JET Program: Application and Essay Do’s and Don’ts

こんにちわ、みんなさん! 

Good day to you all. This post is, sorry friends and family, not really for you, but for any potential JET applicants out there who may be wondering how to tackle the application process. Seeing as that it is almost September (and that I won’t have time to post this in two days once I actually start the job that I’m getting paid to do…), I thought I would try to help out any applicants now by informing you of what you can and should get done early!

Some of you may have heard about the JET Program in passing and be wondering what exactly all that jazz is all about. To put it simply, the JET Program stands for the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, and it’s more or less what it sounds like. You apply, if you succeed you get your hand held through the entire moving process, and you get shipped off to Japan on an extremely long plane ride to go teach some youngins English. Gosh  golly that sounds like a good time, amirite?

If you haven’t applied to the JET Program before, the application window is extremely narrow: just about a month and a half to get EVERYTHING completed, usually from the beginning of October to the first or second week of November. That being said, it would be in your best interest to start working on what you can AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! I cannot stress this enough!

I also have what I will call the *unique* perspective of being able to help y’all good folks out since I came from being utterly rejected the first time I applied to the JET Program to going straight to the short-list of accepted applicants the following year. If you’re also a second or multiple year applicant, it’s all about showing the JET Program how committed you are to the program and what you’ve been working on to improve yourself since the last time you applied. Let’s get started!

Before you apply

As I just mentioned above, the actual application for the JET Program does not open until early October. However, there are some things that in my experience, stay consistent from year to year that you can get a jump on while you’re waiting to save you some trouble later and streamline the process a bit more once the application opens.

  1.    References: You will need two letters of reference for the JET Program application. One of these letters MUST be from an academic source, such as a teacher whose class you took or a professor that you worked with closely in some other kind of academic setting. Ideally, this should be one of your college professors or graduate school professors, if you’ve already completed graduate school. DO NOT ask your high school teachers for letters of reference. The JET Program simply does not care about anything that happened before your college years. Another one of these references should be somebody that you have worked with closely or who knows you well, such as a supervisor or manager from a job who knows you and your work ethic well. For both of my applications, I asked my Japanese professor from college (who I had for four semesters in a row, whose class I did extremely well in, and who knew me well personally), and the supervisor from my job at the Online Writing Lab at my college, where I reviewed peer essays for quality and clarity. I chose these references because first, I did very well in my Japanese classes and I had that particular professor for a very long time by college standards, and because my Online Writing Lab job was a testament to the ability that YES, I KNOW HOW TO ENGLISH. Now, don’t fret if you’ve never taken a Japanese course; Japanese ability is not a deal-breaker with the JET Program. In fact, you don’t need to speak any Japanese at all. If you’re like me and are a second year applicant, it might be in your interest to also ask the same references to write your letters again this year, if they are people that know you well. In my case, my references were able to reiterate how badly I wanted the position and how dedicated I was for persevering and improving myself for the JET Program application Round 2 instead of lazing around on my couch feeling sorry for myself. Finally, ONE MORE THING as far as letters of reference go: Do not ask your references to actually sit down and write your letter until AFTER the application has opened in October. The application could ask your references questions that weren’t on last year’s application or are a little different from previous years, and you wouldn’t want them to waste their time writing a letter now only to have to change it come October. However, please touch base with your references and inform that you would like them to write a letter for you! College professors can get extremely busy, so the sooner you are able to give them a heads up and say, “Yo, I know it’s been a while since you taught me but I’m doing this thing in October in a couple of months. Could you please write a letter for me after the application opens in October?” Okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get the gist. WAIT! JUST KIDDING! One more note on reference letters: DO NOT ASK YOUR FRIENDS OR FAMILY TO WRITE YOUR LETTERS!!! DO NOT DO IT!!! DON’T!!! Your references need to be professional, and even if your friends and family are professional members of the community, they still mean professionals that aren’t your family that you have worked with before. And asking a friend just because they’re you’re friend and they know you well isn’t going to cut it, either.
  2.    Doctor’s visit: For the JET Program application, you are required to get some kind of health screening/physical/check-up exam by an ACTUAL DOCTOR, not a Physician’s Assistant or Registered Nurse. THE DOCTOR HAS TO SIGN OFF ON IT. It’s really simple, and just covers the usual basics, i.e. you’re not dying, you’re physically capable to live in Japan and travel, blah blah blah etc.  Don’t do the appointment before the application opens, because there is paperwork included in the application that you need to print out and bring to the doctor to have them sign, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to just schedule the physical for around mid-October and inform them in advance that there are a few forms that you need the doctor to fill out. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment at the last minute is a royal pain, and if you wait too long you might not even be able to get one, so just do yourself a huge favor and do this as soon as you can.  

 

The actual application: Get a jump on this AS. SOON. AS. THE. APPLICATION. OPENS!!!! JUST DO IT!!! The first year I applied in October of 2014, I didn’t decide to commit to applying until TWO WEEKS before the application closed. TWO WEEKS. It was awful. I was scrambling like a madwoman driving everyone around me crazy by contacting references, getting transcripts ordered, writing the essay, etc. It was a nightmare. The second time around in 2015 went much more smoothly because I already knew the time frame I was working with, knew what I wanted to write for the essay, and had already scheduled the doctor’s appointment and contacted my references in advance. Some things to keep in mind with the application:

(1)  Be honest.  The JET Program reserves the right to disqualify you from the application process if they find out that anything on your application is false. So don’t go saying that you spent a month saving orphans in South America or something if you didn’t actually do it. So just do yourself a favor and don’t. Just don’t.

