Many students head to Japan every year to study. That may be because Japanese higher education attracts many students worldwide for its high quality, diversity, and extensive range of study programs. Another merit of studying in Japan is its research facilities; many world-class universities in the country have research centers that surpass international standards.

Additionally, Japan offers a wide range of English-medium study programs to encourage international students to study there at the bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral levels. As you can see, there are many perks to a Japanese education. But if you want to know more, read on to find out about higher education in Japan.

Types of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Japan

1. Universities

Japanese universities are the institutions in which students can receive theoretical knowledge and practical experience in their chosen discipline at the undergraduate (lasting four to six years) and postgraduate (lasting two to five years) levels.

Common disciplines taught at Japanese universities include business, law, medicine, engineering, psychology, and more. There are several well-established universities with world-class recognition, such as the University of Tokyo, Kyushu University, Keio University, and Kyoto University.

2. Junior Colleges

Junior colleges in Japan offer associate degrees for students completing lower secondary education. Programs at junior colleges last for two or three years, and the main purpose of the colleges is to provide students with professional training and skills in a specialized field. Popular junior colleges in Japan include Tohoku Bunkyo Junior College and Kokusai Junior College.

3. Professional and Vocational Junior Colleges

Professional or vocational junior colleges offer professional associate degree programs with highly specialized education and research in a specific field. These programs have two-year and three-year durations, with two-year programs needing 62 credits to complete while three-year programs need only 93 credits to fulfill.

4. Colleges of Technology (KOSEN)

A unique higher education institute in Japan is KOSEN. There are 57 of them, including Tokyo National College of Technology, Nagano National College of Technology, and Toyota National College of Technology. They aim to provide students with experience and practicum in a specialized field.

Students who have completed a lower secondary education can enroll in an associate program in a KOSEN. It typically lasts for five years and students must obtain 167 or more credits for graduation.

5. Professional Training Colleges

Professional training colleges offer post-graduate courses to provide students with the necessary skills for their professional and everyday life. Some examples of professional training colleges are Shinjuku Chourishi Professional Training College and Kyoto College of Medical Health.

Students who complete a program at a professional training college are awarded a diploma or advanced diploma. To be considered for graduation, a student must obtain 62 credits, which takes about two years, to have a diploma degree, or 124 units for an advanced diploma, which can take four years.

6. Graduate Schools

There are two main types of graduate schools in the Japanese higher education system: graduate schools and professional graduate schools. Graduate schools offer postgraduate degrees in various disciplines to students who have completed their bachelor’s degrees. Some of the notable graduate schools in Japan are the University of Tokyo Graduate School, Kyoto University Graduate School, and Waseda University Graduate School. The degree programs at graduate schools include master’s and doctoral programs, lasting at least two years and three years, respectively.

On the other hand, professional postgraduate schools aim to provide education and training to highly specialized professionals so they gain formal expertise in their selected field. Apart from general professional programs, the other common types of professional graduate programs are for law and teacher education.

Types of Degree Levels in Japan

1. Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor’s degree programs refer to undergraduate education that usually takes four years to complete. However, certain undergraduate programs, including medicine, dentistry, pharmaceutical sciences (clinical), and veterinary medical science, take even longer (six years, specifically) to accomplish.

Students need to obtain 124 credits for a four-year bachelor’s and 188 credits for a six-year bachelor’s program. There’s an early graduation option for students who can successfully obtain the necessary credits in three years; however, six-year bachelor’s programs don’t have that option.

2. Master’s Degree

Master’s degrees can be obtained after having a bachelor’s degree and accomplishing a postgraduate program of two or three years. They are offered in graduate schools or graduate departments of Japanese universities.

The number of credits for completion of the degree varies per program. For instance, even though many master’s programs are offered for two years with the completion of 30 credits, some professional master’s degrees, such as law, may require three years. The required number of credits is also higher – it can go up to 45 or 93 – thus explaining the longer duration.

3 Doctoral Degree

Doctoral degrees, or Ph.D. degrees, are obtained following a master’s degree in the related field. Doctoral programs in Japan typically last for three years or more. However, some doctoral programs are integrated with a master’s program and the completion of both degrees lasts for five years in total. Additionally, the duration for completing a Ph.D. in medicine, dentistry, pharmaceutical sciences (clinical), and veterinary medical science goes up to four years without the master’s program.

FAQS About Higher Education in Japan

What Grading System Does Higher Education in Japan Use?

The standard grading systems used for higher education in Japan are the 4-scale grading system consisting of A, B, C, and D grades and the 5-scale grading system with S, A, B, C, and F grades. Students obtaining a D or F are considered to have failed the course and are required to retake it in the following academic year. GPA is also used to calculate the cumulative average grade of each student studying at a Japanese higher education institution, and it is recognized worldwide.

The important advantages of the 4-scale and 5-scale systems are that they allow students to overcome their exam-oriented anxiety from high school and be encouraged to express their skills and achievement in both formative and summative forms of assessment. Also, the “S” grade, also referred to as shū, is a unique grade meaning exemplary, yet it is a rare grade only a few students with excellent achievement can receive.


Japanese higher education institutions are excellent choices if you are looking for an innovative approach to your academics. However, it is important to keep in mind that getting into these high-class institutions in various degree programs requires hard work, passion, and a set of skills. If you think you have the skills to excel in a Japanese higher education institution, apply today and find the most suitable program for you in Japan.


We hope this article has taught you much about Japanese higher education. Speaking of higher education, check out these open courses you can pursue in Japan! Also visit our Study in Japan page for valuable tips and helpful articles!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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