Alternate

Now that you’ve finished the interview, there’s nothing you can do but wait that painful last few months until you get your results. After a 6 month process of alternating between scurrying to complete paperwork and patiently awaiting feedback, you’re finally going to get an answer to set you free from the anxiety of having your life on standby. You finally get that long-awaited email from your consulate, only to see that you’ve been placed as an alternate.

So what now?

When I got this email, I was a bit confused. I never really considered what I’d do if I was an alternate, and I was also not entirely sure of what that meant in the first place. So here is kind of a rundown on what it means to be an alternate and some thoughts on it.

First of all, what is an alternate?

There are three potential results from your interview. You are either accepted, rejected, or an alternate. The first two are pretty self-explanatory.

If you are accepted, that mean you’re shortlisted to go on the JET Program and will be able to start planning for your new life. The wait is over, and you’ve succeeded in your journey.

If you are rejected, that means that you will not be going this year and you should start working on plan B. Whether that means applying for a rival program, waiting to reapply for JET next year, or going to find a different job entirely, it is completely up to you.

Being an alternate means you are placed on a wait list, floating somewhere between being accepted and rejected. Because many people who are shortlisted for the program end up not being able to go for whatever reason, JET needs to have a backup list to fill those now empty positions. That’s where you come in.

As far as I can tell, there are three ways that alternates can be upgraded: if someone who is shortlisted rejects the offer or drops out, a JET who has already departed for the program has to come home early, or Tokyo decides to allocate more positions to your consulate.

The time frame of being upgraded ranges from the beginning of April to the end of December. That is a massive 9-month span of time that you could potentially be waiting to hear back with an answer. The longer you go without being upgraded, the less likely it is, but there are stories of people being upgraded as late as December.

The order in which alternates are upgraded depends entirely on the individual consulate as well. I have heard of consulates having alternates on a list that they go down one by one as positions are opened, and I have also heard of consulate who put all of the candidates in a pool and pick from there. Some places upgrade in waves, others upgrade as positions open. I have heard of alternates being upgraded based on the needs of the position, but how your consulate does things might be different.

The general assumption is that most upgrades happen in three big waves: the first wave comes immediately after the results are sent out. Sometimes people might have changed their minds since the interview, others could have gotten a different job in the meantime, and some might have just not gotten their paperwork in on time. The second wave comes right after placements, as many people hope for a specific prefecture and end up nowhere near it. The third big wave comes right before departure, as some people get cold feet and back out at the last minute. Of course there are exceptions to this, and people might drop out at different times or for other reasons, but these tend to be the biggest waves in which alternates are upgraded.

Because of all this randomness, it’s hard to realistically estimate your chances of being upgraded. I realize this is not the answer that most people want to hear, but it’s the unfortunate truth. What makes things worse is that it’s going to be difficult to wring answers from your coordinator, as they are not allowed to reveal your position on the alternate list or other pieces of information that would put your mind at ease.

So what should you do knowing all of this?

That is entirely dependent on how optimistic you are. Of course, I would recommend getting your paperwork in as soon as possible. Because I lived so close to the consulate, I actually handed in my information in person in order to speak face to face with my coordinator. I doubt it had much of an impact, but it definitely didn’t hurt.

Alternates are expected to follow the same timeline as shortlisted JETs, so keep an eye on the information packet you were sent. If you still want to go, you should plan on filling out your paperwork and completing everything just the same. That includes the FBI background check, which will cost a little bit of money to get processed.

That being said, you should remember that being an alternate does not mean all that much in the long run. Most people recommend that you just assume that you were rejected and begin moving on with your life, putting JET on the back burner. If you get upgraded, great, but you don’t want to dedicate your life to waiting around on that upgrade phone call which may or may not happen.

As far as increasing your chances for an upgrade, I really have no clue whether or not this is even possible. In my case, I turned in my paperwork as soon as I could and contacted my coordinator multiple times to ensure everything was done correctly and to reiterate my enthusiasm, but I don’t believe I was upgraded because of this.

And to address the rumor that you have to watch your phone constantly to avoid being skipped, I doubt that this is the case. When I was upgraded, I got a phone call from my consulate while I was at work so I wasn’t able to answer. They left a message and I was able to call back on my break and talk to my coordinator, letting him know that I was interested. I can’t imagine that they would skip over someone who doesn’t immediately answer the phone.

The sad truth that no one wants to hear is that alternates are in a pretty crappy position. All of that waiting just to find out that you have to wait some more. To make matters worse, because of all the variables, it is pretty much impossible to tell if or when you’ll be upgraded.

The good news is that alternates are upgraded all the time. I was one of the extremely lucky alternates, and I was upgraded after only two weeks of waiting. As of right now, we have only hit the first wave of upgrades, and I am seeing quite a few people online who were among these lucky few.

If you are an alternate waiting to be upgraded, don’t completely give up hope. While it is true that you shouldn’t be expecting an upgrade, I would still keep in mind that there are plenty of opportunities for it to happen. Alternates get upgraded all the time, from right after the results are sent out, up until the end of December.

And if you don’t get upgraded, there’s always next year. Think about where you may have gone wrong on your application or during your interview. Try to spend this time working on your qualifications, or getting a teaching certificate or classroom experience.

Being an alternate is not the end of the world. I will admit that it is frustrating and stressful to be forced into this limbo, but staying positive is crucial.

So good luck to everyone who is in this unfortunate situation. Whether you decide to wait it out and hope for an upgrade, apply for a different program, or pursue another career, I wish all the best to all of you.

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