(2)  Perfect grades are not a deal-breaker: I definitely did not have perfect grades. In fact, my grades were average to awful in everything except my English and Japanese courses. And my terrible grades obviously did not change from the first year to the second. I was stuck with them! Rather than perfect grades, I feel like they’d rather see what kind of teaching experience you have, what kind of English ability you have, and most importantly how you are with kids.

 

The Essay (Statement of Purpose): This is without a doubt the most important part of your JET Program application. The Statement of Purpose is your chance to SHINE like the brilliant star that you are, to shamelessly sell yourself like those annoying people that come to your door trying to sell you knives and Tupperware all the time, to make yourself look so much better than the rest of those chumps out there. Don’t worry about making it sound like you are bragging. BRAGGING IS THE POINT! The JET Program WANTS you to brag and shamelessly sell yourself! There is a lot that can be said in your essay that simply doesn’t come across on the rest of the paper application! My paper application told a story of a girl with average to bleh grades who did a lot of work with animals. If they only saw that, they’d be wondering, “Who is this girl with crappy grades who has lots of animal experience but no teaching experience? Why does she even want to do this?” But I was able to share a lot more in the essay to tell them about who I was and why I wanted to participate on the JET Program. My Statement of Purpose really didn’t change a lot between year 1 and year 2 of application, because my Statement of Purpose did get me to the interview stage in year 1, so I ended up just building upon what I had already constructed. But, here are a few pointers to really rock that essay and land you that interview:

(1)  Write multiple drafts. It doesn’t matter how awesome you think your first draft of your SOP is. It’s probably not that awesome. You will look at it and scrutinize it and question yourself and tweak it over and over again. If you write only one draft, I promise you it’s not good enough. The first year I applied, I wrote a first draft and I thought it was the bee’s knees. Then I looked at it again. I decided I hated it and ended up scrapping it altogether. Then I wrote another draft. Scrapped that one, too. Then a third. Scrapped. It wasn’t until I got to the fourth draft that I finally started to like what I was writing about myself, and by the time I got to my fifth and final draft, my revisions were limited to just tweaks instead of rewriting the whole thing. Draft, draft, and draft some more.

(2)  Have somebody that’s not you read your SOP. My Japanese professor had previously been on the interview committee for the JET Program and actually would not write my recommendation letter until she saw my (near) completed SOP (I was still tweaking it until the last minute). Odds are, you might have a professor that’s like that, too. Regardless, it’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes look at your work and tell you, “Yo, this sucks. Do it again,” or, “This is great! Just change these small things here and there!” Even if you have your mom or dad read it (I did that, too), it’s better than not having anyone else read it at all. 

(3)  DO NOT GO OVER THE TWO PAGE LIMIT!!  Yes, there is a page limit for the SOP, which is unfortunately only two measly little pages. In college, I always had a habit of writing really wordy and long-winded essays, so two pages is practically just an introduction for me. Take the SOP as a huge lesson in learning how to write concisely (not like how I am doing right now with this novel of a blog post…). They will absolutely not read anything that goes over the two page limit, so use your space wisely and cram as much as you can into those two sad, teeny little pages of pressure. And don’t fudge the margins. There’s a specific margin size you need to use, too, and I don’t know what the consequences would be if you tried to fudge it. Maybe they’ll pour fudge on you if you fudge the margins. That would actually be pretty cool though…

(4)  Content. For the love of God, do not, do not, DO NOT just write about how you want to go to Japan because you like anime and manga and want to live in a nerd paradise! There is nothing wrong with liking and anime and manga and *maybe* expressing that interest in half a sentence of your essay, nay, let’s make that more like a quarter of a sentence, but I can absolutely guarantee you that if that’s all you write about, you ain’t getting that interview. They will drop that essay right then and there and shove your application unceremoniously into the rejection pile. In fact, if that’s the only reason why you want to do the JET Program, I advise you to not apply at all. The JET Program is a JOB. It is NOT a 1-5 year well-paid vacation in Japan. You need to have a genuine interest in language. You need to have a genuine interest in teaching. And, most importantly, you need to show how you will promote internationalization and the spread of cultures! What will you teach your students about where you come from? What will your students teach you? What lessons will you take with you when you get back from Japan? Furthermore, what experiences do you have that will help you attain those goals? How will you make the learning environment for Japanese students better? Please consider this carefully as you write. I wrote about my love of languages, how I love to travel, and how I hope that my students can get excited about learning about new cultures that are not their own, and I wanted to motivate them to have a practical use for learning the English language. I wrote about how all of my job experiences, whether English-related or not, gave me skills that were valuable to the JET program. I wrote about how I wanted to make a difference in my future Japanese community. These are all things that they want to know about. If you want to nerd out about anime and manga and what have you, do so on your own time, and do not express it in your essay. Most importantly, think carefully on the “why Japan?” question, as this is the foundation of your essay.

 

Submitting everything on time: So I lied before. This is the most important part of your application. Unless you have some kind of extenuating circumstances, the JET Program will also not consider your application if you turn it in late. I almost feel like the JET Program application is just a giant lesson in following instructions and learning how to do things in a prompt manner, all of which are important skills to have on the job. But yeah. On time. Turn it in. Don’t leave anything for the last minute. You get the picture.

Well, sorry that was so long folks, but I hope it helps some of you as you navigate the application process this year! I’ll have another post to follow shortly detailing Do’s and Don’ts for the interview (this is what made the difference between year 1 and year 2 for me!), so stay tuned, and good luck to you all! I wish you all the best!

 

And if anyone who wants to apply has any more questions or concerns, feel free to drop me a line in the comments/contact section!

 

またね!
-Erin

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