French bac (BFI) student

Hey everyone, I’m entering 12th grade next year and hoping to apply to some of the best universities in the US (Princeton, Berkeley, MIT, etc…) for math and/or cs.

I was just hoping I could get the point of view of someone outside the small bubble that is my school when it comes to grades.

Currently, I am predicted 20/20 in both mathematics and physics/chemistry in addition to an achieved 20/20 in NSI (basically computer science). I am also predicted 17/20 in BFI history/geography and BFI English literature.

If you don’t know, the BFI (with option expert maths which I’m taking) is basically the most rigorous version of the french bac possible; I start at 8:30 and finish at 18:05 every day of the week. I have extra hours in history/geography and English lit, in addition to a subject called ‘World Knowledge’ where the end goal is to find and work together with an international partner (which you find on your own) on a project of your choosing; there are limitations and guidelines but I won’t get into that.

I’ve also maintained an average of 18.5 throughout 11th grade, and all my grades in 9th and 10th grade translate at the very least to A-‘s.

I’m sitting the digital SAT in a week, and I just started studying a couple days ago and so far I’ve gotten a 1540 and 1560 on practice tests 1 and 2 respectively.

As a lot of my friends have similar grades (they’re only applying to uk unis) I’m under the impression that while I’m definitely above average, I’m no genius. But the more I read forums, credit transfers, and entry requirements, the more I see comments like ‘getting 20/20 is impossible’ or ‘anything above 16 is excellent’.

Does this mean that US unis will see me as an extremely gifted student? Are my grades good enough for T10s? I just kind of the perspective of an outsider to validate my grades. Thanks!

Yes. As someone familiar with French grading, those are excellent marks. You have no worries on that part of application review.


From what little I know of the French education system, it does sound like your grades are sufficient for “top 10” universities in the US.

Whether you will get accepted is a different issue, and is difficult to predict. Most applicants to “top 10” universities in the US are academically very well qualified, only a small percentage are accepted, and it is quite a bit more difficult for international students (compared to domestic US students). If you are fully academically qualified to attend a top university in the US, you should still figure that your chances of being accepted is not much better than somewhere around 1% or perhaps 2%.

Finances might also be an issue. Princeton and MIT only have need based aid (no merit aid, no athletic scholarships). UC Berkeley has almost no financial aid at all for out of state students.

In contrast, admissions to McGill or one of the other universities in Quebec would be much more likely, and you would pay as a domestic Canadian student assuming that you are a citizen of France (Quebec and France have a cooperative agreement).


Your grades are excellent but top universities will consider you meet their threshold with 15-16 and it’ll make no difference to them -they won’t think of this French kids had 16 and that other one 18, so let’s pick the kid with 18. If you have 15-16 you can work at the level they want and they will look at the rest of your application, which is where the choice happens.
What have you achieved outside of school? International Olympiads? Athletics? Political involvement (RN excepted)? Volunteering impact?
The fact you’re in the international section with so many extra hours may actually play against you because it’s more academic hours, leaving fewer hours to achieve in other ways. That being said, if you manage to do both that and an activity at a high level it would of course be recognized.

(Its different in Quebec where you may be ranked according to these grades so a 15, 16, 17 and 18 would be viewed differently; McGill’s range is 11-17 depending on subject, from Agronomy or Resources to CS or MechE, with 15 common for most subjects. Applying early in the Fall would guarantee an early reply since your grades would rank you high. Concordia and UdeM usually want 13+.)
Roughly speaking 14=A.

Also, there are 3,700 universities in the US. The top 10% are very good - cf. Princeton Review’s Best Colleges (378 colleges).
Top 10 is very very narrow. Just think how many good CPGE there are, add the doubles licences, Sciences po, Top 14 Grandes écoles… just for France. You easily find 50. Then do the same for Britain. Germany. Add Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Spain, Autria, Romania… that gives you an idea of how many incredible universities there are in the US.

For Math, include Northwestern, Williams, HarveyMudd. St Olaf for an academic likely with strong math but it is meet need/need aware so it’ll depend on your financial need.

For CS, a LOT of colleges are good but some do not offer financial aid to international applicants and/or limited merit aid.
Do you have enough to pay for UIUC, UMD, GATech?

Type into your browser “USNWR National Unibersities” and "USNWR National LACs’.

Are you a French citizen or a dual citizen (US/France)?
What’s your budget, per year?

I would keep UCs for graduate school.

If you need financial aid (your parents make 75k and under, 125k and under, 250k and under…) your list will be different from a list based on merit aid (SAT score).


This. Because there are some schools here that don’t give a dime of financial aid to international students (Berkeley is one that gives very very very little merit aid to internationals and no need based). And many are need aware for admissions meaning they will consider your financial need when reviewing your admissions info.

While you are a strong student, you also need to understand that the schools you listed have acceptance rates in the single digits. Many many well qualified applicants don’t get accepted…actually the vast majority of applicants don’t get accepted (90% or more are rejected from these schools).

