French University Guide: Applying for Higher Education in France

French University Guide: Applying for Higher Education in France

In France, there are no tuition fees for the vast majority of courses, making access to higher education relatively liberal. Catharine Higginson walks through the many steps of an application if you’re returning to higher education as an adult or have kids who are about to enter this stage of their education.

In addition, means-tested maintenance grants are available for students, there are subsidized student restaurants on campus, reasonably priced student housing and numerous extra grants and benefits available for students. All of the above, combined with a policy of allowing state funding for up to seven years of higher education adds up to a situation where large numbers of young people opt to stay in higher education for a considerably longer period of time than in many other countries. It’s not unusual to see job advertisements which require a ‘BAC+5’ or even ‘BAC+8’, meaning that the candidate should have five or eight years of post- baccalaureate education.

The first step onto the French higher education ladder is via the online access portal known as Parcoursup. This is the national admissions platform for the first year of higher education and currently contains over 19,500 first cycle higher education courses.

It is where lycée or high school students, apprentices or students changing course go to access the first year of higher education in 2023. They will need to create an account, submit course preferences and, eventually, respond to admission offers from the institutions providing higher education courses. These include licences, equivalent to a BA degree, section de technicien supérieur (STS) – advanced technical section, institut universitaire de technologie (IUT) – university technology institutes, classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles (CPGE) classes preparing for admission to the grandes écoles, engineering schools and so on.


Anyone wanting to enroll in the first year of higher education must go via Parcoursup and this includes European students wanting to study in the first year; non-European students who have passed a French baccalaureat in an AEFE (Agence Française pour l’Enseignement Français à l’Etranger) high school and who want to join the French higher education system; French secondary school students; French apprentices; and any students changing courses in their first year.

This also includes non- European students who want to register for a first year in an institution which is outside the DAP (demande d’admission préalable) or initial request for admission process; this is generally the case for institutions where admission is selective such as the IUT, STS and, of course, the famous preparatory classes (known as prépa) for the grandes écoles.

Some categories of students do not need to use Parcoursup and this includes students who are repeating a year and staying on the same course and candidates subject to a prior admission application (DAP).

If you are already studying and you are repeating the same course, you do not need to state your preferences on Parcoursup as you are entitled to repeat a year but you must immediately re-enroll with your institution. However, if you are changing to another course, you will need to use the platform, even if you are changing to a course in the same institution, as obviously availability will depend on student application numbers.

The application will be looked at in the same way as a final year high school student’s application. In other words, the course content and the candidate’s suitability for it will be assessed. It is therefore a sensible idea to use the optional ‘additional information’ section to explain why you are changing course, how this relates to your eventual (career) plan and what you expect to gain from the course.

If you are changing courses you will be given a new Parcoursup applicant number as the applicant number changes every year. The site is extremely comprehensive and lists information on each course including requirements, content, success rate, drop-out rate and so on. It allows you to create multiple preferences and does not rank them. Neither is there any random course allocation so, in theory, students should be able to access the higher education course that is most suitable for them and inline with their eventual professional ambitions.

Once you have created your pre-enrolment application and found the relevant information on the different courses, you then need to state your preferences and complete the application by providing all the information requested by the institutions in question. You will then confirm your preferences so that the applications can be examined by the individual institutions. Once this has been done you will receive the admission offer or offers from the various institutions, and once you have received these, you can then decide which course/institution will best suit you and respond to the offers made.

The procedure may seem slightly daunting at the outset, however, there is a wealth of information available on the site and as long as you allow yourself enough time to research all the different courses on offer, you should be able to make an informed choice. Each course will include information about any open days and immersion days or weeks organized by the different institutions. Contact details for the admissions department are included along with detailed course information such as content and lesson planning, the number of places available, any required skills and any information taken into account when examining your preferences. There will also be a disability access contact for each course so that you can factor in accessibility too.


Once you have chosen your course, you will need to think about funding it! In France registration fees are payable instead of tuition fees (except for in the private sector) and these are very reasonable in comparison to other countries. They do vary but expect to pay €170 for a licence, €243 for a masters and between €601 and €2,500 for engineering diplomas.

You will also need to pay a CVEC fee to register in the institution concerned and the CVEC certificate is required to finalise the registration process. The CVEC (contribution de vie étudiante et de campus) is fixed at €95 for 2022/23 and, as in the case of registration or frais de scolarité fees, students who are eligible for a grant or bourse are exonerated from payment. Again, you will need to provide the establishment concerned with either proof of payment (l’attestation d’acquittement) or exoneration.

Financial assistance for students is administered by the various regional branches of the CROUS (Centre Régional des Œuvres Universitaires et Scolaires); they are responsible for managing all student- related services in the region including accommodation. To access CROUS funding or accommodation (which is generally cheaper than in the private sector), you will need to create an account and complete a DSE (dossier social étudiant). The closing date for applications is 15 May and applications can be made from 20 January onwards. You do not need to have confirmed your future course to open your DSE, you can simply select your preferred options.

Once you have opened your DSE and supplied the information required, you will be notified of the provisional attribution (or not) of a grant. These maintenance grants are means-tested and depending on how many points you accrue on the scale (which ranges from one to seven) vary between €1,084 and €5,965 per year. However, they are paid over a 10-month period, so this should be factored into your budget when looking for housing. With a place on the course of your choice confirmed and a grant applied for, there’s nothing more to do than sit back, wait for term to begin and get ready to enjoy student life in France!

Find out more on How to apply in an institute of higher education in France and Learn more about What Is Baccalauréat or “Bac” in France?

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