
JET Program Application Eligibility
The criteria for application may vary slightly from country to country, but they are more or less the same. Read the JET website of your country carefully always!
The hard requirements
- You must be a citizen of your country of application (PR doesn’t cut it). If you have dual nationality with Japan, you must give up your Japanese nationality.
- You must hold a bachelor’s degree in any field by the time of departure (late July/early August).
- You must have excellent English language skills.
- You must be able to stay for the whole duration of your one year contract
The soft requirements
- You should have an interest in Japan and Japanese culture
- You should be mentally and physically healthy enough to handle the duties of the role
- You should be adaptable and flexible to live and work in Japan as the environment may be very different from that of your home country
- You should have a desire to maintain relations with Japan post-JET
- You should have some sort of teaching experience, whether formal or informal
JET Program Application Process
The JET Program opens for application only once per year, from mid September to mid November. Once you’ve submitted all the paperwork required, you will be informed whether you are invited to an interview, that takes place the following February. Should you be so lucky to be accepted, the good news is delivered to your inbox in late march. From there, you will join many trainings and orientations and get ready for departure to Japan in late July or early August!
Application: mid September to mid November
Interviews: early February
Application Results: late March
Departure: late July/early August
JET Program Application Paperwork
JET is a competitive program and there are tons of stages to pass before you can make it in. First, better slay those paperworks. The JET website does a great job of explaining each document required for application, so create an account on your country’s JET website and go through the portal carefully. We won’t repeat the detailed information but here’s is a summary:
- Online Application Form
Asking for information including:
-Your basic information like name and address
-Japanese related studies
-Japanese language proficiency
-Interests and hobbies
- Proof of your Citizenship
- Official University Transcripts
- Copy of your degree or a letter from your university stating your expected graduation date
- Letters of reference x2
- Statement of purpose essay
- Criminal History Check
In the case that you are applying for early departure (those who wish to go to Japan in April), you must provide your criminal history background check at the time of application. All applicants who end up being accepted would need to complete this at a later stage. You must also provide your criminal history at the time of application if you happen to have a criminal record. The nature and seriousness of your offence will be taken into account when considering your application.
- Statement of Physician
If you have had any ongoing medical conditions in the last 5 years, mental or physical, you must have a GP fill out the Statement of Physician to indicate that you are fit enough to participate in the JET Programme. If you haven’t had any health issues, this step is not required. You will be asked to complete a certificate of health once you’ve passed the interview.
- Certificate of Health
If you are applying for early departure in April, you must also obtain a Certificate of Health from your doctor. The Certificate of Health indicates your overall health. This is a different form from the Statement of Physician. Candidates for regular departure will provide CoH once they have passed the application stage.
- Other certifications (Optional)
If you have any certifications that you believe would add to your qualifications such as TESL/TEFL or Japanese language certificates, feel free to include them in your application.
JET Program Application Essay
Now we have come to the scariest part of the application. The Statement of Purpose. Who loves writing essays? *cricket cricket. I know…this is the most brain juice consuming task you got to do. But hey, this is where you really get to shine, to show off why you deserve to be accepted into the program. Don’t worry, we will spend significant time on dissecting the essay together.
Let’s see how you should approach each prompt given for writing your statement of purpose:
Describe why you are interested in going to Japan and participating in the JET Programme.
JET wants to know your motivation on two fronts:
1. Why Japan?
2. Why the JET Programme specifically?
When did Japan catch your eyes? Do you have a story to tell? Perhaps you learned origami when you were young from a friend and started learning about Japanese culture? Possibly you read a book by Natsume Soseki and fell in love with the beautiful subtlety of the Japanese language? Or maybe you once took a trip to Japan and found yourself enthralled by the traditional architectures? JET wants people who have observed Japan and taken upon themselves to learn more about the culture, history, etc. “I like eating sushi” is meh but “Because I like eating sushi, I started learning how to make them and other Japanese dishes. Food became the window through which I started learning about Japanese culture.” is much stronger.
If you are thinking “Gosh I really don’t know why I like Japan. I just hear it’s a nice country.” I suggest you do a little research. Find out what aspects of Japan that you may want to learn if you get the chance to live there, and talk about those.
And then, there is the JET Programme. There are several programs that send people to teach English in Japan. What makes JET special to you? Avoid mentioning superficial reasons like getting paid a good salary, traveling, being with a partner, etc. It makes you look like selfish and immature. Instead, showcase what you know about the JET Programme and their missions. Tie it to your own professional and personal goals for the future.