Sure…apply to some of these reachy schools. They are reaches for everyone who applies. But I sure hope you have a varied list of possible applications that includes a bunch of colleges where you are more likely to be accepted, can afford the costs, and that you like. Actually…start with that list and build your application list UP.

I have a French Baccalauréat C & attended a T10 math school. As others have suggested, compare the options that open to you:

  1. France: which Math Sup prépa would accept you now for next year? That will give you an excellent idea of your BFI ranking vs your peers

  2. There are excellent Math programs in Europe which can give you guaranteed access as opposed to the randomness of the US Application Process. Examples would include

  • Bachelor is Science at Centrale/Supelec which has more Fields Medal recepients than any other school in the world
  • EPFL in Switzerland which guarantees admission for anything with average grades 16+ on the BFI
  • Oxford/Cambridge/Imperial College in the UK, without guaranteed admission
  1. In the US, there are outstanding Math programs outside of T20, such as Cornell, Chicago, John Hopkins, Harvey Mudd, Carnegie Mellon, etc

  2. Bear in mind that the cost in the US is much higher than your French/Switzerland/UK/Canada options

Best of luck!


Thank you,

I forgot to mention but I’m also applying to Cambridge, Imperial, and Warwick but I have no doubt that my grades meet the requirements for those unis and the greater challenge will be admission tests and interviews.
I have also considered applying to EPFL.

When it comes to the french system, although it is undoubtedly great especially when it comes to maths, I would rather go into an English speaking university just as a personal preference. If all else fails and I get rejected by every uk and us university, I will probably then go into prépa.

There is a great new joint program in science/engineering between Centrale & McGill, 2+2 years in each campus, all instruction in English, with a double degree from both universities. Admission is based on application + interview, no concours


I am a French and Tunisian citizen. I don’t need financial aid.

I have a bronze medal in the french maths olympiads, and I am planning on taking the uk maths challenge this October, hopefully getting gold by studying for it and if I get very lucky then I’ll go to the next round (BMO) but that’s unlikely.

Outside of school, for the past 2 or so years I have been coding in Python, HTML, CSS, JavaScript and I might learn PHP to contribute to an upcoming volunteering opportunity if all goes well.

I also have read a few books related maths which I enjoyed: ‘A Concise Introduction to Pure Mathematics’, ‘How to Study for a Mathematics Degree’, and ‘Introduction to Algorithms’ (this one is a large and complicated undergraduate textbook so I more or less occasionally try to tread random chapters).

I tutored some classmates for free in maths.

I was in a football club for 8 years (left over a year ago) where I was captain for two years and named ‘Player’s Player of the Season’.

I go to the gym regularly and help new gym goers around my age.

I’ve been self teaching Japanese (to read untranslated manga but I won’t mention that) and have participated in an English-Japanese language exchange discord server.

I went to a summer programme (nothing prestigious or remotely selective) where we did some robotics and I guess I had the opportunity to develop leadership skills by teaching and leading some younger kids on a few projects.

Other than all this, I think my essays so far are very good, unique, and really let my personality shine through to the admissions officer.

Am I lacking in the extracurricular department? I think my application could be rather attractive to admissions officers considering I take the BFI and also because of what I put in my personal statement (and obviously the fact that I don’t need financial aid). I’m worried about my lack of volunteering, community work, and non profit stuff but I think admission officers see that many American students do those just to ‘tick a box on a checklist’ instead of following their passion so I might be okay.

Run the NPC on McGill, MIT, Olin, Princeton, and Williams. Can your parents afford the net price they see?

Not needing FA means you can apply to UIUC (cs+maths), UMD (CS), GTech, etc.+ need aware universities like Brown, Columbia, Northwestern, NYU (Courant institute), USC, Stanford.
(and, if you like the prepa vibe, Swarthmore and CMU).
It doesn’t help at HYPM (Nor Williams, I think) since they’re need blind.

Bac v. bfi will not impact US adcoms’ decision, just like 16 v.17 doesn’t. It does matter for Ireland so beside Imperial etc in the UK, look into Trinity Dublin.
As long as you remain a clearly top student, you’re good.

What did you build/achieve during your summer project?
You can absolutely say you’re self teaching Japanese to read manga before they’re published, it’s excellent- you need to show that what you do has a purpose.
For instance, you have excellent coding skills: what have you done with those?

As for ECs they’re on the light side for Top 40 universities in general but if you target top programs in CS/math specifically (UMD, UIUC, GTECH) they would likely see your stem focus so you might have a shot.

What about Cal Poly SLO?

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MIT and Princeton currently cost a bit more than $82,000 per year (not including flights or health insurance). However, prices are likely to go up about 5% per year or so. By your senior year you might well exceed $100,000 per year if you include travel and health insurance.

However, the cost is not the only issue. If you have the money, then it is not the main issue. The main issue is that even though you are very well qualified academically to attend, your chances for admissions is in the low single digit percentages, and is probably not all that much better than 1%. The main issue here is not that there is anything at all wrong with your application. The problem is that between 80% and 85% of other applicants are also very well qualified to attend. Neither of these excellent universities has anything even remotely close to enough spots to accept all of their academically qualified applicants. I just attended my 50th reunion at MIT (I was a math major) and the total number of undergraduate students has not changed much since I was there – the number of applications has however grown a great deal.

