How to Apply to the JET Programme

If you`ve been following my blog for awhile, you may occasionally think to yourself,  “Gee, Apollo is having such a great time in Japan! How I would love to be able to do that as well, instead of just sitting here and reading about it!”

Well the good thing is as long as you meet several basic criteria, then you definitely have a shot at participating in the JET Programme as well. If you feel that this might be something you would be interested in doing, then please read on. I will share with you my thoughts and advice on how to put together a strong application for the JET Programme. For those reading this circa November 2010, I would advise you to get on it ASAP. The application must be postdated and sent out by NOVEMBER 30, 2010.

For Canadians applicants, the application can be found here:

The basic requirements for Canadian citizens (taken directly from the JET application) are as following:

All JET Programme applicants must:

– Be interested in Japan

– Be a Canadian citizen (not just a permanent resident) at the time of application.

– Be no older than around 40 years of age

– Have a Bachelor’s degree or obtain one by July 24, 2011

From this list, one can surmise that the basic requirements are not difficult to meet. However, the programme is quite competitive and your chances of getting in are roughly 20-25%. My theory is that a large proportion of the comparatively underqualified applicants are cut at the paper application stage.  Many JETs believe that if you make it to the interview, then your chances of getting in shoot up significantly (60%+ by my estimate). Thus if you are a strong candidate from the beginning, your chances of getting in are much higher than 20-25%.

Before we delve into the specifics, I want to mention that if you are thinking about applying to JET, you should give it some long hard thought. Do you feel that you are a good fit for the program? Do you feel that your life experiences, qualifications and character traits make you a reasonably competitive applicant relative to the other applicants? I don`t know exactly what constitutes a competitive applicant, but I suspect they would have a good mix of the following:

1. A demonstrable interest in Japan

2. International experience

3. Leadership/extra-curricular experience

4. Very strong English writing and speaking skills (for the essay and interview)

The reason I mention this is because the JET application process is arduously long and brutal. The application usually comes out sometime in September or October and is due at the end of November. Following that, you wait until January to find out if you got an interview, and even if you move on to the interview stage in February, you still don`t find out until mid April if you have been accepted. If you are placed on the alternate waiting list, you have to wait even longer, with no guarantee of being upgraded. It`s like being in purgatory, only worse, because you have no idea if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

This means that if you want to have a decent shot at being accepted, you better

a) truly believe you are a competitive candidate

b) give the application 100% of your effort. Not 99%, not 99.99%, but 100%.

c) be prepared to lose a LOT of sleep and stress over your acceptance anyway

That being said, It seems that the JET applicant pool is a pretty self selecting group. Although there are definitely some whackos, weirdos, and weeaboos that apply (and some who get in), most of them get filtered out in the paper application and interview stages, and for the most part the caliber of JETs (from Toronto at least) are pretty high.

If at this point, you`re still here reading this, then congrats, you must consider yourself to be pretty awesome. That`s just the first step. Now we can delve into the nitty gritty of how to make your paper application as strong as possible.

There are there main parts to the JET application

1. The paper application

2. The 2 reference letters

3. The Statement of Purpose personal essay

The paper application is really long. It`s something like 40 pages. There is a lot of stuff to complete and collect such as a self-assessment medical form and a copy of your university transcript. Its tedious but more or less straight forward. There is an important question that deserves consideration though. Question 16 asks you to list two placement requests as well as whether you want an urban/semi-urban/rural placement.

Some people say that you should just put down N for No Preference. The thinking is that if you put N, it suggests you are flexible and will go wherever JET decides to send you.

In my opinion, it is much better to be as specific as possible. Not only does this suggest that you actually did your homework and researched where you want to live, but it also minimizes the chance that you will be stuck all the way out in the inaka (Japanese rural countryside). Some prospective JETs rationalize that they would be happy being placed ANYWHERE in Japan, as long as they get to come here. This is foolish thinking and a dangerous gamble. You might be stuck in a tiny mountain village of 300 people, 100km in any direction from the nearest small town. So be smart, do a bit of research online and specify SOME kind of placement.

Just don`t write down Tokyo; no JETs actually get placed in downtown Tokyo, and there is a slim but nevertheless none zero chance that you could get placed on a tiny island off the coast of Tokyo Bay that is technically still within Tokyo`s jurisdiction.

Moving on, the application is your chance to list off your academic credentials, awards, extra-curricular activities, work experience, and international experience. It`s probably a good idea to have things to fill these sections out as thoroughly as possible. The ease by which you can fill them out will probably give you a decent indication of how competitive of an applicant you are.

