In our guide to applying for the JET Program, we skipped over the section about the JET Program Statement of Purpose essay (or SoP). It counts for the majority of your JET application score. To get some of you questions about the Statement of Purpose answered quickly, check out our video:
The SoP is not a cover letter. It's a two page story that separates you from other applicants. In the U.S. it must be maximum of two pages on standard paper, written in 12 point Arial or Times New Roman font, double spaced with 1 inch margins all around, and have your last name with the page number in the upper right.
The JET Program has two main goals:
- English education
It's important to keep this in mind when writing about your skills and abilities. How does your story match these goals? More importantly, how can you make your story interesting enough to land you a JET Program interview?
Let's look at this piece by piece and break down the official prompt on the JET Program website. There are four points, all beginning with "Applicants should take this opportunity to reflect on:"
1. "Why you wish to go to Japan and participate in the JET Program and why you are interested in the position for which you are applying (ALT or CIR)."
Read this question as: "What's so special about Japan?"
JET wants to know why you want to live in Japan, as opposed to Spain or Russia? Why do you want to teach English to Japanese children, rather than practice medicine? You can do anything with your life, so what is motivating you to choose this path? In a way, your answer to this question is the heart of your SoP, and all other answers should extend out from it. This is all about your motivation.
Connect this motivation to a personal story or event in your life. No one gains an interest in Japan out of nowhere. Something sparked it. Whether it be a relative who told you stories of their life in Japan, a Japanese book you read, or even anime, include it in your SoP.
The key to successfully using the motivational component in your essay is that you expand on it. This is why "anime" is an acceptable motivational component, though some claim you shouldn't mention anime under any circumstances. If you write, "I want to go to Japan because I like anime," you're not likely to be chosen. The same goes for "I want to live in Japan because my uncle lived there." These are equally weak because they simply state the motivation.
However, "I want to teach in Japan because I watched anime growing up, which sparked my curiosity about where it came from, leading me to a love of Japanese culture…" is much stronger. The focus isn't anime, but rather your thought process and the actions you took after that initial spark. Start with your motivation, but focus on your action. Portray yourself as a proactive and curious person.
All this said, the motivational component is much less important than the others we'll cover. JET knows you want to live in Japan and, though the why is relevant, it matters much less to the decision makers than what you can offer. Give this some thought, but don't spend the whole two pages talking about your motivation. Mention it briefly in the intro and conclusion and that should be enough.
2. "What effect you hope to have on the Japanese community and internationally as a result of your participation in the JET Program."
Read this question as: "What can you offer Japan?"
JET's two goals are English education and internationalization. Though the SoP isn't a cover letter, the JET Program is still a job. JET wants to know what you plan to do in that role. The answer isn't so much "I want to be remembered by my students for all time" but rather, what will you do that's worth remembering? Again, focus on actions rather than ideas.
How will you engage students in a meaningful way? How will you cultivate relationships? Remember that the JET job doesn't end when school ends. Internationalization is your job 24/7. So what does this look like in the larger community? What past experiences are directly applicable to the JET ALT job? Your ideas for the position or experiences don't have to be "right". They simply show you're thinking and ready to jump into the role.
Since you're focusing on actions in this essay, verbs will be your best friend. Power verbs will do even better. "Create," "design," and "produce" are better than "make." "Achieve," "accomplish," and "resolve" are better than "do."
"I want to create and implement original lesson plans" is better than "I want to make lesson plans." "My desire is to build student trust and become a familiar presence in a Japanese school," is better than "I want to talk to students after class."
Furthermore, the more concrete examples you can give the better. "I want to start an English club after school" is better than "I want to make an impact."
Many JETs join clubs at their schools and do volunteer work in the community. They use their skills and interests to do things for people in Japan. If you play guitar, you could play for the school assembly. If you're a soccer wizard, you could join the soccer club. Even if your interests are more insular, like manga, you could start a manga club, which takes more initiative than joining a pre-existing club.
3. "What applicable experiences, professional skills, relevant interests and personal qualities you have, and how you feel these will be useful to you as an ALT or CIR."
Read this question as: "Back up all your big talk with some facts."
When writing your grand plan to teach English like a wizard, back up those plans with some evidence.
The key here is to show that you've done social, interactive things before. JET wants to make sure they are sending people who aren't afraid to dive in and interact with people different than themselves. If you once made food for nursing home residents, mention that as something you'd like to do again. If you led groups of kids at a summer camp, cite it as precedent of your future leading of children to safety. Heck, if you've been a teacher before, that's great proof that you can teach in Japan.
The tricky part with this component is you don't want to restate your application line by line. The person reading your SoP will have read the application. If your Statement of Purpose simply lists all the greatness that is already in your app, it will seem boring. Make sure to explain why your past achievements will make you a great JET. Use them to back up your claims of future JET glory. They are proof that you are historically someone who easily interacts and gets involved with other people.
As with the previous prompt, power verbs are going to be your friend. Check out this list for some ideas. Be careful not to overuse power verbs. You don't want your writing to sound unnatural or forced. Use just enough to avoid writing, "I did…I did…I did…"
4. "What you hope to gain, both personally and professionally, from your JET experience if you are selected and how participation will assist you in your future goals."
Read this question as: "How will you promote Japan after JET?"
This is a trick question. JET is certainly happy about what you'll gain from living in Japan, but is also interested in how you will promote Japan in the future. The entire program was founded with the goal of increasing "soft power," and the current prime minister has made this a primary goal of his administration. This is tied to the "internationalization" goal of JET, and why the E in JET stands for "exchange." You come to Japan to help Japan understand other countries, then you go home to help everyone there understand Japan.
Therefore, it is imperative that you include something of your plans to promote Japan after JET. If you can tie this into your professional career, that's great. If not, you can still talk about how you'll maintain your Japan connection outside of your professional life. This can include things like, joining a local Japan-[your home country] Society, visiting schools to teach them about Japanese culture, or performing in a taiko group.
Extra Tips for the JET Program Statement of Purpose Essay
Don't be afraid to inject some emotion. Certainly don't go overboard but a little exposition about your feelings toward to opportunity of living in Japan can help. Again, this isn't a cover letter and JET only wants to send people who really have a desire to go. So, a few sentences revealing your longing to live in Japan are okay.
Proofread, proofread, proofread! Then proofread again. Don't rely on spell check to find typos. Be sure to print out the document and go through it with a red pen, reading it several times over. Your brain does a better job of catching mistakes on paper than it does on a computer screen. After you've made corrections, print out your SoP and give it to a few people you know for proofreading. Nothing beats a second or third set of eyes.
As you read and re-read your SoP, ask yourself, "does this essay tell people who I am?" All the things I mentioned above are great, but they won't do you any good if the essay doesn't paint an intriguing picture. You can do this with some personal stories, your writing style or "voice", and simply stating your goals and achievements.
If you find a Statement of Purpose example on JET Program forums of blogs, beware using it as a model. The essay should tell the unique story of you and have your voice. See how well the writer answered their questions, but make sure to keep your SoP true to you.
State Your Purpose on Purpose
Give yourself enough time to write. The Statement of Purpose essay makes or breaks an application. You'll definitely want to have space to put it down, come back, and rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite. It has to be the ultimate JET Program essay.
Put in the effort, highlight your best qualities, connect yourself to the role, and be honest about yourself and what you want. Think about giving more than getting and you're more likely to get. There are plenty of candidates writing forced, robotic SoPs. Designing a compelling and memorable image of yourself will set you apart and make you more likely to get an interview.
This essay won't be easy. But once you get your invitation to interview, you'll be glad you worked so hard. Good luck, JET hopefuls, and happy writing!