One reason that I mentioned McGill above is that it will be vastly more affordable. Four years at McGill would likely cost a bit less than one year at MIT or Princeton. However, an equally big or perhaps bigger issue is that admissions in Canada is predictable. Your chances of admissions are excellent at McGill. I am not sure whether I would call it a safety, but it is close. Montreal is also an excellent location to spend four years. All instruction is in English, with the exception being classes whose purpose is to teach a different language. While Montreal is majority French, the area around McGill and Concordia (the two universities are very close to each other) is almost entirely bilingual. My French is rather weak. If I go into pretty much any store or restaurant around McGill and start to speak French they will almost always immediately break into English. You will also hear conversations in the area that just switch back and forth between English and French in mid-sentence. I guess that is just a normal part of la vie à Montréal. Other parts of Canada (outside of Quebec) will be almost entirely English speaking (there are a few exceptions) and the cost of university will be somewhere between US costs and Quebec costs (since outside of Quebec you would pay as an international student rather than as a French student). However admissions is also quite predictable and very likely at Toronto or other Canadian universities.

One difference between European and US universities is that in the US it is relatively straightforward to change majors, and students take classes in a wider variety of subjects. At MIT you do not even choose your major until the end of your freshman year (during freshman year I took classes that would have been appropriate for a major in any of math, physics, or mechanical engineering). Universities in Canada are closer to the US model. Changing majors is relatively common in Canada as well. Universities in Canada however have somewhere fewer “general education” requirements compared to the US (at least in my experience) so that you can take courses in a wide range of subjects, or if you prefer you could instead take more courses in your major.

If you do get accepted to MIT or Princeton, and if you decide to go there, then you should definitely attend the welcome reception for international students. You will be amazed at who you will meet. I walked away from this reception thinking “How did I get accepted here?”. The international applicants to MIT and Princeton, even the ones who are rejected, include quite a few amazing people.

I do not think that you are lacking in any department at all. The issue is just that admissions at MIT and Princeton (or Harvard or Stanford, both of which are also exceptional for mathematics) is just that hard and that unpredictable.

In terms of ECs, “following your passion” is indeed the right thing to do (assuming that your passion takes you in a constructive and reasonably safe direction).

At universities in the US you will be competing with international students for admissions. However, both domestic and international applicants to MIT, Princeton, and comparable universities includes quite a few students who have indeed followed their passion and done very well.

By the way, you should Google “applying sideways MIT admissions” and read the blog that this takes you to. In terms of ECs, it recommends that you do what is right for you, and do it very well. This is what I did and it did get me admitted to MIT. It sounds like this is what you did also. However, it is also what many other students do. It works for some of us in terms of getting us into MIT (or Princeton). However, it works for a much wider range of students in terms of getting them into a university that is a good fit for them, and also in terms of giving them the freedom to have done whatever it is that was right for them.


Given the level of mathematics in the European Schools mentioned above, your almost guaranteed admission in Canada (Toronto/McGill), you should form a list of US schools that satisfy your academic/prestige requirements. You have to gauge your motivation factors, including English language education, US experience, Academic depth, and prestige of the institution… this w would either encourage you to maintain your US list within T10, or expand beyond.

Bear in mind that attending Graduate School in the US is also an opportunity. Many of the students in my graduate school program were alumni of X/Centrale and attended as “coopérants” which was funded by the French Gvt/Companies.

You also need to take into account the fact many people will know you applied to US colleges and you want to have at least one acceptance, even if you dontibtend to go. Getting rejection after rejection after rejection is VERY hard. You should have at least one safety in addition to McGill. It probably doesn’t sound like a big deal now but it will matter. Those could be Penn State, Virginia Tech, UMN-TC if you want large to very large schools with sports, Greek Life, Honors Colleges - Cal poly SLO or St Olaf for math, WPI for CS.

Case Western and Northeastern for matches.

Based on your dual Humanities&STEM bac background Penn Ben Franklin scholars +CS or HarveyMudd may be worth looking into (bith reaches for everyone).

(Btw, also apply to Waterloo, CA. Check out their math competition -many admitted students participate and are competitive.)

Seconding the idea you should read “Applying sideways” (MIT blog). Essential reading for all stusents to highly selective schools.


This thread will help you understand reach/match/safety - here, a student with stats similar to yours applying for math.

(He’s disadvantaged compared to you because he comes from an over represented country and you don’t, and because he has 4s in 2 key subjects.)

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Net price calculators are not always accurate for international students. Do Canadian colleges have net price calculators (@MYOS1634 do you know?).

No, McGill has 1 fixed price for tuition (French citizens and French speaking Belgians pay the Canadian rate). If admitted they can compete for entrance merit scholarships and can receive bursaries (FA). There is no comprehensive fee since the students may live off campus.
However it can be useful for the parents to have McGill’s cost next to US universities so they can decide what they want to spend.


Correct. Also, do not forget the exchange rate.