One of the most interesting academic differences between Japan and America is their admission systems for public high schools. In Japan, students can choose which public high school they would like to apply to in their region. Private high schools, of course, have no geographic limits for students who choose to apply. Students can only apply to one public high school in their region, and they always want to go to the school that has a good reputation. Therefore, all high schools have an admission process and entrance exams.
Reputation is just as important to the high schools and their teachers, who want students with high GPAs and a an aptitude for academics and school activities. And there are agreements between higher ranking high schools (public or private) and colleges that successful high school students can bypass the college admissions process and be automatically accepted. For example, the public high school near my house has a top ranking in the region, and each year about 85 percent of the graduating students can choose to go to higher ranking public colleges without entrance exams. Colleges trust the high school’s education system, so they just want to see each student’s physical education.
Since public colleges in Japan are reasonably priced, provide a great deal of financial support, and generally have better academic reputations in comparison to private colleges, most students who cannot afford private colleges work hard starting in childhood in order to attend a high ranking public college. One of my classmates, who was orphaned at a young age, was accepted to Tokyo University, the highest ranking university in Japan. He earned a scholarship and did not have to take entrance exams. Now, he works as a lawyer and is running the orphanage he lived in as a child.