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Hi everybody! I had the great opportunity to talk with Yuka Fukumuro from the admission office at Sophia University. She is in charge of the admission of the English programs. We talked about the upcoming new English program, what makes Sophia unique and what students should pay attention to for the admission examination.

Thank you very much for your time. How is the application session so far? Is it getting busy right now?
This month particularly we have so many application sessions. We have various English-taught programs – Liberal Arts, Green Science and Green Engineering. These are the undergraduate programs so far. We will be opening our new programs from next year (Program for Sustainable Futures). The other departments are Japanese-taught programs. Students must be fluent in Japanese to get into them. Take at least a written exam and an interview. For the general exam, they don’t need to take an interview. These English-taught programs are only document screening. No written exam and interview.

“The document screening for English-taught programs are totally based on academic performance”

That is basically AO admission, right?
That is tricky. We don’t want to call it AO. The university go through the materials, looking not only at academic performance, but they do look at all the activities such as volunteering, social activities. Our admission, the document screening for English-taught programs are totally based on academic performance. We don’t require any activities or volunteering. From the admission, we want students who meet the academic requirements for each program. We don’t want to call the admission AO. We know students and school call them AO, but I always correct them. It’s technically not AO.

Interesting. We know that other universities that offer Liberal Arts do look at student’s activities. Why doesn’t Sophia require that?
The admission office is actually not in charge of the screening of the applications. We gather and organize all the application materials for the faculty to screen more easily. We contact the students if we have any missing materials. Admission decision is made by the faculty. We don’t have any rights to make that. From the faculties point of view, they want students – first of all, who meet the academic requirements. Social activities and volunteering, they can do that after they enroll.

So, showing their extracurricular activities are not important at all?
They could include these experiences in the essay. How these experiences gave them some skills. Gave them some point of view. If that is unique for that student as a personal background, then they definitely should include them in their essay. But we do not require any certificate or anything.

I see. In our experience, that is in a way for students to stand out among others. To show the admission what kind of person they are.
This is not the faculty answer, but I would think that the faculty think that the students do that for the admission. Each school has different programs too for these social activities. Some students may not have good chances to gain these experiences. Some students may have many chances to enroll in these. They [the faculty] don’t want to draw a line for that point of view.

I have read once in a novel that Sophia is actually a popular place for students who would like to go into journalism. Is that true?
I don’t know if that is true, but we have this department of Journalism. At least 40% of these graduates get into those publishing companies or TV.

What is the main appeal Sophia sees itself compared to the other universities in regards to the English-programs?
First of all, this Liberal Arts program started back in 1949. It is actually the first English-taught degree program in Japan. We have tradition and history. We have been building up the curriculum over 70 years. We have that experience. That is different from other universities. Other universities have bilingual curriculum. This Liberal Arts is entirely in English. All the faculty members are from distinguished and very high-level universities. I said that it’s entirely an English-taught program, but students can take the language programs too. They are very well organized.

If their native language is Japanese and they enroll in the Liberal Arts, they could take Japanese-taught courses from other departments too. We have a very flexible curriculum.

The student’s body and faculty members body are very diverse. Most of the students are Japanese in the spring entry. For September entry, we have applicants from all over the world. But mostly from United States. We do have many students from China and Korea. Also, from Europe. We are actually getting more students from Africa too. We have university partnerships all over the world.

Out of curiosity, why so many from the US?
I think, the foundation of this program used to be mostly for Americans after the World War 2. Most of the graduate faculty members got their degrees from American universities. But Nationality-wise they are from all over the world. Also, we have the most partners from the United States. Students might know our reputation. Many of our alumni lives in the States. Maybe that’s why.

“Sophia wants students who understand the multi-cultural backgrounds”

What kind of students does Sophia want to attract?
Overall, Sophia wants students who understand the multi-cultural backgrounds, have the experiences for understanding the different cultures, history and religions. Since the curriculum is Liberal Arts, we want students who are motivated to learn a broad field. Gain and soak up knowledge and skills from different disciplines. Then focus on the major, so they have a broad critical thinking, academic writing and intercultural communication skills.

