The French University System + Registration

To say that the French and American way of registering for classes in a university are different would be an understatement. I came to Paris knowing that registering for classes would be a headache but you really don't find out how bad it is until you have to do it. So back in the United States we're used to making wish lists online with the classes you want to take and you have a registration date. On the day you're assigned you just go online and simply add the classes- that's it! In less than 5 minutes you have all your classes picked out and the worst thing that can happen is that your class gets filled up but if that's the case you can just crash the class and hope that the professor can give you an add code. Here in France it's a completely different story.

The first thing you need to do before even registering for class is fill out the application online to get the ID card, its a very simple application so I'm not even going to go into detail about it. One of the first things you'll notice is that the class schedules are not online like there were back in your home university. You can see what classes are offered on the university's website but only if you use the French version, you won't get anything with the English or Spanish version of the website in fact those look a bit different from the French version. The way you find out the class schedules is by visiting each and every single department or UFR as they're called here and you might even have to ask the secretary for help because those things get a bit confusing especially if you're looking at them and don't know what CM and TD mean.

CM stands for cours magistral, those are large lecture classes where you just listen to the professor talk- asking questions like back in the States is not encouraged in those type of classes. The reason why you're not encouraged to ask questions in the CM is because you have the TD or travaux dirigés which is where you'll do classwork, exams, projects, etc. You must take both the CM and TD especially if you're an international/ERASMUS student. Another thing European credits system (ECTS) is not the same as the American credit system but don't fret there's an easy way to calculate how many credits you'll get for the class: You have to multiply the hours/week times the number of weeks (which is 13 if you start on October 3rd). Under 30 hours= 2 credits, 30-40 hours= 3 credits, and 40+ = 4 to 5 credits.

Another things that's stands out when you look at the schedules are the class codes. You'll see things like L1LM11FR and you're just like "What the hell does it mean?!? What's L1? What's the French equivalent of a 300-400 level French course in France?" So let me decipher the code for you

L1 (1st year, the equivalent to a 300-400 level French course)
LM (the college in this case it would be lettres modernes 
11 (the class number)
FR (UFR in this case it would be French Literature)

L1, L3, L5, M1 (master level course), and M3 courses are offered in the fall semester. L2, L4, L6, M2, and M4 are offered in the spring semester. International/ERASMUS students do not have to take the examen terminal at the end of the semester at the Sorbonne Paris IV. Your grade will be based on homework, projects, and tests given to you in your TD.

Now that I have explained the French uni system a bit, let me explain how registration works. As I said you have to go to each office to look at the schedules and also register. You'll see students walking around office to office to register for their classes but one of the advantages of being an exchange student is that they know how tough it is to adapt to the French system so some universities like the Sorbonne have a special day where the exchange students can register for language and literature courses.

The process is long, mostly because you have to wait in line for a while! I waited 2 hours for something that took less than 5 minutes. I arrived to the Sorbonne with the inscription pedagogique dans le cadre d'un programme d'echange form completely filled out. The form will vary from university to university but the format should be more or less the same. You hand that form to a secretary and she's the one who registers you in the classes. Just like in the United States you may run into the problem of your TD's being filled up but don't worry there's many more hours available to choose.

Registration is a long and confusing process but once you understand the French system it's not so bad and don't worry you won't be the only one freaking out because you'll even see French people freaking out on campus trying to register for class. You just have to learn how to be a more independent student but a receiving little help doesn't hurt.

I've taken a picture of the form I had to fill out at the Sorbonne and added the translation to make things easier for you. If you have any specific questions about French universities or the registration process please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me, I'd love you help you out.

Bon week-end !


  1. Let's say frnech administration is shit in general. The university administration is just a liiittle tiny bit of the whole thing.

  2. Anne-Laure: Yeah... As much as I like living here the American school administration is way better. I'd pick that system over the French any day of the week.

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