American College Admission Process for Japanese Students: Do Not Neglect Extracurricular Activities.


By Koto Haramiishi, Columnist

There are many interesting differences between college admissions in Japan and college admissions in the United States. These differences can be barriers that both American and Japanese students encounter when they apply for their top choice colleges. However, the main difference in the importance of extracurricular activities is one of the most prominent differences. While most of colleges in Japan admit students based on their grades or recommendations from their high schools, grades are not enough to be to the ideal candidate for most U.S colleges.. According to Steve Loflin, a founder and CEO of National Society of Collegiate Scholars, extracurricular activities matter much more than you may think (U.S News and World Report 2011).

Even though many colleges and universities in the United States accept certain numbers of international students due to the good reputation of multi-cultural environments in the campus, international students need to realize that it is important to show their qualities in other things besides studying to make themselves stand out from other international student candidates.

Japanese colleges, however, have more value in students’ collectiveness among other students in their colleges or in the community. Japan is a collectivist society: this means that Japanese students are encouraged to be like their peers to be a good team player. Individuality is not as prized as is being a good team player who can blend in with those around them. Therefore, having unique extracurricular activities is not as important in Japan.

In addition, the Japanese Ministry of Education has been reinforcing standardization of curriculum within the country, and so it is no longer unique for Japanese people to go to college or university.

These cultural differences in educational systems lead many Japanese students who come to study abroad at two year colleges in the United States think that all they need to do is study to get higher grades and transfer to a good four year institution. Indeed, higher grades do positively increases students’ possibilities to be admitted by good colleges, but when it comes to the American college admissions process at the most selective schools, good grades are not enough.

In addition to good grades, what American colleges are looking for in new students is whether they have leadership and self-achievements. According to the prestigious Harvard University’s admission website, the characteristics of students they want are the following: “maturity, character, leadership, self-confidence, warmth of personality, sense of humour, energy, concern for others and grace under pressure.” Other college admissions centers advertise the importance of leadership, extracurricular activities and work experience.

Why are American colleges so obsessed with leadership and extracurricular activities?

A a recent New York Times article focused on the entering students’ qualities in college admissions. In this article, NYT reporters interviewed William R. Fitzsimmons, the long-time dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College in 2009. In this interview, Fitzsimmons answered the question that why many students are required to do extracurricular activities to be admitted into American colleges. While Harvard admits several thousands of students with stunning academic credentials every year, it is difficult to judge each students’ personalities in order to distinguish between other applicants. To make one’s academic profile more attractive to the college admissions staff, leadership experiences and extracurricular activities will be used to increase quality and one’s suitability to their ideal college.

Another reason young students are pushed to pursue their interests during their secondary school days for college admission is that if one showed outstanding achievements in other activities such as sports or artistic activities, college will consider it as the students has pursued own interests as well as keeping well academically due to his strong persona qualifications. Because it is not easy for students to commit to something they love while they need to keep their grades high, colleges will weigh the value of those students greater when it comes to personal qualities. And such personal qualities are also useful long after they graduate.


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