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French university applications are famously complicated, with different platforms, criteria and categorisations. We’re making it all simple with this ultimate guide!
Applying to university in France is a huge topic for many international school counsellors.
There are two big reasons for this: firstly, it really is a tricky system, so students naturally have a lot of questions. But more importantly, it’s a popular, welcoming and celebrated destination for higher education, meaning many students are looking into studying there!
With over 3,500 public and private higher education institutions, France boasts an astounding array of degree programmes. And for students with specific interests and plans, its specialist institutions and selective grandes écoles are particularly appealing.
Of course, all these different programmes and institutions come with different application processes and requirements. Then there are the stark differences between how EU and non-EU students apply.
So to make sure you can support students who are keen to explore their French futures, read on to learn how international students can apply to universities in France.
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Academic requirements for applying to university in France
Every institution and programme in France has different academic requirements. After all, they teach different subjects with different approaches, so there can’t be one size that fits all!
Still, there’s plenty of general guidance and information you can give to students excited about studying in France…
Here, we’ll look at the different higher education institutions students might consider, and the application criteria each tends to seek.
Requirements for applying to public universities in France
French law states that public universities can’t offer places selectively. Instead, students simply passing their upper secondary qualifications is sufficient to meet public universities’ entry requirements.
This practice isn’t uncommon in the EU; you may have heard it referred to as ‘open entry’ or ‘open admissions’. But don’t worry! It’s not to say that students receive a lower or less demanding quality of education. Instead, it actually enhances their education by removing barriers to entry to universities and cultivating a diverse student population.
So instead of strict entry requirements, public universities usually have a probationary first year. Students need to meet the necessary grades to pass onto subsequent years of study.
Nevertheless, there may be some additional entry requirements to be aware of when it comes to especially competitive and/or demanding subjects like medicine or engineering, so students should always double-check before selecting courses to apply for.
Requirements for applying to grandes écoles in France
Although these elite institutions can be either private or public, all of France’s grande écoles are free to set any academic requirements they want. And they tend to be extremely competitive!
On top of the high academic standards expected of applicants, grandes écoles frequently set their own entrance exams. Most French and international applicants also have to undertake two additional years of preparatory study after secondary school.
It’s common for international students to leave grandes écoles until they embark on postgraduate study, so they needn’t rule them out forever if the undergraduate application process seems intimidating!
If two years of preparatory classes aren’t an option, less common routes into grandes écoles include:
- Direct post-baccalaureate entry
- Parallel admissions, which is when students transfer during their undergraduate degree from another institution
Requirements for applying to grands établissements
These are public universities that are highly selective, although slightly less so than grandes écoles in that they don’t involve two years of preparatory study.
Entry requirements vary between institutions, so students should check each website.
Requirements for applying to private universities in France
Each private university sets its own admissions criteria, which naturally vary between universities and subjects so students should check early.
Language requirements for applying to university in France
Most degrees are taught in French, although your students might be interested to know that the number of English-taught courses is growing in the country.
If students apply to a French programme, but aren’t considered native speakers by the university, they’ll need to prove their proficiency through a language test.
There can be exemptions, though! For example:
- If students have taken the French or international baccalauréat (they must have taken French A1 as a native/fluent language)
- If they’re citizens of a country where French is an official national language
- If their secondary school education was in French
For all other students, the French proficiency tests universities look for can vary, but usually they are:
If students are applying for English-taught programmes and English isn’t their first language, they’ll generally take the IELTS or TOEFL tests.
Students are expected to have a level of proficiency equivalent to B1/B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
Sending applications to French universities
As we touched on, the application process differs depending on the applicant’s citizenship and/or residency, the qualifications they hold, and the type of institution or degree they’re applying to.
Applying to university in France as an EU student
Students from the EU applying to public universities in France almost always do so through the Parcoursup platform (which is also used by French students).
Students who have French or European qualifications often follow this process if they’re not from the EU but are from one of the 65 countries affected by the Études en France procedure – students can find the full list on the Campus France website.
Note: If students don’t have a baccalaureate qualification but are from the EU the application procedure may be different, so it’s worth contacting universities if in doubt.
On Parcoursup, students are asked to rank up to 12 degree programmes for each institution they’re interested in, up to a maximum of 36 programmes. They should rank these in their order of preference.
Students will find out whether they’ve been offered a place on any of their chosen courses in June. They can then choose to accept an offer or go into a second round of allocations with their remaining choices.
Offers aren’t necessarily made in the order that students ranked their choices, so it may be worth them waiting until the second round!
Accepting an offer on Parcoursup is not legally binding. If students have applied to other institutions directly and receive an offer from one of those after having accepted an offer through Parcoursup, they can accept the later offer. That adds a lovely level of flexibility for students applying to universities in France!
Applying to university in France as a non-EU student
For non-European students who aren’t working towards/don’t hold French or European Baccalauréat/A-levels, the route to application is through the Demande d’Admission Préalable (the DAP, a preliminary request for admission). These students must submit applications directly to the French Embassy in their country of residence.
Students who are from an Études en France country but aren’t eligible to use the Parcoursup platform also submit the DAP, but they can do so online through Études en France.
Études en France procedure
Students who are from one of the 65 countries affected by the Études en France procedure and are working towards/do have French or European Baccalauréat/A-levels don’t need to submit a DAP.
Instead, they send applications using the Études en France online application system, for which they can create a profile through the Campus France website. The system then guides them through the entire application process, including obtaining a visa, how to apply and the documents they’ll need to submit.
Applications to the grandes écoles, grands établissements and private universities
These are typically made directly to each university.
Different universities ask for different things. Some application processes may involve interviews, cover letters, sample essays, academic references or entrance exams.
Key deadlines when applying to university in France
Now that you know how each of your students can apply to university in France, let’s look at the dates they’ll work towards, so you know how much time you’ve got to work with and you can plan their schedules accordingly.
Because EU students almost always apply to French degree programmes through Parcoursup, they almost always follow the platform’s timetable:
- Registration opens in mid-January
- The deadline to select academic choices is mid-March
- The deadline to complete every section of the application and finalise their choices in early April
Students who don’t qualify as EU students follow the Demande d’Admission Préalable – (DAP) timetable:
- Registrations open on 1st October
- The deadline to submit applications is 15th December
- Universities generally have to respond to applications by the end of March
Once offers are made, all students are expected to accept or reject them by mid-May. Any offers that haven’t been responded to by then will be automatically declined.
Preparing international students to apply to universities in France
We know that the sheer variety of French institutions, programmes and processes can feel overwhelming. But that variety also means pretty much every student can find their perfect fit! Still, there’s no skirting around the fact that it’s going to take some consideration, time and research.
With the free BridgeU platform, you can easily simplify it both for your students and for yourself! In it, your students can explore over 28,000 universities across France and beyond, spanning the whole globe.
They also get tailored, original content on everything from creating applications to signing up for student societies, with plenty of country-specific content and events! Our intelligent platform makes drawing comparisons and making informed choices easy.
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