Welcome to Limbo: Being an Alternate for JET

Here you are, you started your JET Program journey half a year ago, you sent off your application last fall, waited six weeks, made it through the first round of cuts, another month went by, had your interview, and have now waited patiently 2+ months for results.

You finally get the email, it starts off “You have successfully passed the 2nd stage of the screening process”. You want to run around the room and shout “I’m going to Japan!” until you read the next sentence. “You have been selected as an alternate.”

I got this email, and I knew I was supposed to be grateful that I was an alternate. It meant I wasn’t rejected outright, and there was still a real chance of going to Japan. But in some ways it was worse than just being rejected. Being rejected would have meant that it’s over and done with, and it’s time to move on. As an alternate, all that laid ahead was weeks – possibly months – of uncertainty. When will I get the call? How much time will I have to prepare for Japan? What I can’t go? What if I’m never upgraded at all?!

Being an alternate kinda blows. It’s the ultimate limbo, you’re not in JET, but you’re not out. You’re sort of treated like a short-lister (you get some of the same paperwork, get invited to a few events), but at the same time you’re very much not a short-lister. You get asked if you’re going to Japan, and all you can say is “I don’t really know yet.” While short-listers get all sorts of checklists and guides to pre-departure, there is no “Official JET Alternate Guide”.

So here is the Unofficial JET Program Alternate Guide from someone who went through it.

Here’s the good news
A lot of people are made alternates on JET. This isn’t an accident or some kind of consolation prize; it’s because a lot of positions open up between now and departure day. There are so many upgraded alternates that JET even holds a separate orientation: the “Group C” orientation in late August is entirely made up of former alternate who were upgraded too late to depart with A and B groups.

Different job, grad school, family, simple change of heart, there are countless reasons why people forgo their JET placement. So as of right now, in April, your chances of being upgraded are pretty good. I’ve often heard stories of people being upgraded within days of learning they’re alternates.

There’s still paper work to be done
Even though you’re not *officially* going to Japan with JET yet, there are some things you need to do, and other things you should consider doing. (This mostly applies to US participants, apologies to non-US readers).

Required: Shortlisters and alternates receive a form where they check off whether or not they want to participate in this year’s JET program. It’s due about 3-4 weeks after the interview results are announced, so keep an eye out for that letter.
Also get a passport, probably a no brainer, but still, do it.

Recommended:
FBI Record Report: US JET requires all participants to get this. It’s $18 plus whatever your local police department charges for fingerprints, and since it can take up to 3 months to get, it’s recommended to apply for it now.

U.S. residency certificate: You need to file form 8802 to receive form 6166, which exempts you from paying Japanese taxes. It takes about 4-6 weeks to get, but that’s only if everything on the form is correctly filled out, otherwise you get a letter stating that the IRS needs more information and have to wait 4-6 more weeks. It costs $35 $85, which really sucks, but it is something you should consider doing now in case you’re only given a few week’s notice that you’re going to Japan (also make sure your taxes from the last few years are in order before you apply). You can get up to 20 copies for the $35 fee, so might as well get a few (though the only person that really needs it is your eventual supervisor in Japan).

*Note: when I was an alternate, there wasn’t any push to get the FBI check or tax certificate before I knew I was upgraded, but now many consulates are asking their alternates to complete these things to assure their place on the alternate list. Find out from your coordinator what is and isn’t requested.

*Another Note: I just learned, starting in 2012, the fee for the residency certificate is now $85(!). It is still in your best interest to get done sooner rather than later, but if your consulate is *requiring* this form from alternates before a certain date, you may want to inform them of the cost and ask if it is really necessary to get it to them by that date (again, the only person who really needs this form is your Japanese supervisor).

Hold off on: The physical and lung x-ray. The X-ray alone is $80 (yay, US health care!) plus whatever the exam costs, but since this can be done on fairly short notice, I’d wait until you know for sure you’re going.

The Mysterious “Upgrade List”
Every consulate has a list of their alternates, so when an open position comes to them, someone on that list is offered an upgrade. Now there’s a lot of rumors flying around about this list, so here what’s probably true, and probably not true based on my experience and what I’ve read/been told.

#1: You need to watch your phone because if you miss the upgrade call, they automatically go to the next person. I’m declaring this “Probably False,” because I did miss my upgrade call, but the coordinator left me a message, and then called the 2nd number I listed, so they do make an effort to get a hold of you. It’s only after several attempts that they would probably go to the next person. The thing is they can’t wait forever for your reply, so think about that before you go on a two week backpacking trip through the Yukon or some other place where phone or internet access is limited.

