Studying at the Sorbonne

Do you have questions about studying full or part time at the Sorbonne or any of the Universities in Paris? I completed my masters and have obtained a doctorate here in the City of Light, and as a teacher I now also have an inside look at the underbelly of the university system. Here are some basic points to get you started!

Just note that I am not a paid guidance counselor for the Sorbonne, so I don't have access to any deadlines or course descriptions that you can't find online.
Studying at the Sorbonne
10 Things to Know Before Applying:

1. The Sorbonne is INEXPENSIVE. Think, under 500 euros a year...yes, 500.

2. You need many translations of documents which can be EXPENSIVE, but investment pieces, really.

3. You need to pick a program that matches with your current studies or your previous degree: i.e. Art history students need not apply for a business program. You won't get in. But if you have professional experience in the area, there is hope!

4. French students are not as mean as you think. They aren't as studious, either!

5. Education at the Sorbonne is what you make of it. You will be more supervised at a "Grande Ecole" like ENS or Sciences Po. If "Grande Ecole" is an expression that means nothing to you, then ignore this bullet point.

6. Speaking, reading, and understanding French is recommended. Writing helps but is not as pivotal. You'll pick it up quickly. I finished my PhD and still had a team of French friends reread it many times for me.

7. The University of Paris system includes lots of schools including the historic, but not-for-everyone Sorbonne. The schools are numbered (Paris I, Paris II, Paris III, etc.) so check out the websites for each to see which one has a program best for you. Only some have the name "Sorbonne" in it, and that doesn't mean it's necessarily better than another campus.

8. International students do have separate procedures to follow, but they are not vastly different and it is a relatively easy application as long as you are applying for a program appropriate to your background.

9. A Sorbonne degree will not translate immediately into your home country if you plan on pursuing a doctorate or some other higher degree, so be warned.

10. Professors are not always that interested in you. In fact, they are rarely interested in you. Don't be offended.

How to Apply:
NOTE: These procedures apply generally to anyone applying, though some schools now require you to do the entire application process through Campus France, so be sure to know how your school accepts applications. If you are already in France on another visa, the following will most likely apply to you.

1. Find a program that suits you. You'll have to do some research on the University of Paris websites to find something that suits you. Certain schools are better for certain subjects. University of Paris III for example is good for language, communications, and theater studies. University of Paris VIII is known for more cutting edge program like gender and sexuality studies. You'll also need to pick your level. Licence in French is like a bachelors degree. Masters in French is, well, a master level degree. Don't worry, when you're on the websites you'll feel like you don't understand French at all. They are oftentimes very poorly organized, but even French students can't navigate them. Just push through it.

Official Sites for the Universities: 

2. Get your documents ready. You'll need originals and translations of the following
  • birth certificate
  • any previous diplomas
  • previous transcripts from schools

3. You'll need to write a fancy letter stating why you should be admitted to the program. My only advice is to have a French person look over it for you if you can. If not, make sure you double check your spelling and gender on the nouns.

4. You'll then need to prove you can comprehend French, so get ready to take a test. You'll either take the TEF, TCF, or if you're in Paris at the right time you will be able to take a test right at your future school. Don't worry, it's not too hard. Just a formality.

5. Now here's where things get dicey. I did all of this and brought the paperwork right to the office of foreign students at the University of Paris III. If you are in the U.S., Canada, or another foreign country, you'll have to check with your university and probably with your local French consulate or cultural center. Here's an example of the page you'll need to check out for the Sorbonne, University of Paris I.

6. If all goes well, your file will be handled by the University and they'll accept you. It's out of your hands once you send the paperwork away. Once accepted, if you are in France, you'll go to the school, drop off your check for around 400 euros with a couple of ID photos and you'll get your carte de scolarit√© which you keep to prove you are enrolled as well as a student ID card by mail. At this point, congratulations. You're almost there.

Visas and Post-Application Procedures

1. Students in their home countries will have to head to Campus France, which I am only vaguely familiar with. Though it seems easy (enough). More information here.

2. Now comes the fun part. Foreign students in their home country will go to the French consulate or embassy for a visa. Students IN France get to skip right to making an appointment with the préfecture de police, every immigrant's favorite place in Paris. You'll have to provide some documentation as well in order to secure your residency papers:
  • passport
  • carte de scolarit√© from the University
  • proof of financial resources; either a bank statement with lots of money in it, a job contract in Paris, or your own savings showing that you have more than 450 euros a month available during your stay in Paris. Don't get excited, Paris costs a lot more than that...
  • Proof of residence in Paris in the form of a utility bill and, if it isn't in your name, a letter and ID card copy from your landlord/future landlord
  • Comb through your paperwork to make sure there isn't anything else they have asked you for. When in doubt, bring as much paperwork with you as possible. Kill 'em with kindness, which in France means with paper.

3. If you succeed at this point, good job. You've almost made it. There is, believe it or not, still another step. Now you'll have a visa, but you've got homework once you arrive in France. You have to send in a form to the OFII immigration office announcing that, indeed, you have arrived (get the form beforehand as it should be stamped at the airport with your passport). Send it in ASAP and you'll get called forward in a few weeks for a medical visit to validate your visa, essentially making you a resident of France. This entails a few quick medical questions and a chest scan to make sure you don't have TB. Bring a book. It takes a while. But do NOT skip this step as it is essential should you decide to do a second year of schooling in France. The OFII bureau is located near the Bastille, so if it's been a few months since you've been in France, and you sent in your form, pay them a visit.

4. By this point you'll probably have had a class or two already, as long as the students aren't on strike. Keep up the good work, go to class, and get good grades because successfully renewing your student visa the next year is contingent on passing your first year of studies, or at least failing them and signing up to do the year over again!


If you have any specific questions about applying to the Sorbonne as a full-time student, do not hesitate to send me an email (bryan.pirolli[at]

And feel free to drop a few bones into the tip jar if I get back to you. I like answering questions, but the weekly emails are getting more numerous and the Sorbonne isn't paying me for all of the guidance :)

Bonne continuation.