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French Post-Baccalauréat (Bac) Applications : Big Bad "Parcoursup" ?

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

By Anne de Rochefort-Carnot

What is Parcoursup?

Parcoursup is the national online applications portal for applying to higher education programs in France.

This platform allows most students (but not all) to access the first year of higher education (post-Bac) by pre-enrolling, submitting their course preferences, and responding to the admission offers from institutions providing higher education courses.

Students can make up to 10 'voeux', meaning they can choose up to 10 different programs (licences, BTS, “prépas” etc), both selective and non-selective.

For each choice ('voeu'), they need to write a short cover letter explaining why they want to apply to that specific program, and what their project is. They can also add their personal interests, any language certificate they may have, etc. The school then inputs students’ grades into the system and writes their own recommendation explaining why they think their students would be a good fit for the program. In most schools it’s possible to meet with the teachers to discuss your child’s options; it’s often useful to listen to their advice.

Each program describes its main features, the level expected to get in, the number of applications received the year before, and its admission rate. This gives you an idea of how easy or difficult it is to get into the program. You can search programs all year round, by discipline or geographical area, so it’s a good idea to have a look before the platform officially “opens” in January.

Another piece of advice I would give is: whenever possible, go to open houses with your child - you’ll be able to talk to teachers and current students. This will help your child decide whether the program is right for them and if they have the grades for it.

How does it work?

Between January and March, students enter their choices into the online platform, before it closes for a while.

Depending on the type of program, the selection is made by a person or an algorithm. The algorithm usually takes into account students’ grades and ranking, especially in their 3 majors. That’s the tricky bit because, with the latest reform, a good part of your child’s application is made of the grades they get in school, which may vary a great deal depending on their lycée (high school).

This is why looking at the previous year’s admissions numbers is important to help you decide whether your child has the right level for the program. You will get your first answers at the beginning of June. Unless your kid is very strong academically, they will most likely mainly receive responses that they are “on the waiting list”.


Parents are often afraid of "Parcoursup",

but the process doesn’t have to be intimidating.


Don’t panic, this is quite normal!

For each “voeu”, you will see your child's ranking on the waiting list, in comparison to how many spots were awarded for that program in the previous year.

This should put your mind at ease: for example, if your child is ranked 500th on the waiting list but the ranking of the final student to receive an offer in the previous year was 850th, you will probably get a positive answer in a few days/weeks.

Students usually have around 3 days to answer admission offers (if they get more than one positive answer, they need to choose which one to keep, which will free up spaces in the waiting lists).

Two of my kids went through the process. One got a “yes” on the first day, while the second was on waiting lists everywhere, and with rankings that weren’t great. However, he eventually received an admission offer for this first-choice program after 4 weeks.

If you’re realistic about your child’s level, he/she will probably get into a program that fits his/her interests, and that’s good news!

Want to know more?

A good free podcast (in French) about the topic: About the Author:

Anne is a French native, Anglophile translator, and mom of 3 happy bilingual children. After some years abroad, her family came back to Paris just in time to discover what life after “lycée” is! She is happy to discuss the topic of Parcoursup with any Message member.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message. Message cannot be held responsible for any information contained in or omitted from this article.


President - Beth
President - Beth
Mar 27, 2023

Loved this article. Really clear and not scare mongering. Thank you 🙏


Paula Castañeda
Paula Castañeda
Mar 20, 2023

Thank you for including a photo of a person with a physical disability in the article. Important that Message strives to be inclusive in its communications :)

President - Beth
President - Beth
Mar 27, 2023
Replying to

Yes noticed the inclusivity via the photo. bravo 👏🏻


Detailed information on the French Higher Education system is available in the AAWE (Association of American Women in Europe) publication 'Beyond the Bac - Higher Education in France and Abroad'. The second edition of this guide was published in February 2020 so sadly the response to the Covid pandemic meant it was not publicised widely. 'Beyond the Bac' includes a detailed introduction to the French higher education and chapters on Classes Préparatoires aux Grandes Ecoles; becoming a doctor or lawyer in the French system; undergraduate study in English in France and the EU; among others. In addition it also covers undergraduate and graduate studies in the USA, and describes the higher education systems in Canada, the UK, the Netherlands and…

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