#2: You can find out where you are on the upgrade list. This is tricky, and it entirely depends your particular coordinator. No, you won’t be told specifically “There’s 20 people on the upgrade list and you’re number 8”, but some coordinators will tell you your general position on the list (high, or low) or reveal other vague information. Then there’s other coordinators who will say they can’t reveal any of that information, which stems to rumor #3 . .

#3: If you bother your JET coordinator too much, they will drop you down on the upgrade list: I’m going to say “Probably False” because I certainly hope a JET coordinator would be more professional than that. Still, the moral of this cautionary tale is don’t call constantly and ask for updates, and that’s definitely good advice. If you’re gonna call to try to gauge your place on the list, one time is enough.

#4: The list isn’t really a list at all, more like a pool: This is somewhat true. At the beginning of the upgrade process (before placements are revealed), it seems that generally when someone drops out and the next person on the list is called up. But as time goes by, the requests for the upgraded JET may get more specific. The CO may want someone who has to drive, or something who’s willing to work with younger kids. Or it’s two weeks before the Group A departure, and the consulate wants to find someone who can leave that quickly. The list is no longer much of a list, but a pool from which the JET coordinators try to find the best alternate for the position.

Upgrades tend to happen in waves
* Late April/Early May: All short-listers have to send in a reply form saying whether or not they accept their JET position, and this form is due a few weeks after interview results are announced. For one reason or another, there are many people who initially turn it down, so shortly after this form deadline is the first “wave” of upgrades.

* End of May: Placements are doled out at this time, and for any short-lister on the fence about going, their placement will often make them decide one way or the other, and 2nd big “wave” of upgrades begins.

* Early~Mid July: Though not as big as the previous two waves, there are a noticeable number of upgrades a few weeks before departure, most likely due to cold feet as the departure date approaches.

Upgrades start to get few and far between after this point, but they do still happen. JET says you can be upgraded as late as the fall, and my first year there was someone in my prefecture who arrived in mid-October. I have even seen people on message boards being upgraded in December! The main thing about these late upgrades is they want the JET to get to Japan ASAP so the upgraded JET may only have 2 weeks or so to get ready. If you’re still an alternate at this point, you may want to consider if you are willing to drop everything and go to Japan on short notice, or just remove your name from the list and try again next year.

Also, don’t forget that positions are opening up on the Japan side as well. JETs in Japan have to decide if they’re contracting for another year at the beginning of February, and plenty will back out between February and August. My placement opened up when my predecessor decided in May he wasn’t going to stay another year.

Being upgraded doesn’t means getting someone’s scraps
If you’re upgraded after the placements are handed out, you may think, “I’m just getting a crappy placement that someone else didn’t want.” Now when someone at your consulate turns down their position, it doesn’t just go to the next person on the alternate list. I had a good friend who was shortlisted through my consulate turn down his placement because a) he got a better paying job and b) his placement was nowhere near his requested prefectures. I was upgraded the next business day, but I didn’t get his placement. In fact it was nearly a month before I knew where I was going. This tells me they do try to match the newly opened placement with the newly upgraded JETs. A fair amount of upgraded JETs actually get a placement near their requests.

And as I just mentioned, my placement opened up when my pred decided to not stay a 2nd year. This might raise alarms that maybe there was a problem with the schools or coworkers or the town, but whatever the reason, I loved my placement, never had a major problem, and stayed for three years.

Time to look into a different program?
Hey, if you’re determined to be in Japan by the end of the summer, there are plenty of private companies to apply to. The good news is the time between application and arrival in Japan with these companies is significantly shorter than JET. The bad news? Less pay, less benefits, less job-security, and well, I’ll just leave the googling of horror stories up to you. Not that JET doesn’t have it’s fair share of horror stories, but the private ALTs I knew in Japan encountered far more problems than most any JET I knew.

What I’m trying to say is do your homework, get on message boards and websites and find out what common problems a particular company has, and what you can do. Since the school year starts in April, there will be a better variety of job listings in February/March if you can hold off that long (maybe try to get a TESL certificate or some ESL teaching in during that time).

