Sorbonne Paris

Going to University in France

In our ongoing mission to provide the widest range of information, we’re trying something new by having a French author pen an article for us. Just because it’s The American in Paris doesn’t mean we can’t ask for help from our French friends. We also don’t want to show a bias that moving to France is only for those who are somewhat established in a career. You can come to France as early as you are able. 🙂 -SH

If you’ve made the decision to come to France for your graduate or postgraduate studies, you should be aware in advance of the thorough and maybe even tricky selection process.

It’s very important to know this process thoroughly if your goal is to go to university in France because a friend of mine missed the application deadline once and she had to wait for the next year — no joke.

Of course, this article applies only to the Public University system and not Private Universities, where you can just submit an application easily through their website and respect the given deadlines. (like AUP for example!)

For those that don’t know, Public Universities in France are “free.” This isn’t exactly the case because the university fees are estimated between 170€ and 380€ depending on your major.

However, since 2020, students located outside the EU must pay a fee of 2,770€ for a bachelor’s degree and 3,770€ for a master’s degree or a PhD.

There are some differences whether you have gone through high school and passed your baccalaureate diploma in France, if you got to France just in time for your first year of university, or if you’ve already studied a bachelor’s degree in the US or another country. For those that don’t know, the baccalaureate diploma is the national diploma that marks the conclusion of your high school years and it’s somewhat analogous to the SAT/ACT in the US.

Before explaining the criteria for the selection process let’s look a bit closer at the application process. The selection process is different whether you are in one of the three following situations.

So let’s break it down to make it easier.

Case 1. You Have Been in France since High School, and You Passed Your Baccalaureate in France

For those that have finished high school in a French establishment, whether private or public, Parcoursup is the website exclusively dedicated for university applications.

If you are wondering, Parcoursup is nothing else than a platform that allows students to regroup their top preferred university choices and apply. However, there are some restrictions. The platform is accessible on and opens every year around the month of January. It has tutorials for students to understand how to prepare their application files and it closes at the end of the month of March each year. This means you have roughly two months to apply to everything.

Once you sign up on the website with an email account, you have the possibility to enter ten university choices (bachelor’s degree, advanced vocational diploma, or business schools). You have ten additional choices shall you seek to apply to universities that offer the status of an apprentice, where you can specifically study and work at the same time.

For each choice, you must draft a cover letter and a resume motivating your choice to enter the said institution. 

Be careful, from the middle of the month of March (specific dates are provided every year), you cannot add new choices. However, you have until the beginning of April to finalize your applications for the choices you have already added. Between this period, the high school analyses the student’s university choices and issues a document called “fiche avenir,” which aims to give an opinion of the director of the establishment regarding the student’s choices. 

Let’s say a student has poor grades in mathematics but only has architecture schools in his ten choices, the decision of the director of his high school may have an impact on his selection and application.

Starting from the month of June and onwards, students begin to receive responses to their applications, which may be of three types:

  • favorable: they are admitted
  • unfavorable: they are refused
  • wait list: the student will be favorable if someone that is accepted in the establishment gives up their spot

Indeed, some students may be accepted in all of their choices. Once they make their definitive choice and refuse the other nine proposals, a space will free up each time for students on the wait list.

Students have a deadline of maximum five days to respond to the university acceptance offers, and if the deadline is not respected, the student loses their spot to another person.

For students that obtain no favorable response out of all their applications, there is a complementary application period starting from the middle of the month of June.

Parcoursup is a very selective platform because there are thousands of students every year ready to apply for university and depending on the budgets, some universities have a numerus clausus, and hence, limited spots available.

It is very important to have high quality achievements at least in the last two years of high school, and a legacy of excellence in the curriculum, to stand out from others and make sure you have at least one acceptance offer.

Case 2. You Wish to Come to France for Your Graduate Studies

If you have already finished high school in the US or Canada and wish to come from another country, the process is slightly simplified but the selection process is more thorough because universities propose interviews to students once they receive their applications.

First, you need to research what university in France offers your desired major. Then, make a list and regroup them by city or by university if several graduate courses in one university trigger your interest.

Each university has their own application portal which you can find by researching on Google: called “e-candidat”. (in the future, we can share a list that regroups all of these portals to avoid you losing time on researching them)

You need to create an account with your email and verify that you are within the application dates/deadline window.

Once you the application is open for your requested degree, the portal will ask you to submit a series of information such as your high school diploma, personal information, languages spoken, resume, cover letter.

