The JET Program Application – Tips and Advice to Make You Succeed

If you want to get accepted into the JET program, you’ve come to the right place.  I was accepted into the program as an ALT (assistant language teacher) a few years ago and loved every minute of it.  However, this didn’t come easily.

If awards were given out to JET applicants, I would definitely win the “Most Number of Times Applied” award.  I applied so many times that I actually lost count, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 or 7 times.  I only made it to the interview stage twice.  The first time I was put on the waiting list; the second time was when a miracle happened…I got accepted.

JET Program Teaching EnglishApplying and failing so many times made me see where I went wrong each time, and how to correct it.

To apply to the program, you must first submit an application along with an essay (statement of purpose).  If you pass this stage, you’ll be invited for an interview.  Do well on the interview and you’ll have a good chance at being offered a position with the program.




I’ll talk more about the interview in another post.  But first, here are 5 tips on how to ace the JET application.

5 Tips for the JET Program Application – ALT Position


1.  Do Not Take the Application Lightly – Double, Triple, and Quadruple Check It

JET Application Page 1Some people think that the application is just a formality that they have to fill out and then concentrate on the interview.  These people probably didn’t make it past the first round.

This seems like common sense, but I have seen many people, including myself, who took the application too lightly.  The application is long, arduous, and at times, frustrating.  This can make you want to rush through it just to get it over with.  DO NOT do this.

Take your time and fill each answer.  If you start to get tired or frustrated, take a break and go back to it later.

Also, treat it just like an English test.  This means absolutely no spelling or grammatical mistakes.  Be clear and precise.

Most applications can be completed online now.  However, if you have an actual hardcopy of the application, I highly recommend that you use a typewriter to fill it out.  Yes, I know typewriters don’t exist anymore.  Try checking your parent’s attic.  Maybe you’ll find one in a box along with their VHS tapes and cassette player.  If you have to fill it out by hand, make sure it is PRISTINE and NEAT.

And of course, check it until you know that it’s flawless.


2.  Tell the Truth for the Important Stuff (and Stretch the Truth for the Rest)

When in Doubt Tell the TruthIf you don’t have any teaching experience, working with children, and/or can’t speak Japanese, it is better to say this up front.  Don’t lie or exaggerate your experiences or language ability.  It is highly probable that they’ll ask you more about your Japanese ability and experience in the interview.  If you get caught lying there, you might as well start looking for another job.


You want to put your best food forward.  Definitely put a positive spin on your experiences and skills (or hype it up).   I’m not advocating your stretch the truth, but on the other hand, marketing companies to this all the time.   You want to show them that they should choose you over everyone else.  So really play up your strengths and find things you can put down that relate with Japan and teaching.

For example, maybe you love sports and have helped children in your neighborhood improve their game.  Perfect.  You have experience in teaching, volunteering, and working with kids.

*If you have absolutely no teaching experience, working with kids, or anything Japanese, no sweat.  Turn this into an opportunity when you write your essay.

For example, you can put a positive spin not knowing any Japanese by saying that you’ve always want to know learn more since you are interested in Japanese culture, have many Japanese friends, etc. The JET Program is a great opportunity to provide you with the perfect opportunity to learn the language by being immersed in the local community and making friends there.  If you can relate this to your dream or goal for the future, then that would be perfect.


3.  Japanese Language AbilityJET Program - How Much Japanese Do you Speak

Back in the day (90’s – early 2000’s), it was said that if you have a high level of Japanese ability, this could work against you.  The reason behind this is that they wanted someone who would speak English with the students.  Someone with a high level of Japanese might only speak Japanese to the kids.
Well I’m here to tell you that that is totally not the case now.  The JET Program is definitely looking for people who can speak at least some Japanese.  You don’t have to be fluent, but it is a plus if you can speak at a conversational/daily life Japanese level.  This probably translates to an intermediate level of Japanese.  This is for the ALT position.  Of course, if you apply for the CIR position you need to have a very high level of Japanese.

I have met hundreds of JET’s during my time in Japan.  Out of all of them, only a handful couldn’t speak any Japanese or have never studied Japanese before.  The Board of Education in Japan where I used to work at told me that they want people who can speak some Japanese, now more than ever.

This is because elementary schools are increasing the number of hours and English classes they have each year.  Unlike junior high and high schools, there aren’t many elementary school teachers than can speak English.  So if you work at an elementary school, it will be VERY HELPFUL if you can communicate with the staff there.  You’ll also have a much easier time teaching your classes and communicating with the kids.  If you want to learn natural Japanese quickly, I highly recommend the lessons at Japanesepod101.

Can you do this with no Japanese?  You definitely can.  But your life will be much easier with some Japanese ability.  JET realizes this and will look for people who know some Japanese.  So if you can’t speak Japanese at all, I suggest you learn a few basic things (basic writing system, greetings, self-introduction) right now so you can at least put that you are a “beginner” on your application.