Try to put it out of your mind
I know, easier said that done, but constantly thinking about JET and “why wasn’t I short-listed” or “will I ever be upgraded?” is not going to make the upgrade call come any faster. Avoid message boards; seeing other alternates be upgraded before you will only bum you out. If you have a friend who was shortlisted, don’t talk about JET with them too much. When it got to be mid-June and I still wasn’t upgraded, I pretty much accepted I wasn’t going on JET and it’s time to look into other things. I decided this on a Saturday and the following Monday, I got a call from the consulate. So yeah, try to mentally get over JET, but don’t be surprised if that’s when you get your upgrade notice.

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60 thoughts on “Welcome to Limbo: Being an Alternate for JET

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m from Singapore and got alternated, well, yesterday. Our country isn’t exactly a breeding ground for ALTs so it’s insanely difficult to get jobs from other companies (they take nationality into consideration). I’m not keeping up hopes of an upgrade but I hope to apply again this year if I don’t get in.

    Your advice at the end helped a lot. I’ve been doing exactly what you said – staying away from forums. No one I know personally has applied. I’m glad I’m doing the ‘right’ thing by keeping it real and just trying to not fret about things.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lydia, and here’s hoping for a speedy upgrade for you! There were a couple JETs from Singapore in my prefecture, great people 🙂

      • hey lauren! i just got my upgrade this afternoon 😀

        i can’t tell you how much your words have helped me in the past few weeks. i like to keep things real (as i’ve mentioned, haha) and always prefer saving myself from disappointment than to confess that there is a chance for things to change for the better. i kept reminding myself with words from this post that these things happen, there are alternates everywhere, but every time i remembered that ‘you are on the alternate shortlist’ letter, my confidence would just dip a few notches. nevertheless i still kept in mind your very practical advice of avoiding the message boards and focusing on my non-JET-related life.

        today’s email from the Japanese embassy left me speechless for a few moments. i was having lunch alone and had no one to scream with. it was pretty epic. 😀 until now, i’m still stricken with joy and can’t seem to do anything else than want to celebrate with a good (maybe expensive) meal. 😀

      • i’m really thankful that i got upgraded so early too. thank you so much for this post! i hope more people get to see it 😀

  2. Hi Lauren,

    I just came across your article and it’s been a great resource! I’m a 2011 JET Program ALT so I’m hoping for an upgrade soon. I’d like to ask you about the upgrade process. Once they let you know that you’ve been upgraded, are you required to fill out MORE paperwork on top of the forms that are required (Alternate Reply Form, health check, fbi check, etc.)? Thanks for the great blog!

  3. Thank you for this post, really helping me cope with the torture of being chosen as an alternate JET. Makes me believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel 🙂

    • Thanks, Gordon, may you be upgraded quickly! I’m glad to hear this post is helping you cope, that’s why I wrote it. It’s tough being an alternate, but don’t worry, you forget how “torturous” it was when you’re on your way to Japan.

  4. Is it bad if you turn down an alternate position just to apply again in a few years? I’m working on grad school now and I’m scared that if I accept the alternate position that I might not get called until the middle of next semester and have to drop out of grad school. I think that after I finish grad school, I’d like to reapply But, if it’s so negative to turn down an alternate position, then I may accept it and just have to wait.

    • Hi Shina. Sorry it’s taken me a little while to reply as I’m on vacation. Turning down an alternate position shouldn’t hurt you in the future (if anything you’re keeping it simple for JET). The only thing I’ve heard hurting people is if they’re moved up to the short list, then drop out after getting placed (because they didn’t like the placement or whatever). And as far as I know, you can take your name off the alternate list at any time. Many upgrades happen by the end of May, you can always keep your name in the alternate pool till then, then take it off. Good luck with your decision!

      • Thank you so much for explaining the alternate status. I am from South Africa and I received a reply two days ago. I was almost stressing until reading this!

      • Thanks for your reply! It really didn’t take that long. =) (Not half as long as mine at least!)

        I decided to go ahead and try for the upgrade, so I’m an alternate. It’s good to know that I can always take myself off the alternate list if the need arises. I really want to go to Japan, so I’m going wait until the last day to drop out of fall classes before giving up. =) I’ve got all summer.