Basically, the portal is a platform that regroups several elements of your academic identity and acts like a resume, in its totality.

You have a limit of three choices per university. 

Once the application is submitted, the university has approximately one month to reply to your application via email and let you know of their decision. If their decision is potentially favorable, you may be invited to a formal interview with the director of the diploma.

Bear in mind that for very specific fields such as environment law for example or very precise fields, there may be a very low number of universities that propose the graduate diploma. 

We recommend you apply to a maximum of establishments to increase your chances of being accepted.

90% of university programs in France are in French and there are few options in English. Hence, you need to take this into consideration if you don’t speak French well enough to pursue higher education programs before applying, because French university programs do not offer French classes for foreign students.

So, you have several options in this case: 

If you’re brave and motivated enough, you can sign up to FLE classes (Français Langue Etrangère), which teach French to foreigners in parallel to your university classes. You can come to France in the summer prior the beginning of university (university generally starts at the end of September or October in France) and prepare in advance for the basics and then pursue the classes throughout the year. There are several private institutes that offer FLE classes, and you can even inquire in the French Embassy of your town to sign up in advance prior to even moving to France. 

Take a year off and dedicate yourself to learning French and pass the DELF exam which is the equivalent of the IELTS and TOEFL. The DELF starts at level A1 and goes up to level C2 (professional proficiency). 

However, in any case, we do recommend that you come to France with at least some basics of the language because it is quite a technical language especially in terms of grammar, and also because certain establishments require a certificate proving that you have a minimal level of French. Moreover, the most challenging undergraduate programs and prestigious establishments have a thorough selection process and language skills may make a difference in this case. 

This is why we recommend you take all this into account when deciding to move to France so that you come fully prepared.

Another possibility would be to take advanced level French classes two years before you graduate so you master the language accordingly and you can attend classes in French.

Case 3. You already Have a Graduate Diploma and You Are Seeking to Move to France for Post-Graduate Studies

France has a particularity: you can have two master’s degrees called M1 and M2. It is not mandatory but for some fields of activity such as law for example, it is recommended to have a more generic M1 and a more specific M2 targeting your future specialty as a lawyer for example.

While M1 diplomas generally have a capacity of a thousand people, M2 are very selective and have a capacity between 10 and 25 people maximum from the whole country

The application process is the same as the one described above, in Case 2, and takes place via the e-candidat portal for each establishment. 

Unlike the US and Canadian systems in which you can study something during your undergraduate studies that is not related to your graduate studies (e.g. getting an art history degree and then moving on to becoming a lawyer, or getting a history degree and then going on to medical school) in France the two types of studies are almost always related (i.e. an entirely medical undergraduate program paired with a graduate one). 

Many students drop the idea of going forward with an M2 since the process is highly selective. It is also subject to a formal interview and for some diplomas practical questions may be asked, to test your competences and practical abilities and confirm whether you are suitable or not. Generally, the e-candidat portal acts as a filter and the chances are that if you get an interview proposition, and you do well, you will be accepted in the M2.

We recommend that you choose an M2 diploma that truly aligns with your future professional goals and is perfectly in the continuity of your graduate studies. Otherwise, you may easily be rejected.

Be careful, if you apply for an M2 diploma, it really needs to be in alignment with your M1 diploma and they need to be complementary.

Fun fact that is not so fun in reality: there are many students that end up doing a second M1 because they got rejected from the M2 of their choice or didn’t have an M2 at all.

Fun fact: you can do as many M1 diplomas as you please in France. I had a Brazilian friend that couldn’t find a job after her first M1 diploma and for her visa purposes and regular right of stay in France, she ended up doing three M1 diplomas.

General tip whether you’re in Case 1, Case 2 or Case 3: Start making your research at least one year in advance so you’re sure of your university choice, have the time to prepare all the documents and MOST IMPORTANTLY, you don’t miss the application deadline!

Make sure you take into account any potential practical questions that may be asked during the interviews and anticipate them as much as you can. Don’t hesitate to join dedicated Facebook groups that students make every year to update each other of the application and selection process for specific diplomas. This is a great way to see if the university has started sending acceptance or rejection letters for the diploma you have applied to.

If you’re interested in the application and selection process for Law School and Medicine school which are a tad different than other disciplines, and you found this article insightful, stay tuned for a future article on the topic.

Photo is of the Sorbonne in 2018 and was taken by the author.

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One thought on “Going to University in France

  1. Pingback: How to Become a Doctor in France  | The American in Paris

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