4.  The Most Important Part of the Application: Your Essay (Statement of Purpose)

JET Program EssayYour essay is where you should put most of your effort.  This is how you will stand out from all of the other applicants.  I’m here to tell you that you can be the perfect applicant for the job, but if you write a shitty essay, you won’t be going to Japan with JET anytime soon.

Each time I applied, I changed the content of my essay.

The first 3 or so times I applied I wrote a crappy essay that I put very little thought into.  Result:  I didn’t get in.

One year I tried to be poetic and tried to impress them with an imaginative and elegant writing style.   Result:  I didn’t get in.

The next year I tried writing creatively.  I made my reason for wanting to go to Japan into a story, with an interesting introduction, flowing plot, and a beautiful conclusion.  Result:  I got rejected again.

The next time I applied, I put a lot of thought into what they were looking for in a candidate.  There are English teaching jobs all over the world.  Why do I want to go to Japan specifically?  What are my REASONS for wanting to go to Japan over every other country in the world?  Why do I want to work for the JET Program specifically, and what will I bring to the table if I am hired?  How will working for the JET Program tie into my future?

I wrote, corrected, and rewrote my essay many times.  I also got smart.  I hired a professional to check my work for grammatical and spelling mistakes, as well as getting advice on how  to make it better.

Result:  I passed!  I made it to the interview stage.

However, I got placed on the waiting list that year.  I applied again the following year and wrote an even better essay.  I pretty much used my old essay but improved on it.

So the moral of the story is:  Concentrate on writing about your motivation and reasons for choosing Japan and the JET program.  You don’t need to make it overly elegant or fancy.  But you do need to use perfect English that is clear, logical, and flows nicely.  Above all, your essay should state your reasons for wanting to go to Japan with the JET Program, why they should hire you instead of everyone else (skills, experience, motivation..what makes you special), and what you will bring to the table if you got hired (building relationships with the community, coaching kids in sport, etc). If working for the JET Program can help you with a future goal or dream, that is even better.   This essay is a maximum of 2, double-spaced pages.

Here are more questions you might want to ask yourself.  The answers to these questions might be able to help you write your essay:  Are you flexible?  Can you adapt to new situations easily?  Do you like getting involved in the community?  How will you teach people about your culture and build relationships with the community?

If you think that don’t have any experience in teaching or the Japanese language and culture, you probably aren’t thinking hard enough.  As I said before, you should be honest, but I’m sure you have experiences that JET is looking for.

Maybe you moved far away from home to attend university.  That means you adapt well to new situations. Or maybe you coached kids in sports.  That means you have experience teaching and working with children.  Experiences such as these can be used to show your strengths.

You can also turn a weakness into a positive thing.  If you don’t know much about Japanese culture and language, you can express your desire for doing so, and say that working in Japan would be the perfect opportunity to help you achieve your future goals.  Also be sure to give reasons and examples of what you would plan to do with your time in Japan.


5.  The Worst Part of Your Application – The References

Begging for JET Program ReferencesThe application and essay was bad enough, but at least you have 100% control over both of them.  Now you have to find 2 people to write you a letter of recommendation, and why they think you would be a good candidate for the job.  Your references cannot be family members or friends, so you’ll need to find professional or educational references who you know will write you a good recommendation.  Unless you have 2 references already lined up, this can be a real pain in the ass for both you and the people you ask

The person who writes you a recommendation has to put it in a sealed envelope, so you won’t be able to see it.  So make sure you ask someone who you know will write you an excellent recommendation and has good writing skills.
Also, be sure to give your reference crystal clear instructions.  Not only do they have to put it in a signed and sealed envelope, but they have to make three copies of their recommendation, and sign each of them individually.

Find your and ask your references ASAP.  I cannot stress this enough.  It’s a lot to ask someone to write an recommendation for you, so give them lots of time.  You never know how long it will take for them to finish.  I missed the deadline twice because I didn’t get my recommendations in time.



The best thing you can do is start early.  Start working on the application when it first comes out.  You will also have to get lots of other documentation:  2 professional references, official school transcripts,  proof of graduation or copy of your diploma, proof of qualifications (JLPT, TEFL, study abroad, teaching certification, etc.), and proof of citizenship.

Put A LOT of effort into your essay.  It probably is more important than the answers you give on your application.  The essay gives you the opportunity to say what your motivation for living and teaching in Japan is, and why you would be the perfect candidate.  Write and revise it until you feel it can be any better.

I know the application process is long, tough, and stressful, but don’t give up!  Getting into the program could be a life-changing experience.  If you want to live in Japan, JET is probably the best way to do that (unless you have specialized skills, like a Masters in biochemistry).

If you want to know what a typical day of work looks like on the JET Program, check out this page:  Working for The JET Program – A Typical Day

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I’ll try to help you out the best that I can.  Good luck!

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