  5. Thank you so much for your thoughts! I just got my letter (finally!) today, and yep, turns out I am an alternate also. I now truly understand what people mean when they say it is a very strange place to be in. It’s like, I got the job, there just isn’t a place for me now. I REALLY hope there will be one!!! I want to get excited about the pre and post-departure events (fancy event at the Melbourne consulate, Tokyo orientation etc…). I’m in limbo yes! Can’t get depressed, can’t get excited and celebrate! Ugh. I thought the letter was too thick to be a rejection, and I’m very happy to not have been rejected, but arrg…MORE waiting?? I started preparing for this a year ago….thanks for your kind words, I won’t give up hope!

    • Thanks for coming back and updating me on your status. Also, yay! Sounds like you got a relatively early upgrade and you should be departing with the rest of your consulate’s JETs, it’ll be like you were never an alternate at all, hopefully.

      • Hi there.

        I’m still an Alternate ALT and am hopeful of an upgrade to the shortlist.

  6. I just got my alternate letter (literally just got it haha). Honestly, I was a bit devastated because I thought I had a pretty good application and interview. I hope I get upgraded, but I do realize that I need to focus on other things as well like a back up plan etc. Anyways, I just wanted to let you know that reading this definitely made me more positive. Thanks a lot for posting this. I think a lot of people could find this helpful after being doomed to being an alternate. 🙂

  7. thank you for this post. i found out today that i was alternate-d and i misunderstood the email, went all crazy happy then had it properly explained, so was in a low till i read this blog 🙂 thanks!

    • If they used the same wording in the email that they used in my day, it definitely gets you all excited before smacking you back to reality. Hope you get a quick upgrade!

  8. Like Thomas, I also found about my alternate status just yesterday. This article really was uplifting. I don’t know how much I can expect the same results for CIR (well I shouldn’t be “expecting”), especially with forums varying in saying CIR is easier/harder to get upgrade.. but now I am going to put that aside, and follow the advice you have put out here. 🙂

    • Yeah, my experience is with the ALT position so I couldn’t tell you much about upgrades for CIRs. In my prefecture, CIRs were often transferred ALTs so there is always the chance of an ALT getting ready to switch positions then backing out for whatever reason. If you get word of an upgrade let me know!

  9. I received the letter yesterday that I was placed as an “alternative”. I am still hopefully to be selected in the short list. Thank you very much for providing advice and further insight as an alternative candidate. I do have an alternative plan in place just in case I am not selected for the JET program. Once again thank you for advice and I will keep you posted on my status.

    • As I said, right now the chances for an upgrade are pretty good, the first “wave” should be happening now. But it is good that you have a backup plan lined up. Good luck!

  10. Got an alternate too! Hope it converts. But have my back up plan. If my back up plan comes through before JET upgrade then will just cancel JET.

    • Yeah, if you call and take yourself off the alternate list before getting upgraded, it shouldn’t affect you if you apply to JET in the future, wish you the best!

  11. I just got the email saying I’m an alternate and immediately went on Google searching for anything about possible upgrades and I came across your post. I do feel a lot better and your post helped despite it being posted a couple years ago haha. Hopefully all of us alternates for this year get upgraded! Thanks for your advice!

  12. As several above me have stated, I too just received word that I am an Alternate in JET. I’ve not yet decided whether I’m alright being in limbo and if I ought to take matters into my hands and head in a different direction, but your thoughts on the matter are really great. I sincerely appreciate this post you’ve developed. Thank you.

    • If you really want to do JET I do strongly suggest you leave your name on the list until at least a couple weeks after placements are revealed (typically late May is when that happens) since there are sooo many upgrades then, but of course it doesn’t much help the job search when you have it in the back of your mind that you may get upgraded, just have to decide what’s best for you now!

  13. I’m going to use this site as a magical charm to give me more luck in upgrading my status (:-D) When we all get in how about we all meet up in Tokyo for drinks? Kanpai!

    p.s. That 8802 Form was a beast. Thank god for ITIL.

    • Oh the adventure I had with that form! My JET coordinator was useless and offered no guidance, so I did it very wrong and ended up not getting it sorted out until I was in Japan (had some international IRS calling and faxing fun!). It only seems simple. Hoping for a speedy upgrade for you!

      • JET Limbo was certainly an interesting experience although I never got upgrade, however, there is a really happy ending for me. After graduation I went to New Orleans for Carnival/Mardi Gras, and waited the JET ride out. Reading through the ITIL alternate hangout, someone mention EPIK and Korea. I never looked into South Korea as a worthy alternative to JET… boy was I wrong. It turned out that there were a ton of great opportunities in Korea, especially if you want to advance your career with a master’s degree. Long story short, I got accepted to the Jeollanamdo Language Program (JLP), found a master’s degree program cohort, and I’ll be making more money than I would with JET. Moral of the story, there is options outside of JET and start applying for alternatives around May because that’s when schools start hiring for August, September, and October.