What do you hope will happen as a result of your participation in the JET Programme?
Think: What kind of meaningful impact do you hope to make? Always keeping in mind JET’s two major goals: 1. Enhancing foreign language education 2. Fostering cultural exchange. How can you help achieve these goals? If possible, be as specific and concrete as you can. e,g. “I want to start an American movies club to share with my students American culture and to help them experience English in a fun environment.” Talk about the things you envisioning yourself doing in and out of the school setting. They don’t have to be crazy grandiose plans, but JET would love to see that you are a thoughtful and proactive individual who has taken the time to think about your role.
In my essay, I mentioned documenting and sharing my journey on my blog so friends, family, and general readers can learn about Japan and the JET Program.
Focus on how you will help further the bond between Japan and your country through JET and how you will continue your relationship with Japan after the program.
Please address your ability to adapt to life in Japan and what would make you an overall strong JET Programme participant.
Culture shock and homesickness are common emotions participants deal after moving to Japan, especially for those placed in rural settings. JET wants people who are resilient and work well under pressure. Demonstrate that you are an open minded and flexible individual. If you have any experience traveling/living abroad or being in an unfamiliar environment, talk about them. How did you overcome the difficulties and make the best of your situation?
Showcase other qualities that make you a strong JET candidate, including interpersonal skills, enthusiasm, reliability, optimism, confidence, sense of humour, etc. Use concrete examples from your personal/professional experiences.
Assistant Language Teacher (ALT): Why are you interested in becoming an ALT? What skills and qualities do you have that would help you in this role? Briefly explain any relevant experiences you have had.
An ALT should be someone who is interested in education and working with children. Why do these two things appeal to you? What relevant experience can you apply to this position? If you come from an education background, wonderful! But if you’ve never taught in a classroom setting, don’t fret. Have you worked or volunteered in any roles that require you to teach and lead others?
I talked about my past job where I trained new employees while working in Human Resources for a company, as well as tutoring younger kids in university. Dig deep into your experiences. I’m sure you can find some applicable connections.
JET Essay General Tips
It may be tempting to go on and on professing your love for Japan, but keep in mind that the essay must be no more than 2 pages in Times New Roman 12 pt. font and double-spaced. Anything beyond that will not be read! Plan so you save enough room to touch on each important points: your motivation for going to Japan and the JET Program, what you can offer and hope to achieve, your qualifications that makes you a strong candidate, etc.
Take a piece of paper and jot down as many ideas as you can for each prompt. List out all your experiences that may be relevant. It will really help to have these ideas next to you when drafting the essay.
I’m going to sound like a mom on the first day of school with this advice but, BE YOURSELF. Let your personality come through your writing. Don’t over exaggerate. If you’ve never studied anything about Japan before, be honest. Just focus instead on what you want to learn about Japan if you get the opportunity to go there. Don’t forget that there will be an interview as well if you pass application. So make sure your personality on paper will match you in person.
Use plenty examples
You say you are adaptable? Prove it. What example from your past can you give? Flowery languages are not enough. Always back up the big talks with concrete evidence.
As ALTs, you will be assessed on your English language abilities. Make sure your essay is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Also read it out loud to ensure that the content flow naturally.
Ask a friend to read it
Get a second opinion. Show a friend and ask them to give you some honest feedback. (Feel free to email me your SoP at email@example.com and I would love to help 🙂 )
Lastly, know when to stop. When I wrote my essay the year I applied, I read over it about 100 times. I tweaked and tweaked and wanted it to be perfect. Trust yourself. You are ready for this! Go ahead and hit that submit button!
JET Program Application Summary
Boy that was a lot of information wasn’t it? To sum it all up, I created a one page printable listing all the documents required for your application, including a breakdown of the statement of purpose. Enter your email below to get the download link in your inbox. By signing up, you will also receive the TBB newsletter where I share exclusive monthly updates. e.g. new blog post about Japan and more wonderful goodness!
Don’t forget you must send in a paper copy of everything, including your original university transcript and two letters of references. Good luck JET hopefuls! My two years spent in Sendai, Japan was one of the best times of my life. I truly wish you that you can go on this adventure as well. If you have any questions about JET or living in Japan, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Apply for JET Programme USA here.
Apply for JET Programme Canada here.