Higher Education


Higher Education in France

Once you finish high school, adults seeking higher education may follow two different paths:

  • Universities
  • Grande Écoles


Anyone can enroll in a French Université, and the costs are mere peanuts compared to any American or even now British university. They mainly consist of administrative fees, but this is only afforded to EU students.  Non-EU students may pay up to 5000€ a year for their studies (still a pretty damn good deal). The trick of universities is getting out.  Numbers get smaller as classes get harder and the years in university get longer. If you fail, you either have to retake the class until you pass, or you leave the university. Most job opportunities following university will stipulate if they require BAC (high school diploma) + 2, or BAC +3, BAC +5, etc.  These are years having successfully gone through university. For the first two years in university, you are earning a Diplôme d’études universitaires générales or DEUG. If you pass your third year of studies, you will have earned a Licence; a fourth year is a Maîtrise, and the fifth year is a Masters. Stay any longer and do research, you are well on your way to a Doctorat, or PhD (2-4 years more). The most well known university in Paris, of course, is La Sorbonne, of which there are 13 successor Universities, some affiliated, and some not with La Sorbonne.  Wiki breaks it down well.

How to enroll? Depending on the university, you will need to find their enrollment form. Take Paris 1 Sorbonne for example, you’d go here. Look for Administration, and Inscription Administratives on the university’s website. This will tell you what forms you need (birth cirtificates, copies of your high school or college diploma, transcripts, etc.)

Grande École

The system of Grandes Écoles in France is one of prestige, albeit one that is more and more contested in the global higher education market.  There are four main categories:

  • Écoles normales supérieures
  • Grandes écoles d’ingénieurs (engineering schools)
  • Grandes écoles de commerce (business schools)
  • Political and social sciences grandes écoles

A fun fact: in 2009, only 5,250 students were admitted to the these prestigious schools, representing roughly 1% (1.05%) of the number of people graduating from French high schools (500,000) each year. To enter a Grande École for an undergraduate degree, one must first be accepted into the classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles/CPGE or prépa for short. These last typically two, and sometimes three, years. Successful completion of prépa does not ensure you a spot in the grande école, you must go through another application process. If accepted, you will have three years of classes, and sometimes one year of a related internship. Grandes écoles are reputed for being VERY difficult to get into, but once you are there, it is more about building connections and scoring good internships and most everyone will graduate. While a degree from a grande école will put you on many shortlists for competitive jobs in France, they aren’t necessarily as well known on the international scale except from international organizations and global companies. Wiki breaks down the list of grandes écoles. These schools are getting more expensive for foreigners, as they are seen as a strong source of income and expect to pay more for higher education than is normal in France. Tuition rates have more than doubled in the last few years for non-EU students, but the rates are still a bargain compared to most other masters programs around the world.

How to apply? If you are applying for an undergraduate degree, the admissions will classify you into three areas: 1) I hold a French Baccalauréat obtained abroad or a foreign diploma: Undergraduate international admissions; 2) I hold a Baccalauréat obtained in France: Admissions cursus antérieur français; 3) I wish to apply to an international dual BA. Answer these questions and they will walk you through the process. If you are applying for a masters degree, then coming from outside the French system is less of an obstacle. Check out the ways to apply to a masters program like at Sciences Po. Their admissions website will walk you through the necessary documents you’ll need.


Side note: while the French universities and grandes écoles are making it easier for foreign students to apply/enroll, don’t be surprised if you’re asked for all your official documents to be translated into French by a professional translator.

Adult Education

If you’re interested in picking up an extra language, improving on some of your computer skills, or learning another technical skill, then visit our cultural classes page.


About Author


I've lived in France since August 2006 with a stint back in Washington, DC for a year. Ten months of my time in France were spent in Rouen - the Normandy town known for, among other things, Joan of Arc's death and Monet's study of light. With the years that pass, Paris is constantly transformed by the interesting people I meet who open up new doors in this amazing city.

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