      • Hopeful Teacher: That’s great to hear and also a very good point, South Korea as a country has invested a lot in English education and have many programs comparable to JET. I know a lot of JET hopefuls have their heart set on Japan, but going to Korea also provides the experience of living in a unique culture with a long interesting history (and yummy food!). Plus Japan is just a 2hr flight away for vacation.

  14. Pingback: Alternates Hangout - Page 3

  15. Hi Lauren,
    I applied to JET in Oct 2013 and was made an alternate – I immediately went on a google search and stumbled upon your oasis of an article. It kept me sane through limbo (and omg what a hell that was haha). Anyway, I got upgraded today and thought I’d say thank you because this blog post helped me so much~ Thank you!

    • I’m very happy to hear this post was helpful to you! I was upgraded on June 19th the year I went, so we were alternates for about the same about of time and I’m sure we went through a similar roller-coaster of emotions (as I said before I was NOT the most pleasant person to be around during my alternate-hood). But now you can put that behind you and focus on your upcoming time in Japan, it’s a great feeling!

      • xD It totally is. Though the last minute running around is less fun. And the alternate purgatory is definitely killer >_>.

  16. Hello!

    Thank you so much for this post! I was sitting in limbo for 2 months, but this article helped me get over the feeling. I just received an email yesterday that I’ve been moved up to the short list as a CIR, so I’m really excited. Thanks again!

    -Marta

  17. Just got my email literally 10 minutes ago and I`m an alternate. Very strange feeling indeed. Hope it converts. Thanks for the hopeful words though.

  18. Pingback: Why I'm Glad I Was an Alternate: A Guide to Thriving in Alternate Purgatory - My Story | The Jet Coaster

  19. I can’t agree this article more. Being told you have to wait even longer after putting so much effort into the JET application and interview is can be a massive demoralising experience that can leave you feeling very frustrated. Which I think its probably natural..
    All I can say is it’s a lesson in patience and try to stay hopeful. Try to help out your friends and family if they have any problems, it will help you get you out of your head. Plus if you DO get a position with JET you might be the last couple of months so it’s a great chance to get some quality time in with them.

    If you feel down about it then tell your friends and family about your frustration, people can be very supportive when you give them some real emotion but yeh… My only advice?

    Keep the hope alive! It’s not over yet 😉

    • Very much agree! Now is a great time to be nice to yourself, to spend as much time with friends and family as you can, and just enjoy the summertime!

  20. Hi Lauren, I am an alternate this year from Jamaica and I must say that I continue to be positive partly due to your blog. It’s crazy being in limbo and seeing others from all over the world getting upgraded as staying off of social media is not that easy. I have given myself till July to wait it out.If I’m not upgraded by then, I will surely move on.

    • I just got upgraded last Thursday. Now I wait on my placement. I was actually about to interview with Interac when they called. I am excited and can’t wait to get to Japan.

      • You will probably be extremely grateful you don’t end up with Interac (not that JET is free of problems, but every Interac experience I’ve heard has been at best mixed).

      • It was about a month before I learned where I was going (no idea if it just takes that long or if it was my inept JET coordinator, probably a little of both). I learned long after I got to Japan my predecessor was going to recontract (you decide in February, but don’t actually sign the re-contract until August) but then changed his mind in May. So I wasn’t called to replace a short lister, I was called up to replace a current JET, so no idea if that also delayed my placement notification or not.

    • Sorry I didn’t reply sooner, but thanks so much for returning and letting me know you got called up! Omedetou! (congratulations!) It’s still a bit early so hopefully this means you’ll be heading out with the same group and it will be like you were never an alternate at all!

  21. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve been in Limbo for a bit now, and it’s getting very frustrating. I’ve been trying to make backup plans, just in case, but there’s always this big what if. Thank for the hope!

    • Yeah, this might be the worst time because the post-placement dropout in late May is probably the biggest wave of upgrades every year but now that’s passed. I wasn’t upgrade until June 19th the year I went so I was definitely at the point where I didn’t see any hope, but I later learned of all the people upgraded through my consulate, I was actually in the middle (about 5 people were upgraded before me and 5 after me) so there’s still a chance!

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