The JET Program is one of the most competitive (and reliable) sources of job placement for international teachers looking to work in Japan. It is a long and arduous process to apply, but if you are accepted, you will receive a job working as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in Japan. It is a well-known and well-respected program, but the process of applying is quite involved.
One of the graduates of my TESOL Certificate course (the SIT TESOL), Samantha Bronster, survived the JET application process and lived to tell the tale!
She recently embarked on her new life as an ALT in July of 2017. She was kind enough to write us a thorough article outlining the process of applying for a position with JET with all sorts of tips for you. This is a long one, folks, but if you want to be successful in your JET application, I strongly advise that you read all the way to the end!
I am going to turn over the post to Samantha now. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments!
Here is what Samantha has to say:
So you want to apply for JET. Good! Strap in, you’re in for a ride. The full process takes somewhere around four months (not including all the waiting) and involves more paperwork than you’re probably used to. But don’t let any of this stop you! The JET Program is difficult to get into, but it still remains one of the most rewarding and prestigious teaching programs you can participate in in Japan.
How does one apply for the JET Program, anyway? Before I talk about that, let’s go over who is and isn’t eligible to apply in the first place.
- At least a bachelor’s degree. You can apply while still in college, but you’ll need to be graduated by the time you’d leave in order to be accepted.
- U.S. citizenship (if applying from the USA).
- Native level English. English doesn’t have to be your first language, but you must speak it fluently.
- An interest in Japan.
What’s NOT Required
- Teaching experience and/or certification. It helps, but it’s not required.
- Japanese language skills. Again, they help, but they’re not required. (This is not true of the CIR position, which requires strong written and spoken Japanese)
- Experience working with children.
The Application Process
Regarding the application process itself, there are two main stages to pass: the main application and the interview. This first stage takes the most work, and as such, I’m going to break it into sections. The most important thing to remember during this stage is to keep on top of your paperwork. You’re going to need a lot of forms from people who you won’t have any direct control over, so get on this stuff done EARLY. Leaving things to the last minute is going to cause unnecessary stress (I can personally attest to this). Don’t panic if you notice you’ve missed something, though. We’re human, and time can get away from us sometimes. Just do your best to get everything done as soon as possible without beating yourself up. Note: there are a few things that you’ll need to have done early if you’re applying for early acceptance. If you’re undecided, act as if this is what you’re applying for. You won’t be getting anything you mail to the JET office back, so make copies and don’t send originals if you care about them.
- The application itself. More on this later.
- A one page statement of purpose (essay). Again, more on this later.
- Two letters of recommendation. I got both of mine from teachers, but they can also be from bosses or other relevant people. Just make sure you ask the people you have in mind early. It might not be a bad idea to ask three people for letters; the worst that happens is you won’t use one of them. Your references will be emailing their letters to a specific JET address, so you won’t be receiving copies of them. Keep on top of your references and make sure they know exactly what to do.
- College transcripts. You won’t need anything prior to college, but you will need all the classes you’ve gotten credit for to be accounted for. If you’ve taken classes at other schools and they aren’t reflected on your main transcript, get transcripts from the other school(s). This can take time, so make it one of the first things you do.
- Proof of graduation (or expected graduation date/proof of enrollment). This can be your transcript for certain schools; make sure you check with your college. A diploma will work if you can’t use your transcript.
- Proof of U.S. citizenship. I used a copy of my passport, but there are plenty of options.
- A physician’s form that you’ll download from the JET website (if you indicated that you have one or more medical conditions). This must be signed by a doctor.
- Proof of study abroad, if applicable. Again, this can be your transcript in some cases. Check with your school, and make sure you can receive a transcript from the school(s) you were at if this isn’t the case for you.
- Proof of teaching certification if applicable.
- Proof of TESL certification if applicable.
- Proof of Japanese proficiency if applicable. I used my JLPT certificate.
- FBI background check. You’ll need this if you pass your interview, but you’ll need it way sooner than that if you’re applying for early acceptance. You can go directly through the FBI for this, but the easier option is to go through a channeler. You’ll get your results far sooner that way. JET has lists of companies you can get this done through. Don’t do this early unless you think or know you want to apply for early acceptance, as this can be considered out of date after a few months in certain states.
- A certificate of health that you’ll download from the JET website. This is the same as the background check in terms of timing. This also needs to be signed by a physician.
The Application Form
The application itself is extremely long, but it isn’t difficult. You will be sinking a significant amount of time into finishing it, so plan accordingly. This is not something you want to leave to the last minute. The application changes a bit from time to time, so I’m not going to go into too many details about how it looked when I filled it out, but the sections will be more or less the same. You may have noticed that I didn’t list a resume as one of the required documents; this section is why. You’ll need to list things like your schools and jobs, teaching experience and study abroad experience (if you have them), as well as smaller details such as your address. You may need to answer a short essay question or two (just a single paragraph, nothing like the full essay). You’ll also need to fill out a short health assessment. Be honest, nothing you put in this section is going to be held against you. I myself listed quite a few things, and I still got in. This is also the part of the application where you will put your location requests if you have any. While it is time consuming, there’s nothing in this application that should surprise you. Try to get it done quickly so you can spend most of your time and energy working on the essay. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget to sign it like I did.
This is the single most important part of your application. You can only tell so much about a person from an application form, so the essay is where you’re going to let your personality shine through. The biggest points you’ll have to convey are why you want to live in Japan, why you want to do the JET program specifically, and why you want to teach English. Your challenge will be to hit all three of those points while being creative and interesting. As if that wasn’t hard enough, there’s a strict two page limit; don’t go over it, as anything beyond the second page won’t be read. There are many wonderful guides dedicated to the JET statement of purpose, so I’m only going to write general advice here.