Contrary to what many people think, you do not need to have majored in Japanese, English, or even any “Japan” or teaching related field to get into JET. I have met people with all kinds of educational backgrounds who have gotten into JET. However come interview time, you may be asked how your field of study relates to teaching English in Japan.  Don`t worry, you`ll have ample time to think of something.

Your academic performance is also not as heavily weighted as you might think. The only important thing is that you have a DEGREE. I know this because my undergraduate career was filled with many ups and downs and I still managed to get here.

Now onto the two most important parts of the application: References and SOP.

It is absolutely crucial that you get two amazing references. This could take some time, so it is best to get it done AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. In my case, it took several months of consistently hounding one of my professors to write me what I`m sure was an amazing reference.  The references are blind to you which means you will have no idea what your referee wrote. Thus it is absolutely imperative that you KNOW you`ve gotten good references.

To that end, it is best to get a reference from someone who has actually gotten to know you well enough to write you a strong personal recommendation. This means that if you were just a faceless number in a class of 100 students, the reference you secure from your professor probably won`t be worth much.

Once you`ve got your references, you can focus on the Statement of Purpose. This is it. This is the canvas upon which you will paint an image of yourself so captivating that the words jump off the pages and leave the reader mesmerized by your greatness. This simply needs to be no less than THE BEST essay you have ever written. If by the time you send in your SOP, there is any doubt in your mind that it is not The Greatest Thing You Have Ever Put To Written Word, then it needs another draft or rewrite.

I went through about 12 drafts between 3 or 4 complete rewrites. Each time it got marginally better and better. By the end, I was confident it was the best I could do given the time constraint.

Your SOP must be absolutely free from grammatical and spelling errors. On a technical level, it must be perfect. As for what to write in the essay itself – well that part is up to you. I can however offer a few bits of advice which guided my writing.

–    Have an overarching theme to tie your SOP together. This will make your essay stand out from the pile. I bet I was remembered as the “martial arts guy” because that was my overarching theme.

–    For the love of God, DO NOT talk about your love of anime, Hello Kitty and Japanese dramas. DO NOT REVEAL YOUSELF TO BE A WEEABOO.

–    Communicate the ways in which you ADD UNIQUE VALUE to the JET Programme. What about YOU makes you stand out as an asset towards international exchange? This is extremely important. Many people make the mistake of talking too much about why they want to come to Japan and what the experience can do for THEM. This is a value-taking mindset.  You need to communicate what you yourself have to offer.

–    Use keywords and phrases from the application. Taken directly from the 2010 application:

Adaptable & flexible – To new situations; Managing stress; Understanding of cultural differences; Open-minded.

Friendly & outgoing – Easily approachable; Willing to meet new people; Good sense of humour.

Professional – Commitment to doing a good job; Working well with others; Respects work environment.

Motivated – Willing to get involved in the community; As interested in learning as in teaching; Wants to explore Japan.

Eventually you`ll have everything you need. Make sure you follow directions and package everything as directed. I remember in my case, we were asked to bind everything with paperclips. If I stapled the sheets together, I bet that would have disqualified me. Do not take any chances, paying absolute attention to detail is of paramount importance. At this point you don`t want to disqualify yourself over something as stupid as a staple.

Finally you`ll be able to send in your application. Make sure it`s clearly postdated before the due date at your consulate. After that, drop it off at your nearest post office and go get a drink. You earned it. Now comes the hard part – the waiting.

And that about covers it for the application! Hopefully this guide gave you some things to think about, dear prospective JET. Drop me a line in the comments down below if you think I forgot something, and feel free to offer up your own ideas as well if you`re already a current JET.


10 thoughts on “How to Apply to the JET Programme

  1. Very informative post, Allen. You covered pretty much everything. I just want to add one small thing. If possible, I think it’s also a good idea to talk about your insights about teaching and learning (especially ESL).

    P.S. Apparently the app is all online now.

    1. Zeus, the age is not absolutely fixed. Theoretically you should be under 40 but if you have some wonderful experience you’d still be considered.

  2. Hi Apollo,
    Thank you so much for your JET insights – really had fun reading them! One thought suddenly occurred to me: does one need to have prior teaching experience to be, well, “more” qualified? :p

  3. Hi!

    Could not find an email address to you, so I will try a comment here 🙂

    I was thinking do you know something about other countries?
    I am Hungarian (Part of EU) and would love to do a JET year for numerous reasons.


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