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Difficult decisions: and they may last a lifetime

This year the government has promised reforms to help pupils in one of their most difficult decisions: what to do after leaving school

Education ministers are improving career advice at lycée and changing the application procedure in a bid to stop the 60% of students who leave or change direction after the first year.

France has a vast choice of further education, ranging from very high level academic studies at Grandes Ecoles, through university to a huge range of professional qualifications. There are free, public institutions (though there may be a signing-up fee) and private schools with prices ranging from a couple of thousand to several thousand euros a year.

The large number of courses can be baffling and unless you know exactly what you want in the future it can be difficult to decide a path. The advantage of all this choice is that, with perseverance, there is something for every pupil, somewhere out there.

Lou Zillhardt, 22, from Cazoulès, Dordogne, is an example of a student who has changed direction during her studies, but who has now found a course which she hopes will lead to a job she loves in the near future.

She set out to do a Bac S after 3ème in collège, but found the maths too difficult and switched to a Bac Tech­nologique STL, which specialises in lab work. Her marks improved and she enjoyed learning laboratory skills.

Then she faced two options: a DUT (Diplôme Uni­versitaire de Tech­nol­ogie) at IUT (Institut Universitaire de Technologie) or a BTS (Brev­et de Tech-nicien Supér­ieur), both over two years.

DUTs are closer to university qualifications and you can find work or go on to further studies. The BTS is a professional qualification more likely to lead directly to a job.

Lou first chose a DUT HSE, which specialises in health, safety and environmental issues in the workplace. But it, too, had a lot of physics and maths, which she did not enjoy. So she applied to do a BTS Bioanalyses et Contrôles, which was closer to the bac she had already done.

She said: “The DUT was more like being at university: lessons in an amphitheatre and around 100 students. You had tests every week but were not given homework and it was up to you to organise your studies.

“A BTS is a bit like being in Terminale in lycée, as you are in small classes, you have lessons all day and get homework.

“It is a little difficult still being in a school environment at my age, but the advantage is there are only 15 in my class so I am taught well and have a close relationship with the teachers.”

There are internships in the workplace for both DUT and BTS. Lou has just finished one with the Conservatoire  Bot­anique Pierre Fabre, Toulouse, which works to save threatened botanic species by trying to reproduce them in a sterile, laboratory condition.

“I love what I am doing. I would never have known this job existed before so doing an internship has shown me the opportunities that exist.

“It is like working in a botanical garden, though it is a laboratory. I hope they give me a job at the end. It won’t pay as well as if I were to continue my studies but I feel ready to work.”

In France the number of years you have studied post-bac has a direct influence on the level of job you can apply for – and the starting pay.

Those with Bac+2 are paid a much lower salary, on or near the minimum wage, than a Bac+5.

However, it may be easier to find a job with a Bac+2. Many Masters or PhD students cannot find jobs matching their level of studies and start down the pay scale.


Options post-bac

BTS/BTSA (Brevet de Tech­nic­ien Supérieur) BTSA (Brevet de Technicien Sup. Agricole)

Professional diploma. 2 years. A professional qualification. Around 130 different BTS in a wide range of subjects. Selection by school reports and possible interview. Public.

DUT (Diplôme Universitaire de Technologie) 2 year diploma. A professional qualification. Leads to a job, but most continue in education afterwards. 41 subjects. Selection by school reports, sometimes also tests and interviews. Public.

DEUST (Diplôme d’études universitaires scientifiques et techniques)
A 2 year professional university qualification. Often a solution for students who want to change options while at university. Leads to a job or further studies. Selection by school reports, possible tests and interviews. Public.

Licence Professionnelle – professional degree but not post-bac – follows BTS, DUT or 2nd year degree. 173 subjects. Public.

Licence –University degree. 3 years. Usually after a bac générale and needing additional studies before a job. Wide range of subjects. The only selection condition is a bac, but changes proposed in 2018 for over-subscribed courses such as STAPS (sport), Psychology, Law and Medicine. The ministry has not said how this will work; universities may decide what to do, possibly via school reports, motivation letters and interviews, but at what stage of the procedure is still unclear.

Classe prépa – 2 year preparation for entry into an Ecole d’Ingénieur, Ecole Normale Supérieure, or high-level studies. Only for the most dedicated students: 60 hours of lessons plus private study a week. In literature, economics and sciences. Selection using school reports. Public or private.

Ecole spécialisée – Numerous public and private Ecoles specialise in subjects such as engineering, politics, architecture, journalism, art and commerce. All have different entrance requirements, study lengths and diplomas. Selection is nearly always by school reports, tests and interviews. Once started, it is difficult to change career or study direction. Included in these are the Ecoles Normales Supér­ieures, seen as the top schools for the very best students and very difficult to get into. Run very differently, they are the equivalent to Oxford and Cambridge.

This site has detailed and well set-out information:


Changes to the application procedure, 2018

More career advice with a week dedicated to course choice in first term and a second between January and March.

Two principal teachers instead of one assigned to each class in Terminale to make more help available.

The Conseil de Classe will spend more time looking at pupils’ choices.

The national application site, renamed Parcoursup has been changed so each student can apply for up to 10 different courses and will be given a reply to each application. In the past students listed choices by preference; so a second choice was only considered if a first choice was refused, and so on. This has been welcomed as giving more real choice for students, who may be able to decide between several offers, rather than one.

More places on offer in over-subscribed courses at university.

The debate over selection of students at university has been partially resolved, so places on oversubscribed courses will no longer be chosen at random, but with selection looking at school reports and possibly motivation letters and interviews. However, it has not been clarified how this will work.

Students have up to March 13 to enter choices on the application website. At the end of May they will receive reply offers and decide which to accept. After the bac results they will sign up to their future course. There will be help for students who get no offers, to find a place on another course.

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