In general, there are three big questions that need to be answered by the essay. These are: why do you want to teach, why do you want to do the JET Program as opposed to another program, and why do you want to go to Japan specifically? In other words: why would you be an asset to the JET Program? A successful essay will answer these questions sincerely and creatively. You also need to make your essay stand out from the crowd. How you do that is entirely up to your personal style. It can be a good idea to read essays that have been written by successful applicants, but remember to take everything you read with a grain of salt. Your story is different from everyone else’s, and a format that worked for someone else might not work for you.
The biggest tip I can give you for the essay is to give yourself enough time to write multiple versions. You will likely write your statement a few times before you nail down exactly what you want to say; that’s ok. Start early and let your personality shine through, and you’ll have a great essay before you know it.
Note: there is conflicting information about including anime and video games as influences in your life. Some say avoid it at all costs, some say it’s ok to mention these things passingly. I think it’s best to leave the “otaku” stuff out, just in case, but it’s up to you.
These are some of the guides I used when writing my own statement:
After a significant amount of waiting, you’ll find out if you’ve earned yourself an interview. If you get this far, rejoice! The hardest part is over. Just like with the essay, there are already many great preparation guides for the interview, several of which I will link here. There are two main things you’ll need to be prepared for: the questions themselves, and the demo lesson. Supposedly there are applicants who don’t get asked to do a demo, but I’ve never met any of them. The general atmosphere of the interview varies greatly from applicant to applicant, as well as from panelist to panelist. I had two panelists who were very friendly and one who gave me absolutely no discernable feedback whatsoever. You will probably hear about the dreaded “war tribunal” panel that tries very aggressively to make you uncomfortable and points out all your faults. Whether your panel is extremely friendly or extremely harsh, don’t take anything they say personally. They just want to see if you can keep your confidence and energy in a stressful situation. This program is oddly fond of mind games for some reason.
There are many types of questions you could be asked, but there are some common themes that will almost certainly come up. First, you must know what you wrote in your application. At least one of the interview panelists will try to trip you up and get you to say something that contradicts what you wrote, such as getting you to say you requested a city or age range that you didn’t. My interviewer went easy on me and backed off when I made it clear I remembered my application; I’ve heard of panelists who get in your face when you try to correct them. Don’t get thrown off, it’s just a mind game. You will also likely be asked to expand on your application in some way. If there is something in your application that wasn’t addressed in your essay, such as why you went through the particular training that you did or why you’re interested in certain places in Japan, you may be asked to explain. It’s a good idea to go over your application a few times during your preparations so you can anticipate questions like these and have answers ready for them.
Another big theme that usually comes up in some way is general knowledge of the world, for example, current events, pop culture, and history. A lot of the guides already out there recommend memorizing lists of American and Japanese celebrities, politicians, and the like. I wasn’t asked about this at all, but it’s good to know a few prominent people just in case. Don’t feel like you need to go overboard, though. You aren’t going to fail your interview because you can’t rattle off three to five Japanese athletes. Do be prepared to talk about how you relate to the big issues of the day and/or how to broach these topics in the classroom. You will more than likely be asked what you would say if questioned about Donald Trump (or whoever is president now if you’re reading this in the future). The panelists may even go so far as to ask what you would say to a student who brought up the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki or asked your opinions on whaling (this one isn’t likely, but it’s happened before). Answer honestly, but make sure you don’t say anything that would be too abrasive. If you do get asked about something like Hiroshima, it may be best to say that you would think long and hard about the answer and tell the student you’ll get back to them later.
You will at some point have to talk about how you would handle various situations at work and in the classroom. It’s possible you’ll be asked about what you would do if you had a problem with a student or with a teacher. There’s a right answer to that question: you would discuss any problems with your supervisor and never confront the student/coworker directly. It is very important to save face in Japan; the last thing you want to do is tell your panelists that you would risk bringing someone shame by confronting them. You may also be asked something uncomfortable about cultural differences (like being asked to change your appearance in the office, for example). Be sensitive and show that you’re aware that you’ll be living in a culture that isn’t your own. You should also be prepared to give a short demonstration of your teaching abilities. This “demo lesson” is a three to five minute presentation on a topic that will be given to you at the interview. Do prepare a few of these beforehand, but don’t get too attached to the topics you chose. You probably won’t be presenting on those exact topics. I was asked to show how I would teach the first three months of the year to elementary schoolers. All I had time to do was write January, February, and March on a white board and go over pronunciation a little bit. If you’re given a slightly more fun topic, such as animals or seasons, feel free to use gestures and sounds to get your point across. The main thing the panelists are looking for are energy and the ability to perform under pressure. Also, if it comes up, remember that in Japan, the sun is red, not yellow. Don’t try to explain summer by drawing a yellow sun on the board; you’ll be corrected on it after your presentation and will probably feel bad.
Here are some of the guides I used to prepare for my interview. Some of them will make you feel like you’re already under-prepared before you’ve even found out if you have an interview; try not to get intimidated. It’s really not as bad as you think.
Applying to the JET Program isn’t easy. Honestly, you should be proud of yourself for even attempting it. There will be points during the application process where you’ll feel like nothing you’ve written is good enough or that you’ll be driven mad with stress and anticipation. Give yourself enough time to do everything and, above all, don’t panic. As imposing as this process is, it’s not impossible. Have faith in yourself, have some faith in the system when paperwork is out of your hands, and try to have as much fun as you can along the way.