How about Japanese students? Why are they usually interested in the English-taught programs?
The main reason, I think, is that they want to keep their English skills. Or they are more comfortable in English. Maybe they have lived overseas for a number of years. These kinds of students gather in Liberal Arts. So, they might feel comfortable in that surrounding. Also, Japanese people are not really good at English. Even if they took English classes in school. To have the English skill is an advantage for the students. This program is not the language learning program. They have to be well-skilled in English in the academic aspect to enroll to the admission.

If we are talking about English requirements. How do you evaluate this?
They have to submit one or more of the following: SAT, ACT or IB. We are starting to accept GCE for 2020 entry. We also require either TOEFL or IELTS.

Sophia has a new program next year called “Sophia Program for Sustainable Futures” (SPSF) completely taught in English. Can you tell me more about it?
Sophia wants to be more global. We want to have a more global and diverse environment and campus. We want to expand the field and open the door to new students. From next year, we will have Global Studies, Education, Sociology and Economics in English. Then 2021, there is Journalism and Management in 2022. It is a bit confusing, but under the SPSF Program, there are 6 departments or major to apply and enroll. It’s not like students are applying to SPSF. They have to choose one or more of these departments. After enrolling, the students under SPSF will be offered common courses under the theme of “Sustainable Futures”. But they have courses related to each major too. They will also have options to take courses from the other departments.

Are those departments that already exist in the Japanese-taught program?
Yes, exactly. We will hire new faculty members, but the same faculty members from the Japanese-taught programs will have some courses too.

We have seen an increasingly popularity in the AO admission examination. How is the view of Sophia University on the Japanese entrance examination system?
Under the Japanese government – MEXT – rule, universities cannot accept more than half students from the special admission [AO and Suisen]. We have to accept more than half students from Ippan Nyushi . It used to be like 70/30 Ippan Nyushi and special admission. It’s getting more like half and half. It is easier for some students to take special admission. Japanese Ippan Nyushi is unfortunately ridiculous. They have to cram and memorize everything. Some students who are not good at cramming they just try hard at school and get good GPA. Then they can apply for the Suisen Nyushi. They do take written exams and an interview but the exams let student think and write their own answers. It’s changing. The Japanese government is trying to change it. There is going to be a big change from 2021. Sophia is trying to change but we have to follow the government rule.

“They want students who have the potential to grow after the enrollment”

What are the selection criteria to evaluate students?
The faculty members look at each material. Really each material. I see that they want students who have the potential to grow after the enrollment. Even if they have lower scores. If they can see from the transcript that the students are trying harder in each year. If for example, they have a “C” in the first year and then an “A” for the last semester. That would show that the students can improve themselves. It would show that the students have the potential to grow and develop themselves. The faculty look into those personal background.

How about the essay? We noticed that it is quite important to give a personal touch to the student’s applications.
The requirement says “why you want to study at FLA” and they definitely want to know that and want students to match FLA. But when a student struggles during the high school years, then they definitely should include how they improve or try to overcome the struggle. That would show that the student can be motivated to develop him/herself. If that student has unique experiences, social and volunteering activities, they should include that too.

I think we are almost out of time. Where should students go if they want to know more about Sophia University?
Visit our admission office right next to the station. We have all these brochures. Sometimes I work in this office. We have English available staff here too. In case there is no English-speaking staff here, you can talk to us through the screen [A big screen to talk to the other office via video call]. You can also contact us by email and phone.

“If you are interested in studying hard and being close to students and faculty members, Sophia would be the best option”

Are there any last words you would like to share for students who would like to study at Sophia University and any advice for the admission?
Sophia is very cozy and small university. Students are very close to each other. Even with faculty members. Students will have good experience on the campus. It’s very diverse. If you are interested in studying hard and being close to students and faculty members, Sophia would be the best option. For the English-taught programs, definitely. We are very confident in our English programs.

I don’t want to tell students just to focus on getting good scores at tests and good grades at school. But it is in a way important to get admission. Gain unique experiences in high school and gap years. Show the faculty how those experiences have improved you and how you make the most out of the experiences after enrolling in Sophia.

Thank you very much for your time, Yuka.

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Simon has worked in the IT industry for 9 years as an IT Product Manager. In 2018, he was chosen by the Swiss-Japanese Chamber of Commerce to receive the prestigious scholarship and consequently moved to Japan from Switzerland to learn more about the country and the culture. He has a huge passion to make a positive impact in people’s life which shows in his engagement in various volunteering activities.